Islamists in Kuwaiti parliament see favourable momentum for amnesty bill

The proposed law drops the sentences issued against those who were tried in the case of storming the National Assembly building and tampering with its contents in November 2011.
Saturday 19/12/2020
Kuwaiti members of parliament argue over voting system just ahead of vote to elect the Speaker of the Parliament, in Kuwait City, Kuwait December 15, 2020. (REUTERS)
Kuwaiti members of parliament argue over voting system just ahead of vote to elect the Speaker of the Parliament, in Kuwait City, Kuwait December 15, 2020. (REUTERS)

KUWAIT –  Kuwait’s general amnesty bill represents a ready-made recipe for a tug of war between the authorities and the representatives of the opposition in the new parliament. The early introduction of this bill indicates that the opposition intends to make it its battle horse during the first session of the freshly elected National Assembly.

Five opposition MPs, Hamad al-Matar, Fayez al-Jamhour, Abdul-Aziz al-Saqabi, Osama al-Shaheen and Thamer al-Sweit introduced a bill introdcuing a general amnesty.

Some have argued that making the bill into law is tantamount to opening a “new page in the file of national reconciliation.”

The obvious eagerness for this bill shown by the candidates of the opposition during and after the election campaign reflects its exceptional importance to them, and especially the Islamists among them.

The general amnesty is in fact considered by Islamists a challenge inherited from the previous parliament, which had rejected the bill with encouragement from the authorities and help from MPs loyal to the government, including the former and current Speaker of Parliament Marzouq al-Ghanem.

The proposed law generally provides for a comprehensive amnesty that drops the sentences issued against those who were tried in the case of storming the National Assembly building and tampering with its contents in November 2011, including well-known Kuwaiti opposition figures and representatives in previous parliaments.

Those convicted in the case could in principle benefit from a special pardon issued by the emir of the country, by which the sentence is cancelled or reduced without dropping the charges. A general amnesty, on the other hand, is the prerogative of the parliament, and drops both charges and sentences, in addition to restoring their full rights to the those concerned.

It seems that those involved in the case of the storming of the National Assembly do not want to admit to committing a crime and consider their actions part of their “struggle”, which explains their quest for a general amnesty.

The Kuwaiti authorities do not want to set a precedent that would make the unrest that Islamists have stirred in Kuwait during the events of the “Arab spring” of the beginning of the current decade in a number of Arab countries as a “legitimate act of struggle.”

Against this background, the authorities are adhering to a single course of action for a possible amnesty in the case, namely to have those who were sentenced and had fled the country return to Kuwait and start serving their sentences, then submit a special request for pardon to the emir of the country. This course of action was indeed applied in the case of former MP Walid al-Tabtabaei. The Salafist MP returned to Kuwait from Turkey, went to jail for a short period, then subsequently submitted a request for pardon to the former Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and he received it.

Among the most prominent figures condemned in the case is former Muslim Brotherhood MP Jamaan al-Herbish, who is still in exile in Turkey. He is betting on the success of his movement in putting pressure on the government through Parliament and succeeding to have the general amnesty bill passed, which has not happened to this day.

A group of MPs in the new parliament decided to reintroduce the bill during the new session, betting on the changes taking place in the public scene in the country, as they expect that the severe economic crisis has placed the authority in a weaker position, rendering it more willing to give in to parliamentary pressure, in addition to the increase in the number of opposition MPs in the newly elected National Assembly.

The Islamists in particular are hoping that the passing of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, an experienced and charismatic leader, will weaken the authority and make it more flexible and receptive to passing the changes that they have been wanting to introduce for many years now, which would them to be champions of democratic reforms in the country and pave their way to reaching power and controlling its most important pillars.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, waves as he arrives to attend the opening session of the first regular session of the 16th legislative term, at the parliament in Kuwait City on December 15, 2020. (AFP)
The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, waves as he arrives to attend the opening session of the first regular session of the 16th legislative term, at the parliament in Kuwait City on December 15, 2020. (AFP)

The shelving of the general amnesty bill in the previous parliament is one of the causes of hostility between opposition MPs and the speaker of the National Assembly, who is accused by Islamists of playing a major role in preventing the passage of the law. Ghanim had previously described raising the issue of a blanket amnesty, saying that its goal was to “create imaginary heroes.”

Against this background, the opposition had tried unsuccessfully to prevent Ghanem from returning to the presidency of the National Assembly, but through a series of unannounced settlements and deals, he managed to defeat his rival Badr Al-Hamidi, although the latter had been supported in his candidacy for the important position by a large number of opposition representatives.

The previous Kuwaiti parliament witnessed fierce “battles” because of the general amnesty bill, which reached the point of coming to fist fights between parliamentarians.

At the beginning of the current year, the bill was about to be approved after a fierce pressure campaign by the Islamists, who had succeeded in pushing it through Parliament, but the Parliamentary Legislative Committee had frustrated their plan by introducing amendments to the bill. These amendments sought to include in the bill an amnesty for former MP Abdul Hamid Dashti, who was convicted in several cases related to abusing the Kuwaiti government and Gulf countries, as well as for those convicted and sentenced in the case of the Abdali Cell, related to a terrorist cell linked to Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah, and which was dismantled in 2015.

The opposition saw that the inclusion of these cases was a legal ploy, woven by Ghanim to render the bill impossible to pass, since it wouldn’t be acceptable to anyone to pardon offenders and terrorists.

Former member of the Islamic Constitutional Movement, Muhammad al-Dalal, had said at the time that putting the cases of storming the parliament, the Abdali cell and of Abdul Hamid Dashti in the same bag was an unconstitutional and unlawful measure, and a negative and absurd political move aimed at killing all these proposals and confusing parliamentarians and society.