Despite the upheavals, Kuwait remains politically stable. And home to around 13,000 US troops, it has remained a strong US ally since 1991, when US forces repelled an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait during the Gulf War.
With an elected parliament, blocks resembling political parties, and sometimes vigorous public debate, Kuwaitis can participate in their government to a greater extent than their Arab Gulf neighbors, which are ruled by absolute monarchies. But the emir appoints the prime minister of the Sabah family and keeps the final say on state affairs, an imbalance that led to Sheikh Sabah’s biggest domestic crisis, when the Arab Spring reached Kuwait. The uproar only increased the long-standing tension between the appointed cabinet and the elected parliament.
Kuwaiti protesters and opposition lawmakers, fueled by what they saw as government attempts to interfere with a parliamentary election and a corruption scandal among members of parliament, pushed for constitutional amendments to loosen the grip of the ruling family on power and bring the country closer to a parliamentary system.
The protests drew tens of thousands of Kuwaitis to the streets, forcing the emir to replace the prime minister and dissolve parliament. Two years of unrest ensued, in which the emir used emergency laws to change electoral rules in a way the opposition said favored government candidates.
An opposition-dominated parliament was dissolved, protesters repeatedly clashed with police in the streets, and dozens of protesters were arrested for criticizing the Emir.