Several thousand tribesmen staged a demonstration against comments made on a television programme that suggested they were not part of Kuwaiti society. The comments were made on Al Sour TV Channel. Guests on the programme said that “true Kuwaiti nationals lived within the walls built to protect the old city from attacks in the past” and that Shiites are marginalised in Kuwait. The channel’s owner, Mohammed Al-Juwaihel strongly attacked bedouin tribes in Kuwait by saying most of them held dual citizenship which is outlawed in the country. He also added that the tribesmen are not true Kuwaitis as true citizens are only those who lived inside a fence built in the 19th century to protect Kuwait City against attacks.

Before the end of the rally, the ministry of information announced that Al Sour, was being taken off the air. The minister of information and oil, Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah al Sabah, asked the local media to refrain from reporting anything that could undermine national unity. He said the ministry had not issued a license for Al Sour, which broadcasts from outside Kuwait. The channel’s owner, however, is Kuwaiti.

During the rally, the MP Ahmed al Sadoun had threatened to question the prime minister in parliament over the issue if the government did not act to close the station. In a separate statement, opposition MP Musallam al Barrak, asked “how ministers could remain silent over a programme that encourages sectarian violence”.

Later, Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah said that a warrant has been issued by the public prosecution to arrest Juwaihel, who is outside the country. The minister said the ministry found Juwaihel's interview on his channel abusive and as a result, the ministry filed a lawsuit against him and the public prosecution issued a warrant to arrest him. The minister's remarks came after a number of MPs strongly blasted the minister for not arresting the former parliamentary election candidate and for allowing him to leave the country.

More than a dozen major tribes make up around half of Kuwait’s one million citizens and they are prevalent in the security forces. Although most Kuwaitis claim tribal roots, those who settled in the city before the oil boom of the early 20th century are considered to be urban and do not politically organize by tribe.

Tribal MPs won about half of parliament’s 50 seats in this year’s election. In recent polls, the tribes’ tactic of holding primaries to pick candidates has caused controversy because political parties are illegal in Kuwait. Shiites are estimated to make up about 30 per cent of the population

December 22, 2009


Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

The events that followed the broadcast on Al Sour have exposed a deep and potentially serious racial gap within the Kuwait society. Although the government’s response was decisive, several MP’s have accused it of reacting too late, effectively allowing the owner of the station to leave the country before issuing an arrest warrant. This has the potential to be the basis for creating a political crisis between the government and parliament, only days after a potentially serious crisis was averted.

The longer-term risk the recent events carry are a more serious rift between the different segments of Kuwait society. Although the government’s reaction has been decisive and may have averted a potentially more serious crisis, the potential fallout could be far greater if the issue is re-opened either through a government-parliamentary confrontation or the means by which the arrest and prosecution of Juwaihil is carried out.

The figure below shows the approximate make-up of the Kuwaiti population: