All posts by Hilaliya

About Hilaliya

Founder & Webmaster www.hilaliya.com.

Selective Amnesia

August 2nd – It has been 23 years since the brutal Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Within just a few hours, the sound of thundering blasts and gunfire shook the country, propelling it into a dark abyss. People were caught off guard at dawn: no sirens, no government warnings; local newspaper headlines the day before trumpeting Kuwait and Iraq’s ‘brotherly relations‘…

This was not a run of the mill invasion; it was a complete annexation of the country, an eradication of its identity. There were no Red Cross convoys traversing in and out of Kuwait distributing supplies and taking care of the injured. There were no reporters on the ground covering the killings, torture, and systematic looting of the country’s resources via satellite. No major charities were established to raise money for the Kuwaitis or Expatriates who were caught in the crossfire. No demonstrations or marches sprouted up supporting Kuwait’s liberation (unless they were organized by Kuwaitis themselves in cities such as London).

If you were out of Kuwait, what you owned, who you knew, how much you were worth, was irrelevant; you were a refugee, forever stuck in no man’s land, fingerprinted and scrutinized wherever you were.

Today, let us keep that in mind and remember the heroes – in and out of Kuwait – who helped unshackle the nation from the chains of occupation. We certainly won’t forget our nation’s feebleness, indecision & geopolitical naivete – fast-tracking Kuwait into that dark void to begin with.

The government may choose to forget; a stark reminder of its incompetence and impotence. But we won’t.

WSJ: ‘Election Isn’t Likely to End Kuwait’s Turmoil’

We were quoted in an insightful, well written post-Kuwaiti election ‘Wall Street Journal‘ article (by veteran Maria Abi Habib): ‘Election Isn’t Likely to End Kuwait’s Turmoil, Say Analysts.’

Well worth reading.

Kuwait, I Choose Not To Play

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Honestly, I don’t have much to add.

The political charade continues with another election (the sixth one in seven years).

I am boycotting the election; my decision is intuitive in nature, not political. I am rejecting a system which I suspect is rigged, one that is in the habit of ‘resetting’ the arena in order to safeguard the status quo (one in dire need of transparency & reform).

At this point in time, Parliament & its members are irrelevant. Six months down the road an MP will uncover a ‘sensitive’ corruption deal, the collective political fracas will hit the fan and Parliament will be suspended (again).

Without a broad, tangible political overhaul of the system (driven by both public & private pressure) for full accountability of the Cabinet and Legislative branches, the situation will continue to deteriorate, impeding development, stability and quality of life.

Ultimately, I refuse to partake in a game with opponents who change the rules as they go along. Today, I choose not to play.

‘Hilaliya’ Hits 7-Year Mark, Updates DNA

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It’s hard to believe that I started this Blog seven years ago (2006) during the wave of what we now refer to as the ‘Golden Blogosphere’ period in Kuwait. It was a thrilling period, our major form of collective-communicative-venting tool at the time, miles before Facebook & especially, Twitter, took over.

As the years progressed our community grew, bonds were strengthened, but as Bob Dylan sang, “the times they were are a-changin,”: some became casual bloggers, others retired, and a few such as ‘Hilaliya’ modified their communicative anatomy (with exception of a few random posts); in our case, we opened it up to ‘Guest Bloggers,’ basically giving the blog back to the community that helped nurture us.

In the spirit of our ‘golden heyday’ (& 7th Anniversary) I’ve updated the Blog, moving it from the Movable Type system (which I found cumbersome & inflexible) to WordPress, adding all the modern Social Media bells and whistles (‘Like’ Buttons, ‘Share’ & so forth). The Blog is also smartphone-friendly now.

Thanks for your support.

In the meantime, I’ll be lurking in the shadows.

Bloomberg: ‘Kuwait Opposition Rallies Urging Boycott of Tomorrow’s Election’

An excellent article by Bloomberg’s Fiona MacDonald, ‘Kuwait Opposition Rallies Urging Boycott of Tomorrow’s Election’ in which yours truly is quoted.

Kuwait Election Deja Vu – Don’t Take The Tents Down.

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2006. 2008. 2009. Here we go again. Let’s hope I don’t end up here again in a year or six months because of political squabbling. Frankly, I don’t think the next Parliament will last long, but at least I did my bit. Don’t take the campaign tents down, yet.

