Kuwait's parliament has voted in favour of a legal amendment that would make blasphemy a crime punishable by death. This follows the arrest of Hamad al-Naqi who was accused of insulting Prophet Mohamed on social-networking website Twitter.
In order to become law, the proposed amendment needs still go to a second and final vote and win approval from Kuwait's ruler before becoming law. MPs however, have voted overwhelmingly in support of stiffer penalties, with 46 in favour and 4 against, making it likely that the Emir would ratify the law. Shiite MPs voted against the law.
Recent tweets by al-Naqi, a Shiite Kuwaiti citizen, allegedly defaming the Prophet, his companions and his wife provoked an outpouring of fury in the tiny Arab state last month. The episode spurred MPs to seek a hasty toughening of the blasphemy laws. Several politicians have openly called for the man's execution.
Blasphemy has been a punishable offence in Kuwait since 1961, but until now has carried only a jail sentence. Mr al-Naqi, who is currently in custody awaiting trial, has rejected the charges, claiming that his account was hacked. The authorities have also claimed to have found evidence that he supported anti-regime protests in Bahrain.
Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk
The passing of the law carries a significant risk of causing civil tensions, primarily between Sunnis and the Shiite minority. So far Kuwait, which has a significant Shiite minority has escaped the widespread tensions seen in other countries such as Bahrain, between its Sunni majority and Shiite minority. However, this law specifically targets the Shiites. Shiites are often accused of making disparaging statements about members of the Prophet’s family, including his wives. The proposed law makes such remarks punishable by death. The law therefore creates a potentially explosive situation between the country’s Shiite minority and the Sunnis. Such confrontation would not – like in Bahrain, be centred around socio-economic and political rights, but will be focused on deep-rooted religious divisions between the Shiites and Sunnis. Its passage therefore is a major step towards creating a reason for such a confrontation.
A less serious, but nonetheless highly dangerous outcome would be that its implementation would lead to a conservative-liberal clash. On the one hand, conservatives would likely insist on having it implemented in even what liberals may deem minor cases, whilst the state may be reluctant to actually implement the law. This will likely lead to creating a permanent rift within the Sunni Islamist and liberal camps and could potentially become one of the most polarized issues in Kuwaiti politcs in recent years. There will be elements within Kuwait who may want to see it implemented against non-Kuwaitis who may be charged with such an offense. In any case, the law itself presents a potential deeply problematic quagmire that will likely manifest itself in increasing tensions - and potentially leading to civil unrest, between liberal and conservative camps, but more importantly, between Sunnis and Shiites.
Current make-up of the Kuwaiti parliament, including the Shiite MP’s who mainly voted against the proposed law