Category Archives: PUBLISHED WORKS

Masses Tired Of Rhetoric On ‘National Unity’

People Want Decisive Action, Tangible Accomplishments
By Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from Arab Times (6th July, 2006)
Elections are over. The people have spoken. The new Parliament is an opposition one in the true sense of the word. The reform movement is as formidable as ever and its main defenders in Parliament have returned imbued with a sense of energy and determination.
Even with 25 Constituencies and unlimited resources, the government and its supporters could not extinguish the flames of reform and the vociferous spirit rallying against corruption. Last minute “yellow journalism,” interviews with tainted Ministers and empty talk about “national unity” could not dispel how people felt both about corruption and the aimless, unproductive role the government has played during the last few years. Infrastructure problems such as the water shortage issue only augmented people’s frustrations at the government, a government that has failed consecutively to advance Kuwait into the 21st century.
The ball is in the government’s court now. The people and the Parliament have demanded that certain individuals do not return to a new cabinet and that the government take a heightened stand against corruption – prevalent in all of Kuwait not just government bodies – which taints everything it touches whether it be housing, social issues, technological upgrades, among other issues. Corruption is no longer a symptom of a failed society; it is now an ailment which not only menaces all of Kuwait but renders it impotent.
If the government is serious about privatization, upgrading Northern oil fields, improving health care and the environment, tackling unemployment and creating new jobs, then it needs to listen to the Kuwaiti street. Nevertheless, we want things done right, if the government upgrades or privatizes, we want a transparent mechanism that benefits the Kuwaiti citizen, not some Tom, Dick or Harry who is “close to the inner circle.”
The government cannot blame Saddam or Iraq for the lack of progress and development in Kuwait. There are no more internal problems within the branches of the Ruling Family impeding progress. Oil is not at $7 a barrel. There are no more scapegoats.
People want decisive action and tangible accomplishments. They are tired of rhetoric concerning ‘national unity’ and ‘navigators steering the Kuwaiti ship safely to shore’ and all the other useless jargon the public has been spoon-fed the last quarter of a century.
If the government is serious about reform, it will help pass 5 Constituencies (or even one Constituency) it will eradicate corrupt elements from future cabinets, it will work on a plan to upgrade Kuwait’s infrastructure and seriously analyze the needs of the young Kuwaiti men and women coming of age who need decent jobs, security and prosperity to help build this country.
However, if the government chooses the defiant route ignoring the will of the people, then we all tumble into another political abyss the results of which will not be pretty and the government will not be able to blame its incompetent performance on “internal elements hurting Kuwait’s national unity.”

Radiaoctive Dreams: Spare Region ‘Another War’

‘Radioactive dreams’; Spare Region ‘Another War’
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from Arab Times (24th April, 2006)

Dear President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,

Please allow me to interrupt your latest preparations for the bizarre “Holocaust: Myth or Fact” conference and congratulate you on your active and vibrant Presidency. Iran continues on its path of enlightenment, its respect for human rights, combating terrorism, its support for freedom of speech, the Middle East Peace Process, security in the Gulf and the international arena by continuing to thumb its nose at the West and the Gulf countries by pursuing a nuclear program.

During the Kuwait invasion, Saddam “I Invaded Kuwait But All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” Hussein torched over 700 oil wells, literally making us live through Joseph Conrad’s Darkness at Noon, local lax environmental regulations on factories and the oil industry, leading to an increase in asthmas rates and cancers.

So Mr. President, you are just speeding up the inevitable; we are now on the path of an uninhabitable Kuwait, one shrouded in cancers and innumerable deaths due to the radioactive smorgasbord – due to a potential earthquake, human error a la Three Mile Island or a smart-bomb attack – from your strategically-placed-on-the-Kuwait-border nuclear reactors.

Of course placing such reactors around Teheran or your major cities would have alarmed citizens, so they got moved to our neck of the woods (ie the Busher plant).

You were well aware that our Ministers would run to you with open arms, with their gleaming, toothy smiles, and hug you and treat you like a visionary head of state when you visited us. You knew we’d make statements “supporting peaceful nuclear work.”

We also embraced your envoys (ie. Rafsanjani) but what use will their words of reassurance be when people are getting chills and fever due to environmental radiation?

