Why Kuwait’s protests are important

Following a renewal of demonstrations in Kuwait last week, Rami G Khouri writes: Kuwait highlights the new reality that Arab citizens are now demanding rights from their governments simply on the basis of being entitled to those rights, and not necessarily because they are poor, suffer uneven access to social services, or have been politically abused and oppressed, as was the case with uprisings in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria.

Kuwait also speaks of deeper discontents among other citizens in oil-rich Gulf states who can only express their grievances through websites and social media. This is evident in several Arab countries, which, like Kuwait, try to suppress public political accusations and grievances, even by jailing individuals who Tweet sentiments that are critical of state policies.

The demonstrators in Kuwait are not calling for the overthrow of the regime, but rather for constitutional political reforms. The demonstrators this week chanted their demands to reform the judiciary. When such basic, reasonable and non-violent demands are almost totally ignored across most of the Arab world, citizens have only a few options, including expressing themselves through social media or via pan-Arab satellite television, or by taking to the streets. As with almost every other public protest throughout the world, the actual number of citizens on the street is not the most important factor.

It is irrelevant if 500 or 15,000 demonstrate one night. What matters is that groups of citizens speak out in public on a regular basis, and address their complaints directly to the national leaders. It is likely that those who do take to the streets – for instance, recently in Ukraine, Turkey, Thailand or Burma – represent much deeper and wider legitimate societal grievances that require a political resolution through dialogue, negotiations and credible representation and accountability.

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