ANALYSIS: Carnegie Report Suggests That Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood Damaged By Corruption Allegations In Recent Elections


Nathan Brown, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment George Washington University MIdeast Studies professor, has written a piece analyzing the recent Kuwaiti elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood political arm known as the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) saw its seats in the parliament reduced by half in the midst of strong gains by Salafi and other Islamist factions. The author concludes (note: HADAS is the Arabic acronym for the ICM):

Kuwait’s May 2008 elections dealt a setback to the local affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Constitutional Movement (HADAS) rewarding more rigid salafi Islamists and tribal candidates. The outcome was puzzling because a major electoral reform—heavily backed by HADAS—was supposed to reward well-organized ideological parties of which HADAS is Kuwait’s leading example. HADAS’s setback can be explained in part by tactical miscalculations as well as a strategy by party leaders to lessen its oppositional and confrontational approach. HADAS can probably recover in the next elections, but its long term project of realizing its goals through political reform has been dealt a serious blow. The new parliament is likely to be less cohesive but more confrontational than the outgoing one. The result will be a deepening political deadlock between the government and the parliament in the Gulf’s most democratic political order.

A previous post which discussed the elections raised the possibility that the ICM was damaged by corruption allegations. The report supports this notion although the author implies that the allegations may have been fabricated:

HADAS deputies may have been hit hard by corruption allegations. Kuwaiti campaigns are often rich fields for rumors spread through diwaniyyas, leaflets, SMS messages, and blogs. And Kuwait is also awash both in oil money and in politicians with extensive business interests. This provides fertile ground for allegations and innuendo, whether fair or not. As opposed to the 2006 elections, in which the various opposition groups had rallied around a common cause of electoral reform, in 2008 they ran against each other. Negative and even scurrilous gossip was deployed widely. ….And HADAS candidates were targeted by some last minute corruption allegations that they struggled to fend off. If HADAS was not the only target of such negative campaigning, it was particularly vulnerable. Its anticorruption rhetoric made it particularly important that its own candidates be seen as above reproach. HADAS deputies had volunteered full financial disclosures of their assets and business interests in 2006; now they stood accused of only feigning purity. As opposed to other Islamist movements that have very extensive social service networks on which to draw, HADAS’s strong (though informal) association with the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood’s charitable arm, the Social Reform Society, may have actually proved a liability when other parties levied the charge (denied by HADAS) that charitable funds were being used for an expensive political campaign.

The author provides no evidence either supporting or refuting the allegations and also fails to note that there were also charges of “vote-buying” on the part of the son of one of the ICM candidates, an official ICM spokesman. The report suggests that the author is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and critical of efforts by the region’s government’s to suppress the movement which may have influenced his position on the corruption allegations. For example, he writes:

While Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders are dragged before military courts, Hamas parliamentary deputies languish in Israeli prisons, and Jordan’s Islamists veer toward confrontation with the government, Kuwait’s Islamic Constitutional Movement (known as HADAS, its Arabic acronym) —descended from the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood—has been integrated as a normal political party. It sends ministers to the government, negotiates with other parliamentary blocs, and runs the most sophisticated election campaigns that Kuwait has witnessed. Indeed, HADAS’s strong party machinery is unusual not only in Arab terms but also stands in contrast to its rivals in the Kuwaiti political spectrum, all of which are still composed of a collection of prominent personalities with at best a rudimentary organization to back them.

Other reasons suggested by the report for the poor ICM showing were personal weaknesses on the part of the ICM candidates, a switch to a new style of campaigning, and a strategy of “standing above the fray.”

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