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Previous Election Day Posts:

2009 – http://www.hilaliya.com/2009/05/deja-vu-kuwait-election-day–.html

2008 – http://www.hilaliya.com/2008/05/casting-the-ballot-in-kuwait.html

2006 – http://www.hilaliya.com/2006/06/its-over-i-voted-1.html

Vote Responsibly

This is the third time I am going to have to vote in less than five years.

I am not going to bore you with the political trials and tribulations on the ground. We’ve all been witness to that, are fatigued by it.

At this point in time, I don’t think my vote is going to make a dramatic difference, I think our issues are far larger and graver in magnitude than the issue of who makes it to Parliament and who doesn’t.

However, I will still stress the following: Vote Responsibly – vote for honest individuals who put the country ahead of themselves.

That’s all one can hope for.

Here’s a great Link for information on Candidates and their respective positions on a myriad of issues: www.voteresponsible.org

We Have Lost Our Moral Compass

We Have Lost Our Moral Compass
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (23rd August 2011)

Every Ramadan we are inundated by articles and features highlighting the proper means of fasting, alms-giving, praying and other essential pillars of Islam. I am not going to do that.
Most citizens are decent, God-fearing individuals trying to improve their lot and the lives of their loved ones. I believe the Kuwaiti character in essence is one of integrity and generosity — we are a charitable people, evident by the Ramadan dinners we sponsor and the alms we pay (Zakat) — indeed we are almost always the first to rush in aid of others, local or internationally. We should be proud of this trait.
We are, however, far from perfect. Praying, fasting and spending alms on the needful are not enough to qualify us or other societies as superior Muslims.
Our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) stated, ‘The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.’
Recently, we have all been witness to a drastic deterioration in the way people treat one another and conduct their lives — a certain segment lacks the proper traits, either due to lack of decent rearing, non-implementation of laws (which they view as ‘toothless’) or the gradual radicalism in society which encourages gender segregation, non-tolerance of foreigners and non-Islamic ideals and views.
Our society seems to have lost its moral compass; gaze around you, materialism and power is valued over integrity and honesty; harshness in tone is embraced, over humility and etiquette. An individual’s caliber is immaterial; what matters is how one can ‘benefit’ another, the extent of personal influence and how many laws one can break with impunity.
On the behavioral level, this is evident all around us, nothing is respected; people don’t wait their turn, they drive erratically, they walk into elevators without waiting for others to exit, they are rude to foreign workers, they disturb women in malls and public places, they cause a ruckus in movie theatres, road and traffic signs are ignored, municipality laws are ignored, smoking signs are ignored. The list goes on…
This personal methodology is poisoning society — we are all victims of and responsible for this collective, ethical Achilles’ heel.
Follow the law, pay your bills on time, stand in a queue, follow road signs and you’re regarded as a dimwit.
These days you get a taste of good manners when you travel to countries like the United States and the European Union where parents educate their children ‘not to point at others’, ‘scream’ and wait patiently for their turn in a queue, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Even progressive GCC states such as the UAE — eager to attract foreigners and investment — do not tolerate any law breaking: speeding tickets affect the validity of your car license and insurance premiums; if unruly youths disturb or sexually harass women in public, security arrests them, shaves their heads, splashes their mugs in the papers, for example. People think twice before embarking on any moves which might offend the personal space or respect of others.
It’s the atmosphere of tolerance, openness and the implementation of laws that truly make an Islamic society, not the number of mosques built or how many foreigners converted to Islam.
Where is Islam if society deems Expired Food Merchants and MPs and their ‘state benefactors’ — who dabble in tens of millions of corrupt money — for example, as ‘untouchables’?
People’s behavior forces one to ditch the law because the law is not really on one’s side, it’s not really being enforced — it’s an illusion. Additionally, we need to start embarking on ‘naming and shaming’ lawbreakers and criminals instead of shielding their identities from the public, who have a right to know.
The state apparatus — traditionally infatuated with forming committees, hosting seminars and running bloated campaigns — needs to execute them properly, namely by implementing a two-track initiative: On the one hand formulating an awareness campaign on ‘Islamic Moderation And Tolerance’ by highlighting the work of groundbreaking pioneers and world-renowned Moderate Islamic voices such as our very own Dr Naif Al-Mutawa (creator of the comic book series ‘The 99’) and Dr Reza Aslan, author of ‘No God But God,’ among other accomplished intellectual luminaries — so that younger generations may be able to benefit from their stimulating, refreshing views.
Simultaneously, on the other track enforcing Civic and Constitutional Laws preaching freedom of speech, equality and appropriate justice — so individuals may learn to respect state laws and tolerate differing views — they need to realize grave repercussions are incoming — leading imprisonment or worse — if they indulge in any lawbreaking or negative antisocial behavior. Ultimately, the State needs to step up to the plate and protect society, lest individuals take the law into their own hands and mob rule surfaces.
Islam without proper laws, justice for all and proper education is abridged, toothless — as a society we need to instill the values amongst ourselves and future generations, not just censure ‘external influences,’ the media or the West for our ills (many which are self created). Moreover, we need as a community to re-examine the way we conduct ourselves and treat others — to realize that no good can come from a society that obliquely persuades fraud, dishonesty and ill-treatment of others.

