October 30, 2008 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 470

Islamists Attempt to Impose Their Agenda on Kuwaiti Society; Reformists Fight Back

October 30, 2008 | By E. B. Picali*
Kuwait, The Gulf | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 470

In June 2008, the Kuwaiti parliament reinstated the Committee for the Study of Negative and Alien Phenomena in Kuwaiti Society. The goals of the committee, whose members are mostly Salafi MPs, is to study "alien practices and other negative phenomena that are harmful to Kuwaiti society," and to find "effective ways to control them."(1)

Since its formation, the committee has instructed the Kuwaiti Information Ministry to censure art, video games, and TV programs that "do not adhere to Kuwaiti traditions," such as Star Academy, the Arabic American Idol, which the country has banned, following the committee's order. The committee has also warned the Kuwaiti press against publishing photos and materials that "violate the values of Kuwait," and questioned the Minister of Health regarding a dance party organized by a hospital which involved "immoral mixing of the genders."(2) Another issue that concerns the committee is transsexualism, which it considers dangerous and threatening to Kuwaiti society and "requir[ing] prompt and serious action." (3)

The committee's actions have evoked a wave of protest from Kuwaiti MPs, intellectuals, and journalists, who cast them as an attempt by Islamists to impose their agenda and curtail the country's democratic freedoms. Satirical articles have been published ridiculing the committee's attempts to police Kuwaiti morals, and criticizing it for being preoccupied with dance parties and TV programs instead of tackling the country's real problems.

The committee members, and some sympathetic journalists, responded to the criticism by stating that the committee was working for the benefit of Kuwaiti society.

Following are excerpts from critical statements about the committee and from responses by the committee members, published in the Arabic- and English-language Kuwaiti press.

Former Information Minister Saud Al-Nasser Al-Sabah:
The Islamists Are Hijacking Kuwait

Commenting on the committee's reinstatement, former information minister Sheikh Saud Al-Nasser Al-Sabah, now an advisor to the Kuwaiti Emir, stated that the Islamists were "hijacking Kuwait," and would "impose their agenda and influence on [the] government authorities in all areas if no one stood up to them." Attorney Bassam Al-Alousi declared his intention to sue Parliamentary Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi for forming the Negative Phenomena Committee, stating that such committees "interfered with the functioning of the parliament."(4)
The committee was also condemned by intellectuals and academics at a recent conference, where Dr. 'Ali Al-Zubai of Kuwait University stated "With such MPs in the [Kuwaiti] parliament, we [can]not expect development in any field," and attorney Khuraibet urged lawyers to "file appeals against [all] proposals submitted by [Islamist] radicals that [are aimed] at restraining the freedom of the people."(5)

Al-Siyassa Editor: This Committee is a Reincarnation of the Inquisition

Ahmad Al-Jarallah, editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, criticized the committee and the Kuwaiti parliament in general, saying that they were undermining democratic values and basic civil rights: "The Committee for Studying Negative Phenomena is a prominent example of civil rights violation. With its innumerable investigation committees, the parliament has become a police station... It seems that they are trying to turn Kuwait from a country that champions democracy in the region into a police state that prosecutes its people for their intentions and probes their deepest thoughts...

"This committee – which has no counterpart in any parliament anywhere, except in a few countries such as the Taliban state... – has appropriated the title of the mufti and has started telling Kuwaitis what is permitted and what is forbidden, as it sees fit, according to its narrow outlook. In contradiction to our lenient shari'a, which stipulates that things are basically permitted [unless specified otherwise], this committee has turned everything upside down, positing that everything is basically forbidden...

"The MPs, having promoted themselves [through the various investigation committees from legislature] to executive authority, are now trying to promote themselves still further, to judicial authority, in order to seize all [the branches of] authority, and with them the exclusive right to command and to forbid, so that Kuwait turns into a large prison for all its citizens. Concomitantly, the government will relinquish many of its prerogatives – voluntarily or by force – to the oppressive, extremist, and closeminded parliament."

"...The members [of parliament] are currently trying to bring back the Inquisition, from Europe in the Middle Ages – a period historians consider the most dreadful in European history, [characterized as it was] by oppression, tyranny, and cruelty, and by usurping people's freedoms and their right to follow the religion, opinion and ways in which they believed...

