By Mahmoud Harby
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Thousands of Kuwaitis protested on Tuesday against a court ruling that effectively dissolved a parliament dominated by opposition Islamists and reinstated the previous, more government-friendly, assembly.
They packed Erada square opposite parliament in the OPEC-oil producer and chanted "we will not surrender", after lawmakers decried the ruling as a coup against the constitution and called for protests.
"We came here to say no to the previous parliament because its members were corrupt," said Khaled al-Khalifa, 24. "They stole the people's money."
Kuwait has long prided itself on having a fully elected parliament with legislative power and lively debate - unique in a region ruled by autocrats who tolerate little dissent - but the ruling al-Sabah family maintains a firm grip on state affairs.
Key cabinet posts are held by al Sabah family members and the 83-year-old emir, who has the last say in politics, reserves the right to dissolve parliament at will.
"The parliament was under attack because it went out of (the government's) control," Adel al-Damkhi, a Salafi Islamist member of the annulled assembly, told throngs of protesters at Erada square, scene of several anti-government protests.
"We can't accept less than a government that is elected by the people."
Another lawmaker, Obeid al-Wasmi, said some members of the previous parliament should be investigated for corruption rather than reinstalling the assembly.
"We have a government that doesn't listen, doesn't see and all it does is deceiving the people," he said. "Kuwait is not a chicken farm."
The protest, which gathered at least 4,000 people, according to a Reuters witness, was marked by a lack of a security presence.
The Gulf state has ushered in four parliaments in six years and was rattled by regular demonstrations last year, including one in November in which hundreds of men stormed parliament to press for the sacking of the premier at that time, who they implicated in a corruption scandal he was later cleared of.
And while it has escaped the kind of mass popular protests that has forced four Arab dictators out of office, those uprisings have heightened opposition calls for a full parliamentary democracy.
During their four months in parliament, opposition lawmakers emboldened by their success at the polls repeatedly sought to grill cabinet members, forcing the resignation of two, including the finance minister.
The cabinet, formed in February following the snap parliamentary election now ruled void, submitted its resignation on Monday in a step that could pave a way out of the crisis.
Pro-government MPs have been demanding the reinstated assembly, which the emir dissolved in December last year following months of bickering with the government, be allowed to finish its term, while opponents have threatened to block any attempt to convene it.
Optimists hope the move will give Kuwait another chance to break out of a crippling political cycle that has seen eight governments come and go in just six years and hindered any major economic reforms.