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Kuwaiti Special Forces ‘beat’ MPs and protestors 10, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Kuwaiti Special Forces clashed violently with what they describe as an unauthorised protest organised by opposition MPs. Reports indicate that they harshly used their batons to beat protesters, including many MPs themselves, in an attempt to disperse the crowd that had gathered at the house of MP Jamman Al Harbash, one of the key organisers. Numerous participants and MPs were taken to hospital for their injuries.

This rally was the second one designed to bring attention to ‘a government plot’ to amend Kuwait’s 1962 constitution underpinning Kuwait’s brand of Parliamentary Democracy. It also has its roots in the long-standing confrontations between Opposition MPs and the Government, as represented by the Prime Minister (the nephew of the Emir).

One of the key issues at stake concerns corruption in the elite, which is a persistent bug-bear of Opposition MPs (and the population as a whole). Specifically, they wanted to protest the prosecution of an MP (Faisal Mislem) who showed a copy of a cheque for £400,000 from the Prime Minister to a former MP. At the time this caused a huge furore, not only because it was a flagrant accusation of bribery by the (Royal) Prime Minister but also because it was hugely embarrassing for him.

Before the protest, earlier in the day Emir Sabah Al Sabah, had warned that protests could be held within MPs houses or Diwaniyyas (meetings) but were not allowed to spill out onto the streets. This is something of a legal ‘sticking point’. A 2006 declaration by Kuwait’s constitutional court clearly states that rallies may be held without government approval. The Emir is trying to lightly back-peddle on this by suggesting that while this is true, this does not give some kind of carte blanche for any and all protests to take place.

Given such clear backing and instruction from the Emir, it is believed that the unpopular Prime Minister gave the order for the Special Forces to intervene.

MPs plan to ‘grill’ (interpolate) the Prime Minister on this subject today in what will certainly be a heated session. They broke the taboo allowing them to interrogate the Royal PM this time last year. This ushered in a period of relative calm and productivity in the Parliament. Previously, MPs wilfully sought to ‘grill’ the PM knowing full-well that doing do would force the Emir to dissolve the Parliament. A key corollary of this harmful atmosphere in the Parliament was that much needed economic reform packages were consistently delayed. Though they have gone through now in the past 12 months as a sign of improving tensions, many are yet to come into legal force.

There must surely be fears in Kuwait that this latest spat could, once again, escalate tensions between the Government and the Parliament. The fall out of this could be a return to the bitter and acrimonious politics of recent years in Kuwait where the difficult decisions that need to be taken regarding Kuwait’s economy and infrastructure once again fall victim to the febrile atmosphere of partisan politics and dissention.

Kuwait’s Ambassador in Iran 9, December 2010

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The Kuwaiti Ambassador to Iran has invited President Ahmadinejad to Kuwait for the 50th anniversary of Kuwait’s Independence. This is yet another example highlighting, firstly, just how fractured the ‘unity’ of the GCC against Iran is and, secondly, the impracticability of America’s notion of using the GCC as a block to isolate Iran.

This is the same Ambassador who, earlier this year and severely contrary to directives from home, stated that the term ‘Arabian Gulf’ is not accurate and that the term ‘Persian Gulf’ is correct and should be used. An example, perhaps, of a diplomacy ‘going native/bush’ if ever there was one.

While practically every week there is a story about the proper name of this body of water, I noticed that recently America purposefully directed its Navy to use the term Arabian Gulf, contrary to their own legal standards, just to annoy the Iranians. Very mature. While the US Navy, in deference to their Arab GCC allies usually uses this terms, officially demanding its use it another matter.

 

 

Kuwait’s alcohol rumour comes up again 3, November 2010

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Rumours and reports that alcohol will soon be allowed in Kuwait have been denied by the commerce and industry Minister.

This latest rumour – rather specifically – suggested that Law 614/1967 was going to allow consumption of alcohol by foreigners visiting Kuwait in 5 star hotels.

Many of the more progressive members of Kuwait’s Parliament no doubt would ideally like allow this law to go through. I don’t say ‘progressive’ because alcohol is at the end of some kind of social evolution or some such notion, but because banning it strikes me as a rather infantile. However, given the fractious and religious nature of Kuwait’s Parliament, at present I cannot see how such a law could possible go through.

Allowing moderated alcohol in the country would, as far as I see it, show that Kuwait was evolving in its social mores and catering to the demands of people who are crucial for its continued prosperity. Kuwait already can’t begin to compete on countless levels with Dubai, Doha and other local centers vying for expatriates and their skills, time and money. Kuwait can be picky now while its oil lasts, but sooner rather than later, they will have to stop being so inflexible.

Indeed, it’s not as if the majority of Kuwaiti households do not already have a veritable bar of alcohol in their house as a quasi sign of social ‘progress’ and one upmanship

‘I’ve got Johnny Walker black label…’ ‘oh, that’s nice…I only drink Johnny Walker Blue label myself…’.