"The only [recourse] left [to us] is civil society, with its civil organizations, which have been silent for a long time... Under the present grave circumstances, it must act... [since its] silence encourages the extremist representatives to deprive the Kuwaiti citizens of freedom, democracy, and the rights that they [still] enjoy..."(6)

Satirical Article Proposes "SANPFKS – Committee to Study All Negative Phenomena Foreign to Kuwaiti Society"

In a satirical article in the English-language daily Kuwait Times, columnist Shamael Al-Sharikh offered a list of phenomena truly foreign to Kuwaiti society for investigation by the committee. She wrote:

"...Several [Kuwaiti] MPs [have] suggested the creation of a committee within the National Assembly titled The Committee to Study All Negative Phenomena Foreign to Kuwaiti Society (in short, SANPFKS... see, even the acronym is funny!)

"The Committee's members are all red-blooded members of the Salafi inclination [plus] one sole member of the Islamic Constitutional Movement. The aim of this committee is to protect Kuwait from all that is foreign to it and might damage the morals that are so tightly interwoven into our Muslim, Arab society.

"To my surprise, the Committee's creation was opposed only by the Members of the National Democratic Alliance. Other MPs that follow logical thinking, such as Abdullah Al-Roumi, Ahmad Al-Saadoun, and Ahmad Al-Mulaifi, did not move a muscle to protest.

"Why not?! Did they think it was too silly an issue to battle the fundamentalists over? Did they think that the Committee will most likely not produce any concrete legislature that would be passed? Or were they spacing out during the time of discussion?!"

"There Are Many Things that are Foreign to Kuwaiti Society and [Must] Be Eradicated," Such as the Niqab and Hatred of Music and Art

"Well, unlike these MPs who did not react to the creation of the SANPFKS (the name starts to grow on you, doesn't it!), I am quite invested in the success of this committee, and as a patriotic Kuwaiti citizen, I will do my utmost to cooperate with the SANPFKS to ensure its success and imminent continuation. There are many things that are foreign to Kuwaiti society and that need to be eradicated from it so we can go back to our roots. Below is a list of issues that the SANPFKS can study, report on, and subsequently eradicate:

"1. Bearded men: A post-1991 phenomenon that is clearly the result of influence from other Arab countries. The result is that most Kuwaiti men have become severely unattractive, unapproachable, and mind-numbingly narrow-minded. This phenomenon should be studied extensively and recommendations should be given on how to go back to real Kuwait, where men only wore mustaches.

"2. The niqab: same as above. The result is that many Kuwaiti women suffer from the incorrigible heat under layers of black cloth, when in the past all Kuwaiti women wore an open single layer abbaya, [with their] faces uncovered. This phenomenon should be studied extensively, especially in light of the fact that women are not required to cover their face in Mecca during Hajj, making it ridiculous that they cover their face in Kuwait.

"3. Hate of music/art/theater/television/dance: This peculiar phenomenon is quite alien to Kuwait, considering that we were a cultural hub for performance arts in the Gulf during the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, many Kuwaiti performance troupes toured the Middle East to showcase Kuwaiti art in the past. This phenomenon should be studied extensively and we require an action plan with phases and a timetable on how to eradicate the belief that all things artistic are against Islam.

"4. Tribal and sectarian loyalty: This phenomenon is most disturbing of all, especially in light of the illegal primary elections (and their participants succeeding to office unpunished!), along with the Hezbollah Fan Club. This phenomenon should be studied with the utmost of care and recommendations should explain to the Kuwaiti people what social changes have happened to their country that lead to the current situation which stipulates that love of the country is no longer as important as love of the tribe or the sect.

"5. Money talks, and bull$#!% walks: This phenomenon has turned Kuwaitis with weak socio-economic status into money-hungry leeches, willing to deal with any MP who pays well. Completely foreign to the nation and utterly unacceptable to Kuwaitis who remember a country before bribery was ok, this phenomenon should be studied extensively, along with the help of the government which claims that it aims to fight corruption, but its fighting skills stop at mere words devoid of action.

