Friday, April 1, 2011

Crisis in Bahrain Finally Brings Down the Government

... the Kuwaiti government that is. As covered in our post "Gulf Sectarian Fever Spreads to Kuwait," the Kuwaiti government's response to the conflict in Bahrain--especially its initial reluctance followed by lukewarm agreement to contribute to the Peninsula Shield force amid concerns for its own societal relations--earned criticism from both Sunnis and Shi'is, in particular from members of parliament.

The immediate cause of the government's resignation was that MPs had officially moved to grill three different ministers, all members of Al Sabah. Two of these three motions stemmed directly from their handling of the Bahrain situation. As reported by the Kuwaiti Arab Times, "Shiite MP Saleh Ashour wished to question the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mohammed Al-Sabah, on Bahraini TV’s alleged insults of Kuwait, its people and institutions." Separately, "Shiite MP Faisal Al-Duwaisan wanted to grill the Minister of Information and Oil, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah, for allowing Kuwait media to fuel sectarian tension in the country." At the same time, finally Salafi MPs were seeking to quiz the prime minister for his decision to NOT send troops to Bahrain, as we discussed previously.

Now, all of this was generally assumed to be the cause for the government's sudden resignation. Yet an article (Arabic) in Kuwait's al-Ra'i daily offers even more details from the internal drama. Titled "Mohammad al-Sabah Is the Direct Cause of the Resignation of the Government," the piece tells that whereas the quizzing of the other Al Sabah ministers would have "purely local repercussions," the case of Mohammad Al Sabah was qualitatively different and would have "internal implications"; a "negative impact on national unity and the country's security and stability"--that is, the quizzing of Mohammad al-Sabah by Shi'a MPs would have sectarian implications.

The specific actions of Mohammad al-Sabah that the article says did him in was his insistence "at the height of debate about Kuwait's participation in the Peninsula Shield force" to send in lieu of military personnel a medical delegation. We recall from our earlier article that the Bahrainis, unimpressed, denied its entry at Bahrain Airport, leading to an embarrassing diplomatic situation. Mohammad al-Sabah is said to have "convinced the Kuwaiti government to send the delegation despite the lack of enthusiasm expressed by the Bahraini government, and once it happened that it was refused and was forced to return to Kuwait, it stoked sectarian sparring." In the end, of course, Kuwait reversed its position after pressure from Sunni lawmakers and did contribute to the Peninsula Shield force, sending a naval contingent. Of course, as the Bahrain opposition is not the Tamil Tigers, commanding its own warships, this gesture was only slightly more conciliatory than the medical team.

The final quote from "sources" says it all (sorry for the sloppy translation):
"The positions of Sh. Mohammad al-Sabah put Kuwait in an unanticipated or at least undesired confrontation, involving the most dangerous of regional conditions; and as a result of these internal positions [Kuwait's] social fabric was affected, which is what led to the decision of the government's resignation in order to cool the situation, calm tensions, and reduce sectarian discourse."

Interestingly, then, it was Mohammad al-Sabah who announced yesterday the expulsion of 3 Iranian diplomats from Kuwait on accusations of spying. They are accused of being related to another "spy ring" whose members, 1 Kuwaiti and 2 Iranians, were probably not coincidentally sentenced to death on Tuesday. Said Mohammad al-Sabah, talking tough, “We formed a crisis committee to handle the issue, recalled the Kuwaiti ambassador to Tehran, summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires in Kuwait and submitted a protest letter. The necessary action will be taken soon against the Iranian diplomats, such as declaring them persona non grata and they will be expelled from Kuwait.” Perhaps, then, Mohammad al-Sabah is trying to regain his image in time for the formation of the new government.

Update: this entire post is basically captured in an op-ed in the Kuwait Times.

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