Arab Governments Should Pay Heed To Aspirations Of Their People

Arab Governments Should Pay Heed To Aspirations Of Their People
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (Feb. 17th 2011)

AS RECENT as a few weeks ago a mantle of anxiety, melancholy and, dare I say, fatalism was shrouding the youthful face of the Arab world. Anyone who socialized, worked with or communicated with the young through Twitter, Blogs or other social media sites could sense a gradual erosion of the spirit, albeit one that fueled a stirring sort of activism, which wasn’t palpable in the past.

There was a growing disconnect between governments and the young, a feeling that the priorities of the state did not synchronize with their own desires; anxieties stemming from corruption affecting their job and financial stability, their environment and quality of life.

A glimmer of hope, however, gleams on the horizon; recent tumultuous developments in Tunisia and Egypt — leading to the removal of their long-standing leaders through peaceful civil disobedience -are a turning point, a testimony to this. Idyllic eras, in government eyes, who manipulated media via their state television, state news agencies, state cabinet press releases and newspapers — laying the foundations of their unfeasible utopian state — have come to an end.

The fusion of technology and the internet via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the revolutionary, divisive Wiki Leaks, are shedding light on the Arab world’s traditionally hidden, obscure cigar-and-aperitifs political backrooms where both blunt talk and cagey subtleties of diplomacy are king — shoving much needed political reform into the faces of traditionally closed, autocratic states.

The young are mobilizing swiftly, one step of the government, bypassing blocked sites, proxies and IP’s, releasing new information concerning fraud, human rights abuses and Machiavellian political machinations.
The fact that our very own Kuwait Twitter feed is an resourceful amalgamation of activists, MP’s, journalists, bloggers, and other members of society is a testament to the power of social media and the rapid flow of information among participants and instant feedback.

Incidents such as the unsettling attempts by authorities to infiltrate, monitor and intimidate Kuwaiti Twitter users via ‘moles’ members of State Security is a direct violation of the Constitution, notably Article 39 which states: “Freedom of communication by post, telegraph, and telephone and the secrecy thereof is guaranteed; accordingly, censorship of communications and disclosure of their contents are not permitted except in the circumstances and manner specified by law.”

Even the above ominous challenge, however, was met with acerbic wit and fortitude by Kuwaiti men and women of Twitter, cracking jokes at ghostly Security operatives, “I am getting a cheeseburger, can I order you one?” or “I am logging off now, will you be alright without me?”

Undeniably, Kuwait is not immune to the ‘perfect storm’ (as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently affirmed) concerning social and political change. The toying with people’s liberties in Kuwait, frustration with government, rise in political prisoners, and the increase in corruption has fueled this rage against the machine, the catalyst that has also lead individuals to social network sites to exchange information, blow steam and highlight any injustices they may have encountered or heard of — not to mention deride any statements or actions by self-deluded, ostentatious officials, who have contributed little to this country’s development, merely epitomizing Iago’s classic line to Roderigo in ‘Othello’: “Put money in thy purse!”

