Juggling a series of calls and texts during a 20-minute period, Mohammad Qasem locked his eyes on his mobile phone as a tweet is composed by committee. The energetic Mr Qasem became the general coordinator on Tuesday for citizens who wants Kuwaitis to boycott the country’s election on December 1. The group’s Twitter account, run by a dozen or so people, gained 20,000 followers in its first 24 hours. “It has to be right,” he said, “because I’m sure this tweet will be all over Kuwait.”
Kuwaitis are following Mr Qasem because his new organisation, the Public Committee for the Election Boycott, is at the centre of a political crisis that has raised questions about whether Kuwait, which has avoided the mass protests of the Arab Spring, can continue on its path of slow and steady change or whether it is destined to plunge into turmoil.
Since the summer, the political opposition has organised increasingly boisterous protests in central Kuwait City to contest changes to the electoral system that they say would dilute their vote in the next parliament. Numerous MPs from the recently dissolved parliament have promised not to stand in the coming election.
Until recently, these protests seemed to be just the latest iteration of Kuwait’s proud history of participatory politics. But analysts now say tensions have reached a new peak. A growing divide in Kuwait has exacerbated policy disagreements, just as restrictions on the limits of protests and political critique, such as ban on criticising the emir, have been issued.
The boycott is now the flashpoint of the divide. Mr Qasem hopes his campaign will reduce voter turnout in the parliamentary elections to just 15 or 20 per cent, so that “parliament will lose its legitimacy in public opinion.” He says the committee is trying to put peaceful and legal pressure on the government to reform.