Kuwait's most prominent opposition figure was released today after serving a two-year prison sentence for insulting the ruler in a speech critical of the country's sheikh. Hundreds of supporters welcomed Musallam al-Barrak, 61, outside of Kuwait's Central Prison, with a procession of cars following him to his house, after his release.
Many were from the former lawmaker's electoral district. Al-Barrak was convicted after giving a speech in late 2012 in which he called on Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah not to "drag the country into a dark abyss" and said Kuwait risked becoming an autocratic state under new electoral laws. Due to subsequent opposition boycotts, parliament is largely stacked with pro-government lawmakers. Speaking to The Associated Press, al-Barrak's lawyer Thamer al-Jadaei said his release was being celebrated because many admire his courage to speak out against what they see as corruption and stagnation. Fahad al-Daihani, a 39-year-old supporter who took his three children with him to al-Barrak's house to welcome his release, decorated the back window of his car with a picture of the opposition figure with Arabic writing describing him as "the conscience of the nation." "We haven't seen someone as adamant speaking up like Musallam, and it is good to have him back," he said. Al-Barrak won his first seat in parliament in 1996, and won six more elections after that, the last of which was in 2012 when he came out first in his district. Kuwait, one of Washington's most important Mideast allies, prides itself on having the most free-wheeling political system of all the Gulf Arab monarchies, but it remains illegal to insult the ruling emir.