The Failure of Karamat Watan: State Legitimacy and Protest Failure in Kuwait


Abstract


The Karamat Watan (March of Dignity) was the largest protest mobilisation in Kuwaiti history. From late December 2011 to 2014 this social movement pressured the government in the streets to reform the parliamentary system. The results of these protests were unprecedented, forcing a Kuwaiti prime minister to resign for the first time in in history and publicly challenging against the country's ruler. Yet the protest movement largely failed, largely due to a loss of public support. Why did the Karamat Watan protest movement lose support from the public in Kuwait? The literature on the Gulf and Kuwait in particular focus on payoffs as a way of explaining acquiesance, yet payoffs in 2011 and 2012 had almost no impact on protest mobilisation. Instead, it may be more normative issues that kept protesters away: the unrealistic and aggressive demands of protest organisers for regime change. This article focuses on the legitimacy, or lackthereof, of the government and regime to explain the failure of the "Arab Spring" protest movement in Kuwait, looking at how consent and normative concerns impacted the decision of protesters to leave the streets. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with citizens who participated in the protests, interviews with dozens of members of the opposition leadership, and group surveys at 13 tribal diwaniyas that highlight a cross-section of protesters' opinion. The research presented demonstrates that public support for the social movement may have in part failed largely because the movement was unsuccessful in framing that it could govern if it was successful. Public support was also limited by protest tactics including disrupting modes of transportation and livelihood. At the heart of protesters' concerns was the lack of a substantive opposition they could believe in and poor opinions on the quality of leadership in Karamat Watan. This article fills a gap in the literature by developing a clearer understanding of legitimation in a rentier state, Kuwait, and by providing dense empirical data to back it up. The utility of this approach is important considering that the failure for many social movements to frame grievances in a way that mobilizes the population, a common pattern in the region.

Keywords: Kuwait; Social Movements; Framing; Legitimacy; Arab Gulf; Rentierism; Arab Spring

References


Abulof, U. (2017). ‘Can’t buy me legitimacy’: the elusive stability of

Mideast rentier regimes. Journal of International Relations and Development, 20(1), 55-79.

Albloshi, H. H., & Herb, M. (2018). Karamet Watan: An Unsuccessful Nonviolent Movement. The Middle East Journal, 72(3), 408-430.

Al-Nakib, F. (2014). Revisiting “Hadar” and “Badu” in Kuwait: Citizenship, Housing, and the Construction of a Dichotomy. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 5-30.

Anonymous. (2011). “MPs’ deposits confuse banks and supervisory authorities”, Al-Qabas, [accessed August 20, 2011].

__________. (2011). “MPs’ deposits confuse banks and supervisory authorities”, Al-Qabas, [accessed August 20, 2011].

__________. (2011). “Al-Barrak: 26 MPs support noncooperation with (Shaykh Nasir) al-Muhammad”, Al-Qabas, [accessed November 3, 2011].

__________. (2011). “Unprecedented gathering in Irada (Square)”, Al-Qabas, [accessed November 29, 2011].

__________. (2011). Protesters Storm Kuwait Parliament, BBC, [accessed November 16, 2011]

https://bbc.in/2J23JMM.

__________. (2012). “And the Majority (bloc) continues to escalate”, Aljarida, [accessed June 13, 2012]

www.aljarida.com/articles/1462163683462541800/.

__________. (2012). “The Constitutional (Court) declares the 2012 elections void and returns to the 2009 parliament . . . as if the dissolution did not occur”, Alrai, [accessed June 21, 2012].

www.alraimedia.com/Home/ Details?Id=66d5326c-5af0-4180-928e-a3f28ddc1588.

__________. (2012). “39.6%: The final turnout for the elections”, al-Qabas, [accessed December 7, 2012].

__________. (2013). Security (forces) prevent the closing of the freeway by force”, Al-Qabas, [accessed January 23, 2013].

