Flip your avatar’ following this twitter hashtag, users from different parts of the world have asked me to explain the fight of the Bidun over statelessness in Kuwait and how it feels to have been brought up in this underrepresented minority in an oil state; famously considered the most democratic when compared with its Gulf counterparts. The goal of the hashtag was to remind people of our cause and to raise awareness of our ignored struggle. Thanks to social media, thousands have become aware of our grievances and concerns.
Social media has helped those of us who are stateless bond, communicate, and better coordinate for the sake of the community. These protests first started in February and immediately came under heavy attack from the local mainstream media and some racist and misinformed citizens, in addition to facing heavy police brutality.
As if the stateless of Kuwait did not already have enough reasons to take to the streets of Taimaa and Sulaibiya this February, the interior ministry recently gave them new and compelling reasons to do so. Their cause has been growing since the 60’s with the establishment of Kuwait as a state. Their lives deteriorated significantly in 1986 when Kuwait decided to deny them the right to documents, education, health care, and employment. In the late 80’s, a stateless person did not have access to public education or to the only university in the country, as private universities did not then exist. Over the following years, the ministry decided to deny them birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates. The stories that come out of the community leave readers and spectators amazed by the absurdity of the situation; how one can exist and not exist!
Until recently, there was little coverage of the plight of those involved in the stateless struggle in local or international media. This year though, everything turned upside down. A few thousand out of 120,000 stateless people protested earlier this year. They were beaten, arrested, and put on trial with silly charges. The November protests against the prime minister of Kuwait that pushed him to resign, however, were alos gret encouragment to the stateless of Kuwait. This time, the authorities were obliged to come up with some different answers.
The authorities drew on their old anti-stateless alliance with local newspapers to use the same misconceptions, stereotypes, and charges to win public support for repressing these protests. But within months, the whole status of the ongoing protests had changed. This was partly due to the weekly planning of the stateless campaigners. But what was even more important was the involvement of Kuwaiti citizens in supporting the protests. The newly formed leftist group “Tayar Taqadomi” was the first to speak out sharply against repressing stateless protesters, documenting violations, and attending our trials.
The Kuwait Human Rights Association kept up a stream of ‘gentle’ condemnations but it also played a crucial role in documenting violations and speaking up for the arrested stateless protesters. Activists, columnists, and sympathizers protested in front of the parliament in our support. When the stateless protesters wanted to join these protests, however, the security forces at once practiced their apartheid tactics, demanding civilian IDs and saying that only citizens were allowed to protest, especially in Erada Square!
The December protests of the stateless were at first repressed as they have always been, with the interior ministry deploying the usual lies and disinformation against the protests on the ground and through the media. Within a few days, however, the stateless were thrilled to see the authorities, for the first time, having to try to contain a situation which threatened to escalate, thanks especially to the new levels of support among well-known citizens.
Saleh Al-Fidhala, the Chairman of the Executive Committee for Addressing the Status of Illegal Residents, whom the stateless refer to as Hitler, was forced to come on national TV to talk about official plans to solve the situation. He only reminded the stateless of all the previous racist and derogatory remarks he had made on previous occasions against them. The fact that he was on state TV at all was in itself a sign that showed how intimidated the authorities were, for the first time, by the protests. That piece of theatrical showmanship was swiftly followed by a spate of statements and promises coming out of the interior ministry.
The stateless of Kuwait were once a part of the society, never needing to speak out because they never felt themselves differentiated. After 1986, a whole generation grew up suffering from an apartheid and lack of basic rights. This generation is the one that has started to form itself in 2008, protesting in small numbers, writing online, receiving threats, and getting arrested without anyone covering the stories of their detentions. This generation felt empowered, in contrast to the silence of their fathers who feared that speaking up might delay their naturalization. So this generation is revolting not only against injustice but against a set of fears well-implanted in the community.
The recent promises might be just another trick to cool off the protests, only to root out the main organizers and deal with them when things have died down. The promises might also be another attempt to deceive the international community and to keep up the whitewash of a ‘bright’ national image. Among the twelve million stateless people around the world, very few communities have been vocal in fighting for their rights, most notably the undocumented in the United States and the stateless of Kuwait. We feel that we have grabbed way more attention than anyone recently. And this matters to us, because what will make the difference is not what the authorities decide to do, but the fact that finally we are letting them know that the status quo has changed: and that we might be stateless, but we are no longer voiceless.
* Published in Open Democracy - 31 Dec 2011.
Here's my talk with Al-Jazeera English show "The Stream", in case you missed it.
There are more than 100,000 stateless in Kuwait struggling to have the rights to documents, education, health care, employment, and most importantly naturalization. Back in February and March, hundreds of them took to the streets to demonstrate for those rights, where they faced police brutality and arrests. This month, after the replacement of Kuwait's Prime Minister, following public pressure due to protests, Kuwait's stateless population felt more encouraged to protest again. Last week, there were several small protests in reaction to the trials of protesters. On Friday, the protest led to the arrest of 20 men, later released on Sunday. On Monday, a bigger protest took place in Taimaa, where protesters gathered, in which police used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and smoke bombs to disperse them. Later on in the evening, Kuwaitis wanted to protest side by side with the stateless for their rights in front of the parliament, but security forces decided to not let anyone inside the Erada Square, unless they showed a valid civil ID card, which proved they were citizens. Monday also marked the arrest of around 30 men who entered a hunger strike on that same day. I tried to cover the protest through Twitter, translating the observations of activists on the ground, tweeting in Arabic.
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In some Turkish restaurant in Brooklyn, I had the honor of meeting Hussein Ibish where we had a long discussion about Kuwait in general and the status of the Stateless community in specific. Here's a link to the first part of it, as he published it in his blog.
Bahraini protesters have been continuing with their daily protests despite a government crackdown, from a government that tells the world that it is implementing reforms and not involved in the killing of innocent people. This none forceful confrontation with protesters has resulted in two deaths and countless injuries since Thursday.
On Thursday, Bahrainis started their #OccupyBudaiyaSt protests. On that day, a 22-year-old man called Ali Al-Gassab was killed and activist/blogger Zainab Al-Khawajah was arrested for taking part in the Occupy Budaiya Street protest. The Occupy Budaiya Street protest aims at pressuring the government to release political prisoners and pay tribute to Bahrain's 40-plus martyrs, killed at the hand of security forces since the unrest started in Bahrain in February.
