NOTE: We did get an announcement from the US Embassy that this "demonstration" was going to occur and to stay away from this area. It's an interesting situation...stay tuned. BUT do not worry for us. All is well. Inshallah
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Unrest is sweeping across much of the Middle East and Kuwaitis hope the winds of change might blow new life into their stagnant political system.
Several hundred protesters took to the streets of this oil-rich country Tuesday for the first time since the start of the Arab uprisings, demanding an end to corruption and the removal of Kuwait's unpopular prime minister.
In the refined atmosphere of an all-male "diwaniya" -- the Gulf state's version of a gentleman's club -- influential voices say there is no better time for the emir to address his people's long-standing grievances.
Once viewed as a progressive Gulf state, Kuwait now has an unkempt and faded feel, and is clearly lagging behind Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and their futuristic metropolises.
The focus for discontent is the prime minister, a nephew of emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who has been accused of failing to reform healthcare, education and the country's infrastructure.
"I think this is the right time to change the prime minister in whichever way it happens," veteran lawmaker Ahmed al-Sadoun, leader of the Kuwaiti opposition Popular Action bloc, said at his diwaniya.
Such meetings are a barometer of public opinion and are referred to as Kuwait's "mini parliaments," vital for picking up the buzz on what is happening in the political arena, stock market or corridors of corporate life.
NOT ABOUT MONEY
Kuwait is the world's fourth largest oil exporter and generated per capita GDP of $37,451 in 2010, according to IMF data, against just $2,758 in Egypt and $3,851 in Tunisia.
In January the emir granted his people 1,000 dinars ($3,597) and free food rations until March 2012 to celebrate 50 years of independence and 5 years since he became emir. But some suspected an ulterior motive in the handout.
"It's morphine for the people. They don't want people to complain," Abdullah Mohammad, a former Kuwait Airways employee, said at the diwaniya.
Kuwaitis, who had to rebuild large parts of their country after the 1990 Iraq invasion, say their grievances are not financial and instead complain about a lack of key services.
"Kuwaitis are looking for political reform and it's this lack of reform that is preventing the country from developing its infrastructure," said Shafiq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University.
Ironically Kuwait is home to the Gulf's most outspoken parliament and even has women parliamentarians, something that would be unthinkable in conservative neighbor Saudi Arabia.
But it does not allow political parties and the emir has dissolved parliament three times since he became ruler in 2006 after it clashed with the prime minister and cabinet over allegations of corruption and mismanagement.