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.
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.
An excellent article by Bloomberg’s Fiona MacDonald, ‘Kuwait Opposition Rallies Urging Boycott of Tomorrow’s Election’ in which yours truly is quoted.
Govt Attempts To Censor Blogs ‘Unacceptable’
By Ahmad Saeid, Staff Writer
Reprinted from ‘Kuwait Times’ (4th January, 2010)
The minister of information is using the instability caused by the programs aired on those two TV channels, and the whole issue of national unity, as means to impose restrictions on bloggers,” said Al-Mutairi.
While he agreed that there is a group of MPs who support freedom of expression Al-Mutairi noted that some Parliamentarians have double standards about this issue. “I think that, unfortunately, a large group of MPs support the media when it speaks favorably of them and discard the media when it criticizes them,” he said.
Muhammad Al-Yousifi, another Kuwaiti blogger, said that the government has been wanting to place restrictions on bloggers for some time now. “They have been wanting to do this since the scandal of changing the electoral districts in 2006,” he said. “They only got the chance to do it now with this Parliament which is mostly ‘governmental.’ Especially since a number of bloggers are now attacking MPs.
Al-Yousifi said that the law is “more laughable than it is scary” both because of the motive to monitor blogs, and the process of monitoring blogs itself. “How do they want to conduct this censorship? They can’t do it, they physically can’t do this,” he said.
Abdul Aziz Al-Ateeqi, Kuwaiti blogger and a co-founder of the biggest blogging aggregation website in the Middle East, ‘KuwaitBlogs.com,’ said Online Casino that it will be very difficult for the government to censor or block blogs because most of the servers that contain these blogs are outside Kuwait . They don’t fall under the jurisdiction of Kuwaiti law. “Even if they are willing to block them, people can still access them via proxies. Governments cannot stop that and cannot identify those who access them,” he said.
Al-Ateeqi also pointed out that there is a huge misunderstanding about what blogs are among Kuwaiti people in general. “Blogs are a micro prototype of Kuwaiti society. They are like diwaniyas. People speak what they think in them and if someone is [upset] by a Member of Parliament he will write his feelings in his blog. These views and feelings are varying and they are about different subjects. Political blogs are less than 15 percent of the whole blogosphere of
The issue of freedom of expression has been dwelled on for the past few years in
Minister of Information, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah, is still under fire from the National Assembly (NA) after a number of MPs demanded the closure of the Al-Soor channel. They accused the Minister of allowing the channel to broadcast without proper permission. A number of MPs announced they will file an interpellation motion against the Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah if he does not fire the Minister.
Last October however, some of those same MPs held a number of demonstrations where they claimed the government was not doing enough to protect the freedom of expression. The demonstrations occurred after the publisher of an online newspaper, Zaed Al-Zaed, was attacked by an anonymous man.
Kuwait Reacts To Obama: Poll shows strength of America’s democracy
By Francis A. Clifford Cardozo, Valiya S. Sajjad and Abubakar A. Ibrahim
Arab Times Staff
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times‘ (6th November, 2008)
KUWAIT CITY, Nov 5: Barrack Obama’s landslide victory in the presidential elections Tuesday shows the strength of democracy in the US, Deputy Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Dr Mohammed Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah told the Arab Times Wednesday. Hoping that the overwhelming worldwide support for Obama will help him solve long pending global issues like the problems in Palestine, Sheikh Mohammed expects the new US administration to have a strategic policy and spread peace in Palestine. Asked about his views on the stand of the new US administration on the situation in Iraq as well as the Iranian nuclear program, Sheikh Mohammed said “Obama promised to take concrete steps to address these issues during the campaign. I expect him to face the real world, help Iraqis build their nation, and grant them autonomy in defending their homeland. On the other hand, I believe there is a global consensus to handle this issue through the United Nations (UN).”
Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi congratulated the newly-elected US president as well as the Americans, wishing Obama success in leading one of the most powerful nations in the world. “I pass judgment on an event only when it happens. We have excellent relations with the US and we hope this will continue under Obama’s leadership but we will always be frank with them as we have been with the previous administration. We will call their attention if we see some errors and praise them for a job well done, since we are their true friends,” he added.
Looking forward to stronger ties between Kuwait and the US, Al-Khorafi urged both nations to respect each other’s sovereignty, customs and values to further cement existing ties. He said the Arab region is also keen on seeing how the new US administration will deal with political issues in the region, particularly the Palestinian issue, asserting “we will fully support moves for peace in Palestine provided these are done in an objective manner.”
In the meantime, MP Saleh Ashour believes Obama’s success is actually the triumph of the whole American nation and is regarded by many as a sign of support for the rights of minority groups, such as the Arabs and Hispanics. He said Obama’s victory also paves the way for remarkable changes not only in the US but also in the whole world, especially the current economic meltdown that, many believe, might lead to recession.
Commenting on the relations between the new US administration (Democrats) and the Gulf and Arab countries, Ashour stressed “we have strong ties with Republicans, especially since they played a major role in the liberation of Kuwait. However, this does not mean that we won’t enjoy special relations with Obama — a democrat. Under his rule, there might be slight changes in America’s foreign policy, particularly the issues related to minority groups and human rights.”
MP Mohammed Abduljader pointed out that Obama’s success symbolizes real democracy and it conveys a strong message to the whole world that actual change has started.
Asked if Obama will solve many problems in Arab and Islamic countries, Al-Abduljader said “America is always keen on serving its interests above all else and solutions to the problems in the region will not come now due to the arrival of one person – Obama. We need more time to get into the root of these problems.”
Barrack Obama should resolve all thorny issues in the Middle East through dialogue as the region cannot afford another war, says Ali Al-Baghli, former minister of oil and rights activist.
Upon assuming office, he said that Obama should send a mediator to the Middle East to take a stock of the stalled peace process and that the US should pressurize Israel in renouncing violent methods against Palestinians.
“This is because whenever the Israelis step up attacks against the Palestinians, it only strengthens hands of Hamas. Obama should work to prop up the authority of the Mahmud Abbas as this is the only we can bring about peace between the two sides. Getting the country out of the economic doldrums, should be another priority of Obama,” Al-Baghli added.
Reacting to the victory of Obama, Dr Khaled Al-Jenfawi, Columnist and Assistant Professor at the Kuwait University said: “Perhaps Obama’s key word “Change” is taking place right now in the streets, towns and cities of America; however, it remains to be seen whether real and dramatic changes in the US foreign policy are going to happen very quickly.”
“Militarily and morally committed to two wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting international terrorism around the globe, the US cannot just ignore its international obligations and as such should swiftly change its positions towards those yet-unsettled issues.”
“Change in America is expected to happen and one hopes that change does take place too in the international image of the US, particularly among the peoples of the underdeveloped world. Nations in Africa, Asia, and South America will have to wait a little bit longer to see whether “real” change has actually happened in the American foreign policy.”
“Instead of continuing what others consider as arrogance, hostile projection of superiority coupled with numerous misunderstandings of the cultures of non-American nations, the US needs to work on many different fronts to change how the world views it. It is of course in the interest of our American friends to start an intensive international public relation exercise to convince us, yet again, that America is the land of dreams, which can actually come true if individuals and people maintain the necessary determination and will to improve themselves.”
“Having a glimpse at the statute of liberty has always been the hope of millions of immigrants from Europe and from all over the world. Yet, due to some previous attitudes of nonchalance or “unconcerned interest” about how the world views the US, our American friends should work harder to regain the trust they deserve,” Al-Jenfawi explained.
