The difference between Arab monarchies and republics is not linked to the variance between regimes, politics or freedom, rather, the gap is due to the dissimilar way in which these governments treat their citizens. Whilst presidents like Assad, Saddam and Bashir were cutting off the tongues, ears and heads of their rivals, countries like Kuwait, Saudi and others were trying to contain their political rivalries tribally or via material means. Late Jordanian King Hussein visited prison himself to release Laith Shubeilat, a man who incited against him. Despite coup and assassination attempts against the leader, over a period of forty years, King Hussein never executed any of his rivals. The same goes for Kuwait which also did not execute any of those who attempted to assassinate late Emir Sheikh Jaber in a subversive operation in which some of his guards were killed.
A Kuwaiti court sentenced a twitter user to 11 years in prison for writing one sentence that was considered an insult against the emir. Although I don’t think the verdict will stand in the court of appeal, it remains out of the ordinary and represents an act of exaggerated cruelty.
If a person who wrote one single sentence deserves this long prison sentence, how long do those who conspire against Kuwait everyday deserve to be jailed? A hundred years? Or worse, do they deserve execution?
The novelty of Twitter
Since social networking websites like Twitter are considered new to laws, courts and societies and since there are no established traditions governing the use of such websites, resorting to harsh punishments will not deter tens of thousands who write in Kuwait and exchange insults and accusations. Resorting to courts of law over Twitter disputes is a natural right and the judiciary’s intervention is not be objected against if it falls within legal procedure. But it will be objected against if it’s arbitrarily used to issue such harsh punishments. The punishment must level up with the crime. So many years over a tweet is not less harsh than cutting off ears during the era of Saddam in Iraq!
The paradox is that Kuwait used to brag about the freedom of its press and the tolerance of its leadersAbdulrahman al-Rashed
This is Kuwait and not Syria, Iraq or Iran whose courts do not differentiate between issuing warnings and executing and who do not respect minimum human rights. Despite political protests in Kuwait, the authorities there were patient and were capable of tolerating a lot. The leadership is trying to confront the opposition with political projects that embarrass opposition figures and defuse the crisis.
The paradox is that Kuwait used to brag about the freedom of its press and the tolerance of its leaders. But ever since Arab Spring revolutions erupted, it hasn’t tolerated the escalation of criticism. Despite its political crises, Kuwait remains one of the most stable Arab countries. This is what makes us think that there is an exaggeration when it comes to punishments issued. We know that there is someone out there financing some opposition movements and seeking to push the Kuwaitis into a clash over political, tribal and sectarian disagreements. But the Kuwaiti regime has a real popular support. Proof to that is that the most vocal of opposition figures have not dared to target the leadership because they are aware that the social contract between the people and the ruler is strong, stronger than the protests and its leaders.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 11, 2013.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.