In 1998, while serving at the Embassy of Kuwait in Washington D.C, I was contacted by Mr. Eric Goldstein, Research Director, Middle East/Africa of ‘Human Rights Watch‘ for information concerning internet usage in Kuwait for an upcoming report he was authoring (The Internet In The Mid East And North Africa: Free Expression And Censorship).
I reported, with pleasure, to Mr. Goldstein that Kuwait did not possess any “laws or regulations that governed free speech online.” I was quite proud of that fact. I felt Kuwait was a vanguard of democracy and free speech in the Gulf.
The Kuwait Embassy Letter Published In The Report
Eight years later – there are forces working to restrict those same freedoms.
The Arab Times article:
Later, the ministers discussed the final report on regulating the use of the internet and electronic publications in Kuwait, while the Information Minister Mohammad Nasser Al-Sanousi briefed the Cabinet on information security and safety when using the internet and managing websites. He also highlighted negative aspects related to the internet and how to overcome them through spreading awareness, and through educational, legislative, and technical means, thus allowing for optimum utilization of these technologies.
Bloggers and the “people power” revolution helped lead to the removal of corrupt elements in the government and made the “5 Constituencies” reform a reality. We eventually got our wish.
It is a part of Kuwait history we are all proud of.
However, it was only a matter of time before the elements that got seared by those freedoms demanded retribution.
The government didn’t exactly embrace the idea of thousands of people dismissing “controlled” newspapers by flocking directly to raw, uncensored, blunt political analysis and footage concerning corruption and the fight for constitutional freedoms on sites such as ‘Safat Square,’ among many other excellent websites. Therefore, they have decided to “regulate” the internet by imposing even more restrictions on free speech by discussing ways and means in which the “Press and Publications Law” can include clauses that will limit internet freedoms.
If the government continues on this path (i.e. legislation of internet use, limits on public assembly) it is going to help create an “external Kuwaiti opposition” (which we don’t have at the moment). This, in turn, will lead to more rhetoric and future civil unrest.
My advice to the government: Fix your leaky structure, live up to the ideals of the people, invest your resources in a wise manner, and propel us to the 21st century, instead of searching for endless creative methods of trampling on the Kuwaiti Constitution.