Kuwait Camera Ban Regressive Idea
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (27th November 2010)
For a country that possesses a Constitution which safeguards civil liberties and freedom of speech, Kuwait sporadically sure likes toying with those liberties such as tentatively banning the Blackberry service, shutting down You Tube, impeding public gatherings and marches, banning and censoring books, literature, films and magazines which are available elsewhere in the Gulf.
This week according to media reports, and highlighted extensively in local Weblogs and Twitter, a palpable growing outcry is directed at the tentative plans by The Ministry of Information, Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Finance to outlaw public photography and relegate it to journalism purposes only. This has allegedly resulted in the ban of Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLRs) in public places. If this charade is true, then it bodes ill for this country, another regressive move into the annals of ignorance.
During the 1980s video cameras and photographic equipment were also shunned by the authorities. I remember visiting Failaka in 1985 and being confronted by a military officer who demanded I hand in my bulky video camera until I left the island. These types of infringements in the name of security were insignificant – we still had an attempt on HH the Amir, explosions at Foreign Embassies in Kuwait and an actual invasion.
Why does this country always attempt to stifle home-grown talent? Banning cameras in public places is demoralizing to all the passionate, talented young Kuwait men and women who have excelled in this field and love their hobby, not to mention visitors who attempt to document their travels here. Moreover, banning DSLR cameras is irrational and counterproductive if you think about it; in this day and age of iPhones, Blackberries, 5 MP plus camera phones, Google Earth and the like, anyone can take photograph of anything, quietly, without fanfare, which makes the potential DSLR ban even more preposterous.
I have just returned from a trip to Dubai where I witnessed dozens of tourists proudly using their cameras to document Burg Khalifa and the other picturesque locations. No one stopped them, impeded them or asked them what they were doing and you know why, because they respect people’s rights and are intent on making their country more appealing. UAE is able to manage security matters confidently because they have proper security and ID processes in place: eye scanners at airports and entry points, proper electronic government, high fines for breaking the law, a brilliant CCTV system in place in every street corner (not the shoddy black and white choppy, streaming-like quality of the limited equipment we have here) – they truly invest in their infrastructure, maintain it and upgrade it.
If Kuwait is serious about its security then it should invest in the same caliber of CCTV and not the bargain basement tenders that usually go towards ineffective systems (i.e. Highway signs with the useless ‘no mobile’ plasma screen) belonging to members of the matching ministry who want a ‘piece of the action’. The sad reality is the government sector here would rather ban something than actually strive to improve it through sheer hard work and effective processes. It’s just easier to ban; a question of laziness and neglect.
Needless to say, Kuwait seems unfazed when foreign jets infiltrate our airspace and take aerial shots of our oil refineries and military installations, or when agents and their local conspirators are found to possess blueprints and photographs of said installations, but no, lets go after the ‘little guy’, the amateur photographer or tourist on the street taking pictures. It’s a hypocritical, spineless action by the authorities.
Moreover, I suspect the issue is not just relegated to security, a myriad of reasons could have led to the support of this ban, fundamentalists who felt cameras and pictures are a ‘Tool of the Devil,’ government officials and ministries disgraced at seeing shots of Kuwait’s dilapidated infrastructure, environment and mismanagement on weblogs, internet forums and magazines. You cannot conceal the squalid side of Kuwait; it is there for everyone to see.
Furthermore, this law against public photography will not be enforced, just as seatbelt, no mobile while driving, no litter, no smoking areas, and other ‘laws’ cannot be enforced in this Land of Confusion.