You actually went one step beyond an invasion. This won’t be seven months of torture, rapes and killing (featuring over 600 POWs missing); rather Kuwait will be uninhabitable, not for one month, or seven months or three years, but for decades. It’s genius. You will actually manage to do something Saddam never dreamed of: create a ghost town – fueled by alarming cancer rates and innumerable deaths – where human life is worthless and billions in revenue whether earned (oil) or spent (infrastructure, investments) will be worthless. The history, heritage and land of a country will be erased, not in name but in reality. Who would want to live here under those conditions? Mr President if you don’t believe me, I’ll try to make this easier for you: watch Stanley Kramer’s 1959 motion picture ‘On The Beach’ (you can order it from Listen to Fred Astaire’s monologue.

Oh, I just realized that you – as a former American hostage-taker during the Iranian revolution – are probably not “cool” with the idea of watching Western films, unless they are ‘Wag The Dog’ or ‘Fahrenheit 911.’ Take the Russian deal. And spare the region another war. Kuwait is tired of being in the eye of the storm every decade. We’ve had enough. Otherwise its welcome to Radioactive Dreams, Mr. President. And that will be all due to your sheer genius and respect for human life.

War Brings Forth Best Traits

by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from Arab Times (22nd March 2006)

It’s been three years to this day since I heard sirens piercing the airwaves at noon, on March 20, 2003.

I had moved two days earlier to a new domicile, the only reason I had bothered to change my location was due to the fact that the new one had a basement room which I could seal in case of a chemical or biological attack by Iraq.

In Kuwait we lived through over three weeks of the Iraqi fallout: sirens blazing several times a day, missiles being intercepted by Patriot missile batteries, some striking the city, fear of a chemical attack; indeed all of us were in ‘low frequency’ or controlled panic mode.

You can prepare yourself psychologically but when the siren’s sound becomes audible, on the streets and the radio, it becomes an altogether different beast to tame.

When the sirens pierced our surroundings the first day of the war, I sat down in silence, I had dry mouth, I attempted to collect my thoughts and “get it together,” I wasn’t worried about myself, but was concerned about my children and thoughts of what a chemical attack could do to Kuwait were devastating. During the Gulf War thousands of us Kuwaiti students and professionals had volunteered to serve with the U.S. Army, and we received training at bases such as Fort Dix, NJ (even receiving chemical training) but when you’re in Kuwait with a family and children, it’s an entirely different scenario.

We rushed to the basement – already stocked with supplies: radios, flashlights, food and water – and locked the door, sealing it with plastic wrappings and tape.

We sealed ourselves in the room. I had never done such a thing in my life.

The radio was on, the Kuwaiti announcer coolly reporting the situation. He was the voice we clung to, he was the voice that would tell us ‘everything’s okay,’ the voice that would allow us to break the seals on the door and leave the basement room, as opposed to being stuck in there for days like hamsters, because of any chemical threat.

The first dozen or so siren warnings we all did the same “shtick”; scurrying to the basement room and locking ourselves in. I’d sit wondering how the British dealt with years of the “blitz” in London, being bombarded with sirens piercing, using shelters, and utilizing food rations, eventually many of them having to send their children to the countryside for their own safety.

After a few days of sirens intermittently going off, we got accustomed to them and began ignoring that little “panic room” we had set up in the basement. We actually celebrated my son’s birthday in the living room once while they screeched in the background.

Nevertheless, the air Conditioner was still off and all the windows in the house were still sealed, the war still raged, and the rumors still flew, but it was work as usual and life went on. We would follow the news closely no matter where we were, any ministry, house, place of business had MSNBC or Fox News in the background. Let’s not forget Al-Jazeera featuring the Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Al-Sahaf lambasting the U.S., describing the grave casualties they were suffering. He was Iraq’s Inspector Clouseau, the buffoon of the hour; mocked nightly on Jay Leno and David Letterman (Al-Sahaf is now comfortably retired in Dubai).

Al-Sahaf In Action

10 days after the initial war had broken out, the outlook was bleak. We became uneasy, preparing for the worst. We actually had expected a Gulf War videogame scenario where Iraqi soldiers would surrender to television camera crews and the like, but now there was resistance in places like Basra and there were reports from the US media that U.S. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld had wanted a leaner and meaner strike force as opposed to a larger and formidable one (i.e. The Powell Doctrine: Overwhelming Force). The war didn’t seem like it was progressing at the expected rate; I remember a hefty number of expatriates were beginning to leave Kuwait and we were worried that the American invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein would take a minimum of six months.

We had grown accustomed to the American Patriot missile batteries intercepting all the missiles before they reached downtown Kuwait. But then it happened. It was around 1am and I was watching Fox News – which had a decent live feed of Kuwait – and I felt a distant thundering blast, the house shook slightly. The live feed featured a shot of Kuwait city, quiet, orange lights glowing in the distance behind skyscrapers and buildings, and then we saw it: a rising mass of smoke appearing in the background.

