Democracy As A Stepping Stone To Dictatorship

In a recent article in The Guardian, former Kuwaiti MP Musallam Al-Barrak talked of the threat Kuwait’s democracy is facing given the autocratic decrees of Kuwait’s Emir, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Al-Barrak’s article seems to suggest that he’s a champion of democracy and hopes to see power in the hands of the people.

I couldn’t help but think that half the story is a completely different story. Let’s look at the real reasons why Musallam Al-Barrak is opposed to the Emir’s recent decree:

On 19 October, while Kuwait’s parliament was dissolved, the Emir issued an emergency decree that changed the election process in Kuwait. Each voter will be able to elect a single candidate, instead of four. This would ensure that political parties would not be able to form coalitions that secure a majority for them in the national assembly, while drowning out the voices of the minorities of Kuwait.

In other words, the decree would ensure a more representative national assembly. This doesn’t bode well for Al-Barrak, who was part of the 2012 majority bloc in the national assembly. What measures did the majority bloc take in promoting democracy, upholding Kuwait’s constitution and protecting the rights of individuals?

A day after swearing an oath to abide by the constitution, the majority bloc issued a proposal to amend the second article of the constitution, so that the source of legislation in Kuwait does not consider Sharia law as one of the sources of legislation, but the only source.

Former MP Osama Al-Munawer, a member of the majority bloc in 2012, expressed his desire to have all churches in Kuwait demolished, since Kuwait should be considered an Islamic state that does not tolerate the practice of other religions within its borders. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a democracy I’d like to live in.

While Al-Barrak took snippets of the constitution to protect his right to public assembly and free speech, he was one of the MPs that supported a tougher sentence on those who insult God and the Prophet in Kuwait. A longer prison sentence, perhaps? No. The death penalty. That’s right. If you insult the Prophet, then you deserve to be killed under the law of Kuwait.

Unfortunately, the law was passed through the parliament. Fortunately, it was blocked by the Emir.

If the decision is between an unbridled democracy that aims for fewer freedoms and autocratic rule that seeks to protect those freedoms, then I will personally side with the latter. Not because I oppose democracy, but because I do not believe basic rights are up for a vote. The Emir’s recent decisions have been in favor of individual rights, even if they were not popular in the 2012 parliament.

I applaud Musallam Al-Barrak for all his efforts in trying to expose government corruption, but the Emir’s emergency decree ensures a better representation of Kuwait’s population, without handing the country over to conservatives and Islamists that seek to limit individual freedoms.

Let’s not forget that the Emir’s decree came at a time when there was no parliament to contest his decision, but the upcoming parliament can overturn the new voting system, should it see it as being less democratic. Rather than call for a boycott, Al-Barrak could have participated in the elections and had a chance to speak his mind within the democratic system of Kuwait, rather than seek to undermine it entirely.

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  1. “In other words, the decree would ensure a more representative national assembly.”

    Can you explain why in more detail please? Specifically how the decree would address candidates that get way more votes than they need, therefore having a lot of extra votes ‘wasted’ on them.

    Would you agree that a single transferable vote is a fairer system that would ensure a more representative national assembly?

  2. Hi Barrak,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I meant minority representation rather than proportional representation. Therefore, the causes and concerns of a wider range of voices is heard in parliament.

    I honestly don’t know much about the implications of the single transferable vote to express an opinion.

    My biggest concern is individual rights. As the constitution stands, it does not offer sufficient protection to these rights. Hence, my support for an autocratic decree that protects them. Ideally the constitution needs to be modified to make it explicitly clear that individual rights aren’t open to abuse, and we can then try different methods of voting.

  3. Barrak, I think individual rights and liberalism, in general, haven’t been clearly defined in Kuwaiti political discourse. Much more needs to be said about both.

    The death penalty for those who insult God and the Prophet is a good example of an attack on individual rights to free expression and, well, life… which is kinda important. 😛

    But Islamist MPs have always tried to enforce their understanding of Islam, morality and modesty on the rest of society, in how they dress, what music they listen to, events they can hold, books they can read, movies they can watch, people they can invite to the country, etc.

    Liberalism is essentially the acceptance that individuals are responsible to use their own minds to form their beliefs and values, and are entitled to live by their own convictions, without forcing others to live by them, or be forced to live by the convictions of others.

    That’s what the constitution needs to protect.

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