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Kuwait’s Opposition and the Freedom of Expression Research Paper



In many countries around the world, there have been attempts to champion for the freedom of expression. According to Kai (2007), countries in the West have achieved this freedom in accordance with the international standards. However, other countries are still struggling to achieve this freedom.

In Kuwait, opposition leaders have criticized the government for what they term as close control of the public and private press. The state-run media companies are keen on pushing the agenda of the government while the private media are too afraid to act as a watchdog.

Under the old media laws, censorship against media stations seen to criticize the government was very common. However, the new media laws have granted the media more power. Social media has become an integral part of media due to the progress made in the telecommunication sector.

In Kuwait, just like in many other GCC countries, the government still controls the media through various press laws. The recent arrest and subsequent jailing of the opposition leader when he was accused of abusing the Emir is a clear indication that any negative criticism against government officials or religion in this country is not tolerated.

The government of Kuwait, which is made up of the royal family, has been keen on improving the economy of this country.

The political system in the country has played a major role in limiting the freedom of media because the royal family is very keen on thwarting any form of rebellion against the government. This explains why the opposition has become very critical of the rulers and the government officials.

They have been demanding for the freedom of the press, sometimes resorting to violent protest in an attempt to achieve this aim (Wheeler, 2001). Fighting for media freedom is not wrong, but the approach used by the opposition leaders is not right.

Freedom of press does not give anyone the power to abuse the royal family, government officials, or any other person in this country. The opposition leaders must understand that freedom comes with some share of responsibilities. Journalists must embrace positive journalism.

In this paper, the researcher will focus on Kuwait’s opposition and the freedom of media in the country.

Relevant Theory

In is important to relate the concept of freedom of expression with a specific theory that can help in its analysis. The researcher considered Liberalism as the most appropriate political theory for this concept. This theory holds that individuals in a society should have autonomy.

People should be allowed to express their political and civil liberties. Governance should be based on written law and the governors should seek the consent of the governed before making important decisions that affect their lives.

Liberalism also emphasizes on the need for the people to be protected from any arbitrary authority that may subject them to suffering (Casey, Thackeray & Findling, 2007). The increased opposition against the government in this case was caused by total disregard to this theory.

Those in power failed to act in natural goodness for their people when they started limiting freedom of expression. The government limited the autonomy of individuals to express their views about their feelings towards their government.

This theory demands that the governors should seek the consent of the people before making important decisions. However, those in government often dismissed the views of the governed, and this resulted into massive protests in the country as discussed in the sections below.

Literature Review

It is important to understand the background of the opposition in Kuwait and how it has been relating with the government. According to Kater (2011), Kuwait is one of the GCC countries that introduced a democratically elected parliament to work closely with the Emirs in government.

Just like in the Western democracies, Kuwait has three arms of government, which function independently. The opposition that has been witnessed in the recent past began in 2006 when parliament removed from Office the then Emir, Saad al-Sabah because he was ill. This was something that had never happened before.

It was seen as a direct attack on the leadership of the royal family. This action created tension between parliament and the royal family.

The tension worsened in 2011 when opposition leaders started organizing a series of street protests against the government for what they considered a deliberate attempt by the government to frustrate the freedom of speech.

According to Kinninmont (2012), it is believed that Kuwait is one of the countries that have been affected by the Arab Spring. Although the country has not witnessed bloody protests such as those seen in Syria, Egypt and Libya, these protests have put too much pressure on the government.

Kjetil (2011) says that it is not easy to say with certainty what the agenda of the opposition is at this time. To the public, the opposition has been insisting that the government should ensure that there is media freedom. The freedom of media in this country has been an issue for some time now.

The opposition has been silent over the issue of freedom of media in the past. In fact, Casey, Thackeray and Findling (2007) note that the Kuwaiti media freedom is better now than it was some years ago. The opposition did not come out strongly to criticize the government over the restrictive laws that limited media freedom.

It is strange that the opposition leaders have just realized that it is necessary to fight for the freedom of media at this point. It is also not easy to tell whether the opposition represents the Islamists or the liberals (Freedman, 2013).

