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Kuwait court expels harsh government critic from parliament

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2018 file photo, opposition activist Bader al-Dahoum, left, speaks amid posters that show some of those detained with a hashtag in Arabic reading, "With Heads Held High," during a protest near Kuwait's parliament in Kuwait City, Kuwait. On Sunday, March 14, 2021, Kuwaits constitutional court ordered al-Dahoum expelled from parliament citing an old conviction for insulting the late emir. The move inflamed tensions between the government and legislature, revealing the limits of political freedom in the Gulf state. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File) (Jon Gambrell, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DUBAI – Kuwait's constitutional court ordered the country’s most outspoken opposition lawmaker expelled from parliament on Sunday, inflaming tensions between the government and legislature and revealing the limits of political freedom in the Gulf state.

The court nullified Bader al-Dahoum’s membership in the currently suspended parliament, citing an old conviction for insulting the late emir. The decision sparked instant fury among his fellow lawmakers, given that the country's highest appeals court had since acquitted al-Dahoum on the defamation charges, clearing the way for him to run in last year’s parliamentary elections.

Al-Dahoum has become notorious in Kuwait for his vociferous protests against the government. In recent weeks, the discord between the country’s elected parliament and emir-appointed Cabinet has reached a fever pitch. While Kuwait's parliament is more democratic than other Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, its powers remain limited. Lawmakers can introduce legislation and interrogate ministers, though the emir retains ultimate authority and ruling family members hold senior posts.

Following lawmakers’ uproar over new ministerial appointments earlier this year, the government resigned and the emir later suspended parliament for a month starting Feb. 18 to defuse tensions. The deadlock has pushed oil-rich Kuwait toward its worst financial crisis in decades and impeded all efforts toward political and social reform.

As lawmakers convened to discuss next steps Sunday, distrust was running high. Lawmakers suspected political motives in the court decision, with 28 deputies demanding urgent legal changes to reduce the court’s influence over the elected parliament.

The move comes as opposition figures in Kuwait are feeling increasingly hemmed in amid the suspension of parliament and a nationwide coronavirus curfew that forbids residents from gathering and leaving their homes after 5pm.

The ruling “is seen as an attempt by the government to eliminate a harsh critic from the political scene," said Kuwaiti political analyst Mohammed al-Yousef. “It's a bad sign for how the government will deal with dissent."