The Failure of Karamat Watan: State Legitimacy and Protest Failure in Kuwait


The Karamat Watan (March of Dignity) was the largest protest mobilisation in Kuwaiti history. From late December 2011 to 2014 this social movement pressured the government in the streets to reform the parliamentary system. The results of these protests were unprecedented, forcing a Kuwaiti prime minister to resign for the first time in in history and publicly challenging against the country's ruler. Yet the protest movement largely failed, largely due to a loss of public support. Why did the Karamat Watan protest movement lose support from the public in Kuwait? The literature on the Gulf and Kuwait in particular focus on payoffs as a way of explaining acquiesance, yet payoffs in 2011 and 2012 had almost no impact on protest mobilisation. Instead, it may be more normative issues that kept protesters away: the unrealistic and aggressive demands of protest organisers for regime change. This article focuses on the legitimacy, or lackthereof, of the government and regime to explain the failure of the "Arab Spring" protest movement in Kuwait, looking at how consent and normative concerns impacted the decision of protesters to leave the streets. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with citizens who participated in the protests, interviews with dozens of members of the opposition leadership, and group surveys at 13 tribal diwaniyas that highlight a cross-section of protesters' opinion. The research presented demonstrates that public support for the social movement may have in part failed largely because the movement was unsuccessful in framing that it could govern if it was successful. Public support was also limited by protest tactics including disrupting modes of transportation and livelihood. At the heart of protesters' concerns was the lack of a substantive opposition they could believe in and poor opinions on the quality of leadership in Karamat Watan. This article fills a gap in the literature by developing a clearer understanding of legitimation in a rentier state, Kuwait, and by providing dense empirical data to back it up. The utility of this approach is important considering that the failure for many social movements to frame grievances in a way that mobilizes the population, a common pattern in the region.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i20356609v14i2p702

Keywords: Kuwait; Social Movements; Framing; Legitimacy; Arab Gulf; Rentierism; Arab Spring


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