KUWAIT CITY (AP) — More than 6,000 Kuwaitis protested Tuesday against government corruption, demanding better services, transparency in government and an economic revival in the Gulf Arab country that was once one of the region's most attractive for foreign investment.
The protest signals the frustration felt by many across Kuwait that the country has remained stagnant as its neighbors, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that is home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, grow and flourish. Kuwaitis at the protest said they are frustrated that despite their country's oil wealth, much is being siphoned off the top by corrupt officials.
Despite the protest taking place after sunset, temperatures soared in Kuwait City. Organizers passed out ice cream and cold water to protesters who gathered in al-Irada Square in Kuwait City, where gatherings and protests are legal.
Kuwait prides itself on having the Gulf's most free-wheeling political system and a vibrant press, but denouncing the Western-backed emir is illegal. The emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, was chosen by the ruling family in 2006 after an internal power struggle that followed his predecessor's death.
Kuwait's top court earlier this week overturned an appeals court acquittal and sentenced three other former opposition lawmakers to 20 months in prison for insulting the Western-backed country's ruler, though they will be allowed to remain free on bail. Their lawyer told The Associated Press that they would take part in Tuesday's rally.
"It's such a refreshing sight to see all of these faces here today. All of these people have come to deliver a message: All these people here are here to save Kuwait from corruption, to say they've had enough," former lawmaker Jamaan Al-Hirbish told the crowd from atop a stage.
The protest Tuesday was being led by former opposition lawmaker Musallam al-Barrack, whose group has promised to launch a series of street protests to press for reform in the Gulf state. The group is calling for allowing citizens to run for the prime minister's post. Kuwaiti prime ministers are currently appointed by the emir and are from the ruling family.
Al-Barrack has a history of challenging the Kuwaiti political establishment, which is dominated by the long-ruling Al Sabah family. He was convicted last year of insulting the emir over comments made in an October 2012 speech in which he accused the OPEC nation's ruler of running the country as an "autocracy."
Khaled al-Kanderi, 34, said he joined the rally because he feels Kuwait is "deteriorating day after day." He works in the government's Social Affairs Ministry and wants government officials to be held accountable for corruption.
"We want them to know that we know what they're doing," he said.
Five Kuwaiti lawmakers recently resigned in protest because the largely pro-government parliament refused to question the country's prime minister over corruption allegations.
Another protester, university student Fahad al-Enezi said people are not happy with government services, such as public health care and the education system, and are demanding a better future.
Tariq Al-Doussari joined the rally with his wife and children. He said people have had enough.
"I'm completely dissatisfied and very disappointed with how things are going in our country today," he said. We want transparency and accountability and we want to know why we're stuck while all the other countries in the region flourish."
The protest comes a day after a Kuwaiti court ordered two newspapers to stop printing for a second time in less than two months over articles about a secret probe into allegations of a coup plot to overthrow the Gulf monarchy's government.
Al Watan reported online Monday that a judge ordered its print edition and that of Alam Al Yawm newspaper to stop publishing for five days because they had violated a prosecutor-ordered media blackout over the investigation. In April, the two newspapers received a two-week suspension from publishing from a court for the same reason.
The Kuwaiti prosecutor's office has ordered that a probe into the videotape be held in secret and called for a media blackout of the investigation. The tape purportedly contains allegations of a plot to topple the ruling system led by the emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah.