Kuwait to reinstate citizenship of many opposition figures

Sunday 12/03/2017
Kuwaiti opposition MPs (L-R) Reyadh al-Adasani, Abdulkareem al-Kandari, Al-Humaidi al-Subaiee and Waleed al-Tabtabaee during a parliament session at Kuwait’s National Assembly in Kuwait City, on March 7th. (AFP)

London - After large street pro­tests demanding politi­cal reform, the Kuwaiti government has said it would reinstate the citi­zenship of a number of opposition figures, three years after revoking their nationalities in a crackdown on political dissent.

Observers said this step aims to calm the atmosphere and prevent the collapse of the government, which could lead to calls for early elections for the National Assem­bly. Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ah­mad al-Jaber al-Sabah reportedly does not want that, as it would be an opportunity for the opposition to increase its strength in parlia­ment, observers said.

They added that achieving a sense of calm with the opposition is an option taken by the govern­ment to avoid parliamentary in­fighting by the opposition, which emerged with more influence af­ter last November’s elections. This was clear with the government’s first political casualty, former min­ister of Information Sheikh Salman al-Homoud al-Sabah.

Sheikh Salman, a member of the ruling family, resigned February 6th as Information minister and state minister for Youth Affairs.

Three members of parliament questioned him for ten hours over his role in a 15-month ban of Ku­wait by international sporting in­stitutions and alleged financial ir­regularities tied to his ministries. After 30 out of the 50 members of parliament agreed on filing a no-confidence vote, Sheikh Salman resigned.

Most of the citizenship revoca­tions occurred in 2014 and were widely viewed as an attempt by the government to quell descent. Kuwaiti law dictates that authori­ties may terminate an individual’s citizenship over threats to national security or national unity. Other possible reasons include holding dual nationalities and conviction of a crime within 15 years of natu­ralisation.

Among Kuwaiti opposition fig­ures who are to have their nation­alities reinstated is political activ­ist and spokesman for the Popular Action Movement (PAM) Saad al- Ajmi, who was deported to Saudi Arabia a year after his citizenship was revoked.

Other high-profile opposition figures to have their citizenship revoked included Islamist MP Ab­dullah al-Barghash and more than 50 members of his family and the publisher of the oppositional Alam Al-Youm newspaper, Ahmad Jabr al-Shemmari, who said the govern­ment’s action left him stateless.

The opposition in parliament has pushed to have the govern­ment’s powers on revoking citizen­ship curtailed and filed a motion to debate the issue. However, on March 9th government supporters in parliament defeated a motion by opposition MPs to debate an amendment to the 57-year-old law, delaying the discussion.

Kuwaiti Minister of State for Na­tional Assembly Affairs Falah al- Azab said the National Assembly has formed an ad hoc committee to tackle the citizenship issue.

Unlike the other Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) members, Ku­waitis enjoy more political freedom and the country has an elected par­liament with powers to question ministers despite the fact that all main cabinet positions are held by the ruling branch of the al-Sabah family.

The latest tug of war comes af­ter snap elections in November in which opposition groups, partici­pating after a 4-year boycott, won almost half of the 50 parliamentary seats. One of the opposition’s main campaign pledges was to amend the citizenship law.