Government statements including those of our Council of Ministers highlighting ‘brotherly nations,’ ‘exterior threats,’ and ‘steering the Kuwaiti ship safely to shore,’ have become absurd verbal footnotes, relished as hors d’oeuvres of glee at any gathering — or Twitter feed — treated as comedy gold due to the fact that young people aren’t naïve or dim-witted, they’re wired, mopping snippets of information every minute; aware that the issue of ‘security’ in oppressive regimes has always been exploited as a justification to curb freedoms and hamper queries into fraudulence and mismanagement. They aren’t going to buy into that kool aid anymore.

Arab regimes need to wake up to the fact that their systems are analogous; inequality and corruption are the common denominators, directly permeated into Kleptocracies — regimes that utilize control fraud (bureaucracy and forgery, for example) to exploit governmental corruption to extend personal wealth and power of government officials alongside a specific inner circle or class via misappropriation of state funds and natural resources — at the cost of the rest of the population.

Fifty years following its independence from the United Kingdom, twenty years following its liberation from Iraq, Kuwait remains a ‘closed’ state — wary of foreign investment and participation, unable or unwilling to even free a portion of 90 percent of unused government land to the private sector — more willing to invest its riches outside the state than internally, limiting and keeping a tight lid on who benefits from its development — a Kleptocracy under the guise of a Constitutional monarchy. The Young Activists and Wired Intellectuals are aware of this; God bless them — they are nobody’s fools, and they realize that we are not impervious to recent geopolitical developments.

Arab Leadership — the management of a country — should not be on a lofty platform, impervious to censure. The term ‘public servant’ applies to everyone in government from the lowliest clerk to the head of state. Governments, their decision-makers, their entities, their ministries, their employees, are there to serve their people; not vice-versa.

The Arab people are leery of the usual gaudy summits, conferences, communal, sycophantic lip service between their leaders and their extravagant hand-outs to one another. Arab governments should pay heed to the aspirations of their people or regret the consequences. Ultimately, no power anywhere can restrain the fervent, conscientious spirit of the young — demographically, the majority — particularly those who have nothing to lose.

A golden opportunity exists now for all regimes to reassess their modus operandi, correct past errors, and realign their policies to erect healthy, dynamic states that focus on elevating their people, not their own persistent survival.

Kuwait Development Should Focus On Quality, Ease Of Life For Citizens

Development Should Focus On Quality, Ease Of Life For Citizens
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (Jan. 6th 2011)

KUWAIT needs a development plan for citizens, one that takes into consideration the quality and ease of life for citizens – one that ties in overall human resources to skills, culture and education, augmented by the latest technologies and processes. We certainly don’t need a KD37 billion development plan shrouded in secrecy, with details constantly modified, convoluted by political trials and tribulations and government brokered ‘deals’ to augment political power, because let me tell you, if the development plan consists mainly of the Jahra Highway, Bubyan Port Phase 2, several new housing areas built in the traditional manner, the Arab-built Jaber Hospital and the Oil sector (i.e. The Fourth Refinery) then citizens are being deluded.

The above projects for example should not be under any ‘development plan’ – those types of projects, hospitals for example, are a given and should be planned and implemented for the growing population anyway. As it stands now, it’s a development plan by schmucks for schmucks.

I am not even going to bring up Silk City because I think it’s a dream wrapped up in a mirage that will take over a quarter of a century at the very least to analyze, plan, and execute. Judging by past Kuwaiti methodology it will not be built to international
specifications, and even if it is, it will undergo bureaucratic hurdles and be outdated by the time it’s built, not to mention ill maintained. This isn’t ‘Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision’ we’re talking about here, folks, so don’t get excited.

But I digress. Citizens urgently need the realities on the ground to change. So far they are not seeing anything materialize; on the contrary, services and infrastructure are regressing in all ways, whether it’s traffic, food safety, bureaucracy, state of the environment, ease of business, and so forth.

Just driving through an infested, traffic-ridden Ring Road – planned and built for a city a quarter of our population – is an indication that the state is still mired in studies, plans and empty rhetoric concerning metro plans, highways, bridges, flyovers, and road extensions, plans that should supposedly make our life easier. But probably won’t. Every year we take to the streets and the situation is grimmer.

Allow me to indulge in a few civic fantasies: Citizens want to travel through decent, well constructed roads and stroll on quality pavements, use clean transportation modes and breath fresh, clean air – it is high time development plans included strict environmental and litter laws (with soaring fines and imprisonment for lawbreakers) and also embraced alternative energies such as solar power, wind turbines, recycling plants and Waste management facilities (Kuwait currently invests less on waste management than its Gulf counterparts).