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|"Bidun" - Illustrations made by Samah Hussain|
Because we have been repressed, denied the right to protest, sent to trials for speaking up, arrested, denied the right to get justice through the court.
Because we have been discriminated in our own home, disrespected, deprived off our dignity. Because we have been isolated and fought with misconceptions and injustice.
Because we have been denied our basic rights for documentation, education, health care, and employment.
Because we no longer want to be hit on the head, fooled, crushed, and feel shameful of our kids when they ask about the reasons they cannot live like the rest.
Because we no longer want to be passive, or silent like our fathers that we blamed.
Because we are stateless but not voiceless.. we will protest, once again, tomorrow, Monday at 3 pm in Houriya Square in Taimaa and at 8 in Erada Square by the parliament.
WE ARE SPEAKING UP, AND WE WILL BE HEARD.
لأننا مقموعين ومجردين من حق التظاهر، ومحاكمين لخرقنا الصمت، ومعتقلين، ومحرومين من حق استخدام القضاء.
لأن هنالك تمييز يمارس ضدنا في وطننا، ومهانة، وطعن في الكرامة.
لأنه تم عزلنا ومحاربتنا بالأفكار الخاطئة والظلم.
لأننا حرمنا من أبسط حقوقنا للحصول على وثائق وتعليم ورعاية صحية وتوظيف.
لأننا لن نسمح بأن نضرب بعد على رؤوسنا، أن نُخدع، نُسحق، أو أن نشعر بالخجل أمام أطفالنا الذين يسألوننا لماذا لا يعيشون مثل غيرهم.
لأننا لن نكون سلبيين وصامتين كما آبائنا الذين ألقينا اللوم عليهم. لأننا بلا جنسية ولكننا لسنا بلا صوت..
سنتظاهر، مرة أخرى، غداً الاثنين 3 عصراً في ساحة الحرية في تيماء و8 مساء في ساحة الإرادة أمام البرلمان
إننا نتكلم، وكلماتنا ستُسمع
Bahraini blogger Zainab Al-Khawaja, daughter of prominent opposition figure and human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja , who was sentenced to life imprisonment last June, was brutally arrested on Thursday. Her arrest follows the death a 22-year-old man called Ali Al-Gassab when a car drove over him, an “accident”that seems to recur since the protests started in Bahrain this year. Right after the death of Al-Gassab, news of Zainab's arrest circulated online. It was confirmed by the head of Bahrain Human Rights Center Nabeel Rajab and her sister Maryam Al-Khawaja. With her arrest, 28-year-old Zainab, mother of a 2-year-old girl, becomes the fourth member of her family to get arrested after her father, her brother-in-law, and her husband. She has always been vocal against the regime especially through her Twitter account which she uses to post updates from the protests that have rocked her country since February 14.
On Twitter, netizens wrote that as she was getting arrested, Zainab was chanting against the Bahraini King Hamad Al Khalifa, chanting “Down with Hamad.” The following video that spread through YouTube shows Al-Khawaja getting handcuffed by a policewoman. Then, another policewoman comes and beats Zainab on her face, before she was pulled to a parked police van.
Zainab was arrested while she was sitting in a roundabout on the Budaiya Highway, as part of a sit-in called for by protesters called Occupy Budaiya Street which aimed at pressuring the government to release political prisoners and pay tribute to Bahrain's 40-plus martyrs, killed at the hand of security forces since the unrest started.
According to her sister Maryam, Zainab was arrested with another woman called Masooma Al-Sayed and was charged with illegal gathering, assaulting a female officer, and inciting hatred against the regime. The prosecutor decided to detain both women for seven days under investigation. Zainab was sprayed in her eyes when she was arrested and was unable to see for an hour. In the police station, Zainab was beaten on the head, arms and legs, as she was unable to see. She recognized the voice of the policewoman who beat her, but the prosecutor refused to write it down. Her lawyer attempted to show the prosecutor a video of Zainab's arrest, but he refused to see it. The policewoman came to the prosecutor with bandaged arm claiming Masooma and Zainab hit her. Zainab refused to sign the statement unless the name of the policewoman who hit was written down.
The Bahraini regime celebrated National Day, which marks the coronation anniversary of the current King's father, yesterday (December 16). On the same day, a funeral procession was due to take place in Abu Saiba village, along the Budaiya Highway, for protester Ali Ahmed Radhi Al-Gassab, who was run over during the #OccupyBudaiyaSt protests a day earlier. In response, the Interior Ministry denied responsibility for the protester’s death and said he was injured in a traffic accident that involved a civilian vehicle and that the driver is in custody. Opposition movement, Al Wefaq Society tweeted that Ali was ran over by a civilian car according to his friend's statement.
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There are at least 120,000 Bidun jinsiyya (without nationality) in Kuwait today suffering from the lack of human rights. They cannot legally obtain birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates. The same applies to driving licenses, identification cards, and passports. They do not have access to public education, health care, housing or employment. And while they face some of the state’s harshest discrimination policies, they have no recourse to the law and its courts. Simply stated, the Bidun, who are equal to about 10% of the Kuwaiti population, do not exist. They have been dehumanized and rendered invisible by government policies coupled with pervasive social stigmatization.
Last February and March, Hundreds of the stateless community in Kuwait protested demanding their rights of documentation, education, health care, employment, and naturalization. The protests were brutally dispersed by riot police and tens of young men were arrested for a week or so. Riot Police used water cannons, teargas, smoke bombs, and concussion grenades to disperse the protesters. According to Human Rights Watch, over 30 people were injured and 120 were detained by state security in the first day of Bidun protests.
On the 12th of December, the stateless attempted to protest again to state their demands and to show support for those who were going on trials for protesting. Around 31 men were in court for ‘illegal protesting’ and were released as the judge decided to adjourn the case to the 23rd of January. Kuwaiti and stateless activists showed up to the court hearing to show support as the interior ministry refused to give permissions for any sit-ins. Kuwait Human Rights Association issued a statement condemning the trials and stating that the Kuwait constitution grants the rights to peaceful protesting and thus none should be prosecuted. Parliament members did not have a say in this and the only political bloc to have issued a statement in solidarity was the leftist Taqadomi movement. According to their lawyer Mousaed Al-Shammari, the 31 men might get 3 to 5 years jail sentences.
