Fragile Freedoms in Kuwait

Article excerpt


Earlier this month, Kuwait held its quadrennial parliamentary elections, an important step for one of America's closest allies in the Middle East. Yet, Kuwait's freedoms and its friendship with the United States still seem fragile. That will likely remain the case until further reforms have been made.

U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Richard Jones recently called that nation's constitutional monarchy "the most democratic country in the Gulf," and he was almost certainly right to do so. In the run-up to the election, issues were freely debated and potential parliamentarians politicked with few restrictions. The elections resulted in an orderly, legitimate transfer of power in the parliament.

Kuwait was also essential to the American victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to Mr. Jones, Kuwait shut down almost half its country in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, the government gave the United States use of one of its ports and built an pipeline from a refinery directly to two U.S. airbases, through which fuel freely flowed.

Unfortunately, during the parliamentary elections, progressives lost seats and Islamists gained. While it is far from clear if the strengthened Islamic bloc in Parliament will be able to cool the warm relationship that has developed between the United States and Kuwait over the course of two wars, this could have a chilling effect on the reforms that the government has tried to implement. These range from allowing international companies to invest in developing Kuwait's northern oil fields (Project Kuwait) to granting women the franchise. …