Parliamentary elections and Salafi Movements in Kuwait and Yemen [Archives:2003/657/Reportage]
Yemen and Kuwait have witnessed recently relatively similar general parliamentary elections with some differences in nature. And in spite of the various deficiencies in both experiences we could definitely say that both countries have gained from their experiences and made a progress in their democratic movement.
The Kuwaiti relation with politics could be said to have started in 1963 when the legislative council was established and relative freedom of speech and expression was availed in that country then. And the democracy movement since then had been progressing as they also view themselves pioneers in the Arabian Peninsula in this aspect. However it is the inclusion of females in politics that really displayed a democratic leap in that country although it is not so much as compared to other democratic countries. Another aspect in the Kuwaiti democratic experience is the appearance of various political trends and political-religious affiliations of which the Salafi sect is one. The surprising result in the latest peoples' council elections when the Salafi sect won a number of seats was not as much as one as the fact that the Salafis actually believed in democracy and in participating in elections or in democratic events in general. This in opposite to the Salafis in Yemen who view such events as Haram (blasphemy) coming from the belief that democracy itself as a concept is against the religion. In Kuwait, the two Salafi movements (Revitalizing Culture Society and Salafi Movement) participated in the elections and even won seats in the council in spite of the fact that some scholars still have conflicting views on the participation in elections. However, Ahmed Al-Duaij one of the candidates who did not succeed in winning a seat told us that: “There is no dispute between the Islamic trends candidates and I say that the Salafi movement has deep roots and a programme and specific cases in the people's council because it is related with public bases and believes totally that the parliament is a legal and correct method to express opinion and it has a promising future because the movement is aware of the needs and demands of the coming era and hence are ready to coordinate with all Islamic tends if bases are agreed upon. There is coordination between the Salafi movement and some of the independents who have similar beliefs relating to the Islamic issues and standing against cases that differ with the Kuwaiti culture such as women's participation. We are going into the experience and accept the consequences.”
Perhaps the Kuwaitis participated in the parliamentary experience being aware of the demands of the new era and adapting to changes but it is still feared that a new tone would rise in their language and dialogue. The Salafi movement has a few clear cases most importantly Islamitaizing the laws and school syllabus. They fight against all liberal movements and modern trends which conflict with the Kuwaiti culture and with Islam from their prospective.
This was a quick review to the Salafi stances in Kuwait regarding the 2003 parliamentary elections there, displaying their straying from the deep-rooted movement founded by Shiekh Mohammed bin Abdulwahab in the 18th century. In Yemen, the Salafis termed the Ikhwan movement which comes from the same roots (Al-Wahhabi) as atheists and looked upon them with disapproving eyes on their participation in the elections. Shiekh Muqbil bin Hadi Al-Wadie founder of the Salafi movement in Yemen expressed this when he said: “Those Ikhwan will not push us from al-Mahara to al-Hudaida and they have to repent and ask god to forgive them for their grave sins which they committed as participation in elections and acceptance of democracy.”
The conflict between the Salafis and al-Ikhwan in Yemen appeared in the early nineties when the Salafis made use of the liberal environment and availed acceptance from the authorities. It was then that they received funds and donations from many pro-Salafi organisations. The Yemeni Salafis faced democracy and the elections with total rejection and termed all that participate in it or support it as atheists and sinners because they believe democracy and elections are acts of blasphemy. They use their numerous centres which are more than 120 and mosques which are more than 700 mosques around the republic in which they teach their fundamentals to thousands of students and also use cassettes and preaching in mosques to condemn and defame democracy and its related issues.
And just like the Salafis in Yemen are divided the Salafis in Kuwait are too, but their disputes did not prevent them from having a common stand towards the elections and participating in it.
Perhaps the disputes between the Yemeni Salafis are due to the variation in their opinions about democracy and political groups. In general three divisions of Salafis could be found in Yemen:
– The first group maintained its disapproving stand towards democracy and political grouping or any similar political associations such as societies and the like. This is that of Shiekh Muqbil al-Wadie and his followers.
– This one disapproved democracy but approved formation of political groups and societies, which made them viewed as outcasts by the first group. This group is represented by Abulhassan Al-Masri and his followers.
– This group is what is called organized Salafi movement which was established by al-Hikma al-Yamania Society and which approved democracy and participated in the elections with reservations
The variation in stands in the Salafi movement in Yemen goes back the Saudi references which views any change of its rigid stance against democracy a clear violation of the Salafi sect and might lead to stoppage of the funding and Saudi support which many of the Salafi centres in Yemen depend on.