On the 14th, three other stateless men faced another trial for illegal protesting: Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli, Tariq Al-Otaibi, and Ridha Al-Fadhli. On Sunday the 18th, other 45 stateless men will face another trial and this time charged with violence against police men. The charges in the first two trials were submitted by the public prosecution, but in the coming trial, charges were submitted by the state security police. According to Kuwait Human Rights Association’s spokesman Taher Al-Baghli, state police did not charge the stateless for ‘illegal protesting’ only because such a charge will most probably be dismissed by the higher court.
Since the first trial started, the stateless community had several attempts to protest again. Activists tried to get permissions to protest in Erada square, in front of the parliament, where protests took place in the past two months against former prime minister Nasser Al-Mohammed which led to his resignation. The interior ministry refused to give such permission which made some of the stateless protest in their poorly-conditioned areas. The number was not large and protesters left in response to calls from some activists to avoid clashes.
This Friday, as reported by activists, tweeps, and news agencies, riot police used violence against stateless protesters and more than 20 men were arrested, among them two journalists who were later released (Fahad Al-Mayah and Hamad Al-Sharhan). According to a report by AFP: “Kuwaiti riot police used tear gas and water cannons on Friday to scatter hundreds of stateless protesters demanding citizenship. The police sought to break up a crowd of 400 people gathered after noon prayers in Jahra, raising Kuwaiti flags and banners that read: We demand Kuwaiti citizenship.” Stateless activist Mousaed Al-Shammari was reportedly arrested as he was trying to convince protesters to leave. Some wrote that he is now on hunger strike protesting his detention. According to a report by Reuters, there were also minors beaten and arrested in Friday protest.
* Published in MidEast Youth
قبل العام 2009، لم يكن يُنظَر إلى الإسلاميين في الكويت، عموما،ً بأنهم قوة معارِضة للحكومة. وفي الواقع، كان كويتيون كثر يعتبرون أن ولي العهد ورئيس الوزراء السابق الشيخ سعد العبدالله، قد وقف إلى جانب الإسلاميين في الثمانينيات والتسعينيات ضد اليساريين والليبراليين. لكن في العامَين الماضيين، تغيّرت جماعة الإخوان المسلمين في الكويت إلى حد كبير. فقد أدّى ذراعها السياسي، الحركة الدستورية الإسلامية أو حدس، دوراً بارزاً في التعبئة ضد رئيس الوزراء الشيخ ناصر المحمد الصباح، وهو عضو في الأسرة الحاكمة وليبرالي الميول وذو خبرة ديبلوماسية واسعة، لكنّه متَّهم بالفساد منذ تعيينه رئيساً للوزراء لأوّل مرة في فبراير/شباط 2006. وقد استقال ناصر المحمد من منصبه في 29 نوفمبر/تشرين الثاني 2011، وحلّ مكانه وزير دفاعه السابق، جابر المبارك الحمد الصباح.
شكّلت إطاحة ناصر المحمد حدثاً نادراً في التاريخ الكويتي، إذ انه استقال سابقاً سبع مرّات وأعيد تكليفه من جديد، ولم يُستبدَل إلا في المرة الثامنة. وقبل العام 2006، أحجم النوّاب عن الدخول في مواجهة مع رئيس الوزراء لأنه كان أيضاً ولي العهد (وبالتالي أمير البلاد المقبل). لكن عندما فُصِل منصب رئيس الوزراء عن لقب ولي العهد، خسر رئيس الوزراء تلك الحصانة وأصبح عرضةً للاستجواب في مجلس الأمة. فتسبّب ذلك بمأزق أدّى إلى تعطيل مجلس الوزراء الكويتي: فعندما كان مجلس الأمة يرفع طلبات لاستجواب الحكومة، كان الأمير يبادر فوراً إلى حل مجلس الأمة، مما أدّى إلى حله ثلاث مرات بين العام 2006 وبين العام 2009، كما استقالت الحكومة أيضاً سبع مرات في محاولة للتهرّب من الاستجواب النيابي.
في خضم المعارضة النيابية الواسعة لناصر المحمد، لم يكن صوت حدس عالياً في البداية. لكن نقطة التحوّل الأساسية كانت العام 2009 خلال تنفيذ "مشروع مصفاة النفط الرابعة"، في إطار عقد قدره 15 مليار دولار أمريكي كان سيؤدّي إلى استبدال مصنع الشويبة المترهّل وتوسيع إنتاج النفط الوطني. فقد أشار النواب إلى وجود أخطاء إجرائية غير قانونية في المشروع، وهدّدوا بإخضاع وزير النفط محمد العليم – العضو في حدس– لاستجواب قاسٍ حول انعدام الشفافية. وبعد تسلّم تقرير ديوان المحاسبة، الذي جاء فيه أن وزير النفط الوطني الكويتي لم يتقيّد بالتنظيمات مرعية الإجراء، عمد رئيس الوزراء ناصر المحمد إلى إرجاء المشروع إلى أجل غير مسمّى. فشعرت حركة حدس بأنها تعرّضت للخيانة (لأنها دعمت العليم)، وردّت بطلب استجواب رئيس الوزراء نفسه، متّهمةً إياه بتبديد المال العام لأغراض شخصية، وعرقلة تنفيذ خطط إنمائية تصب في إطار المشروع المذكور. لكنها لم تدعم حججها بالبراهين الكافية مما ألحق ضرراً بمصداقيتها. فقد اعتُبِر تحرّكهم رد فعل غير أخلاقي، وهو موجّه ضد قيام رئيس الوزراء بسحب الدعم عن أحد أعضاء حدس. وكان هذا من العوامل التي أدّت إلى هزيمة الحركة في الانتخابات في مايو/أيار 2009. فقد فاز عضوان فقط في حدس بمقعد في مجلس الأمة، مع العلم بأنه لروابطهما القبلية الفضل الأساسي في ذلك، وهما: جمعان الحربش (من قبيلة عنزة) وفلاح الصواغ (من قبيلة العوازم). يشار إلى أن الحزب كان يشغل ستّة مقاعد في مجلس الأمة عام 2006
ومنذ المواجهة حول مصفاة النفط، ركّز الحزب على استعادة شعبيّته. فقام الحربش والصواغ ببناء تحالفات مع نوّاب آخرين، واضعين أوراقهم في السلّة نفسها مع كتلة العمل الشعبي، بقيادة رئيس مجلس النواب السابق أحمد السعدون، والشخصية الأبرز في الكتلة، مسلم البراك، الذي يحظى بشعبية واسعة. لكن أبعد من موقفهما المعارِض لناصر المحمد، لا يتشاطر حدس وكتلة العمل الشعبي أي أجندات سياسية.
