Kuwait vote boycott deepens rift between city and tribes

Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:08am EST
 

By Sylvia Westall and Mahmoud Harby

KUWAIT (Reuters) - In a room scented with incense, twelve men in long traditional robes sip sweet tea and debate the political future of Kuwait's tribes at one of many "diwaniya" across the country, a tradition of evening social gatherings older than Kuwait itself.

The issue looms large in the tribal areas after changes to the voting system ahead of a parliamentary election on December 1 sparked a boycott by opposition politicians, including tribal leaders who said the changes would have worked to their disadvantage in particular.

The dispute shows that the imbalance in power between those "inside and outside the wall" - referring to the series of walls that used to surround the capital area from the 18th to 20th centuries - is alive and well, said Fawaz al-Adei, a lawyer who was at the diwaniya.

"Tribes make up only a small part of the financial system, there is no real representation in government," he said, clacking his yellow prayer beads. "It is mostly people from the urban areas who control the media, who make the decisions."

The perceived divide is one of the sources of tensions in the major oil producer and could become more problematic as the tribal population grows, becomes more prosperous and demands more political power.

In the Saber al-Nasser area where the diwaniya took place some 20 km (12 miles) outside Kuwait City, police had to use tear gas and make arrests to disperse local youths protesting the voting changes in rare clashes in recent weeks.

The Interior Ministry said the protests were unauthorized and that people had attacked police and damaged property.

Opposition politicians boycotted the election on the grounds the changes imposed by Kuwait's ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, would prevent candidates that were not pro-government, including tribal figures, from winning a majority.   Continued...

 
A demonstrator kicks a tear gas canister away during clashes with anti-riot police at a protest against the election results in Kuwait in this December 4, 2012 file photo. In a room scented with incense, twelve men in long traditional robes sip sweet tea and debate the future for Kuwait's tribes at one of many "diwaniya" across the country, a tradition of evening social gatherings older than Kuwait itself. In the Saber al-Nasser area where the diwaniya took place some 20 km (12 miles) outside Kuwait City, police had to use tear gas and make arrests to disperse local youths protesting the voting changes in rare clashes in recent weeks. To match Feature KUWAIT-TRIBES/ REUTERS/Obaida al Ahmad/Files