The more alcohol the richer, more erudite and well traveled one is seems to be the underlying idea. Moreover, if Kuwait really cared that much about it they would finally do something to the foreigners who routinely try to bring alcohol back into the country in their suitcase instead of simply taking it off them, tutting, then selling it back to the foreigners at hugely inflated prices on the black market.

 

 

U-turn on Kuwaiti conscription 19, October 2010

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Kuwait’s mooted plan to bring back conscription for Kuwait males is to be abandoned. The plan suggested in July was to provide some kind of cohesion in what some feared was an ever more fractured and privileged society. Additionally, it was hoped that some kind of army training would counter the trend of increasingly ‘feminine’ males in Kuwait: a clear threat to something or other.

Yet Army chiefs have said that they would prefer instead to maintain a volunteer force and eschew the

onerous burden of [training] tens of thousands of young Kuwaiti men

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the work-ethic in GCC national armies which is generally abysmal. Additionally, a conscript army would exacerbate a problem rife throughout all GCC armies: yes, they have the latest and often best equipment (planes, boats etc) but (surprisingly) often they cannot use them and can certainly not repair them.

One Western Commander noted that one GCC Navy (that shall remain nameless) bought an advanced coastal patrolling ship but stubbornly refused to take it out at night. Firstly, because they were afraid that they wouldn’t be able to find their way back to port in the dark and secondly because the Captain of the boat (or whatever he’s called) had to “get milk for his wife every morning.”

 

 

On Kuwait’s sponsorship system U-turn 19, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait, Opinion.
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The FT has a good article discussing Kuwait’s u-turn on abolishing their kefala sponsorship system. The day after it was announced by the Labour Minister that Kuwait would get rid of the system by February 2011, the announcement was rescinded by the same Ministry.

The key issue is that abolishing the system directly affects swathes of Kuwaitis. Currently, nationals of Gulf States can set up a massively lucrative businesses importing workers from abroad. Given the lack of oversight and the culture sadly prevailing across much of the GCC, wages are regularly unpaid, holidays canceled, gratuities reneged upon and far longer hours of work demanded. Yet, as I noted in a recent post about Qatar’s kefala system, businessmen voting to get rid of this system is like Turkeys voting for Christmas: unlikely.

The repeal of the whole system would redress the balance in employer-employee relations significantly and – essentially – hit (in this case) Kuwaiti businessmen in their pocket. When Bahrain announced that they were abolishing their kefala system their business lobby erupted with anger. The same happened in Kuwait and the same in Qatar. Instead, loop-hole-ridden, half-hearted reforms are enacted that are a shadow of what was initially promised.

It clearly does not matter to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that they are on the third and worst tier of the U.S. State Department’s watch list for human trafficking: is it truly unfair to say that by definition the majority of Kuwaiti businessmen care more about their profits than the human rights of the workers they import? Alas I’m not sure that that is such an outlandish statement.

 

 

 

Kuwaitis attack TV station over Royal insult 18, October 2010

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Reuters reports that a mob of Kuwaitis attacked a local TV station over the airing of a satirical comedy show mocking members of the Royal family. At least 10 members of the station staff were assaulted and injured by the protesters, some of whom carried pistols and knifes.

The writer and director of the show and owner of the TV station in question, Fajer al-Saeed, has been questioned by police over accusations that she was trying to overthrow the government through the medium of a satirical comedy show Sawtak Wasal (Your Voice has been Heard). Al Saeed also received death threats.

On a talk show on Saturday night, Zain wa Shain (Good and Bad), Al Saeed accused a member of the Royal Family who works in the Information Ministry of accusing her of seeking to undermine the government in her satirical show aired in August. This (so far as I can work out) was the immediate precipitant of the mini-riot.

In one episode aired in the summer, Sawtak Wasal made a joke about “privatising and exporting Kuwaiti democracy” which has been construed as a direct attack on Kuwaiti institutions.

Certainly, privatization in Kuwait is a sensitive subject. Ordinary Kuwaitis fear that privatization of industries or companies will only drive up prices for them and enable the directors to make large profits. These fears are not without basis. In most cases, given that government-run services are provided below cost, were a profit-making business to take over, then they would have to charge the (higher) market rate. There have also been countless high-profile cases in the past few decades of corruption.

Yet, rich as Kuwait is, it cannot afford to continually avoid privatization. Indeed, where this has taken place, for example, in the telecommunications market, Kuwaiti brands are succeeding and expanding far abroad.

Sitting here in the UK which has a rich tradition of often bitter, harsh ridicule of leaders (Spitting Image, Private Eye etc), it is curious to see such a reaction. Yet, one must remember that this mob was only 150 people strong and must not be taken as representative of Kuwait as a whole. While many Kuwaitis are somewhat skeptical as to the levels of freedom of speech and see ‘liberalisation’ as some kind of a threat to traditional Kuwaiti values and traditions, I would estimate (please feel free to disagree) that these people are in the minority; albeit a vocal one.

Update:

In case people don’t read the comments, the following quotes are insightful and pertinent contributions from two of the Gulf Blog’s most celebrated readers and commenters. Thanks very much to them.

A bit of context here..