كذلك، نسبت حدس الفضل لنفسها في حشد المعارضة خارج مجلس الأمة. فقد بلغت الدعوات لرحيل ناصر المحمد مستوى جديداً في 8 ديسمبر/كانون الأول 2010،عندما فرّقت شرطة مكافحة الشغب تجمّعاً سياسياً في منزل الحربش المنتمي إلى حدس. وقد تعرّض عبيد الوسمي، الذي شارك في اللقاء وهو أستاذ في القانون الدستوري في جامعة الكويت، إلى ضرب مبرح وجرى توقيفه لاحقاً بتهمة "إهانة رجال الأمن ومقاومتهم" و"التحريض على الشغب السياسي". فكانت هذه الحادثة كافية لحمل المعارضة على المطالبة باستقالة رئيس الوزراء. وقد توالت الاحتجاجات وطلبات الاستجواب رداً على ما جرى، وفي شهر مارس/آذار الماضي، شارك عدد أكبر من الأشخاص في تجمّع مناهض لناصر المحمد.
لاحقاً، عندما أُعلِن عن تكليف الشيخ جابر المبارك رئاسة الوزراء بعد استقالة ناصر المحمد، لم تكتفِ حدس بتهنئته على الفور بمنصبه الجديد، بل نسبت إلى نفسها الفضل في إطاحة رئيس الوزراء. أما في الأسبوع الفائت، فقد اجتمع من جديد نوّاب وشخصيات سياسية في منزل الحربش لمناسبة الذكرى الأولى لحادثة 8 ديسمبر/كانون الأول الشهيرة، للتذكير بأن الحركة الناجحة ضد ناصر المحمد انطلقت من منزل نائب ينتمي إلى حدس.
وفي خطوة ربما كانت غير مفاجئة، دعت حركة حدس إلى حل مجلس الأمة معتبرةً أنه يجب التخلّص من "النواب المرتشين" الذين كانوا يتقاضون أموالاً من ناصر المحمد. وقد قاد الحربش، الذي أصبح الشخصية الأبرز في حدس، هذه الدعوات عبر البيانات الصحافية التي أصدرها في الأشهر الماضية، إلى جانب محمد الدلال، الناطق باسم حدس والمرشّح للانتخابات النيابية المقبلة. إنها محاولة واضحة لاستغلال خروج ناصر المحمد واستثمار صورة الحزب المتجدِّدة، من أجل تحسين نتائجه في الانتخابات المقبلة التي ستجرى في الرابع من فبراير/شباط المقبل. وهذه المحاولة قد تتكلل بالنجاح.
من جهة أخرى، يُتوقَّع أن يخسر الليبراليون مقاعد بعدما هاجمتهم حدس وكتلة العمل الشعبي بسبب الفتور الذي تعاملوا به مع الاحتجاجات ضد رئيس الوزراء. فعلى الرغم من أن التكتّل الوطني الليبرالي اتّخذ موقفاً واضحاً ضد ناصر المحمد وصوّت ضده في جلسة حجب الثقة في يناير/كانون الثاني الماضي، إلا أنه فشل في تنظيم احتجاجات عامة. فبدلاً من أن يطلق الليبراليّون حملتهم الخاصة ويوجّهوا دعوات لاستقطاب الدعم العام في الأيام الأخيرة لناصر المحمد في رئاسة الوزراء، امتطوا التيارات المعارِضة الأخرى. كما شجبوا اقتحام مجلس الأمة، معتبرين أنه من غير المشروع دخول ملكية عامة عنوةً. وقد فسّرت قاعدتهم الشعبية هذه الخطوات بأنها دليل ضعف وتردّد.
لن تكون عودة الإخوان المسلمين، في حال حدوثها، كبيرة كما في مصر، نظراً إلى أن حركة حدس لم تفز في تاريخها بأكثر من ستّة مقاعد (من أصل 50) في مجلس الأمة. لكنها ستُحدث تغييراً هامّاً في التحالفات في الهيئة التشريعية وفي الطريقة التي ستُستخدَم بها (أو يساء استخدامها) لخدمة المعارضة. فعلى سبيل المثال، لن يُعاد انتخاب النواب المستقلين الموالين للحكومة، فقد استدعي العديد منهم للاستجواب على خلفيّة اتّهامهم بتلقّي رشاوى من ناصر المحمد. وقد يوفّر ذلك فرصاً إضافية للإسلاميين وكتلة العمل الوطني للفوز بمزيد من المقاعد والتوحّد بهدف تشكيل أكثرية ائتلافية. أما الأطراف الذين لن يتحالفوا حكماً مع حدس والكتلة المعارضة في شكل عام، فهم النوّاب الشيعة الذين كانوا قريبين من ناصر المحمد والنواب المستقلّون الذين هم في معظمهم أعضاء غير فاعلين في مجلس الأمة ويركّزون على ردّ الجميل إلى ناخبيهم وتأمين الخدمات لهم عبر الوقوف إلى جانب الحكومة عند الحاجة.
لاتزال المرحلة الجديدة، في ظل رئيس الوزراء المبارك، غير واضحة المعالم. إذ تحتفظ حكومته بكل الوزراء السابقين ما عدا ثلاثة كانوا قد استقالوا من مناصبهم احتجاجاً على التشنّج السياسي المتواصل. ومع ذلك، فإن استبدال ناصر المحمد بعد كل هذه المدّة وسعي الأمير إلى إنهاء المأزق الشديد، يعتبر تطوّراً هامّاً.
