Columns / Discourse / January 30, 2013

Who is Kuwaiti?

With political and social tensions rising in Kuwait, prejudices and divisions are coming out in full force.  Various Kuwaitis are trying to answer the question of who counts as Kuwaiti and are thus strangling attempts at increasing political involvement among the people.

I don’t like to start out columns with a personal note, but here I feel it is necessary.  Over winter break, I had the good fortune to go home and spend the entire break with my family.  That winter, an unprecedented action took place: a Lebanese man was stabbed to death at the Avenues Mall.  By the end of the break, a total of nine different people were stabbed.  In Kuwait, this level of outward violence (as opposed to human trafficking or abduction) is not a normal occurrence.  It shocked most people, to say the least.

Twenty-four hours after the incident, news reports were speculating on the perpetrator.  What needed to be clarified, even more than a motive, was: what was his nationality?

Unfortunately, this distinction is not uncommon.  Kuwait has a strong conviction of nationalism and a hierarchy based on nationality among Arabs. (Non-Arabs come later on the list.)

The emphasis was a little more poignant than usual because of the protests in October against the change in election laws.  Kuwaitis were previously able to vote for four candidates to parliament. Now, it is one person equals one vote.  The move was to prevent groups from flooding the ballot boxes for their candidates. Opponents believed this was a move to ensure the formation of a parliament friendlier to the Emir.

Murmurs about the origin of these protesters and stabbers are the same.  As Sheikha Fraiha Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah stated, the protesters “are not original Kuwaitis.”  They are foreign Arabs or Arabs who recently received citizenship coming in and trying to cause problems.  Many believe they are probably people hired to protest by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The man charged with stabbing a Lebanese doctor was a “beydoon” (the Arabic word for “without”).  He was a Syrian who came to Kuwait, ditched his passport and was trying to claim Kuwaiti citizenship: not a true Kuwaiti.  Even citizenship, in many cases, can prevent one from being a “true Kuwaiti.”

This distinction is important and permeates every aspect of society.  Often the easiest way to delegitimize a movement is to question the origin of those in them: fake Kuwaitis don’t support the Emir, or the status quo.  They are trying to create instability.

However, this breeds the problem of an uneducated public.  To prove yourself as a True Kuwaiti, you must prove your loyalty and go with whatever is going on.  What this also means is that True Kuwaitis can’t dissent, can’t have opinions contrary to the ruling system, or can’t be interested in their own politics with a critical eye.

“True Kuwaiti” and “fake Kuwaiti” are tools to strangle all Kuwaitis and make sure Kuwait never changes, never progresses.

Rana Tahir
Rana Tahir is a political columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering international issues. She will graduate in June 2013 with degrees in political science and creative writing, after which she will attend the University of Denver's publishing institute.

Tags:  Aran division Kuwair nationalism parliament prejudice

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