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Kuwait ministers reach out to bloggers and journalists

Kuwait explores reform with youth

The country has tasked three men with exploring reform among the youth...

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May 9, 2013 9:47 by



On a January afternoon in Kuwait City, a group of bloggers gathered around three men they would not normally expect to see in a downtown coffee shop, clutching lattes and mochas.

Education Minister Nayef al-Hajraf, Commerce and Industry Minister Anas al-Saleh and Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak al-Sabah, all in their early 40s, had come for an informal meeting with some 30 Kuwaiti bloggers and online journalists to discuss issues that concern young people.

“It was an ice-breaking action,” Sheikh Mohammad, a member of the ruling family who is Kuwait’s minister for cabinet and municipal affairs, told Reuters.

“We wanted them to hear what we had to say. We wanted to hear what they had to say,” he said in the April interview.

Like most countries in the Gulf region, Kuwait has seen little of the kind of turmoil that turfed out entrenched rulers in other Arab countries in 2011. But opposition politicians and a youth movement have been emboldened.

Dozens of activists and political figures have been charged since late last year with insulting 83-year-old ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, mainly in comments made online.

Young people regularly spill out onto the street to protest over local issues. Most of the gatherings are peaceful, but some have resulted in clashes with police.

In an attempt to prepare for the future of a country where more than half of citizens are under 25, Kuwait has tasked the three men and other younger officials with exploring reform. With little desire to substantively change the political structure – the Al-Sabah family has ruled Kuwait for 250 years – the men are focusing their efforts on the economy.

Their concerns about Kuwait’s economic future give them common ground with many activists, a Kuwait-based diplomat said.

“They understand the difficulties and the realities of the situation here,” the diplomat said. “But they face huge hurdles.”

THEY GET IT

A major oil producer and U.S. ally, Kuwait is one of the world’s richest countries per capita and one of the most politically free in the Gulf, but development has stalled due to bureaucracy and political upheaval – December’s parliamentary election was the fifth since 2006.

The economy is almost entirely dependent on oil, even more than most in the oil-rich Gulf region. Income from crude made up 94 percent of Kuwait’s state revenues in the first 10 months of the fiscal year.

The International Monetary Fund has warned that Kuwait may exhaust all of its oil savings by 2017 if it keeps raising state spending at the current rapid rate.



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