November 15, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5523

Homosexuality In The GCC: Kuwait Steps Up Enforcement Of Anti-Gay Laws, Proposes Ban On Gay Foreign Workers

November 15, 2013
Kuwait, The Gulf | Special Dispatch No. 5523

Homosexuality is banned in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman. In some of these countries, it is illegal and punishable by flogging and even imprisonment.[1] The authorities in these countries are fighting it, and some countries claim that it was brought in by foreign workers, who comprise a substantial part of those countries' populations.

Apparently, Kuwaiti authorities have recently decided to step up enforcement of anti-gay legislation, and to act to reduce the phenomenon, in both Kuwait and in the other Gulf countries. On October 6, 2013, a Kuwaiti Health Ministry official announced that during the November 2013 GCC central committee meeting in Oman, his country would propose a law mandating that the required routine medical examination for foreign workers seeking to enter the GCC countries would also include an examination of their sexual orientation. Workers found to be homosexual would be denied entry into Kuwait and any other Gulf state.

Amnesty International has condemned the proposal, calling on Kuwait and the GCC countries to refrain from passing legislation aimed at marginalizing gays and to ensure that they are not discriminated against for their sexual orientation. Human Rights Watch also opposed the move; the director of its LGBT Rights program said that the organization was surprised by it and is still examining whether or not it will be implemented.[2]

It should be mentioned that the GCC central committee meeting, which was eventually held in Oman on November 4-6, addressed various issues related to the medical examinations for foreign workers, but there were no reports in the press that it had discussed the Kuwaiti proposal.

The proposal met with mixed responses in Kuwait and the Gulf countries. While parliamentarians supported it, criticism was voiced in the Kuwaiti press and on Twitter.

The following is a discussion of recent legal moves in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regarding homosexuality, and a sampling of reactions in those countries to the Kuwaiti proposal:

Gulf States: Homosexuality Is A Sexual Perversion – And A Sick Phenomenon That Deserves Punishment

Homosexuality has always been banned in the Gulf states, where it is considered a sexual perversion. Accordingly, the authorities in those countries are fighting it, and are taking steps against the LGBT community. Thus, for example, the Saudi Interior Ministry has a special committee to combat homosexuality; the committee comprises members of the religious police and a criminal investigations department. A 2012 ministry report noted that 452 cases of "sexual perversion" had been handled that year by the ministry's department of shari'a medicine.[3]

Also, the Saudi press has published numerous articles condemning lesbianism – referred to by Saudis as boyat, that is, women who dress and behave like boys; the articles claimed that these women are deviant and called lesbianism a mental disorder requiring treatment.[4] On April 15, 2012, the Saudi authorities issued guidelines for school principals and university administrators stating that lesbians should not be allowed to return to their studies, and urging them to fight the phenomenon. The guidelines also included a request that the religious police enforce the matter in public places.[5]

In Kuwait, convicted homosexuals under 21 may be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.[6] On August 6, 2013, the Kuwaiti parliament appointed a special committee to discuss negative social phenomena and their various aspects and influence, chiefly homosexuality. The government and parliament agreed to deal with the topic jointly and called homosexuality "a sick phenomenon" that requires treatment and supervision, and sometimes even punishment.[7]

Legislators in Bahrain have also attempted to combat homosexuality, taking stricter measures to prevent homosexuals from entering the country.[8]

A public outcry in Oman resulted from a September 2013 article in the Omani English-language magazine The Week on the life of a homosexual in the country. The article even stated that Oman is lenient towards gays and called it a "safe haven" for LGBT individuals in the Gulf.[9]

Following the publication of the article, Omani authorities announced that they would take legal steps against the magazine.[10] The magazine was forced to remove it from its website, and the editor even published an apology, stating: "We had no intention, whether directly or indirectly, to offend anyone in our article from last week."[11] Omani Shura Council member Tawfiq Al-Lawati told the newspaper Gulf News that "the tone of the article... was an attempt to promote the unnatural act as natural." On Twitter, Al-Lawati wrote: "Promoting such [an] act and projecting Oman as [a] safe haven for homosexuality is unacceptable."[12]

Tawfiq Al-Lawatis' tweets[13]

The Kuwaiti Law Proposal: Medical Tests To "Detect" Homosexuals And Bar Them From Entering GCC Countries

As noted, many Gulf countries blame the phenomenon of homosexuality within their borders on foreign workers who come from all over the world. In an attempt to prevent homosexuals from entering the GCC countries, Kuwait public health director Yousuf Mindkar told the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai on October 6, 2013 that the GCC countries, including Kuwait, intend to submit a proposal for a law, at the Gulf convention on foreign workers which is set to be held November 11, 2013 in Oman, under which medical tests performed on foreign workers would also be used to "detect" gays and transgendered people; they could then be easily prevented from entering those countries.[14]

Mindkar's statements received the blessing of Kuwaiti parliamentarians. According to MP Hussein Qawi'an, "the decision to prevent homosexuals from entering [Kuwait] is good, and helps eliminate foreign phenomena in our society." He did not rule out the possibility that "this proposal will be presented at the parliamentary health committee in order to promote a law barring this group from entering Kuwait."

MP Khalil Al-Saleh described the proposal as "preserving moral values and setting a boundary for this phenomenon, which is unacceptable in most societies." He said that the move "has nothing to do with personal liberty, but is rather a moral and cultural matter."[15] Kuwaiti parliamentary inspector MP Sa'ud Al-Hariji expressed his approval of the proposal, noting that it was "is in line with the shari'a and our practices." He added: "This move is a shari'a duty, and we support it and see it as a popular demand as well..."

