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Kuwait no stranger to political upheaval

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The next scheduled stop on the Arab protest tour: Kuwait. This, however, is more of a return engagement.

Calls for antigovernment rallies Tuesday are an extension of nasty political skirmishes in Kuwait that were under way long before the first glint of dissent that began in Tunisia more than two months ago.

Kuwait has the gulf's most powerful and combative parliament, and opposition lawmakers have already taken bold shots at the ruling emir's inner circle, including twice staging no-confidence motions since December 2009 that nearly brought down the prime minister. The plan now is to take the demands for a political overhaul to the streets in the style of Egypt and nearby Bahrain.

But while the tactics may be similar, it also shows that each of the Middle East's protest movements carries its own spirit.

"There's a distinct personality to each place and each protest," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "That's the challenge for policymakers trying to make sense of it all."

Kuwait would join the Arab protest roster with quite a bit of experience and could become another Arab hot spot.

Kuwait's opposition bloc in parliament — a mix of Islamists and anticorruption reformists — has gone toe-to-toe for years with the handpicked government of the emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, over allegations that include financial mismanagement and attempts to roll back political freedoms. The dissident lawmakers draw heavily from the desert provinces outside Kuwait City, where many feel overlooked by the ruling dynasty and cut out of the country's oil wealth.

The most significant change this week could be adding pro-reform youth groups into the fray. At a protest strategy meeting last week, some organizers of new youth-oriented factions — including one called Kafi, or Enough, in Arabic — pledged to occupy a main square in Kuwait City to copy the round-the-clock stand by demonstrators in Bahrain's Pearl Square.

The top target for Kuwait's protesters is the prime minister, Sheik Nasser Al Mohammed Al Sabah, who has been accused of trying to limit political freedoms and muzzle dissenting voices. The opposition is also demanding fast-track parliament elections, claiming some progovernment lawmakers won seats in 2009 through vote rigging.

Kuwait no stranger to political upheaval 03/06/11 [Last modified: Sunday, March 6, 2011 10:46pm]
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