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KUWAIT: Political dissidents accused of slamming ruling family released

April 22, 2009 |  9:50 am


Kuwaiti authorities released two political dissidents after holding them for several days for criticizing the ruling family in public, according to media reports. The two, former member of parliament Daifallah Buramia and municipal council member Khalifa al Kharafi, were running as candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The arrests reflect the crisis in democracy that Kuwait is facing these days. This small, oil-rich nation is often hailed for having an elected parliament, a rarity among autocratic Persian Gulf kingdoms. But tolerance toward political dissidents apparently has limits, especially when the ruling family is attacked. 

On Sunday, Kharafi was arrested by state security. Local media reported that Kharafi was being questioned for saying that the Sabah family was incapable of running the country. Nevertheless, Kharafi was then allowed from behind prison bars to sign up as a candidate in the new elections scheduled for May.

Buramia, who was a member in the previous Islamist parliamentary bloc, was also arrested last week for reportedly saying during an election rally recently that Defense Minister Sheik Jabar al Hamad al Sabah, a close relative of the nation’s ruler, was “not fit” to become prime minister.

The arrests may be a sign that the Kuwaiti ruling family is toughening its stance against political opponents at the height of electoral campaigning.

Democracy in Kuwait often suffers from bickering between the legislative powers and the Cabinet, which is partly a reflection of persisting feudal mentalities. In March, for the second time in less than a year -- and after yet another political crisis in the country -- Kuwait’s emir, Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Jabar al Sabah, who holds wide powers, disbanded the parliament and called for anticipated elections next month.

The standoff between Islamist legislators and members of the Sabah clan who usually dominate Kuwaiti cabinets is expected to persist after the elections on May 16.

Many fear that ongoing political tensions will hinder the implementation of economic reforms in the country, which has been  hit by the international financial crunch and falling oil prices. 

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: Kuwaiti former Islamist opposition lawmaker Daifallah Buramia, center, speaks to the media as security forces arrive to arrest him in Kuwait City last week. Buramia was released today,  according to media reports. Credit: Yasser al Zayyat / AFP