Kuwait Constitutional Court unseats two Islamists MPs

Tabtabaei, Harbash and about a dozen former MPs and opposition activists who were convicted have left the country to avoid prison terms.
Thursday 20/12/2018
Kuwaiti MPs attend a parliament session at the Kuwaiti National Assembly.
Legislative prerogatives. Kuwaiti MPs attend a parliament session at the Kuwaiti National Assembly.

LONDON – Kuwait’s Constitutional Court ruled to unseat Islamist lawmakers Waleed al-Tabtabaei and Jamaan al-Harbash, overturning Article 16 of the National Assembly’s charter that was struck down as unconstitutional.

Article 16 was used by the assembly in October to retain the membership of Tabtabaei and Harbash after the Court of Cassation sentenced them to prison for storming the assembly building in November 2011, demanding the resignation of the then Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad.

The parliament storming case was pending until December 2013 when the Court of First Instance acquitted all defendants. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in November 2017 and sentenced the defendants to prison terms of up to nine years.

Tabtabaei and Harbash were sentenced to seven years in prison each. The verdict was confirmed by the court of cassation in May.

Tabtabaei, Harbash and about a dozen former MPs and opposition activists who were convicted left the country to avoid serving prison terms. After the two lawmakers were sentenced, a constitutional controversy erupted on whether they should lose or keep their seats.

The assembly decided it has the right to vote on the issue based on Article 16 of its charter and voted in favour of the two lawmakers keeping their seats.

The convicted parliamentarians and former lawmakers cannot run for public office again.

From 2010-11, members of the cross-ideological opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood, some Salafist groups and secular political blocs, called for questioning Sheikh Nasser on charges of inappropriate use of public finances, leading to the largest demonstrations in Kuwaiti history in September 2011.

The unrest was seen as an attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to copycat “Arab spring” protests in much of the Middle East and North Africa.

In the midst of Kuwaiti protests in late 2011, the cabinet resigned and parliament was dissolved. In February 2012, Kuwaitis elected a decidedly pro-opposition parliament, with 34 of 50 seats going to members of the broad-based opposition and with Salafist and Brotherhood blocs each winning all four seats they contested.

After only four months, however, the pro-opposition parliament was dissolved when the Constitutional Court declared the dissolution of the 2009 parliament was unconstitutional and reinstated that decidedly loyalist legislature.