Obesity and diabetes are serious health issues in Kuwait, and are among the highest rates in the world. The state should invest in ‘green’ pathways, parks, community centers or walk areas for citizens to exercise and socialize (in the long run it will save millions in health care costs).

Additionally, what is the first image that greets a visitor upon entering Kuwait? The airport should represent modernity, efficiency, ease and comfort of travel, a pristine glimpse symbolizing a city of the new millennium; in actuality, however, Kuwait Airport is an unpleasant experience: crowded, smoky, dimly-lit, appalling parking and lackluster facilities, a truly Third World cesspool compared to other Gulf airports – citizens deserve much better. There are plans to build a new Terminal and new airports but those will take years at best due to the regular Kuwaiti methodology of management.

The state does not seem the least bit concerned in the aesthetic component of Kuwait; appalling zoning everywhere, vacant plots of land scattered around, undeveloped, neighborhoods encircled by desert land, unpaved and devoid of vegetation, bus stops so rundown they look like they were caught in a Fallujah firefight, roads with potholes and speed bumps that can gravely damage your car, diminutive, plastic garbage containers that encourage you to litter – the list is endless.

The city needs to be beautified, by competent landscaping, in a Kuwait lined with millions of trees and flora, a ‘green’ alternative: pumping oxygen into the atmosphere to dispel the Co2 and pollutants emanating from Kuwait’s ancient, ill-managed power stations and factories (which also need to be torn down and rebuilt – some date to the 1950s).

Citizens demand 21st century tools, a polished, competent, up to date infrastructure that caters to their needs, high-speed broadband internet (whose speed is not limited by feeble MoC phone lines), they require an efficient monitoring system of goods and services, including food testing labs, electronic government so citizens can finalize paperwork online, whether car registrations, license renewals and the like – as other Gulf states do (Currently, if you want to survive Kuwait’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy you need an army of ‘mandoobs’).

Unsurprisingly, many new areas such as Mubarak Al Kabeer, for example, lack basic telephone services, its citizens resorting to mobile phone lines and mobile data plans for Internet. Ask those citizens about development and they’ll respond with four letter words of encouragement at the government – a government that constantly claims to ‘safeguard the dignity of its citizens.’

What is the status concerning fiber optics plan by the Ministry of Communications encompassing all of Kuwait? The fact that copper lines are still being installed in some areas instead of fiber optics is indicative the MoC failed to execute its fiber optics infrastructure plans on time. Additionally, Bahrain, Oman and UAE are getting their own new flag cable – why didn’t Kuwait? I wonder what our friends at the Ministry of Communications have to say about this – probably an instant replay, clueless message about “MoC’s desire to live up to sublime vision of HH The Amir for Kuwait to be a financial hub.”

Citizens and businesses demand a more competent Customs Department, one armed with the latest technologies, with workers who toil in conscience – as opposed to dozens of ‘professionals’ drinking tea with one person doing his job -while others demand more bureaucratic paperwork from half a dozen ministries to clear customs. Entrepreneurs, companies and citizens in general know what used to take days to clear can sometimes take up to a week or more now (if you throw in a weekend) and people end up paying the late fees because of their inefficiency.

Now as much as I desire some of the above wish-list upgrades to occur, the cynical side is aware no matter what plans are weaved, whether it’s a new airport, terminal, metro, building a resort island in Failaka, it’s the same old song: bring in an international consultant, have them devise a blueprint and strategy, forward it to an inefficient ministry – with the bulk of employees, at best, armed with high school degrees and with technical and administrative competencies of a soiled shag carpet – have them modify and ‘supervise’ the plan, kill the plan, bring in a local contractor – whose tentacles extend into the Central Tenders Committee, therefore getting the winning bid – who eventually cuts corners with cheap materials, modifications and makes the bulk of their profits from tender ‘variations’ and presto, it’s Kuwait development served at its best!

We can only judge development by what we see and feel; by the way our lives are enhanced. For example, if we renew our registrations online next year, form a business in record time, attain swifter broadband, or drive on less congested roads, we’ll know we’re on the right track.

I am not holding my breath, however.