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04KUWAIT1861 2004-06-13 13:05:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kuwait
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUWAIT 001861 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/12/2014

REF: A. 03 KUWAIT 000917

B. KUWAIT 00768

C. KUWAIT 001346

D. KUWAIT 001558

E. KUWAIT 001705

F. KUWAIT 001329

Classified By: CDA FRANK URBANCIC; REASON 1.4 (D).

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The ruling Al-Sabah family enjoys broad
public support and legitimacy in the eyes of most Kuwaitis.
Despite the presence of several hotly-debated issues,
Kuwaitis remain content with their leadership and Government.
Kuwaitis, from Sunna to Shia, ultra-wealthy to comfortable
middle-class, are content overall with the GOK performance
because the ruling family spreads enough wealth and allows
enough freedoms to satisfy the general public while still
clinging to the conservative patriarchal cultural norms of
the Arabian Gulf. The slow pace of political change reflects
the GOK's "don,t rock the boat" approach, which, while
frustrating to vocal minorities both liberal and
conservative, appears tolerable to the majority of Kuwaitis.

(SBU) Some Things Money Can Buy


2. (SBU) The State of Kuwait has about 10 percent of the
world's proven oil reserves and only about 913,000 citizens.
This goes a long way in explaining the relative contentment
of its citizenry. (NOTE: Given the higher petroleum-related
profits of late, the Al-Shall Economic Report forecast the
GOK to have collected oil revenues in the neighborhood of KD
1.3 billion (USD 4.3 billion) in the first two months of
fiscal year 2004. END NOTE.)

3. (SBU) Kuwaitis are generally well-to-do and lead a life of
relative ease. Citizens capitalize on the generous
cradle-to-grave welfare package which includes free
healthcare, education, a housing allowance, and almost
certain employment. Although women are legally disadvantaged
vis--vis their male counterparts, they can lead pampered
lives, which leaves them generally less inclined to agitate
for political equality.(Refs A & B) The GOK, while finding it
increasingly difficult because of the long-term trend of an
increasing population base and static oil revenues, can still
afford to buy the confidence and acquiescence of its
citizens. Unemployment, which the GOK reports to be around 3
1/2 percent--there are approximately 10,000 unemployed
Kuwaiti nationals--is a growing but manageable issue.

(U) A Political Voice


4. (SBU) Kuwaitis enjoy a relatively open political society
and a limited representative democracy. These freedoms allow
Kuwaitis to speak openly about almost any social or political
issue short of criticizing the Amir and the ruling
family--which few are likely to do anyway because of the
necessity to curry favor with the Al-Sabah in this top-down
patronage system. They have a parliamentary system which
allows 137,000 male citizens to vote--and women's suffrage is
being considered seriously. On balance, Kuwaitis have a
sense that they have some cultural or political voice in
their life situation.

5. (SBU) Even Shia*the religious minority who comprise a
third of Kuwaitis--have gained in legal and social spheres in
the last year.(Ref C) In March, the Shia community was
permitted, for the first time, to stage a reenactment of the
historic battle of Karbala on the holy occasion of Ashoura
and was granted two time slots for Ashoura-related television
programming. Shia have also recently succeeded in their
long-standing efforts to obtain a Ja,afari Waqf--a religious
endowment board governed by the Shiite school of
jurisprudence. The GOK has established courts utilizing Shia
jurisprudence for Shiites in personal status matters at all
levels but the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court).

(SBU) With Wasta For All


6. (C) The Al-Sabah ruling family, now led principally by PM
Shaykh Sabah Al-Ahmad, routinely makes efforts to please all
Kuwaitis. Often times, the GOK's policy pronouncements
appear only intended to placate current critics rather than
addressing the substance of the issue.

-- The GOK reluctantly went along with the segregation of
Kuwait University mandated by the legislature but permits
public mixed-gender popmusic concerts.

-- It reintroduced a bill to grant full political rights for
women, while the Government's Ministry of Awqaf issued a
fatwa supporting more stringent rules limiting the mixing of
sexes at public concerts.

-- It permitted the public reenactment of the historic battle
of Karbala during Ashoura observances by the Shia community
in early March but condoned the ten-year prison sentence for
a Shiite activist who "defamed" Sunni Islam.

7. (C) Two complaints we hear about Al-Sabah governance are
lack of leadership and influence-peddling, or "wasta." The
GOK dispenses its goodwill to all, based on political
popularity, cultural palatability, or wasta. The guiding
principle in GOK leadership seems to be "don't rock the
boat," a reasonable enough attitude on the part of a small,
rich, weak country. While there is a growing public outcry
against political corruption and wasta, many in this
tribal-based society seem content to use the system to
achieve their own goals. One liberal pundit remarked that
since the late 1970s, when Shaykh Jabir became Amir, the GOK
has pursued "backward," i.e. Islamist, policies. If PM Sabah
had his way, he claimed, there would be a noticeable move to
more liberal policies. But the PM must still work within the
conservative system established by the Amir. He explained
that average Kuwaitis wait to see in which direction the
political winds are blowing to orient themselves, and the
varying signals leave many in a state of political confusion.

(U) The Latest Issues


8. (C) Several controversial political issues resonate within
the population but none are enough to incite any threatening
opposition to the government or to the comfortable Kuwaiti
way of life. The hottest political issues of the moment are
the proposal for granting women political rights and the
proposed reduction in the number of electoral
constituencies.(Refs E & D) The GOK proposed the first and
seems to be reluctantly going along with the second. Few of
those who hope the women's rights issue succeeds admit much
confidence that the GOK will exert the pressure necessary to
ensure its success. On the matter of the electoral
constituencies, few people seem to have a keen sense of the
possible significant changes involved. The MPs who seem most
opposed to the proposals to reduce the number are those most
dependent on tribal influence, which such a move would tend
to dilute.

9. (SBU) Another key issue, that of the bidoon (short for
"bidoon jinsiya" or without nationality, officially stateless
Arabs residing in Kuwait, many with Kuwaiti relatives), of
which there are approximately 100,000, spilled a lot of ink a
year ago but is no longer on the front pages, after the GOK
took some steps to alleviate their plight. There is no
consensus on the matter: some consider the bidoon
undocumented Kuwaitis, others see them as foreigners
deliberately concealing their true nationality. Kuwaitis, in
general, want to see a just settlement to this socially
embarrassing issue, but just what a proper resolution would
look like is unclear. Most understand that the GOK cannot
afford to grant the current level of generous benefits of
citizenship to such a large number of people.

10. (SBU) Some issues fail to ever gain traction. In April,
some Islamists criticized the appointment of the new US
Ambassador to Kuwait, Richard LeBaron, because of his service
in Israel, but that outcry faded fast.(Ref F). The vast
majority of Kuwaitis, even Islamists, positively accept the
presence of the US in Kuwait and are tolerant, if not
supportive, of US actions and intentions in Iraq.

11. (SBU) COMMENT: With its dispensation of wealth, relative
freedoms, and functional political openness, the rule of the
Al-Sabah family enjoys popular support. The 1990-91 Iraqi
occupation strengthened Kuwaitis' sense of national identity.
While there are many, on both sides of the political aisle,
who would criticize individual GOK policies, at the end of
the day they know on which side their bread is buttered.
Until the money disappears or freedoms become repressed, the
Al-Sabah are likely to enjoy sustained legitimacy and public
support from the majority of Kuwaitis for the foreseeable