Kuwaiti MPs, activists drive reform push

KUWAIT: Inside Kuwait’s National Assembly, 41-year-old lawmaker Dawood Marafie is a fresh face, determined to live up to the hopes of a younger generation exhausted by perpetual political turmoil in the state. He is among 12 newcomers to the legislature, most of them young reformists, following the election in June — the seventh in just over a decade. The new faces do not coordinate action or work as a cohesive bloc, but most share the goal of pushing for policy improvements, particularly on issues related to youth.

Haifa Al-Mousa

“I was pushed to enter the political arena” by the protracted tug-of-war between parliament and Cabinet that has left the country in a state of perpetual stagnation, said Marafie. Before joining parliament, “I didn’t have a political affiliation,” said Marafie, who worked in the corporate world for years before switching to politics. “What matters is competence,” he told AFP from his office, surrounded by assistants dressed in white dishdashas and matching ghutra headdresses.

Kuwait is home to the most active and powerful parliament in the Gulf. But repeated standoffs between elected lawmakers and Cabinet ministers have stymied development efforts and scared off investors. While its neighbors the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have managed to grow their economies, Kuwait has lagged far behind, forcing some like Marafie to seek to chart a new path forward.

Following a succession of resigning governments and dissolved parliaments, Kuwait’s current Cabinet is its fifth in a year. The latest Cabinet, formed in mid-June, promised “positive cooperation” with the National Assembly. The political deadlock has delayed necessary reforms and blocked development projects, leaving infrastructure and education in disrepair and much of the population disgruntled.

Even with the old guard still at the helm, Marafie said he is driving a youth-focused agenda that prioritizes the environment, housing, and support for small and medium-sized enterprises. He believes that technological development and training is key to meet the “needs of the future”, in a country where half of the estimated population of four million is under the age 35. Marafie is “confident” in his plans. But he cautioned that reforms require a “parliamentary consensus” — a tall order in a 50-member Assembly that includes several Islamists and only one woman.

Shaikha Albahaweed

For Shaikha Albahaweed, an independent journalist, a more radical approach is needed. “The whole political system needs to be amended,” she told AFP, echoing a desire for change that is widely held by younger Kuwaitis who have grown disenchanted with the political establishment.

“There must be deputies representing us who are able to change the system,” Albahaweed told AFP on the sidelines of a symposium on women.

Only with major systemic changes can the Gulf state achieve “better representation not only of women but also” members of different social classes, said the 34-year-old, wearing a necklace that reads “feminist”. “But because the system is broken, we cannot get people to represent us,” she added. “We are running around in circles.”

The last election saw only one out of 15 female candidates voted into office, according to Haifa Al-Mousa, a member of the Kuwait Women’s Cultural and Social Society, an organization established in 1963. There is “a war against women in Kuwait, unfortunately, led by fanatical currents,” she told AFP, criticizing the country’s “male-dominated society” for pushing women to the sidelines. But even with the odds stacked against them, Mousa believes women should still push back. “We have to trust in ourselves and say that in the end, our rights will prevail.” – AFP

The post Kuwaiti MPs, activists drive reform push appeared first on Kuwait Times.

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