Shaikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, the amir of Kuwait, dissolved the country’s Parliament on May 4, shortly before the 50-member body was to vote on a no-confidence motion against Ahmad al-Kulaib, the Minister of Justice, Endowments and Islamic Affairs. The amir may have pulled the rug from under the parliamentarians’ feet, but in doing so he demonstrated also that the oil-rich shaikhdom’s parliament is more than just a rubber-stamp body.
The Kuwaiti MPs had earlier grilled al-Kulaib for five hours for his ministry’s failure to detect and prevent misprints in copies of the Qur’an printed and distributed by his ministry. The misprints may not have been deliberate, the offense was serious nonetheless. The parliament was set to vote on a no-confidence motion on May 11, and a clear majority of MPs had indicated their intention to vote against al-Kulaib.
The Kuwaiti amir accused the parliament of abusing its constitutional rights and violating the morals and ethics of the State. Shaikh Jaber cited “the fact that parliamentary practices got carried away in using constitutional instruments away from the spirit of the constitution and the morals and ethics of our society...” What precisely he meant by this was not immediately clear, and has become no clearer since.
One of the living miracles of the Qur’an is that it is free from error. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala Himself has promised to protect it (Al-Qur’an, 15:9). Yet Muslims must be vigilant to ensure no errors creep in, even inadvertently. It was this duty that the Kuwaiti MPs were performing which led to their dismissal.
The official decree also invited Kuwait’s approximately 115,000 male voters (women are barred from voting or standing for public office) to elect a new 50-member house on July 3. The constitution stipulates that elections must be held within 60 days of a constitutional dissolution. Kuwaiti men aged over 21, and born to Kuwaiti fathers, are eligible to vote, except for military and police personnel, and Kuwaitis naturalised less than two decades ago. Political parties are not allowed either.
The full term of the current parliament, elected in October 1996, would have expired late next year. The amir last dissolved parliament in 1986 at the height of the Iraq-Iran war, citing security reasons when Kuwait was fully involved on the side of Iraq. But a year after the 1991 Gulf war freed Kuwait from a seven-month brutal Iraqi occupation, elections were held and parliamentary life was restored in the tiny, oil-rich shaikhdom.
Relations between the government and parliament have not always been smooth. The MPs have shown a remarkable flair for independence. During the last three years, MPs have repeatedly accused ministers of misusing public funds. Kuwait’s is the only elected parliament among the Arab shaikhdoms of the Persian Gulf. It has also had some success in probing Kuwait’s arms deals with western countries and investigating suspected financial scandals.
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1999