“One hopes, of course, that the historic victory of the first afro-American president of the United State will settle some pressing international conflicts, stop the worsening of our global environment, and fix the economies of the world. A more tolerant, responsible, friendly, understanding, creative, and once again, a more beautiful America is what everyone else outside the Grant Park in Chicago wishes to see and enjoy in the very near future.”
For his part, former Kuwaiti diplomat Amer Al-Hilal said: “Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama are honorable gentleman, passionate public workers who love their country and want the best for their nation. I know that irrespective of whether a Democratic or Republican administration is present, the United States will continue to protect the sovereignty of the Gulf nations and maintain peace and stability in our part of the world.”
“As a Kuwaiti living in a very tough neighborhood, I worry about external and internal threats, but I have complete faith in Senator Obama’s commitment to safeguard our region from any instability and external coercion.”
“As a former diplomat who served in our Embassy in Washington DC during the Clinton Presidency and was privy to senior meetings at the State Dept. Pentagon, NSC – I can tell you first-hand that a Democratic administration can indeed maintain an assertive, wise and fair-minded policy in the Gulf, protect its interests and those of its allies, and continue a path of stabilization in the Middle East and elsewhere.”
“I am positive an Obama presidency will potentially even jump-start the stalled Middle East Peace Process, which lately has lost much of its luster under the shadow of extremism and geopolitical turmoil.”
Change is always welcome, especially after a long period of political, economic, and social turmoil — and people demanded change, especially in the gloom of economic woes and uncertainty over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he added.
Al-Hilal added that Obama energized the election and the issues even as he was a catalyst for a large voter turnout, especially among the young.
Al-Hilal said Obama inspired people all around the world to show a newfound interest in American politics and the election in general, adding the feeling on the Kuwaiti street certainly is one of hope and affection towards Obama.
“It is a historic day in the United States because for the first time, a multi-ethnic individual has been elected to the Presidency and is symbolic of the melting pot in the US and the impartiality and wisdom of its system.”
“Congratulations to the United States, I am happy for our friends and allies; as a Kuwaiti I too hope that we will one day get our own Obama, our own version of positive change, someone who truly loves this country and can wisely take Kuwait to new heights and out of the current doldrums we are in.”
Insight: A Conversation With Amer Al-Hilal
By Francis A. Clifford Cardozo
Arab Times Staff
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (6th October, 2008)
Interpellation is a democratic right of the Parliament and it should be exercised prudently, particularly as a means to gain transparency keeping in mind the interests of the Kuwaiti populace, says Amer A. Al-Hilal. Kuwait has always been a vanguard for development and openness and many visionary plans implemented in other Gulf countries took shape in Kuwait, he adds. In an interview with the Arab Times, Al-Hilal spoke on an array of issues ranging from interpellations, tribal primaries and women’s emancipation to graft.
Q: Was the government justified in banning the tribal primaries? It was widely assumed that the authorities failed to act on the primaries held by the liberals.
A: I believe there is a lot of misconception about the primaries. I am of the view that a primary encompasses the following criteria: people publicly set a time and date and ask members of a sect or tribe to converge at a certain point by having the ballots ready.
Sometimes it is pre-determined as who is going to contest the elections and this is certainly unfair for it denies an opportunity to a potentially qualified candidate.
Contrary to the general perception that the government turned a blind eye to the primaries held by the liberals, I reckon that they merely indulged in what can be best described as consultations. In simple words, when certain political blocs decide to meet or talk in an open and transparent manner at a diwaniya or elsewhere, it does not amount to a primary.
Having considered all aspects of the tribal primaries, I feel the government took the right step in banning them. I support a democratic system whereby people cast their ballot at the polling booths and tribalism must not be encouraged in any form. Regrettably this phenomenon has assumed momentum in the past few years.
From what I viewed on TV, both parties, including the security authorities and certain tribes appeared to be at fault. Some elements provoked the security forces to act by pelting them with stones. On the other hand, the authorities used excessive force to deal with an issue that could have been handled in a diplomatic manner.