"As a loyal citizen, I hope the committee SANPFKS will seriously look into these suggestions and will incorporate them into their action plan for the next four years. It is high time someone eradicated these terrible foreign phenomena from this nation and brought it back to the peaceful calm land it once was.

"N.B. Someone infinitely wiser than I am told me that a camel is in actuality a horse that was studied by a committee. He did not specify whether the committee was AD HOC or permanent."

Columnist Fouad Al-Obaid: "Will [The Committee] Start to Question What Happens... [in Our] Private Homes?!"

Kuwait Times columnist Fouad Al-Obaid responded to Al-Sharikh's article with an article of his own, titled "You Must Be Kidding," in which he likewise criticized the committee:(7)

"It was with a smile that I read yesterday's editorial by my colleague Shamael Al-Sharikh... in which she [lists] events that are foreign to Kuwait's society [and] are practiced by the neo-Salafists and their tribal allies...

"Now, it didn't take more than a few days [after the] elections [for] the newly elected MPs to start flexing their muscles, asking to question the Minister of Health as well as three other ministers about the matter of the Royal Hayat Hospital party that took place [at the] Marina Hotel! I am not sure what [bothered them about this event] that was held in a secluded environment, and I am not quite sure [why] MPs [should] have [anything] to do with a matter that remains in the private [realm]. One wonders if they will
[next] start to question what happens between the four walls of private homes?!

"No sooner has this matter emerged [than] our newly elected MP Jama'an Al-Harbash invited four ministers – [the ministers of] commerce and industry, health, information [and] the interior – for a talk. He didn't ask to see them [because he wanted] to be assured by the minister of the interior that the country is safe from terrorist cells, that the borders are secure, [or] ...that the ministry has contingency plans in case of natural disasters. He didn't want to see the information minister [in order to ask] what the ministry plans to do [regarding] Kuwait's image abroad... He didn't want to see the minister of commerce [in order to] pressure him to start implementing reforms making it easier to start businesses in Kuwait, [or in order to] encourage youth enterprises and/or Foreign Direct Investment... [And] he didn't question the minister of industry on the country's desire to start new light industry in newly created industrial zones, [or] perhaps on his ministry's plan to encourage R&D in Technology through the creation of Technological Parks.

"No, our dear MP wanted to see all these ministers for a matter of utmost national importance: ...[He wanted to know] how they plan to deal with [the television show] Star Academy – which, let us remind [ourselves], is the source of all evil, [and] the reason why Kuwait is a decadent society that has strayed from the right path..."

Committee Spokesman Muhammad Hayef Rebuts: "Gays and Lesbians Need Special Treatment for Their Hormones; By Raising the Subject, We Are Actually Helping Them, Not Harming Them"

The extensive criticism against the committee evoked responses by its members. Dr. Walid Al-Tabtabai called the criticism of the committee "inexplicable," stating that the committee had been appointed "to study negative phenomena in [Kuwaiti] society – such as drug addiction and violence – which undermine national unity [and] security as well as our traditions and norms."(8) About Star Academy, Al-Tabtabai said that "the recruitment of youth for a program that destroys morals and fights our [Islamic] values is no less bad and dangerous than recruiting them for terrorism or for peddling drugs."(9)

Committee spokesman Muhammad Hayef stressed that the committee was working for the benefit of Kuwaiti society, saying: "For example, gays and lesbians need special treatment for their hormones, and by raising the subject we are actually helping them and not harming them..." He added: "If some people think that drug abuse, homosexuality, and juvenile crimes are not negative [phenomena], that's their business."(10)

*H. Miron and E. B. Picali are research fellows at MEMRI.

(1) Arab Times (Kuwaiti), June 3, 2008. Arab Times is a Kuwaiti English-language daily.
(2) Arab Times (Kuwait), June 3, 2008; June 10, 2008.
(3) Arab Times (Kuwait), June 17, 2008.
(4) Kuwait Times, June 10, 2008.
(5) Al-Watan (Kuwait), English edition, June 22, 2008.
(6) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), June 29, 2008.
(7) Kuwait Times (Kuwait), June 4, 2008.
(8) Arab Times, June 22, 2006.
(9) AFP, May 31, 2008.
(10) Kuwait Times (Kuwait), June 3, 2008.


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