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The influence of the Arab Spring spread to Kuwait in late 2011, as protests that began in September culminated in the storming of parliament in Kuwait City by dozens of demonstrators on November 16. The protests centred on allegations of corruption against the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, and those who burst into the parliament building were backed up by thousands more protesters gathered outside demanding that the prime minister resign.
While Kuwait is relatively tolerant of protest by Middle Eastern standards and allows criticism of the ruling family, the storming of parliament proved a step too far for the countrys ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who ordered an immediate security crackdown. However, the emir subsequently proved responsive to the demands of the protesters, first accepting the resignation of the cabinet, including the prime minister, and then dissolving parliament in December. He also announced the appointment of Sheikh Jaber al-Hamad al-Sabah, formerly the defence minister, as the new prime minister. These moves appeared to quell the popular unrest, suggesting the Kuwaiti protests were aimed more at ousting a prime minister perceived to be corrupt rather than at toppling the status quo, as has been the case elsewhere during the Arab Spring. There was at any rate no repeat of the late 2011 unrest in the early part of 2012.
Parliamentary elections were due to be held in early February 2012 and, if deemed fair, should bolster Kuwaits standing as one of the Arab worlds more democratic countries. Kuwait is also secure economically, unlike many of the Arab states where regimes have been toppled or severely challenged. Energy prices remain high and, with sanctions reducing Irans ability to export oil, supplies from Kuwait will, if anything, be in ever greater demand. The one significant threat to the Kuwaiti economy is Irans threat to close the Strait of Hormuz in the event of air strikes by Israel and/or the US. However, this scenario remains highly unlikely – not least because the closure of the strait would damage the Iranian economy as much as any other countrys – and barring any such extreme events BMI currently forecasts a Kuwaiti budget surplus of 21.7% of GDP for the fiscal year starting April 1 2011.
With internal security now looking more stable, unrest in the wider Middle East is once again the greatest threat to Kuwaiti security. Kuwait is heavily dependent on the US for its defence and security in a turbulent region. However, with US troops exiting Iraq in late 2011, the Kuwaiti government said in November that it was reluctant to see additional US troops stationed in its territory (some 23,000 US troops are already stationed there). Yet with many of the countries in Kuwaits neighbourhood appearing extremely volatile – among them Iran, Iraq and Yemen – this decision may be revisited depending on how the regions various security crises unfold.
Kuwait is also largely dependent on US equipment for its own military. In the latest defence deal reached with a US company, Raytheon announced in January that it had upgraded the first of Kuwaits six Patriot missile radars to the Configuration-3 standard. The programme to select a new fighter aircraft for the Kuwaiti Air Force should also move forwards in 2012, with the anticipated US offerings, Boeings F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15SE Silent Eagle, well placed to see off Frances Dassault Rafale thanks to Kuwaits ever closer defence ties with Washington.
Click for Report details:Kuwait Defence and Security Report Q2 2012