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood posed as a more liberal option that was capable of transforming the country to a better place for Muslims and all other people belonging to other faiths. However, when they took leadership after ousting the regime of Hosni Mubarak, they almost turned the country into an exclusively Islamic state.

This canning behavior of politicians makes it very challenging to determine their true agenda in their current war against the government.

The Kuwait government has taken steps to respond to some of the demands of the opposition leaders. Media freedom in this country is better than it has ever been before. Although there are still some issues that need to be addressed, Barakat and Skelton (2014) argue that the current state of affairs is better than it was before.

Noha (2014) says that despite the effort put in place by the government to try and change the state of affairs in this country, it is important to appreciate that it has made some mistakes.

In July 2014, the government of Kuwait canceled licenses for television stations and newspapers owned by individuals seen to be supporters of the opposition leaders (Amaney, 2015). This was a strange move that demonstrated to the world that the government was intolerant to divergent views.

Shutting down these stations sounded a warning to other media stations that the government will not tolerate any negative criticism against the government. This move came after the government had made a series of other arbitrary decisions against the media.

The crackdown started in 2011 when the government started jailing bloggers who were believed to be championing the interests of the opposition.

In 2012, a newspaper editor was sentenced to six months in prison for failing to stop a publication against the government (Al-Sabah, 2013). In April 2013, a draft law was introduced in parliament by the government that allowed the government to fine journalists one million dollars if they criticized the Emir.

This was one of the most ridiculous laws that the government has ever introduced in parliament in the recent past. It was seen as an attempt by the government to make the position of the Emir above the law and above any form of criticism. These moves gave the opposition leaders moral authority to fight the government.

According to Linde (2013), this may explain why the election in 2012 was won by the opposition.

The emir once again reacted negatively to the governments loss to the opposition in the parliamentary elections. He modified the electoral decree and called for a re-election, a move that led to further protest in the country. The opposition boycotted the subsequent elections seen to favor the government.

According to Colgan (2013), the government of Kuwait has failed to understand the prevailing political climate in the country. This was demonstrated when the government went ahead to dissolve the parliament following massive anti-government demonstrations spearheaded by the opposition leaders.

According to Maloney (2012), the local media played a passive role in covering the events in this country. The state-owned stations either ignored the political turmoil in the country or made deliberate attempts to vilify opposition leaders. Private-owned media stations avoided reporting on issues that would be considered anti-government.

The editors feared the one million dollar fine that the government imposed on those seen to criticize the emir and his government. The private media owners feared victimization from the government, and, therefore, instructed their editors to avoid reports that may raise political emotions in the country against the government.

As Habeeb, Frankel and Al-Oraibi (2012) put it, the Kuwaiti media was reduced to a shell, an entertainment channel that turned a blind eye to the turmoil in the country. However, the international media did everything to bring these events to the attention of the international community.

This forced the government to respond swiftly to deter foreign media from covering events or reporting on issues seen to vilify the government. In 2014, there was a royal decree to revoke citizenship of some individuals seen to facilitate anti-government protests.

These individuals were forced to leave the country (Kumaraswamy, 2014). Tweeter and Facebook users who spread antigovernment sentiments were arrested and detained.

According to Alkazemi and Wanta (2014), one of the factors which demonstrate the inability of the government to deal with the political issues in the country was the arrest and subsequent sentencing of Musllam al-Barrak to five years imprisonment.

It all started in December 2012 when the government introduced a new law to govern election processes as per the decree of the Emir. In a rally that was attended by the Emir, al-Barrak and many other leaders, Al-barrack addressed the emir and told him that the opposition will not allow him to practice autocratic rule.

According to Alkazemi, Nashmi and Wanta (2013), this was a bold statement that had never been witnessed before, especially given the fact that he said it before the emir, other leaders and the public.

The opposition leader was infuriated with the decision of the government to micromanage electoral process in order to dictate the people who are elected to the parliament. This was considered an insult to the ruler and it led to his arrest. A lower court sentenced him to five years in prison for insulting the emir.

The prosecution was marred with irregularities as the defense team was not given proper audience. An appeal was launched by the defense team that led to his release from prison temporarily. However, he was summoned to the court for the retrial in February 2015. His sentence was reduced to two years in jail.

The sentencing of opposition leader to two years in jail by the highest court in the country tells a lot about the country’s freedom of expression. At this stage, it is important to analyze the exact words used by the opposition leader and determine if it amounts to abuse.

As Rubin (2013) records, he said, “In the name of the nation, in the name of the people, we will not let you, your Highness, practice autocratic rule.” This is a very clear statement to the leader to avoid autocratic rule. It is a fact that the new law the ruler had introduced was autocratic.

This is what the opposition leader was against. Such statement should not warrant an arrest and subsequent sentencing of the leader to several years in jail. It demonstrates that freedom of expression does not exist in this country.

Any statement seen to be against the government is always responded to with intimidations and punishments. It also demonstrated how weak the country’s constitution was in defending the freedom of expression.

The incident led to massive protests in various parts of the country, but as usual, the government responded by arbitrary arresting people seen to be championing for such protests. The local press that should be leading in the fight for freedom of expression has been silent over the issue.

According to Marty (2013), these protests have led to a number of deaths, some of fatalities are children. This should be a wake-up call not only to the government, but also the opposition leaders. They should find a different way of demanding for the freedom of expression in a manner that will not result into any casualties.

Facts Backgrounding the Case

This research has given detailed accounts of the events that led to the arrest of the opposition leader. The political turmoil in the country has been accurately covered. It is important to give clear facts that will act as a background of the case to support the arguments in this paper.

This involves a clear explanation of the sources from which the content of the paper was written. Newspaper reports played an important role in informing the content of this paper. The Gurdian, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were very instrumental.

Reports from international bodies such as UNESCO also proved crucial in confirming some of the claims found in the newspapers. The researcher also found Reporters without Borders an important source of information. Journal articles and books were other important sources of information.

These sources clearly outlined the political tension that existed between the government and opposition. These sources helped in shedding light on how the tension started to its highest point when the leader of opposition was sent to prison by the courts. The resulting chaos and arbitrary arrests by the government is also well documented.

The Outcome of Issue and Effect of Statute

The outcome of the fight for the freedom of expression by the opposition was very dramatic. In November 2011, pressure was mounted on the government following claims that the prime minister was involved in corruption. He was accused of bribing some members of parliament to support government’s agenda in the house.

He was also accused of colluding with other members of the royal family to steal public funds. This led to his resignation on November 28, 2011. This was an end result that many did not expect. This resignation did not calm political temperatures.

The opposition leaders accused the Emir of coming up with electoral laws that were in favor of the government. The government failed to give in to the opposition demands. The protest continued, and this led to arrest of many people, especially those who participated in the demonstrations.

Things went out of control in 2012 when the opposition leader, Musllam Al-Barrak, told the Emir to his face that the country will not accept his autocratic rule. This led to his arrest.

He was sent to jail for insulting the ruler. Although the street protests have become less common, the opposition is still not contented with the approach taken by the government and the Emir in addressing freedom of expression.


The reports from the international media and the analysis of the events taking place in Kuwait demonstrate that the government is yet to grant its citizens freedom of expression. The government has been accused of highhandedness when addressing these issues (Wheeler, 2000).

However, the outcome of the demonstrations that were led by the opposition shows that the approach the opposition has been using has been wrong all along. The researcher strongly opposes the approach that the opposition has been using to demand for the freedom of expression.

As a responsible leader, al-Barrak should have approached the emir in a more candid manner to express his concerns instead of blasting him before the public. This was a sign of disrespect.

Even though the researcher accepts the fact that the government is wrong because it limits the freedom of expression, the approach used by the opposition is worrying. Creating chaos and leading the public to destroy properties is not an aspect of true leadership.

The same approaches were used by other rebels in North Africa, but when they were given power, they turned out to be worse than the people they ousted. The researcher suggests that the opposition leaders should use a better approach in championing for the freedom of expression.


Alkazemi, M. Wanta, W. (2014). Kuwaiti political cartoons during the Arab Spring: Agenda setting and self censorship. Gainesville: University of Florida.

Alkazemi, M., Nashmi, E. & Wanta, W. (2013). Attitudes toward Journalism in Kuwait: The Educational Process of Students in an Emerging Democracy. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 13(3), 193-227.

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