"“Nabiha 5”: A Kuwaiti Youth Movement for Political Reform" | Ifi Background Paper
Background Paper | March 2013
“Nabiha 5”: A Kuwaiti Youth Movement for Political Reform by F. Gregory Gause III
Among Arab states Kuwait is a leader in terms of political freedoms and the importance of its civil society organizations. Thus it should not be surprising that one of the few successful Arab youth movements advocating political reform should have arisen in the country. The success of the “Nabiha 5” movement (Kuwaiti colloquial Arabic for “we want it to be five”) in bringing about the change in the Kuwaiti electoral system from a 25 district to a 5 district configuration certainly benefited from the strong civil society infrastructure in the country, but it did not emerge from it. On the contrary, it was a spontaneous, ad-hoc movement that highlighted both the strengths and the weaknesses of youth political activism. It was very skillful in using new technologies to mobilize support, was willing to try new tactics to achieve its goal and exhibited an enormous amount of energy over a relatively short period of time. That energy was, however, concentrated on a single goal. Once it was achieved, the movement melted into the existing political-civil society landscape, losing its distinctive flavor. Moreover, its great achievement, the reduction in the number of electoral districts in Kuwait, did not lead to the results the movement had hoped. Kuwaiti elections are still characterized by vote-buying (though perhaps less so than in the days of the 25 districts). Voting along tribal lines has not been reduced and might even have increased since the change. Kuwait’s still-illegal but generally accepted political groupings – proto-parties of the liberal, salafi and Muslim Brotherhood tendencies – have seen their political role reduced, not strengthened. The “Nabiha 5” movement was a short-term success, but in has had less long-term impact on Kuwaiti politics than might have been expected in the heady days of 2006.