The emir of Kuwait announced on Friday that he would suspend the elected Parliament for up to four years, stoking fears that he could move to dismantle one of the Middle East’s last semi-democratic political systems.

“I will not permit for democracy to be exploited to destroy the state,” the emir, Sheikh Mishal Al Ahmed Al Sabah, said in a televised speech, declaring that a recent period of political turmoil required “hard decisions to save the country.”

The emir also suspended several articles of the Constitution and said that the transitional period would be used to review “all aspects of the democratic process” in Kuwait, an oil-rich state along the Persian Gulf. During the suspension, the emir and the cabinet will take over the 50-member Parliament’s legislative powers.

The decisions came a month after elections in which Kuwaitis chose a new Parliament, and its members had not yet begun their new session. While Kuwait’s Parliament has frequently been dissolved in favor of new elections — most recently by Sheikh Mishal in February — a parliamentary suspension has happened only twice in Kuwaiti history, in 1976 and 1986.

“This is a serious setback for democracy in the Middle East,” said Michael Herb, a political science professor at Georgia State University. “This suspension of the Parliament threatens to make Kuwait as authoritarian as the other Gulf monarchies.”

There is still hope that the country could take a different path, he added; after both past suspensions, Parliament was eventually restored.


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