MP Hamoud Al-Hamdan said: "This proposal is part of our duty to protect the Gulf societies against diseases." He added: "This group [i.e. foreign workers] is always rife with diseases stemming from immoral practices."[16]

Responses To The Law Proposal On Twitter

Yousuf Al-Mindkar's announcement of the Kuwaiti law proposal caused a stir on the social network Twitter among users from Kuwait and the Gulf; some tweeted support for it, while others mocked it.

Among the supporters was the director of the youth supervision administration at the Kuwaiti Social Affairs Ministry, 'Abd Al-Latif Al-Senan. He tweeted that the country should also punish clinics and pharmacies that provide hormone treatment for transgendered people.[17]

A Twitter user from Qatar offered an alternative to the Kuwaiti law proposal: "Instead of barring homosexuals and transgendered people from entering Kuwait and the GCC countries, mental hospitals should be established especially for them..."[18]

However, some users mocked the proposal. Thus, for example, Kuwaiti user Saeed Al-Omani wrote: "... I know [the authorities] have no work [to do], [which is why they came up] with this illogical thought."[19]

Another user from the Gulf wrote: "Regarding the Interior Ministry's decision to bar homosexuals from entering Kuwait: They fear gentle people [but] allow murderers and terrorists to enter [the country]."[20]

Amal, a woman from Riyadh, mocked Yousuf Mindkar: "Mindkar is the first one who should be examined."[21]

A user identifying himself as a liberal Kuwaiti journalist wrote: "Are they [gays and transgendered people] a danger to national security[?] Are they a danger to domestic peace[?] Are they a danger to men or women in the Gulf[?]"[22]

Kuwaiti Association For Human Rights Director: Islam Predated International Treaties On Human Rights

Amnesty International responded to Mindkar's announcement with a statement demanding that Kuwait stop persecuting homosexuals, saying that it constitutes "a violation of the basic human right for a private life."[23] Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director advised Kuwait that "instead of continuing to discriminate against the LGBT community, [it] should act to prevent turning them into subjects of harassment and abuse, and to end laws that criminalize sexual acts between consenting adults."[24]

Responses in Kuwait to Amnesty's statement were varied. The head of the Kuwaiti Association for Human Rights, Khaled Al-'Ajmi, said that "international human rights organizations should not impose their opinions on Kuwait or on the other Gulf states" and determined that those countries are entitled to bar homosexuals if they wish. He said that there are mandatory practices and traditions in Islamic countries, that Islam predates all international treaties on human rights, and that Gulf societies must be protected from phenomena such as homosexuality.

Preacher Sheikh Saleh Al-Ghanem responded similarly and said that Amnesty's demand that the Gulf countries not marginalize gays promotes the spread of sexual deviancy. He added that Islam fights prostitution and homosexuality and asked, "On this matter, should we follow international organizations or Islam?"

On the other hand, the former head of the Kuwaiti Association for Human Rights, 'Ali Al-Baghli, said: "Homosexuals have been around forever. The Koran tells of the people of Lot who carried out indecent acts with each other... From a human rights perspective, it is improper to banish homosexuals from the country." He also noted that the marginalization of transgendered people and homosexuals is at odds with international human rights, and that adults must be allowed to have sexual relations as part of their personal relationships, as long as it is between two consenting adults.[25]

Kuwaiti Journalist In Sarcastic Article: Don't Discriminate, Give Medical Exams To Lesbians Too

In an October 10, 2013 article mocking the Kuwaiti law proposal, Ja'far Rajab, a journalist and cartoonist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, wrote: "'Dumb and Dumber' is the appropriate name for a comedy film about the relations between the government and parliament – between those who show their stupidity to the public and those who legislate stupid laws...

"Let us start with the wise government, which decided to prevent transgendered people from entering Kuwait and the GCC countries. An upcoming meeting of the GCC central committee will discuss this vital and sensitive decision, and will publish crucial resolutions meant to limit homosexuals from entering the pure Gulf countries!

"According to my understanding [of reports on the law proposal] I would like to make some suggestions to the honorable prime minister:

"- Establish a special department called 'The Central General Authority For Discovering The Gender Of Those Of Indeterminate Gender.' Its task would be to examine foreign workers arriving in the country and issue authorizations that [the foreign worker] is 'a man' who can live and work in Kuwait. [The decision about the nature] of this examination should be left to experts in this field – or we could just wait for suggestions from parliament on how to conduct a masculinity test!

"- The authorization should be valid for three months only...

"- Establish a special body [tasked] with getting rid of foreign workers who are sympathetic to the transgendered but who are not themselves transgendered. We must train the employees of this apparatus so that they know how to catch the deviant foreign worker while he is still at the border crossing!

"- Establish additional administrations to track transgendered women and lesbians, and give them a medical exam as well – so as to not violate the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, which forbids gender discrimination!

"- As for foreign workers who are already [in the country], there is no other way but to examine them as well when their [visa] is up for renewal, in order to ensure that there are no homosexuals among them..."[26]


[1] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 7, 2013

[2] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 24, 2013.

[3], October 3, 2013.

[4] Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), September 19, 2013.

[5], April 16, 2012.

[6], October 7, 2013.

[7] Al-Bayan (UAE), October 10, 2013.

[8], October 7, 2013.

[9], September 7, 2013.

[10], September 5, 2013.

[11], September 7, 2013.

[12], September 1, 2013.

[13], August 30, 2013.

[14] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 7, 2013.

[15] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 8, 2013.

[16] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 8, 2013.

[17], October 6, 2013.

[18], October 7, 2013.

[19], October 6, 2013.

[20], October 7, 2013.

[21], October 7, 2013.

[22], October 7, 2013.

[23] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 13, 2013.

[24], October 11, 2013.

[25] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), October 13, 2013.

[26] Al-Rai (Kuwait), October 10, 2013.

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