نشر في كارنيغي - صدى جورنال *
Prior to 2009, Islamists in Kuwait generally were not regarded as an opposition force to the government. In fact, many Kuwaitis believed that former Crown Prince and Prime Minister Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah sided with the Islamists in the eighties and the nineties against leftists and liberals. But in the past two years, the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait has changed significantly. Its political organization, the Islamic Constitutional Movement (or Hadas, its Arabic acronym) has played a prominent role in rallying against Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed Al Sabah—a liberal-leaning member of the ruling family with extensive diplomatic experience but accused of corruption since his first appointment in February 2006. Nasser al-Mohammed finally resigned from office on November 29 and has since been replaced by Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad Al Sabah, his former defense minister.
The ousting of al-Mohammed is a rare event in Kuwaiti history. He has resigned previously seven times and only now, after his eighth resignation, has he been replaced by al-Mubarak. Prior to 2006, MPs refrained from confrontation with the prime minister, as he was also crown prince (and thus, the future emir). When the office of prime minister was separated from the title of crown prince, the prime minister lost the emir’s prerogative of immunity and became subject to parliamentary inquiry. The resulting stalemate has left Kuwait’s cabinet of ministers in a deadlock: as parliament submitted requests to question the cabinet, the emir reactively dissolved parliament, resulting in three separate dissolutions between 2006 and 2009. The cabinet also resigned seven times in efforts to escape parliamentary inquiry.
In the midst of large parliamentary opposition to Nasser al-Mohammed, Hadas was initially not very vocal. The critical turning point came in 2009 during development of “the fourth oil refinery project”—a contract worth $15 billion that would eventually replace the aging Shuaiba plant and expand national oil production. MPs cited illegal procedural mistakes in its approval and threatened to grill the oil minister, Mohammed al-Olaim—a Hadas party member—for lack of transparency. After receiving the Audit Bureau report which stated that the Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) did not adhere to the committee regulations, Prime Minister al-Mohammed postponed the project indefinitely. Hadas felt betrayed (having backed al-Olaim) and in reaction, placed a request to grill the prime minister himself—accusing him of squandering public funds in personal expenses and stalling development plans for the project. The arguments they presented were poorly sustained and damaged their own credibility. Their countermove was generally perceived as an unprincipled reaction against the prime minister’s withdrawal of support for a Hadas member. This contributed to Hadas’s defeat in the following May 2009 elections. Only two members of Hadas won seats—and mainly due to tribal connections: Jimaan al-Hirbish (who belongs to the Eniza tribe) and Falah al-Sawagh (of the Awazm). In 2006, the party had 6 seats in total.
Since the oil refinery confrontation, the party has focused on regaining popularity. Al-Hirbish and al-Sawagh have forged alliances with other MPs, throwing their cards in with the Popular Action Bloc—led by former head-of-parliament Ahmed al-Saadon and the popular frontman Musalam al-Barrak. Beyond their stance against al-Mohammed, Hadas and the Popular Action Bloc do not share political agendas.
Hadas has also claimed credit for galvanizing opposition outside of parliament. The calls for al-Mohammed’s departure rose to a new level on December 8, 2010 when riot police dispersed a political gathering in the house of Hadas’s al-Harbish. One of the attendees, a professor of constitutional law at Kuwait University, Obaid al-Wasmi, was brutally beaten and later detained for “insulting and resisting security officers” and “inciting political unrest.” The incident proved enough to catalyze the opposition into demanding the prime minister’s resignation. The protests and grilling requests kept coming in response to this incident and last March more people showed up for a rally against al-Mohammed.
Later, when Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak was announced as prime minister following al-Mohammed’s resignation, not only did Hadas immediately offer its congratulations, but it claimed credit for the turnover. Last week, MPs and political figures gathered in al-Hirbish’s house again for the one-year anniversary of the famous December 8 incident as a reminder that the successful movement against al-Mohammed started from the house of a Hadas MP.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hadas has called for parliament to be dissolved on the basis that it must be rid of al-Mohammed’s “bribed MPs.” Al-Hirbish, now the main figure of Hadas, led those calls in press releases in the past months alongside Mohammed al-Dalal, the Hadas spokesman candidate in the coming parliamentary elections. This is a clear attempt to use al-Mohammed’s exit and the party’s revamped image as an opportunity to bolster their numbers in the upcoming February 4 elections, and one that may succeed.
On the other hand, liberals are expected to lose seats, as Hadas and the Popular Action Bloc have attacked them for being passive towards the prime minister. Although the liberal Kuwait Nationalist Bloc took a clear stance against al-Mohammed and voted against him in the no-confidence vote last January, it failed to organize public protests. Rather than form their own campaigns and call for public support in the last days of al-Mohammed, liberals piggybacked off other opposition movements. And they denounced the storming incident of the parliament saying it is illegal to break in a public property. Their popular base has interpreted these moves as a sign of weakness and hesitation.
A Muslim Brotherhood comeback will not be as major as in Egypt—since Hadas has never won more than six (out of 50) seats in a single parliament. But it will significantly alter alliances in the legislature and how these might be used (or abused) to serve the opposition. For one, pro-government independent MPs might not get re-elected as several of them were summoned for interrogation for allegedly receiving bribes from al-Mohammed. This may create more opportunities for Islamists and the Action Bloc to win more seats and unite to form a coalitional majority. Those who will definitely not ally with Hadas and the opposition bloc in general will be the Shi‘a MPs who were close to al-Mohammed and the independent MPs—who are mainly passive members focused on repaying services to their voters by siding with the government when needed.
It is not yet clear what the new era of Prime Minister al-Mubarak will bring. His new cabinet retains all former ministers except for three who had previously resigned in protest against the ongoing political tension. Regardless, it is significant that al-Mohammed was finally replaced and that the emir has sought to end the tense deadlock.a
* Published in Carnegie's Sada Journal
They took them in, shackled their brown hands, threaded out their thick hair, and told them “We will now turn you into soldiers, fighting against hope, warring against life. You have two choices: death or death.” They stared at the hours, then removed their eyes, hanging each upon its nail. Then they waited and waited for the funeral of memory to start. They set the light on fire and recited myths, fairytales, and stories about their fathers, their stupid fathers, who were once heroes and are now nothing but cowards.
Why did you leave us in this trap without any poems? Why did you color the sky yellow? Why did you give us stars to hang our hearts on? We did not do anything, we only wanted to sing. We have read the Quran, the New Testament, and the Old Testament. We read every verse and we pretended to be religious enough to read, and to know if hope was a sin, and it wasn’t.
