Kuwait's ruler accepted the resignation of the country's scandal-battered government Monday, but then directed it to remain in office as a caretaker Cabinet, a slap at opposition groups seeking to bring down the prime minister over a corruption scandal.
The boomerang political tactics by Kuwait's leadership could deepen tensions in the oil-rich nation, where a broad coalition ranging from Islamists to liberals is pressing for reforms from the government, at a time when the U.S. is considering posting thousands of troops there after its year-end pullout from Iraq.
Even so, there is little sign the tumult could seriously challenge Kuwait's political system, which features a ruling emir alongside a parliament with the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf.
The political confrontations in Kuwait predate the Arab Spring by many years, but the pro-reform uprisings across the region appear to have raised the stakes on both sides.
The standoff intensified last month, when a mob of angry demonstrators stormed the parliament building
Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, ordered tighter security measures after the parliament incident.
He called it a "black day" for the strategic Western-allied country, which already hosts about 29,000 U.S. troops.
A statement on the state-run Kuwait News Agency said the emir accepted the resignations of the prime minister, Sheik Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah, and the other members of the Cabinet. The statement blamed opposition forces for "obstructing" the work of government.
Then in a quick turnaround, the emir then asked the Cabinet members to remain in office "pending formation of a new government," without giving a timetable for that.
The sleight of hand tactic has already triggered outrage among the opposition, which has called for an all-night protest vigil near parliament.
Although the battles in recent weeks have been over corruption allegations, Kuwait's prime minister has long been a lightning rod for the opposition. Sheik Nasser _ a nephew of the emir _ has survived three no-confidence motions in parliament, most recently in June, and was scheduled to appear before the chamber on Tuesday for more questioning about government affairs. It's now unclear whether the grilling will take place.
Kuwait's opposition has long accused authorities of trying to limit political openness, and of using heavy-handed measures such as raids and arrests to silence dissenting voices.
The latest political crisis however has its roots in a corruption scandal that emerged over the summer.
Opposition critics alleged that the prime minister _ a nephew of the emir _ was connected to bribes paid to pro-government parliament members, who were then accused of transferring the money to foreign accounts. The country's long-serving foreign minister stepped down last month after claims that the transfers were routed through his ministry.
Despite the turmoil, there have been no calls for a removal of the ruling Al Sabah family. Instead, generous subsidies and a cradle-to-grave welfare system have helped the government resist calls for reforms until recently.
Still, a stalled economy _ despite 12 consecutive years of multibillion dollar budget surpluses _ has left many frustrated as Kuwait has been overshadowed by fast-growing Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the past 20 years.
"It's becoming difficult, almost impossible, to reach a compromise that will put our country back on the right track to achieving its aspirations," wrote columnist Sherida al-Moasherji in the daily Al Jarida.
The result has been a power struggle over the entire way in which the country is governed and who has the right to appoint the Cabinet, which is dominated by members of the ruling family.