’90 Occupation – Student, Female Volunteers: Kuwaiti Spirit Of Yesteryear

The ’90 Occupation – Student, Female Volunteers: The Kuwaiti Spirit Of Yesteryear

Reprinted From The Correspondent (The American Business Council Magazine) Summer 2011

In the early morning of August 3rd, 1990, the day after Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, Kuwaitis from areas around Washington, DC converged in front of the White House to hold a demonstration asking President George Bush Senior for his help for their country. Most Kuwaitis, their friends and families who marched that day, held faces which revealed much; bloodshot eyes and blank, lifeless stares. Their world had just been changed overnight. Many people were crying softly. It was solemnly quiet and the air was full of grief. “Have you heard from….?” “How do I find out about…?” “I think my mother was going to travel…” “What do we do now?”

It was the beginning of a long desperate seven months of agony, rumors, and the unknown. No one knew how their families and friends were faring inside Kuwait; none knew their future. None of the students that day knew what would happen next. Phone lines to Kuwait were down. It was too soon to know what the legitimate government of Kuwait would do.

True to the nature of Kuwaitis who use humor at even the most difficult of moments (often to fight off discomfort); Jasim K marched along side of his friends asking if they thought they could get jobs in the 7-11. They didn’t know if they would receive salaries or how they would live.

Some of my friends, like former MP Basil Al-Rashed, blindly boarded planes went to join Kuwaiti forces in Saudi Arabia during the first few weeks following the invasion. I heard later that MP Al-Rashed served with the Kuwaitis on the Saudi border. I am incredibly proud of him (as are others) for taking the initiative to pioneer it alone during those early days of uncertainty.

These were not the days of the internet. E-mail didn’t become popular until after the war was long over. The phone lines to the Kuwaiti embassy in Washington DC were jammed and information was hard to come by. However, almost immediately offices were set up to form assistance teams. Information trickled out of Kuwait, sometimes from people escaping; sometimes from ham radio operators. Lists were compiled of people, their whereabouts and their circumstances (including, heartbreakingly, names of those who had been tortured or taken as hostages). Grass roots newspapers like, “Ku-waiting for News” (which was written and distributed by an American woman married to a Kuwaiti) provided information in English to friends/relatives of Kuwaitis in the States. These were the days of no e-mail; distribution was by fax or “snail mail” system. People made copies and copies of copies and the information proved invaluable to those, like me, who were waiting to hear what was happening.

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.

Free Kuwaitis From The Shackles of Radicalism

Free Kuwaitis From The Shackles of Radicalism
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (10th December 2010)

Respect for human rights, democracy (embodied in our Diwaniyas and later in our Constitution) freedom of speech, gender equality, and religious and cultural tolerance – all these traits were ingrained in the Kuwaiti culture and person for hundreds of years.

These days we witness media reports of MPs attempting to pass legislation to ‘ban bikinis,’ ‘female sportswear,’ or completely eradicating the legal and constitutional presence of female Parliamentarians – as if all major problems of the State: Ahmadi gas leaks, Mishrif Station pumping sewage into our waters, expired meat, visa trafficking, development and all the other major issues were already dealt with.

Some of those same individuals wouldn’t even run for Parliament in the 1970s because they regarded democratic public office as ‘UnIslamic.’ Now, they are not just attempting to run the show, they are attempting to re-write history and modify the political and social structure of the State, by using Democracy as a means to eradicate Democracy.

These same ‘religious’ MPs who abhor even the National Anthem and refuse even to stand in respect to their State, these ‘Sharia Sheikhs of Swing’ who observe female groups and file police reports about ‘lesbian gatherings’ – even though the assembly of women was at a wedding – and who attempt to free rapists and child molesters from police stations, visa traffickers, expired food merchants and other lawbreakers and criminals, not to mention defend terrorists who threaten the State and the troops of our Allies; hypocrisy at its finest.

Additionally, treating women, employees and compatriots with disdain and disrespect looking the other way whilst corruption seeps and takes hold of society – nullifies any Sharia degree or religious gravitas an individual might have.