In this trap, we recreated time and turned every thousand hours into another day, another attempt to save our youth from the wasteland. On the broken stairs of time we walked and we asked God, “Why didn’t you let us choose our pain—for the pain of waiting is the ugliest kind of heaven. Allow us to choose our own pain for once. If we were permitted to make choices we might begin to think. And then we might believe, for a second, that we are human.”
“Undocumented and unafraid.” That is what a Hispanic girl wrote on her shirt as an American policeman shackled her hands. I said, “I am undocumented and afraid. And fear is genetic, even if scientists have not yet discovered that fact.” I let my memory sail me off to the shore of my childhood and I remembered that I had books, a soccer ball, and an old lady asking me, “Where are you from?” I paused and said, “I am from Bidun.” She laughed “There’s no such place. No country is Bidun.”
I removed my small feet and drew a flag, a jersey, and a national anthem. Then I waited and hoped, like all my people. I waited and hoped that she would reappear so that I might show her my country. The woman died and I grew up. I killed my imagination even as I continued to practice the sins of hope and waiting. Here, a kid puts his nail in the sand and tries to build a home, but it rained.
Let us live our evenings to the fullest so we might be allowed to imagine that we are what you are—creatures of flesh and blood and rainbows. Give an answer for a mother to say when her child asks her, “Mother, where are we from?” We are the prisoners of yesterday. We make collages out of the Yellow Pages. We like to be pawns since we are not allowed to die just like our fathers who fought, died, and went forgotten in a truck, a grave, or a sandstorm.
Our children have no kites; for we have no wind to fly them, no money to buy them, and no sky. Our children take the road to the mosque and make their prayers. “Oh god, I do not want to take the same road again, not because I do not love you but because I want to take the road to school.” We will love life one day we will one day hope again without the fear of losing our nails.
We will take no portion of your ego, we will always bend our heads when we see you in the streets. We will buy hats if we need to, just so we might take them off when we see you, just so you feel secure in your self while your cars run, and our heads bend. Let us offer you three hats for every slap your policeman draws on a man’s face, and for every horror he puts in a teenage heart, or in a girl’s breast.
We are lonely but our loneliness does not bring us together. Our fathers shook off their tents. They hid their pride in their pockets. They pointed towards you and said, “Let us join our brothers; let us go home.” And when they arrived, they heard a word, and they opened their dictionaries under the letter “e” and read “enemy.” We waited, in the yellow bus, for our brothers to take us home. The bus was a candle. The bus melted under the sun. The sun died. And we made chairs out of our hope, we sat, and we waited.
Let us be whatever you want us to be—your trains, your music, your fleeting smiles, but just let us be. Let us have an answer for the question of life while you solve your question of God, let us be. Let us sing a love story and do not mock our thick accents for we do not have the luxury of your tongues; we have no tongues, no speech, no songs. We are waiting for our mothers to sow our youth and give us the song of salvation. We are waiting for the anti-hope pills that never work.
Make exceptions for us before we die. Let us have a day to build a house near the schools. Let us watch our children be happy and complain about their teachers. Let us see them burn with the fire of knowledge. Let us frame our losses and crucify them on the imaginary walls. Let the father see his dead son and sigh, “Now who is going to bury me?” Let us buy new chairs, let us have chairs first, let us have the choice to take off our hats for you, or not to take them off. Let us have shadows, ghosts, and more fears.
I do not hate you but I do not love you. I look at you and I know. I know that my heart is not like the size of your shoe. Pardon me, but I cannot lie. My whole existence is a lie and I, once and for all, blame my fathers for being lies. You do not allow me to wait, hope, or live and I do not allow you to make me lie. We are the statues on which you will build your birdhouses.
Published in Jadaliyya - 12/12/2011
An Interview with Blogger Chan'ad Bahraini
For the blogosphere in the Gulf region, the name Chan'ad became a reference to all of those who were seeking accurate, well written, and up-to-date inside information from Bahrain in English. Chan'ad, author of the blog Chan'ad Bahraini 2.0, has been a prominent figure of digital activism in Bahrain and the region since 2004 as he works on unveiling regime tactics to fuel sectarian fear, suppress facts, and keep up state repression. After the 14 February uprising, Chan'ad, whose real name is Fahad Desmukh, played an important role in exposing the lies of state-controlled media in Bahrain and the Bahraini regime’s hiring of foreign journalists and firms to whitewash its image. In this interview, Chan'ad shares his views on the unrest in Bahrain, the regime’s handling of the uprising, the pattern of the opposition, and relative issues such as blogging, social networking, and xenophobia in Bahrain.
Mona Kareem (MK): Who are you?
Fahad Desmukh (FD): Chan'ad is the local Arabic name for mackerel. I work as a freelance journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. I grew up in Bahrain and in 2004, while I was still there, started blogging about Bahraini politics and society. In 2006 I was summoned for an interrogation by the National Security Agency because, it seems, they found activities related to my blogging suspicious. I left the country shortly after and when I tried to return, I was told by immigration officials at the Bahrain airport that I was on an entry blacklist. I have been living in Pakistan since then, and in my free time have tried to keep blogging and tweeting about the human rights and political situation in Bahrain.
MK: Bahrain reached a dead end, agree or disagree?
FD: This certainly is not a dead end for Bahrain as the current situation in Bahrain is not sustainable. Despite eight months of repression of the uprising, there has been no end for protests. Since March, protesters have been jailed, tortured, killed, maligned, sacked from their workplaces and expelled from schools and universities, and yet you can still find protests in Bahrain on almost any day of the week. At some point, something has got to give.
MK: How can you imagine the Bahraini scenario if it weren’t for the Saudi/GCC interference?
FD: If it weren’t for Saudi/GCC interference, it is quite possible that there would not have even been anything for people to be protesting about when this uprising began on 14 February. The problem in Bahrain is that the Al Khalifa regime relies on Saudi Arabia and other foreign powers as the source of its legitimacy rather than the Bahraini people. Until this changes, there will always be political strife. If it weren't for this outside interference, then—maybe—the regime would be forced to listen to its people and share some power.
MK: Many Bahrainis live in denial and state that sectarianism is only practiced by the regime. Do you agree? Or do you think instead people should admit that sectarianism exists deeply in Bahrain and has increased after 14 February?
