Sunday, May 24, 2009

Defining Kuwait's conservatives - Kuwait Times Special Report

Defining Kuwait's conservatives

Published Date: April 24, 2009
By Hussain Al-Qatari, Staff writer

During the pre-election period, religious sects gain great political power and suddenly everyone is labeled a HADAS supporter, a Salafi follower or a Shiite devotee, regardless of where their actual political sympathies lay. Conservatives in Kuwait are experiencing a high period of popularity and political power. From moderate conservatives to radicals, social issues like the changing attitudes of Kuwait's youth or the banning of Valetine's Day seems to resonate with voters and conservatives are appealing to an ever widening portion of constituents.

Dr. Haila Al-Mukaimi said that this phenomenon is predictable during the pre-election period at a time of political campaigning. "The weapon of religion is suddenly used by all parties playing the political game. It's the easiest way to win voters' support. People have always been weak when confronted with the weapon of religion," she told the Kuwait Times.

She explained that this phenomenon is not exclusive to Kuwait: "Even in the United States, the world's biggest democracy and most liberal country, religion was used by the Bush administration to win the sympathy and support of voters. Using religion is what allowed him to remain president of the US for eight consecutive years. Religion is used everywhere to gain the ultimate power over people."

To paint the most accurate picture of Kuwait's conservative political powers, Al-Mukaimi says, you have to look at their three dimensions in Kuwait. "The first and largest group is HADAS, which has grown from the Islamic Brotherhood philosophy. It is probably the most organized of the three parties," she said.

HADAS and reform
HADAS, or the Islamic Constitutional Movement, announced its establishment in 1991, shortly after the liberation of Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion. It announced itself as a political movement, demanding the formation of political parties in the country.

The Kuwait Times spoke to Tariq Al-Mutairi, a member of HADAS who explained the movement's history. "The line of thought of the Islamic Brotherhood existed in Kuwait since the late 1940s. It began to gain more momentum after the Social Reform Society was established in the 1960s, and took over the students' base in Kuwait University in the early 1970s. To this day, the Kuwait University Students Union is controlled by HADAS," he explained.

The demands of the political group (or party) are strictly political, claims Al-Mutairi. "We rejected the notion of giving women their political rights because we believed it was socially unacceptable. We did not bring religion into it because we knew that opinions of clerics vary on that matter," he said.

Commenting on HADAS' standpoint on segregation in universities, Al-Mutairi said that the problems that resulted in this decision are strictly caused by poor planning on Kuwait University's part: "If the university worked hard on applying this law - if it brought new professors, provided more classrooms and worked on managing to cover all the students' needs-we wouldn't have heard of the problems that we are hearing about now," he said.

Kuwait University students suffer from closed sections and delays in graduation because the university claims its budget is insufficient to cover the establishment of two separate campuses for the two sexes at the moment. Al-Mutairi continued: "If the new campus for KU in Shedadiya is built according to plan, the problems that are blamed on segregation will disappear and you will see that it is all due to the bad management of KU.

The second entity that forms Kuwait's conservative political power is the Salafis, says Dr. Al-Mukaimi. "The Salafis in Kuwait are manifested in the Society of the Revival of Islamic Heritage, Al-Ummah party and independent candidates that follow the Salafi school of thought, but who run independently in the elections," she said.

The Kuwait Times spoke with former independent Islamist MP Faisal Al-Mislim about his platform and his demands for the May 16 elections. "The most important point to note about our demands is that they do not negate the constitution, nor do they negate the Sharia laws," he said. "My demands - and I'm not very knowledgeable about the demands of my fellow Islamist candidates, so I will speak for myself - are influenced by religion, and this is all according to the constitution. The constitution says in Article Two: The religion of the State is Islam, and Islamic Sharia shall be a main source of legislation. So we are not negating the constitution; we are, actually following it rather thoroughly," he said.

Al-Mislim's spokesperson Falah Al-Utaibi explained that Kuwait, according to the interpretation of Al-Mislim and other independent Islamist candidates, is an Islamic state, and should abide by the rules of the Sharia.

"The demand to segregate students in educational institutes, for example, is a 100 percent Sharia demand. And if the constitution says that laws should be in compliance with Sharia, then I don't see where the problem is in demanding segregation," Al-Utaibi said.

Through working with several conservative MPs, he says, "I noticed that they respect democracy and they abide by the laws of the constitution. They respect the vote of the majority. All conservatives stood against giving women the right to vote and elect, but they were given these rights in 2005, and all the conservative MPs at the time accepted this decision because of their belief in democracy. They are not against the constitution, and not against people's freedoms as long as they are monitored by Sharia."

This is the third part in a three part series examining the political factions in Kuwait.