Defining the “Tribal Advantage” in Kuwaiti Politics

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Courtney Freer Assistant Professorial Research Fellow, London School of Economics, Middle East Centre, London, UK,

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Andrew Leber Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA,

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Contemporary electoral discourses in Kuwait stress a “tribal advantage” that boosts the representation of tribe-affiliated Kuwaitis in the National Assembly and undermines the character of Kuwaiti democracy. We draw on survey data, elite interviews, and election returns to assess the validity of these claims. Kuwaiti responses in a survey of political attitudes cast doubt on the hypothesis that members of tribes are likelier to view voting as a quid-pro-quo exchange for government services. Election returns suggest a slight over-representation of tribe-affiliated Kuwaitis writ large, but as a result of the interaction of larger post-2006 electoral districts with tribal electoral coordination rather than as a result of government design. Additionally, electoral returns offer evidence of growing tribal coordination intended to ensure representation within the National Assembly, albeit one disrupted by changes in electoral laws. We conclude by highlighting the possibility of electoral appeals that build on, rather than restrict themselves to, ascriptive identities.

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