FD: It is true that sectarianism does exist in Bahraini society and has a long history, but this must be distinguished from the regime's deployment of sectarianism as a political divide-and-rule strategy. The “social sectarianism” that exists between the Sunni and Shia communities in Bahrain is akin to the fear and suspicion that exists between any different social groups that have distinct histories and customs. The Sunni and Shia communities in Bahrain have historically lived in separate settlements, speak differing dialects of Arabic, mostly marry among themselves, and obviously have their own religious practices. It is not surprising then that there are elements in the two communities that are suspicious of and have false ideas about each other. The self-proclaimed keepers of tradition in both communities benefit from the divide, and seek to maintain this status quo.
MK: How did the regime use sectarianism?
FD: The Al Khalifa regime has managed to maintain its power precisely by exploiting this division. Abdulhadi Khalaf has explained in his work how the regime has not simply supported the Sunnis and suppressed the Shia, as is often portrayed. Rather, the strategy has been to tolerate or patronize representatives, from either group, who interact with the regime as confessional agents of their community, and to discourage or punish those who seek to co-operate across the sectarian divide and make demands of the regime on a “national” rather than confessional basis.
Indeed, it is worth noting that the first political prisoner after the start of the 14 February uprising was a Sunni former army officer, Mohammed Al-Buflasa, who gave a speech about Sunni-Shia unity at the Pearl Roundabout. Also, the first political party to be targeted by the regime was the National Democratic Action Society, or Wa'ad, a secular nationalist group that has both Sunni and Shia members. Two of its offices were firebombed; the home of one of its Sunni leaders, Dr. Munira Fakhro, was firebombed; the Bahraini regime temporarily suspended the party; and its Sunni secretary general, Ibrahim Sharif, was sentenced to five years in prison. In contrast, Al Wefaq, the largest political society in Bahrain, and an openly Shia Islamist group, was not targeted in this same manner (initially at least). The political bloc that the regime has targeted the most severely is the “Alliance for a Republic.” Although it has an overwhelmingly Shia support base and often couches its rhetoric in religious symbolism, its demands are always nationalist and non-sectarian.
MK: Wouldn’t the regime fail to use sectarianism if it had not already existed?
FD: If we look back in history, we find that the “social sectarianism” between Sunni and Shia citizens in Bahrain has been restricted to fear and suspicion and has not manifested itself in the form of violence, since the 1950s. Violent sectarian clashes peaked in 1953-54, in reaction to which Bahrain saw for the first time, the rise of a “national” political movement that explicitly sought to unite Sunni and Shia on a common platform and eradicate sectarianism. Needless to say, the regime saw this as a threat and cracked down on the movement, and on other “nationalist” movements in subsequent decades, through a combination of both co-optation and brutal violence. But in all this time since 1954, there have not been any significant cases of violent clashes between the Sunni and Shia communities. Rather, any violence that has occurred has been between the regime and the opposition. If the conflict was of a solely sectarian nature, we should have seen incidents of Sunni citizens violently attacking their Shia neighbors, or vice versa—but this has not occurred. There have been some cases of violence since February that the regime has sought to portray as having a sectarian motive, but no evidence has yet been presented to support this claim.
MK: How did the regime employ the media for its sectarian bet?
FD: The regime has used the state apparatus, especially the media, to incite sectarianism in society. Maybe the most explicit example of state sectarianism is what has been dubbed the “Bandargate affair.” In 2006, Dr. Salah al-Bander, then a British adviser to the Bahraini government, released a 240-page report blowing the whistle on an alleged conspiracy led by a royal family member that sought to foment sectarianism, including changing the demographic makeup in the country and influence the parliamentary elections. One should be skeptical of such conspiracy theories, but it is indicative that immediately after al-Bander released the report he was deported from Bahrain, and a gag order was imposed on any media discussion of the scandal. The government has refused to respond to any public demands for the scandal to be investigated.
MK: Where did the Bahraini opposition falter, what went wrong, how to get back on track?
FD: Maybe the biggest fault of the Bahraini opposition was that it did not reach out enough across the sectarian divide before the start of the protests. Yes, there were many Sunnis who joined the protest movement, but it did not have that critical mass of Sunnis needed to create cracks in the state apparatus and force the regime to listen to the people.
Having said that, it is difficult to see how this could have happened. The opposition has always sought allies in its very modest national demands for a contractual constitution, real powers for the elected legislature, and fairer electoral districts. Yet, the regime has, through the mobilization of sectarian fear, managed to ensure that Sunnis do not ally with their Shia brethren in these simple demands.
MK: So you suggest that unity is the only way to achieve these demands?
FD: This is, in my eyes, where the opposition needs to work the hardest. The most important site for cross-sectarian cooperation is in the workplace and the labor movement. It was the labor movement that was the focus of the nationalist opposition movement in the 1950s and I believe this is what the opposition should focus on strengthening. This will of course be extremely difficult to do, given how severely the regime has cracked down on the trade union movement since February. Nonetheless, I cannot see it happening any other way. This strengthening of the labor movement will of course necessarily require building solidarity with migrant workers also, who have been largely ignored up until now.
MK: Do you think it hurt the opposition that some demanded the fall of the regime instead of focusing on toppling the Prime Minister?
FD: I remember in 2004 when Abdulhadi al-Khawaja of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights for the first time publicly accused the Prime Minister of corruption and called for him to step down. Many of the “moderates” in the opposition at the time insisted that this was too radical a demand for Bahrain and that it will hurt the movement. For most people in the world, I imagine, calling for the resignation of an unelected prime minister who has been in power for forty years would hardly be regarded as a radical demand. The mainstream opposition did not call for his resignation and nothing happened.
Similarly, after 14 February, when protesters started calling for the downfall of the regime, the mainstream opposition insisted it was too radical a demand to call for the downfall of an autocratic monarchy, one that has killed and tortured its people.
But 14 February brought about a change unseen before. At the Lulu Roundabout people were able to express how they really felt. Now that the cork has been removed, it is impossible to bottle everything up again. The chant of "yasqut Hamad" ("Down with King Hamad") has become the chant of the movement. It is spray painted all over walls, it is chanted by protesters, and it is honked by cars. I think there is a strong argument for a transition to a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than a republic. However, there is great value in letting people tell the government how they really feel. There is nothing sectarian or racist about calling for the fall of the regime. In the words of Malcolm X: "Stop sweet-talking him. Tell him how you feel. Tell him what kind of hell you've been catching and let him know that if he's not ready to clean his house up, he shouldn't have a house."
