Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kuwaiti Politics: Taking The Gloves Off

During election season, one of the most effective methods of campaigning in Kuwait is visiting the Diwaniya. This can be a deciding factor in whether or not the candidate wins or loses and to this date, I have yet to see someone who refused to go to diwaniyas win the election. Moreover, why should he or she win? I mean, if a political district consists of 50-100 thousand voters, depending on each district, surely a candidate can make the time to head to some key figures in each residential area. The former head of the Parliament, Jasem Al-Khorafi (who also happens to be one of the world’s wealthiest men) has been known to visit “Koat Diwaniyas” where the oldest person present was 24 years old. Entering a diwaniya and seeking support of your fellow citizen is viewed as the ultimate sign of humility and if there’s one pre-requisite to succeeding in Kuwait….its being humble.

Interestingly enough, Diwaniyas used to be so appreciative of the candidate (or in many cases, former MPs) that they would indulge in small talk while the sweet and Arabic coffee was served. Sure they would ask about how he sees the future, or perhaps a general question about the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative branches but always in a way that triggers a pre-scripted response. A healthy scoop of rhetoric, topped off with some personal achievements (relevant or irrelevant) and mixed together with praising the host family. It’s a song and dance we’re all too familiar with and its politics.

The other day, during our family Diwaniya, one of the candidates came in at a relatively late hour. With all due respect to this candidate (this respect will be shown by me not writing his name, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go), he has very little to offer Kuwait and would most likely not represent a 10th vote, let alone one of the sacred four. He’s a career candidate (never making it to the Parliamentary seat but still choo-choo-ing forward) who actually had some very interesting analysis with regards to this election.

He began discussing the transformation of Kuwaiti politics, through the Diwaniya as a primary medium. “Before,” he said, “the predominant language of the Diwaniya was that of gracious welcome and formalities”. “Today, though” he continued “people know about the issues and they want details. It’s not enough to simply speak and say farewell.” Now, knowing this candidate and his ability to recite pre-scripted 6-liners, spiced with some sophisticated terms (with a gleeful glow to follow suit), its only appropriate that he would notice such change.

I began by describing this change in the tone of the diwaniyas, as they host fellow citizens with Parliamentary aspirations as a transformation. However, if we’re to be fair, it can and should only be described as evolution. When formality is replaced with inquisitiveness. When instead of being urged to try the sweet, they are urged to defend their views under sophisticated scrutiny. When instead of saying reassuring words to those who we placed our trust in and now find themselves jobless, the words they say are harsh but genuine. When “how is the family” is replaced with “what did you do to stop the others from turning the Parliament into a circus?”… that’s when you know Kuwaiti politics is evolving. Kuwaitis worked hard to build this beautiful country and we have a right to make sure that the people we elect will work just as hard as our forefathers. Its time to take the gloves off, because Kuwait deserves better.