The undersecretary of MOI is from the Al-Malek branch of the ruling Al-Sabah family, and he has accused Fajer Al-Saeed of undermining the government, whatever that means, which is ironic considering she is related to the Emir on his mother’s side

Her brother Talal, on his show Saturday night, brought up a long-forgotten incident from the late 1950s in which members of the Al-Malek branch – who had up till then been unrecognized by the Al-Sabahs! – marched into town with tanks (or just the one tank) and attempted to overthrow the Al-Sabahs in a botched coup attempt… Talal accused them of being the original instigators against the family on his show and that must have been the last straw

It’s all rather embarrassing really.

Thanks Zaydoun at Kuwait-unplugged.com

And, for the following, thanks to Abu Arqala at http://suqalmal.blogspot.com/

A couple of members of the Royal Family – Al Malik Branch – have been summoned to assist the police with their investigation into the attack on Scope TV’s premises, damage to broadcasting equipment, and arson on the main set.

Shaykh Faysal Al Malik – Ambassador to Jordan and his brother, Shaykh Abdullah – Director of Research at the Airport.

Here’s the report from Al Watan newspaper – owned by the “nautical” wing of the Al Sabah family. (But not pleasure boats!)

http://alwatan.kuwait.tt/articledetails.aspx?id=61820

Kuwait arrests 5 Iraqi fishermen 11, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Kuwait.
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Kuwaiti coastguards have arrested five Iraqi fishermen for entering Kuwait’s territorial waters. In May, Gulf News reports, 10 Iraqi fishermen were arrested for the same offense.

There have been numerous such skirmishes along the Gulf in the past few years. Borders are often poorly demarcated, not agreed upon, not known or fishing grounds have been destroyed or depleted forcing fishermen to fish further afield.

While technically speaking these are minor incidents they have a history of spiraling out of control: the recent Qatari-Bahraini incidents spring to mind. Yet nowhere is there a keener sense of latent anger than between Iraq and Kuwait. Were the nationalistic Parliaments to pick up on these incidents, the situation could easily be amplified significantly.

 

 

Kuwaiti policeman converts to Christianity 8, October 2010

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A Kuwaiti policeman has filed a lawsuit against the Ministries of Interior, Health, Justice and the Director of Civil Information to allow him to officially change his religion on all his documentation from Muslim to Christian.

At the age of consent – 18 years old – he chose Christianity and has followed its scriptures since.

This can not but cause a problem in Kuwait. Being a Muslim and willingly ‘leaving’ the region is seen – I believe –  as a serious crime in Islam. Given the perennial shenanigans in Kuwait’s Parliament it is surely only a matter of time before one of the Salafi MPs brings this up as an example of the moral decay of Kuwaiti society.

Christians are free to worship in Kuwait though I doubt very much whether they are allowed to proselytize.

Incidentally, I love the title of the first comment in reaction to this story in the newspaper:

Kill the apostate

All this reminds me of :

[do NOT watch it if you are religious and easily offended; it contains mild, good-natured mockery of Islam and Christianity which many people, despite its utter harmlessness, may find offensive.]

Domestic workers in Kuwait: 20,000 complaints per year 6, October 2010

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Human Rights Watch reports that abuse of domestic workers in Kuwait is rising. Compounding this is the fact that if or when abused workers seek to escape torturous conditions they may face prosecution.

HRW continues to repeat what is known by anyone with but a passing interest in this topic:

  • Salaries can be (and are) easily withheld from the workers
  • Workers are often forced to work exceedingly long hours – there is no law protecting them
  • Many have been deprived of adequate food and water
  • Many have been physically or sexually abused

The sheer numbers involved beggar belief.

In 2009, domestic workers from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines and Ethiopia filed over 10,000 complaints of abuse with their embassies.

Worse still, this data does not include reports from Indian maids who make up nearly half of the 660,000 domestic workers in Kuwait. Can we, therefore, say that, unless Indian workers are treated better, for which I see no convincing rationale, there are somewhere in the region of 20,000 complaints per year? This is truly a horrific number.

Perhaps Kuwait’s mooted decision to get rid of the kefala system by February 2011 is a chink of light in an otherwise wholly depressing and repetitive saga.

Kuwait to get rid of kefala system 27, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Kuwait.
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Kuwait is to get rid of its kafala sponsorship system for hiring foreign workers. The kafala system operates by making foreign workers use a local sponsor. This, in conjunction, with a wide-spread ethos that sees domestic servants, drivers and nannies as property and not as human beings, has led to decades of atrocious human rights abuses not only in Kuwait but throughout the Gulf.

It is hoped that this will make it easier for workers to change jobs as opposed to previously when this was practically impossible either legally or because the previous employer held the worker’s passport. The kefala system has – with very good reason – been described as modern-day slavery. However, while obviously a step in the right direction, clearly, this will not be a panacea to continued human rights abuses in Kuwait: culture cannot change overnight.

Bahrain got rid of its kefala system in 2009, much to the anger of its business community. Kuwait authorities said that they were scrapping this system “as a gift to foreign workers on the anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation.”

The other Gulf countries still practice the kafala system.