Q: A majority of the parliamentary interpellations were said to be born out of personal interests. Do you agree that the grilling tool was misused?
A: Interpellation should not be used to settle political scores or to suit one’s own partisan ends. Lamentably, this is what we have been seeing of late.
Having said that, it is not the parliament’s duty to implement developmental plans and in the same way it is not the parliament’s job to provide electricity, water, social services etc.
It is the government’s responsibility to provide these services to the general public. And as long as there is mismanagement and lack of transparency and inability of the government to push through reforms, then you will see more and more parliamentarians sensing a lack of leadership as an indication for them to use the grilling tool. Some of the grillings were based on valid points but most of them were not.
Q: Are you referring to mismanagement in the government establishments?
A: Kuwait has always been a vanguard for development and openness and many visionary plans implemented in other Gulf countries took shape in Kuwait.
For instance, the concept of Free Trade materialized in Kuwait in the Sixties. Similarly, many good ideas with regards to privatization, free market reforms etc originated in Kuwait.
Kuwaitis have always been great tradesmen but something went terribly wrong in the last decade or so as people started moving away from their origins and became more extreme, less self-reliant; they began relying on government help. A lot of Kuwaiti companies have carved a niche for themselves on the global arena and Kuwaitis are very smart investors, innovators and have played an important role in the development of other countries. If you look at the banking sector in Kuwait, for example, the talent pool is amazing.
The problem is that the government is a stumbling block to the development of the country; this is largely due to the fact that we have 93 per cent of the Kuwaiti workforce employed by the government. And the government sees the private sector not as a partner – the way modern states do – but as a competitor.
We have a management that is static because people remain in the same positions sometimes for decades whether they are civil servants or undersecretaries and this leads to a culture of mismanagement, favoritism and corruption.
There are gaffes by both the legislative and executive bodies as certain individuals are not effectively utilizing their positions to bring about progress and it all boils down to personal interests.
Q: The Parliament is only three months old and some parliamentarians have threatened to grill some ministers, including the prime minister. Are we about to see another political crisis or what?
A: The proposed grilling of the prime minister is something unprecedented in the history of Kuwait and if the parliamentarians take that route, then we are likely to see dissolution of the Parliament.
Reshuffling government in a frequent manner is impeding the progress of the country, including major developmental projects with regards to infrastructure, water, electricity, health and education. Changing ministers won’t solve the protracted problems as the system, employees, under that minister have to be effective as well.
This does not imply I am giving a clean cheat to the government for the latter sometimes enjoys toying with the Constitution by limiting freedom. A case in point is that the government enacted laws that curb meetings or gatherings which are guaranteed by the Kuwaiti Constitution. It also recently caused a public uproar by instructing all NGOs and societies in Kuwait to deal with international organizations only through the ministry of social affairs.
This is a direct violation of the Constitution and personal freedom of speech. However, the move was opposed tooth-and-nail and this prompted the government to back down.
Q: Can political blocs in Kuwait fill the vacuum left by parties?
A: Unofficially, we have political parties in Kuwait whether it is the National Democratic Alliance, Islamic Constitutional Movement or Salafists. I believe in political parties for it is the natural step in the evolution of democracy whose time has come.
Political parties may not have worked very effectively in the Arab world but there is no reason why we cannot make it work in Kuwait and customize it to our needs.
I think political parties in Kuwait will be a jolt in the arm of democracy because they will jump-start certain ideological platforms in a transparent manner. People will know who they are voting for, their ideology, platform and the political party will ultimately be accountable whether they deliver the goods or not.
Political parties will encompass a list of names for a voter to choose from each district; and the citizen may not vote for an independent candidate; instead may vote for political party itself. Additionally, women will have a greater chance of getting elected to the parliament if political parties offer them seats.
Q: The plan to transform Failaka into a tourist hub has already hit a road block. The opposition to the project is growing by the day…why are the parliamentarians dead against the project?
