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Kuwait—the Gulf's Poster Child of Democracy—Strips Opposition Members of Citizenship

US military rehearses for a parade in Kuwait in 2011. (Photo by DVIDSHUB)

By Noor Mattar
The Kuwaiti Cabinet revoked the Kuwaiti citizenship of two pro-opposition members and their families on July 21. This development rings serious alarm bells across the region, as Kuwait is often cited as the most democratic state in the Gulf region.

The move follows a threat by the government last week that it will take all necessary procedures against those suspected of trying to “destabilize” the country in the wake of protests which erupted last month demanding the release of Kuwait opposition and former National Assembly member Musallam Albarrak. He has since been released on bail.

The root of this saga goes to events that took place a few months ago, when Albarrak gave an hour long speech at a gathering where he made allegations of rigged elections, coup attempts and government corruption that led to billions of dollars of public money being wasted. Documents that support his claims were leaked in what some called “Kuwaitgate”. Among the documents were details of money transfers to a few judges, which led to a lawsuit being lodged against Albarrak for insulting the judiciary.

On July 2, @BarlamanNews a Twitter account that publishes news about Kuwait tweeted to its 17.3K followers this breaking news:

النيابة العامة تأمر بحجز مسلم البراك في الشكوى المقدمة من رئيس مجلس القضاء الأعلى.

— Barlaman News (@BarlamanNews) July 2, 2014

The public prosecution office orders the arrest of Musallam Albarak in the complaint filed against him by the head of the Supreme Judicial Council

Since then Kuwait witnessed a series of protests and confrontations that were closely followed and documented on social media, particularly Twitter.

POMED (Project on Middle East Democracy) issued a statement and tweeted:

#Kuwait More than 2,000 march in protest following arrest of opposition leader in Kuwait http://t.co/Vt0ZjhDJrP

— POMED (@POMEDwire) July 7, 2014

Albarrak was released on bail following those protests but many others were detained for protesting.

pic.twitter.com/j8G8UA77Vc مسلم البراك محمولاً على الأكتاف من قٌبل أنصاره في دوار الكرامه بعد الإفراج عنه بكفالة مالية ظهر اليوم .

— بدر فالح العنزي (@baderfaleh2) July 7, 2014

Musalam Albarak raised above the shoulders of his supporters in Alkaramah roundabout after his release on bail this afternoon

The government said last week that it will strike with an “iron fist” to defend the state's “prestige” and commissioned the Interior Ministry to take all necessary measures to fulfill the royal commands. (Details in this AlRai newspaper article in Arabic)

Among those named in the decision to revoke their nationalities is an opposition former MP Abdullah al-Barghash and three members of his family.

The government also revoked the nationality of Ahmad al-Shemmeri, owner of the independent Al-Youm television station and Alam Al-Yawm newspaper. His newspaper was ordered to temporarily shut down twice this year by a court for defying a prosecutor-ordered media blackout about an investigation into claims of the attempted coup that Albarak spoke about in one of his speeches. With his nationality revoked, it is expected that the channel and newspaper will be ordered to be shutdown as well.

The action raised concern all over the Gulf. Bahraini journalist Faisal Hayyat tweeted:

لماذا تسحب الجنسية؟ وأين القانون عندما يتوجب محاسبة أي مخالف؟ سحب الجنسيات عجز وابتزاز وإرهاب #مي_مقبولة #البحرين #الكويت #السعودية #GCC

— رياضيونا رهائن (@FaisalHayyat) July 21, 2014

Why would a nationality be revoked? Where are the laws if any dissident should be held accountable? Revoking nationalities is terrorism and blackmail. It speaks of helplessness

Saudi former journalist who turned academic Dr Omar Ualymany tweeted:

قضية سحب الجنسيات تتفاعل فى الكويت..وتهدد كيان المجتمع الكويتى ..

— Dr.Omar (@ualymany) July 22, 2014

The case of revoking nationalities in Kuwait stirs reactions and threatens the structure of the Kuwaiti community

Twitter user abo3asam, who has more than 113K followers, noted:


هم يترقبون ردود الفعل، فإذا أرعبك اليوم سلاح #سحب_الجناسي وسكت خوفاً سوف يسلبون منك غدًا حقوق إنسانية أكبر من حق المواطنة.

— أبوعسم (@abo3asam) July 21, 2014

They're anticipating your reactions so if today they scare you by revoking nationalities and you remained silent, tomorrow they will take away from you rights that are bigger than citizenship

Kuwait is an oil rich country, where individual income is among the highest worldwide. It is considered the most politically developed state in the Gulf. Therefore such developments are important and ring serious alarm bells because as blogger Ahmed Alomran tweets to his 85.5k followers:

Kuwait highlights a new reality: Arab citizens demanding rights simply on the basis of being entitled to those rights http://t.co/UMAn3TSuVV

— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) July 6, 2014

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Reprinted with permission from Global Voices.

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