No sirens had blared. This missile had gotten through.

Immediately I worried that it might be a chemical attack but began skimming through the channels, Fox, MSNBC and CNN.

The Missile Explosion In Kuwait

It was bizarre watching Fox News report on something happening in my vicinity while I was there. This wasn’t some desolate remote country thousands of miles away, this was here and now.

Gradually they all began featuring the live feed from Kuwait featuring the explosion. Within an hour we found out that Souk Sharq – one of Kuwait’s premier malls by the beachfront – had been hit; young Kuwaitis in defiance left their homes and drove to the location. Camera crews were taping everything; dozens of Kuwaitis, maybe hundreds, showed up, taunting Saddam and Iraq, yelling out in Arabic “bring it on!”

Within a few days, the war effort picked up pace and the Americans had reached Baghdad. The regime had been decimated.

When I reminisce of those apprehensive weeks we went through three years ago, they humble me; they also spark memories of the invasion of Kuwait when fearless Kuwaitis – accustomed to a comfortable life – joined the resistance, distributed food, helped people in need and worked blue collar jobs to help themselves and others. Many paid with their lives. Others were taken as hostage to Iraq. The resistance characteristic of the Kuwaiti invasion has never truly been highlighted in the global media or popular culture but it was invaluable to the efforts to free Kuwait and maintain the status quo, political or otherwise.

The spirit of camaraderie, strength, faith and sacrifice was prevalent among both Kuwaitis and expatriates; people went out of their way to make sure others were fine, well-stocked and out of harm’s way.

In times of crisis, our best traits are brought forth.

It would be astonishing if one could maintain that spirit even during peace; a noble ideal one should aspire to.

Sculptured Hands On a Solid Past – ‘Booms’ To Take You Back


Abu Issa at work in his shop (Photograph by the late Muhammed Ibrahim – KUNA)

Sculpture Hands on a Solid Past – ‘Booms’ to take you back

By Amer Al-Hilal

Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (1993)

His hands carefully slide across the dusty wooden object. The white-bearded man then places the object on a wooden rack and carefully chooses his tools. The sound of hammering is audible as the elderly craftsman begins to knock wooden nails into the seafaring vessel. His name is Abdulwahab Issa Al Rashed and he is a miniature boat builder.

Abu Issa, as he likes to be known, is a meticulous craftsman and enjoys constructing a variety of wooden ship and boat models, in a various sizes. Located on the Gulf Road, adjacent to the beach, surrounded by traditional Kuwait mud houses and a small mosque, Abu Issa can be found constantly working on new miniatures in his cramped little edifice, highlighted by its wooden gate – it is like stepping into Kuwait’s pre-oil, pearl-diving past. Abu Issa has been working his trade since 1972 and states that his work first “began as a hobby.” He works on a variety of miniature and not-so-miniature boats (such as the 4 feet long ‘Al Boom,’ a traditional Kuwaiti fishing and pearl-diving ship). Abu Issa believes that newer generations of Kuwaitis should not forget their humble and hard-working past, and encourages them to preserve the heritage and craft of ship-building. Some of the miniature ships that Abu Issa builds at the present time include the ‘Jalboot,’ ‘Sanbook,’ Albatil,’ and ‘Alshuia;’ all traditional boats which were once used as merchant and fishing vessels.

The demand for his work has considerably increased since the liberation, due to the theft and destruction of much of his work by the Iraqis, and due to increased public interest in the ancient Kuwaiti art forms. Indeed, his clients include Gulf citizens, as well as Westerners who have a keen interest in Kuwait’s heritage. Most prefer to order the ‘Al Boom’ models (a Kuwaiti icon if ever there was one). Abu Issa’s easy-going, relaxed, yet disciplined demeanor is tailor made for the kind of model building that he specializes in. His work hours can sometime hit the midnight hour, whether demand for his miniatures exists or not (he takes up to one week to build a full-scale model, but with bouts of energy, he can build one in two days).

Abu Issa is not a materialistic man; most of his pleasure is derived from the craft itself. His prices are reasonable as well (ranging from KD 30 to KD 900 for a massive, meticulously crafted model). His models can beautify offices, living rooms, hallways and make ideal presents for foreigners unfamiliar with Kuwait’s ships of yester-year. Fortunately, Abu Issa’s love and passion for his trade guarantees that the fate of this particular Kuwaiti art form is in solid hands.