A: We need to seriously introduce tourism in Kuwait and this fits perfectly into the government’s plan to transform Kuwait into a financial hub. Any development that takes place in Kuwait, be it Silk City or the development of Failaka should wholeheartedly be encouraged.
There are some elements who fear exterior influences hitting the fabric of the society and these elements consistently criticize tourism or entertainment in general, be it cinema, cable or otherwise; they ignore the real dangers or bad influences creeping into the society such as liquor, drugs, and prostitution.
Q: Is the crime graph in Kuwait a cause for concern?
A: The authorities need to enforce the full extent of the law if crime is to be eradicated in Kuwait; you need to cut the head of the snake.
We have to exert greater efforts in tacking drug trafficking for it tarnishes the image of our country. But if people are caught and released or handed light sentences, then it is not going to serve as a deterrent.
Kuwait in the Sixties and Seventies did not have such problems even though we were much more open and liberal society.
Q: Who is to be blamed for the rise in crimes?
A: I attribute the spurt in crime to a certain caliber of demographic communities. We have tens of thousands of workers coming to Kuwait, who are bachelors and they have their needs – physical or otherwise. The social crimes have increased with the influx of marginal labourers and lack of rule of law.
This does not mean the government should raid people’s homes at will but the important thing to do here is to get down to the bottom of the matter. The need of the hour is accountability and full implementation of the law.
When the law is not fully implemented it leads to chaos and corruption that seeps into every facet of the society whether it is a factory spewing poison in Umm al-Haiman or whether someone getting kick-backs in the ministry to shield illegal activities.
The authorities have to crackdown on visa traffickers who are hurting the Kuwaiti image abroad and tarnishing the country’s rights record; they were the bone of contention with regards to the recent labour strikes and demonstrations.
Q: What are the problems being faced by residents of Umm al-Haiman?
A: There are certain areas in Kuwait where cancer rates are very high. There are factories built next to residential areas that continue to spew dangerous toxic material into the air and the authorities have failed to act on such issues.
Kuwait is in great need of enacting environmental laws. These companies need to abide by the environmental code and not, for example, dump toxic waste in the ocean as was the case in Messilah. Such occurrences will continue as long as there is no accountability.
Q: Is graft to be blamed for the environmental ills plaguing the country?
A: I think corruption plays a big role because people continue to do what they do thinking that they can go scot-free. You hear about a variety of fraud cases but seldom you see people being prosecuted.
Q: Visa trafficking has taken center stage following the labour demonstrations. Who should be facing the music?
A: According to newspaper reports, there are some 80,000 illegal workers in the country. The demographic population balance has shifted uncomfortably to a situation that is detrimental to the safety and prosperity of the country.
When you have a large number of workers who are jobless for they were conned back home and then in Kuwait; these workers get frustrated after losing everything. Some have been staying in the country illegally for many years as they do not have their passports. In such a scenario, the amnesty is a step in the right direction.
But we have had amnesty periods before that didn’t really yield quantitative demographic results. I place the blame squarely on the companies which bring the laborers to Kuwait and leave them to fend for themselves.
Kuwaitis are good-hearted by nature but a handful are tarnishing the image of the country and the good spirit that is always been prevalent among Kuwaitis.
Without strong laws in place, people will continue to find ways to make a fast buck – if there are loopholes in the legal system – those loopholes will be exploited and that is human nature. It is about time that these unscrupulous companies are taken to task.
If we are to eliminate visa trade, we have to abolish the sponsorship system that has only caused us headaches from the beginning.
Q: By abolishing the Sponsorship System … do you think the problems of workers can be completely redressed?
A: It is not the only step but it will be a good first step to help curb visa trafficking.