__________. (2013). “Splits threaten the Kuwaiti opposition and weaken it”], Al-Hayat (UK), [accessed March 27, 2013] www.alhayat.com/article/410434/.

__________. (2013). “The ‘Awazim participate”, Al-Qabas, [accessed June 24, 2013].

__________. (2014). “The Interior (Ministry) threatens expatriates with deportation and Kuwaitis with (withdrawal of) citizenships”, Al-Watan, [accessed July 18, 2014].

__________. (2014). “Revoking citizenships . . . and the closure of some societies’ branches”, Alrai, [accessed July 22, 2014].

Al-Otaibi, Ghanimah. Kuwait: Taxing the Way to a Better Democracy, Brookings Doha Centre, 2006, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/centers/doha/06_ bdc_essay_runnerup.pdf.

Al-Rasheed, Madawi. (1997). Politics in an Arabian Oasis. London: I. B. Tauris.

Alsayed, W. (2014). The impatience of youth: political activism in the Gulf. Survival, 56(4), 91-106.

Ayubi, N. N. (1996). Over-stating the Arab state: Politics and society in the Middle East. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Azoulay, R. (2020). Kuwait and Al-Sabah: Tribal Politics and Power in an Oil State. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Azoulay, R., & Beaugrand, C. (2015). Limits of political clientelism: elites’ struggles in Kuwait fragmenting politics. Arabian Humanities. Revue internationale d’archéologie et de sciences sociales sur la péninsule Arabique/International Journal of Archaeology and Social Sciences in the Arabian Peninsula, (4), 35.

Bank, A., Richter, T., & Sunik, A. (2014). Durable, yet different: Monarchies in the Arab Spring. Journal of Arabian Studies, 4(2), 163-179.

Beaugrand, Claire (2019). Oil metonym, citizens’ entitlement, and rent maximizing: Reflections on the specificity of Kuwait. POMEPS Studies.

Calderwood, James. (2011). “Kuwaitis Happy with Emir’s 1000-Dinar Gift but Still Waiting For a Plan”, The National, [accessed 25 Feb. 2011] https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/kuwaitis-happy-with-emir-s-1-000-dinar-gift-but-still-waiting-for-a-plan-1.429839.

Chay, Clemens (2015) 'Kuwait's diwaniyyas: dislocation and dissent in an urban Gulf society', Discussion Paper. Durham University, HH Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah Programme, Durham.

Chenoweth, E., Stephan, M. J., & Stephan, M. J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. Columbia University Press.

Chay, C. (2016). The dīwāniyya tradition in modern Kuwait: An interlinked space and practice. Journal of Arabian Studies, 6(1), 1-28.

Coates Ulrichsen, K. (2012). “Kuwait: "Political crisis at critical juncture”, BBC [accessed 23 October 2012] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-20026581

Coates Ulrichsen, K. (2014). Politics and opposition in Kuwait: continuity and change. Journal of Arabian Studies, 4(2), 214-230.

Crystal, Jill. (1990). Oil and Politics in the Gulf: Rulers and merchants in Kuwait and Qatar.

Gavrielides, N. ‘Tribal Democracy: The Anatomy of Parliamentary Elections in Kuwait’, in Linda Layne (ed.), 61 Elections in the Middle East: Implications of Recent Trends, Boulder: Westview Press, 1987.

Ghabra, S. (2014). Kuwait: at the crossroads of change or political stagnation. Middle East Institute Policy Paper, 2, 20.

Gengler, J. (2015). Group conflict and political mobilization in Bahrain and the Arab Gulf: Rethinking the rentier state. Indiana University Press.

Kareem, Mona (2013). “Kuwait Youth Movement Reignites Opposition”, Al-Monitor [accessed September 26, 2013] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/09/kuwait-youth-opposition-cdm.html.

Karl, Terry Lynn. The paradox of plenty: Oil booms and petro-states. Vol. 26. Univ of California Press, 1997.

