First Published: 2006-05-29

Young Kuwaitis turn ‘Orange’

Cursed by some as spoiled children, hailed by others as heroes, young Kuwaitis demand reform in 'Orange Revolution'.


Middle East Online

By Omar Hasan - KUWAIT CITY

Their voice was heard

They have been cursed by their opponents as spoiled children and hailed by their supporters as heroes. They call themselves the voice of Kuwaiti youth, and they have broken their silence.

Wearing orange T-shirts and waving orange banners and Kuwaiti flags, hundreds of "frustrated" young people launched their campaign for political reform in a rare protest outside the seat of government on May 5.

Since then, they have been branded the "Orange Movement" or the "Orange Youth", with some even calling them the "Orange Revolution".

"We are a group of young people, from school, university and young graduates," one of their leaders, 29-year-old Khaled al-Fadalah, said as dozens of activists gathered outside the election registration centre.

Kuwait is holding early elections on June 29 after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah dissolved parliament on May 21 after a bitter standoff between pro-government and opposition MPs over electoral reform.

Opposition MPs have accused the government of deliberately blocking efforts to stamp out vote-buying by reducing the number of constituencies from 25, an issue that plunged the oil-rich emirate into political crisis.

"Our beginning was spontaneous," the US-educated Fadalah said. "We were discussing the political crisis in Kuwait at a restaurant. We said we should act. We decided to hold a protest at the council of ministers."

The orange protest began with the sending of SMS text messages. Then, through Internet bloggers and mobile phone calls, they set a date and a time.

"Between 400 and 500 people gathered. It was very successful," said Fadalah of the peaceful rally that lasted about three hours.

The protesters and pro-reform MPs blame the election system created some 25 years ago for most of Kuwait's alleged rampant corruption, saying it promotes vote-buying and thus produces some corrupt MPs.

They have pressed for the number of constituencies to be slashed to five, saying this would expand electoral districts and make vote-buying very difficult.

The colour orange was chosen "for no political reason", according to Nada al-Mutawa, one of the female activists. "It has nothing to do with Ukraine or Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun's movement," she said.

Buoyed by their initial success, the orange activists then staged an overnight vigil outside parliament ahead of the crucial May 15 debate. A number of pro-reform MPs visited them at what later came to be known as the "Square of Will".

About 1,000 members of the orange movement and others disrupted the parliament session when the government backed a motion to send the constitutional court its own bill that would trim the number of constituencies to 10.

They applauded as 29 opposition MPs walked out of the session, and chanted slogans like "we want it five" and "down with the government" - forcing ministers and pro-government MPs to leave the chamber before completing the vote.

Two days later, the protesters held a large public rally at the same spot, followed on May 19 by another at which opposition MPs pledged to back a request to question Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

"They branded us as children. Yes, we are. But children who love their country and who are determined to force positive change," activist Abdullah Buftain told thousands at the rally.

"We acted out of frustration at widespread corruption in every government institution and at every level," said Fadalah.

On the day parliament was dissolved, veteran opposition former MP Ahmad al-Saadun hailed the orange youth "as leaders of the Kuwaiti people who brought all political groups under one umbrella".

"In seven days, this group of young activists succeeded in bringing down the government. This week is historic for Kuwait, when the people exercised their right of change," Saadun said.

The orange activists and opposition MPs consider that the government has "failed" at a popular level.

The activists plan to play a key role in the June 29 parliamentary elections, though no Orange Movement member is standing because they are all under 30, the legal age for candidates.

Outside the election registration centre, the activists have managed to speak to most of the candidates, urging them to support a bill to reduce the number of constituencies to five and to fight corruption.

"We will monitor the candidates and we will expose the corrupt ones. We will keep a close watch and we will continue to chase them," said Fadalah.

The group is now using the Internet to name candidates it alleges are corrupt or who oppose reform.

The orange activists have created two lists for candidates.

Their "white list" contains the names of reformists, including the 29 opposition former MPs who have formed a new group called Alliance for Change, while the "black list" names hopefuls they allege are pro-government.


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