MK: Many anti-regime Bahrainis like to portray the revolution as a non-Shia movement, but isn’t it more convenient and rational to say that it is a Shia movement as Shia are oppressed and are entitled to demand equality?
Yes, it would be disingenuous to pretend as though it is sheer coincidence that Shias form the overwhelming majority of the protesters. There is a reason why anti-apartheid protesters in South Africa and civil rights activist in the United States were mostly black. This reason applies to Bahrain.
MK: Do you believe youth should have acted independently of opposition political parties? Wouldn’t that be more helpful?
It is the youth who have led this movement from the start, while most of the mainstream opposition parties offered only lukewarm support. Since 14 February, the established opposition groups have had to make their decisions keeping in mind that it is the independent youth groups, and not the political party activists, who face the bullets and batons every day at the front lines.
MK: If the Crown Prince becomes the king of Bahrain, will that be better than nothing?
FD: Yes it will be better than nothing. If Bahrain were to transition to a genuine constitutional monarchy, all the other members of the royal family would stand to lose their guaranteed positions as ministers, ambassadors, judges and military officers. The Crown Prince however would be the only one who stands to benefit, as he would retain his position. Having said that, the Crown Prince has so far given little reason for the people to believe that he has the desire or the political ability to take on the rest of his family in trying to implement such a transition.
MK: The Media has turned its back to Bahrain with Saudi pressure and other factors, how do you think Bahrainis should respond to that?
FD: While the international media has not been paying as much attention to Bahrain as other Arab uprisings, when they do report on the situation it is generally sympathetic to the cause of the pro-democracy movement and critical of the regime. This is not where the problem lies. The real problem lies at home where the state-controlled local media has managed to divide and scare the people along sectarian lies. Bahrainis need to challenge this narrative through people-to-people contact and solidarity building.
MK: Do you believe the regime has an electronic army that works on bashing oppositionists and their supporters?
FD: I don not think there is any hard evidence to prove that the regime has such an electronic army, but anyone who blogs or tweets against the regime in Bahrain is familiar with the barrage of foul personal attacks that comes in response. We also know that the government has hired Washington D.C.-based Public Relations company “Qorvis,” which offers online reputation management as one of its services. According to a Huffington Post article, “the firm uses ‘black arts’ by creating fake blogs and websites that link back to positive content, ‘to make sure that no one online comes across the bad stuff,’ says the former insider. Other techniques include the use of social media, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.” So potentially, this may be happening in Bahrain, but there is no hard evidence for it yet.
MK: In the last year, blogging has been replaced in Bahrain with social networking. Do you think that was a productive shift considering how much more organized and argument-strong blogging is, comparatively speaking?
FD: Much of the group brainstorming, planning, and organizing of online activism movements still takes place on discussion forums like BahrainOnline, rather than on blogs, Facebook, or twitter. However, real-time social media tools like Facebook and twitter were essential for real time information dissemination and feedback. The latest information about a protest or police attack could be spread around the country and the world within seconds. This does have its down side, as it means that false rumors can and are spread just as faced using this social media tools. But of course the real blame for this is the people who spread or choose to believe this false information without any real evidence for it.
MK: Remembering Ali Abdulimam?
FD: I was actively involved in the online campaign to free Ali after he was arrested in 2005 along with two other administrators of BahrainOnline. It was the first case of a blogger being detained in the Gulf as far as I know. His short time in detention brought him international recognition and allowed him to meet and share notes with other cyber-dissidents around the world. All the while his website continued serving hub for opposition debate and discussion, and in August 2010 he was arrested again along with scores of other people as part of a widespread crackdown on the opposition. He was released this February after the start of the uprising, but rather than keep quiet, the first thing he did after leaving prison was to join the protests at Pearl Roundabout. He spoke to the international media about the torture and abuse he faced during his detention. So when the Saudi-backed crackdown began in March he was to be rounded up. The security forces raided his family’s home to find him, but he is believed to have fled before their arrival. He has been missing in the eight months since then, and was sentenced in June in absentia to fifteen years in prison by a military court. I hope he actually is in hiding somewhere safe as I have heard.
MK: Do you think the choice of many netizens to remain anonymous have weakened the credibility of news coming from Bahrain?
FD: A great many netizens in Bahrain have always chosen to hide behind pseudonyms because of the threat from the state that has always existed. I myself tried to hide my identity while I was in Bahrain. You can assess the trustworthiness of anonymous online sources by looking at: (i) whether they are regarded as trustworthy by people who you trust highly, and (ii) how consistently accurate a source’s published information proves to be after observing them over a period of time. The problem that was witnessed in Bahrain was that after the start of the uprising there was a sudden rush of people joining twitter without understanding how it works or those who weren't as concerned about sources. At the same time you had hundreds of new twitter accounts being created overnight that appeared to be actively spreading false information about the unrest and crackdown.
MK: If Sunnis committed anti-Shia acts, then do you think Shia acted reactionary by making remarks against naturalized Bahrainis who are being stereotyped as mercenaries?
FD: Yes I think xenophobia is just as condemnable as sectarianism. However there is a difference in Bahrain’s case. Most of the opposition activists I have met are keen to make the distinction that when they use the term “naturalization” they are usually referring to “political naturalization.” That is, the use of naturalization for demographic engineering as a political tool. Having said that, I do not think it is particularly helpful to repeatedly use this term as a blanket insult against people, many of whom are just looking for a decent life. Nor should we deny the existence of xenophobia in Bahrain.
MK: Shouldn’t the naturalized Bahrainis be accepted in society instead of being rejected and hated? The remarks used against them exclude them for being racially non-Arabs or recent arrivals?
FD: Yes, just because the policy of political naturalization should be condemned does not mean that naturalized people should be hated. This applies especially to the many naturalized citizens, or their children, who were born and raised in Bahrain and regard it as their home. If the opposition was wise it would try harder to reach out to them, even those working in the security forces, to make them understand that they are both being exploited by the same fat cats.
* Published in Jadaliyya - December 2011.