Let us be candid, If Kuwait truly was a civilized society the MPs would have been sued, prosecuted and kicked out of Parliament for such inflammatory-jumping-the-gun statements and for attempting to influence criminal investigations. But politics is politics and deals are made, always at the people’s expense. Furthermore, tribes and political groups – some who report to and coordinate with foreign entities – currently dwarf the power of the State (much of this is the State’s doing).

Right wing critics who slam progressive Kuwaitis for encouraging respect for other cultures and religions are dismissed as “agents of Western propaganda” or ‘Liberals’ – for wanting to highlight those ideals and reinforce them – are obviously unfamiliar with Kuwait’s history and background, and are apparently not familiar with the basic tenets of Islam which value and guarantee the aforementioned rights. Maybe some are unfamiliar with history because they just got the Kuwaiti citizenship; others are familiar but think we were living in the Dark Ages then.

In any case, they are certainly not familiar with Kuwait’s real ‘tradition and customs.’ Kuwait was more of a trading and commercial hub before oil than it is now; one of the many reasons why Kuwait was a merchant city and trading post – a haven of culture and commerce for hundreds of years even prior to the advent of oil – was tolerance and openness.

Men and women shared equal responsibilities; toiling away from dawn till dusk, women taking care of the household, educating their children and were active in producing goods (i.e. embroidering the ‘Sadu’) and in commerce – they kept things together, while their partners embarked on six month or longer pearl diving or trading voyages to places as far as India and Africa. They were partners in the true sense of the word. They were equals.

We were no less Muslim then. In some ways, we were superior Muslims; we weren’t arrogant like we are now, with that wretched ‘holier than thou’ attitude; we were broke – desperate for sources of income. Kuwaitis had to interact with other cultures, learn their language and customs; it was an issue of survival, whether it was opening a trade route for water, dates, gold or otherwise. We needed others and that taught us humility and real tolerance of cultures, peoples and religions.

That great Kuwaiti attribute is being diminished by the day in this day and age.

Ultimately, Islam should not be measured by the amount of Mosques that are built (even though this is a blessing to any society), how many expatriates are converted, or by the amount of Quran memorization schools (even though this is a noble activity) but by treating your fellow men and women, irrespective of whether they are native or expatriate, with respect and dignity, accepting their views and their way of life even though you may disagree with them and by combating inequity and corruption.

That is real test of democracy and Islam is all about Democracy, its real targets are oppression, corruption, intolerance, injustice, not impeding the construction of Churches, wiping out pictures of the Virgin Mary in magazines, removing Christmas trees, impeding foreign National Day celebrations, removing horse statues from a Chinese bistro at the Avenues, forced segregation and so forth.

It is truly outlandish when Kuwaitis – true citizens of the world with their astute, cultured predispositions – have to travel to a neighboring Gulf state to see a banned film, watch a concert or buy a book. It boggles the mind. Thirty years ago we did all that here and more, without any problem – which means our original ‘traditions and customs’ were much more broadminded.

If only people took the time to learn about our beloved Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) and his kind, good-humored, patient, compassionate and tolerant ways, instead of blindly following self-imposed Judges, Juries and Executioners of society – who pass ethical judgments on so-called ‘moral pariahs,’ restricting people’s freedom of expression and worship and stifling their personal choice – Kuwait would be in a much healthier shape than it is now.

What’s happening these days in Kuwait is tragic. The potential for greatness is there but in order for us to meet the vast economic, cultural and intellectual benchmarks, our current State-wooing of extremists alongside their Parliament-supported xenophobia has to finally end and justice applied to all.

Kuwait Camera Ban Retracted

The good news is the tentative ban has been denied by the authorities as well as the local newspaper that ran the original story (which they retracted). Nevertheless, I do believe there was an ‘intention‘ somewhere along the line to enforce this and they may have backed down when the local and international outcry (The Guardian, LA Times, Endgadget etc) took hold.

Camera Ban Regressive Idea

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.