Holthaus, L. (2019). Long Live the Neo-traditional Kings? The Gulf Cooperation Council and Legitimation of Monarchical Rule in the Arabian Peninsula. Middle East Critique, 28(4), 381-403.

Kinninmont, J. (2012). Kuwait's Parliament: An Experiment in Semi-democracy. London, England: Chatham House.

Krauss, Clifford. ‘In wave of labor unrest, Kuwait customs strike halts oil shipments’, New York Times, 10 October 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/ 2011/10/11/world/middleeast/customs-officers-strike-in-kuwait-halting-oil-shipments.html [accessed June 2012].

Levi, M., Sacks, A., & Tyler, T. (2009). Conceptualizing legitimacy, measuring legitimating beliefs. American behavioral scientist, 53(3), 354-375.

Longva, Anh Nga (1997) Walls Built on Sand: Migration, Exclusion, and Society in Kuwait. Boulder: Westview Press.

Lucas, R. E. (2014). Monarchies and protests in the Arab uprisings: Path dependencies or political opportunities? Journal of Arabian Studies, 4(2), 195-213.

Martin, Geoffrey. “Researching Twitter” in Political Science Research in the Middle East and North Africa: Methodological and Ethical Challenges. Clark, Janine and Francesco Cavatorta eds., Oxford University Press, 2018.

Martin, Geoffrey. "The Consequences of Some Angry Re-Tweets: Another Medium is the Message." Review of Middle East Studies (2019): 1-35.

McAdam, D., Tarrow, S. G., & Tilly, C. (1996). Towards an integrated perspective on social movements and revolution. New York: Lazarsfeld Center at Columbia University.

Mitchell, J. S., & Gengler, J. J. (2019). What money can’t buy: Wealth, inequality, and economic satisfaction in the rentier state. Political Research Quarterly, 72(1), 75-89.

Reinecke, J., & Ansari, S. (2020). Microfoundations of framing: The interactional production of collective action frames in the occupy movement. Academy of Management Journal.

Redman, J. C. A. (2014). The diwaniyya: guestroom sociability and bureaucratic brokerage in Kuwait. The University of Utah.

Russell, S. S. (1989). Politics and ideology in migration policy formulation: The case of Kuwait. International Migration Review, 23(1), 24-47.

Schlumberger, O. (2010). Opening old bottles in search of new wine: On nondemocratic legitimacy in the Middle East. Middle East Critique, 19(3), 233-250.‏

Shehabi, M. R. (2015). An extraordinary recovery: Kuwait following the Gulf War. University of Western Australia, Business School, Economics.

Snow, D. A., & Soule, S. A. (2010). A primer on social movements. WW Norton.

Snow, D.A., & Benford, R. D. (1988). Ideology, frame resonance, and participant mobilization. International social movement research, 1(1), 197-217.

Tavana, D. L., Freer, C., Albloshi, H. H., & Al Terkait, T. (2018). Pluralism and Inclusion in Post-2011 Kuwait.

Tavana, D. L., & York, E. (2020, November 30). Cooptation in Practice: Measuring Legislative Opposition in an Authoritarian Regime. https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/fjdw5.

Tétreault, M. A. (2000). Stories of democracy: Politics and society in contemporary Kuwait. Columbia University Press, 206.

Yanai, S. (2014). Political Transformation of Gulf Tribal States: Elitism and the Social Contract in Kuwait, Bahrain and Dubai, 1918-1970s. Sussex Academic Press.

Yom, S. L. (2014). Authoritarian Monarchies as an Epistemic Community Diffusion, Repression, and Survival During the Arab Spring. Taiwan Journal of Democracy, 10(1).

Yom, S. L., & Gause III, F. G. (2012). Resilient royals: How Arab monarchies hang on. Journal of Democracy, 23(4), 74-88.


Full Text: PDF

Refbacks

  • There are currently no refbacks.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.