Controversy after Kuwait signs GCC pactPosted: 10/01/2013
By Wafa Alsayed, Research Analyst, Middle East
Gulf states have finally managed to sign a major security agreement, after Kuwait came on board last month at the 33rd Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, held in Bahrain. Kuwait resisted the collective security treaty when it was first introduced in 1994, deeming it incompatible with its constitution and unlikely to make it through its parliament. Its decision to swiftly ink the pact in private at December’s GCC summit may have been prompted by recent unrest back home. However it is also further fuelling a mood of insurrection in Kuwait recently.
The six GCC states are looking to solidify their security arrangements in light of the regional upheaval brought by the Arab Spring, and GCC chief Abdul Latif Al-Zayani has described the collective treaty as a significant step towards full security integration. The treaty text has not been made public, but Zayani said it would ‘empower each GCC country to take legal action, based on its own legislation, against citizens or residents or organised groups’ who interfered in the domestic affairs of another GCC state. Member countries would also share information and expertise to tackle crime.
The initial agreement introduced in 1994 included articles on the extradition of suspects that Kuwait considered unconstitutional. These allowed some states’ security forces to cross into other Gulf nations and, within certain limits, to pursue and arrest suspects. The agreement also required Gulf states to hand over suspects to other GCC states where these individuals had been accused of committing crimes. Kuwait also had problems with the pact’s broad definition of political crimes and acts of terrorism.
The Kuwaiti government has been telling its citizens that the amended agreement signed last month is not in conflict with its constitution. Despite this, and despite the fact that parliament will still have to ratify the pact under Article 70 of the constitution, the secrecy surrounding the pact is creating heated local debate.
Kuwait has always been relatively democratic and politically open among Gulf countries. However, it has seen increasingly frequent protests and unprecedented violence since the suspension of the tribal- and Islamist-led parliament in summer 2012 and an emergency decree in October changing the electoral law. The latter prompted the opposition to boycott snap elections in December, which then ushered in a largely pro-government parliament, including 17 members from the minority Shia community. This week, that parliament ratified the electoral changes contained in the emergency electoral decree, allowing voters to select only one candidate instead of the four under the previous system.
Two years ago, Kuwait was hesitant about sending GCC Peninsula Shield troops to Bahrain, but in 2012 Kuwaiti authorities prevented Bahraini opposition activists from entering Kuwait, based on a list provided by Bahraini authorities. Other Saudi activists and writers were also banned from visiting the country. During recent local unrest, rumours even surfaced that Peninsula Shield troops might enter Kuwait to maintain stability.
GCC ministers of the interiors first signed the security agreement in November before the new Kuwaiti parliament was elected and at a time when several emergency decrees were in force. (GCC heads signed off the deal at the summit in December.)
Because of its electoral boycott, the Kuwaiti opposition no longer has a presence in the National Assembly (parliament). However MPs from the Shia community, traditionally allies of the government, have indicated that they will resist the agreement if it undermines the Kuwaiti constitution. Kuwait’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs briefed the parliament’s foreign affairs committee about the agreement, but even it did not receive the actual text of the agreement.
In 2004, after Kuwait signed the GCC Counterterrorism Agreement, its 50-member National Assembly refused to ratify the agreement because of constitutional concerns. Now it seems as if the Kuwaiti government might again be challenged by the National Assembly.
Other topics discussed at the GCC summit in December included the perceived threat from Iran and the ongoing Syrian crisis. However, no formal announcement was made regarding a Saudi proposal that the six member states - the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman – should form a ‘Gulf Union’.