The Bisht: We Start With A Thread


The Bisht: We Start With A Thread
by Amer Al-Hilal
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (April 28, 1992)

The demand for the traditional luxurious Kuwaiti ‘Bisht’ is an ever-continuous one as its appearance is one of elegance and formality. Its color, texture, length and cloth can add dignity and presence to those who wear it. The Bisht is a cloak-like robe that is usually worn by men in formal occasions over the ‘dishdasha’ (robe).

The production of a ‘Bisht’ is not an easy one; it requires machinery or hardware, human resources, textiles and cloth from foreign countries, proper distribution, and so forth. The making of one ‘Bisht’ can take up to a month and a half for quite a number of them are specifically made for customers in order for measurements and style-requirements to be precise according to the buyer.

One of the most pioneering makers of ‘Bishts’ are the Baghli Brothers. Their thriving business, based in a factory, in Subhan, meets the demands for ‘Bisht’ orders, especially for Kuwaitis who don’t want to travel to Syria or Saudi Arabia to get one. Their large, but privately located, factory contains the necessary equipment for the creation of ‘Bishts’ and is maintained by a family and their crew of over a dozen specialists. They are an example of how a pioneering business spirit in Kuwait can turn into a success story.

They are not agents or representatives of foreign companies. Their business, based on hard work traditions, is totally local.

“We begin with a thread,” AbdelRasul Al-Baghli said, adding” and eventually work up the whole robe.” This was proven by the introduction of some long, wooden sticks which were placed in a noisy machine that rotated the places of wood-it was a continuous method that eventually helped surround the wooden sticks with threads.


Once the threads were tied around the wood, they were then placed in a large, weaving machine that helped sew all the thin threads together. Another machine takes those thin threads and produces a full-length cloth, which later will be toned, cleaned or polished, in a private room.

The golden linings-threads that descend from the neck-line of the ‘Bisht’ to its bottom are extremely important and could mean the difference between an excellent ‘Bisht’ and one that is inferior.

“We have two kinds of threads, the golden, silky ones, and the metallic-tinted ones. The difference is clear when one sees them,” explained Al-Baghli, who prefers to order his silk threads from countries such as France and China.

One kilo of Chinese silk threads can cost KD 300 but has a fluffy, silky quality to it and has excellent texture.

The golden linings have to be manually sown in and adjusted, Al-Baghli said, noting that “the difference between us, and for example, the Syrian method of doing ‘Bishts’ is that we have more time and effort to them”.

They might produce two lines in order to form the golden lineage of the ‘Bisht’. We produce up to 10 threads per lineage, explained Al-Baghli, adding that his method of producing ‘Bishts’ is more meticulous and his results more productive.

“The Syrian ‘Bisht’ has shorter lifespan than Kuwaiti or Gulf one. The Gulf ones can be worn by future generations, if their quality is good,” he elaborated. Al-Baghli pointed out that his prices are reasonable and are based on quality of the thread-cloth and not on deceit or cheating. “You get your money’s worth, whatever you order, whether you chose KD 30 or KD 2000 material. The choice is up to the customer.”


Asked about his facilities in Kuwait, Al-Baghli said that they had everything they needed for successful making and distribution of their robes. “We also have the ability to produce most of our own spare parts locally. In the past, we had to order them from outside. There are approximately 50 kinds of spare parts needed for the machinery to work efficiently,” said Al-Baghli.

As far as the types of robes concerned, Al-Baghli added that there are three different kinds of ‘Bishts’: summer, spring, and winter ones. The robes all come in different shades or colours.

In the spring the ivory-coloured ‘Bisht’ is also the norm.

‘We produce the summer and winter ones, of course, depending on the styles…… for example, we cater to many people from the Gulf, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar-all their styles, looks and texture of their ‘Bishts’ differ, therefore, we have to produce the ‘Bishts’ according to their local specifications,” the Kuwaiti Bisht maker said.


“During the invasion, we paid a guard to take care of our factory, and it worked. But when ‘Desert Storm’ began, many Iraqis tried to get into the factory because of the panic or chaos,” said Al-Baghli.

Most of his equipment, some dating back to 1980, was saved but their main shop, next to the Kuwaiti souk, was ransacked, “However, because of the vandalism, demand for our work even surpasses those of pre-invasion of Kuwait,” he added.

Al-Baghli also stated that due to the coming national assembly elections, many are buying and distributing large number of the formal robes as “presents.”

Since, the ‘Bisht’ is regarded as an expensive but worth-while investment; it isn’t surprising that there is a thriving market for it in Kuwait.

The Baghli Brothers’ ‘Bisht’ business is a good example of effective, productive, and honest entrepreneurship n Kuwait.