Kuwait MoC Adds ‘Skype’ To Series Of Blocked Net Phone Websites
By Francis A. Clifford Cardozo
Arab Times Staff
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (15th September, 2008)
KUWAIT CITY, Sept 15: Skype became the latest among a series of Internet telephony websites blocked by the Ministry of Communications (MoC). Though a number of Internet telephone websites were blocked by the ministry last year, some of them are back in operation and they include: Net2phone, Delta-three, Phoneserve, Go2call, PC2Phone, among others. Those trying to access the Skype webpage are greeted with a message: “This website has been restricted based on the instructions of the Ministry of Communications. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Skype is a software that allows users to make calls from PC to PC free of charge, while the fee is minimal for service involving PC to landline or cell phone. Skype, which is considered a leader among VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services, offers additional features including: instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing. Some illegal Internet phone providers are charging as low as 30 fils per call to many Asian countries, even as the ministry has stepped up its campaign against the illegal practice. Hundreds of expats trading in Internet calls have been deported by the authorities since a nation wide crackdown began last year.
An operator at an illegal telephone center, who only identified himself as Rizwan, told the Arab Times that although the Skype is banned, users can still make calls by downloading the necessary software.
“Outlets which sell the pre-paid Skype cards provide the software to their customers. The ban will affect only those who do not have the software. What makes Skype unique is its new improved voice quality and instant connection which are poles apart from its competitors,” he added. “The ban will fizzle out as is the case with other VOIPs. A majority of the sites that were blocked by the ministry last year are back in business with renewed vigour. Phoneserve is getting popular among the expats as the service provider recently slashed its tariffs and has also enhanced the voice quality,” he added.
Reacting to the ban on Skype, Amer Al-Hilal, an ex-Kuwaiti diplomat and a prominent private sector manager, told the Arab Times that low paid workers have no choice but to patronize cheap telephone services, even as the telephone tariffs of ministry are highest in the world. “I do not blame them (workers) for patronizing the illegal phone service. If the ministry is serious in curbing the problem, then it should dramatically cut its rates,” he added. Al-Hilal noted that the ministry should accept the fact that the communication revolution would eventually lead to free or extremely cheap communication whether through the Internet medium or otherwise.
Stressing that the authorities are “stuck in 1985 time-warp”, he affirmed that the ministry should offer VOIP services under its umbrella and that as long as it charges exorbitant rates, people would continue to flock to illegal phone centers. Hailing the crackdown on illegal phone outlets, he noted that there is a greater need to bring to book people who embezzle millions of dinars from the government coffers. In the UAE, he said, the authorities tried to ban Skype but there was a huge uproar among the expatriate community which prompted the government to scrap its plan. “In Kuwait, the problem is that people don’t stand up for their rights whether they are Kuwaitis or expatriates. They should demand their rights even as expats can make their voices heard through their concerned embassies,” he added. “The ministry should stop relying on income derived from overseas calls and liberalize communication sector,” he concluded.
The Trials and Tribulations of Egypt’s Third Culture Kids
By Ahmed Maged
Reprinted from ‘Daily News Egypt’ (August 18, 2008)
CAIRO: ‘Cross culture children’, ‘natty nomads’, ‘cultural chameleons’ are all around us. But away from what may sound like derogatory names, sociologists call them Third Culture Kids (TCK) — a term coined decades ago to describe the conditions of children exposed to the values and lifestyle of one or several cultures before returning to settle permanently in their homeland. In the process they manage to integrate elements of those cultures and their own birth culture into a third culture.
But as TCKs begin to mingle with their compatriots and attempt to adapt and share experiences, an inward conflict often arises, deterring them from joining the mainstream culture.
According to sociological research, regardless of nationality, TCKs tend to have more in common with one another than they do with non-TCKs from their own country.
Although popular sites like Facebook, Myspace, and TCKID have groups devoted to TCKs, the phenomenon has received little recognition by Egyptian and Arab researchers and expatriates alike.
Hilaliya, a weblog published in English by a Kuwaiti TCK, is perhaps the only channel from the region devoted to a group of Arab TCKs.