Oct 8, 2012

The Myth of Kuwaiti Democracy

Kuwaiti activist arrested in a Bedoon protest

“We just want to be like Kuwait” is a sentence that one might often hear from people of the Gulf – specifically Saudis and Bahrainis. The sentence reflects either their desire for greater individual freedoms or to be able to express themselves freely in politics. In the 1960s and '70s, Kuwait was one of the centers of the Arab world in hosting politicians, intellectuals, and a dominant, powerful progressive opposition – a place where movements of all kinds were active in demanding change and greater freedoms. Kuwaiti women were involved in sports, the arts, and politics decades before their counterparts in the rest of the Arab Gulf. It is for all these factors that Kuwait has been referred to as the only democracy in the Gulf – factors that have disappeared in the past three decades.
In the 1980s, supporting political Islam was the government’s response to counter the dominance of leftist movements. The game did not succeed at the beginning, but it surely did after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The stance of Arab regimes and Arab leftists in support of Saddam’s invasion was the bullet that killed leftism in Kuwait. A new page was turned and the political map was dominated by the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), Salafis, old-money conservatives, tribes, and liberals (as the alternative to leftists).
Right now, the political map in Kuwait is confusing and points to a state totally dominated by the government since the constitutional court dissolved the parliament last June. The country is waiting for the reinstalled 2009 parliament to be dissolved by the emir and for new elections to take place. All of this comes after last February’s victory by the Islamist-Conservative majority. The Arab Spring is definitely having an impact on Kuwait; on political citizens and on the stateless (Bedoon) community.
All this time, authorities in Kuwait have been trying to fabricate proof against anyone political in Kuwait. It has been trying to conceal its violations against the stateless and migrant workers. It has been silent towards all those online users sentenced to jail for criticizing authorities or expressing their views toward religion. Why? Simply because the country does not want its ‘democracy’ to die; at least not in front of the world.
All those violated in Kuwait have been paying the price for this dead myth; the councilors of Kuwait keep warning of the perils of letting this myth die. Kuwait does not receive the criticism it deserves, not only because it ‘pays’ to stave off attention, but because violations and conditions across the Gulf are comparatively worse and well-publicized, especially in the media. But there is no Kuwaiti democracy; tear gas and shotguns have already arrived and are in use!
How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when the country gives money to the regimes of Bahrain and Jordan without parliamentary approval? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when the parliament is dissolved and frozen at whim? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when protesting is continuously criminalized by the state despite all constitutional rights? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when women are still unequal to men despite having obtained their political rights and being publicly elected? How can there be a democracy when the stateless (Bedoon) of Kuwait are always illegally arrested, interrogated, tortured, and threatened? How can there be a Kuwaiti democracy when migrant workers are beaten, tortured, insulted and raped without legal recourse to protect themselves?
On Tuesday, a Bedoon protester was shot in the eye. Let’s open our eyes to the real state of Kuwaiti democracy.

* Published in Al-Akhbar

Oct 1, 2012

Whose Refugees Matter More?

In my previous post, I wrote about the recent meeting of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council about Bahrain. Recommendations “demanded” Bahrain to stop its systematic violations that include killing protesters, arresting hundreds, torture cases, and many other things. Will Bahrain take the recommendations seriously? If not, will the United Nations put sanctions on Bahrain? Will it send observers to Bahrain? Will it discuss any kind of intervention? The answer is: of course not!
It is no surprise that the United Nations with all its bodies has brought nothing but disappointment to the Arab world, but when it comes to the regimes of the Gulf and their practices, the story is even worse. Another establishment of the United Nations that should be looked at is the UNHCR – or the UN Refugees Agency. If you are constantly following up the statements made by the agency’s representatives, you will not be surprised to know how double their standards are. In Syria, for decades, the Agency did not bother to fight for the Kurdish community, stating that they would rather work in Syria according to the regime’s rules than lose their place in the country and thus be unable to help other refugees.
Similar statements were made in all the interviews with the Agency’s representatives in Kuwait. Although the agency includes the stateless (Bedoon) community in Kuwait under the umbrella of refugees, the agency offers no help to them and makes no comments on Kuwait’s continuous violations against them. A few days ago, Hanan Hamdan, the head of the Agency’s office in Kuwait, enraged the Bedoon by stating: “Naturalization of Bedoon is a decision up to Kuwaiti authorities.” She also suggested that Kuwait should organize a conference to speak about its “leading experience” in dealing with the issue of statelessness; surely she wasn’t referring to the state’s experience in arresting more than 200 protesters, torture cases, and denying Bedoon their rights to documents, health care, employment, and education. The meeting covered by Kuwaiti press showed Hamdan with Saleh al-Fidala; the man assigned by the Kuwaiti government to solve the issues of Bedoon despite his being openly racist against the stateless community.
This meeting and Hamdan’s statement came right after Kuwait’s donationof a million dollars to Syrian refugees. Certainly, no Bedoon or Kuwaiti objects to the offering of aid to Syrian refugees, especially after seeing their government, in the absence of a parliament, give billions to the regimes of Bahrain, Jordan, and Oman a couple of weeks ago. The objection comes to the policies of the United Nations establishment that cares more about keeping donations from Gulf regimes coming by complimenting their “brilliant” plans in dealing with statelessness!
Shortly after that scandalous meeting, three international human rights organizations published a letter addressed to the Emir of Kuwait calling him to grant rights to the Bedoon community. The statement confirmed that Kuwait hasn’t fulfilled any of its promises made to international committees regarding the issue of Bedoon. It also states that Bedoon are facing continuous abuse and discrimination and are denied their basic rights, documents, and deserved naturalization.
So what should we expect from UN bodies in the Gulf? Well, nothing really. As long as Gulf regimes keep throwing money at them, we will never see them standing clearly against the violations of their donors. The better option is not to expect much of them and to, instead, keep unveiling their hypocrisy.

* published in AlAkhbar