IS affiliate hits Shiite mosque in Kuwait, killing 27 people

By Hussain Al-Qatari
AP June 26, 2015

KUWAIT CITY — A suicide bomber purportedly from an Islamic State affiliate unleashed the first terrorist attack in Kuwait in more than two decades on Friday, killing at least 27 people and wounding scores more in a bombing that targeted Shiite worshippers after midday prayers.

The attack, which hit the capital of Kuwait City, was one of three deadly attacks from Europe to the Middle East on Friday that followed the Islamic State group’s call for violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

It also underscored the Islamic State group’s reach and its ability to carry out large-scale attacks — even in this mostly quiet and relatively secure Gulf Arab nation, with its wealthy capital that is home to glistening shopping malls, five-star hotels and Western retail chains.

The bombing struck the Imam Sadiq Mosque in the residential neighborhood of al-Sawabir, one of the oldest Shiite mosques in this predominantly Sunni Arab nation where at least at third of the population is believed to be Shiite Muslim.

The explosion ripped through the back of the mosque, near the door, as worshippers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in group prayer, according to one witness, Hassan al-Haddad. He said that other worshippers behind him recounted seeing a man walk in, stand in the back with other congregants and detonate his device.

A posting on a Twitter account known to belong to the IS affiliate that calls itself the Najd Province claimed the explosion was the work of a suicide bomber. It was the third attack in five weeks to be claimed by Najd Province — a name that refers to the central region of Saudi Arabia. The upstart IS branch had claimed two prior attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia that killed 26 people in late May.

The Islamic State extremists regard Shiite Muslims as heretics, and refer to them derogatively as “rejectionists.” The IS statement said the bombing targeted a “temple of the apostates.”

Witness Ahmed al-Shawaf said he heard a man interrupt the prayer by shouting “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is Great” in Arabic. The man then yelled out something about joining the Prophet Muhammad for iftar, the dusk meal at which Muslims break their daytime fasting during Ramadan, now in its second week. Then, the blast came, al-Shawaf said.

The explosion took place near the end of a second prayer, which is traditional to Shiites and follows the main midday Friday prayer.

The Ministry of Interior said in its latest statement that 27 people were killed and 227 were wounded, all of them males, including some boys. Police formed a cordon around the mosque’s complex immediately after the explosion. Ambulances could be seen ferrying the wounded.

A panicked mother outside the mosque yelled at police to let her inside to find her son. The policemen allowed her through and she emerged shortly afterward and fainted. Worried relatives and shocked onlookers huddled around the mosque.

The Islamic prerequisite of Kuwaiti citizenship


On May 11, the Kuwaiti Constitutional Court rejected an appeal by MP Nabil al-Fadl to adjust citizenship laws in order to allow Christians to become citizens.

The current law, according to Article 4.5 of the Citizenship Act of Kuwait, holds that he [a potential citizen] be an original Muslim by birth, or that he has converted to Islam according to the prescribed rules and procedures and that a period of at least 5 years has passed since he embraced Islam before the grant of naturalization.

Nationality thus acquired is ipso facto lost and the Decree of naturalization rendered void ab initio if the naturalized person expressly renounces Islam or if he behaves in such a manner as clearly indicates his intention to abandon Islam. In any such case, the nationality of any dependant of the apostate who had acquired it upon the naturalization of the apostate is also rendered void.

Such is the idea of “nationality” in Muslim countries—one that is antithetical to Western notions of citizenship, where freedom of religion (and conscience) are paramount.

This also sheds light on why Muslim “apostates,” especially those who convert to Christianity, are regularly seen as traitors: abandoning Islam is synonymous with treason.

Finally, it is a reminder why the modern day rise of Islam is reminiscent of the 20th century rise of European nationalism in nations like Germany and Italy  – and resulting in the same fascism.

Activists: Kuwait, UAE sentences for tweets


KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Twitter users in two Gulf Arab countries received prison terms Monday, rights activist said, in the latest sign of widening crackdowns in the region on social media for posts considered offensive or against state security.

The court decisions in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates are likely to bring renewed protests from international rights groups accusing Gulf authorities of using codes against dissent to try to muzzle open expression on the Internet.

In Kuwait, a court sentenced a Twitter user, Musaab Shamsah, to five years in prison after he was convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, said activist Nawaf al-Hendal.

Sahmsah was arrested following a Twitter post he allegedly made in May that made references to the descendants of Islam's prophet. The post, since taken down, could be taken as endorsing Shiite beliefs in the Sunni-ruled country.

In the UAE, a state worker, Waleed al-Shehhi, received a two-year sentence and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($137,000) after conviction on state security charges for Twitter posts in May about the trial of 94 people suspected of ties to an Islamist faction, which authorities claim seeks to undermine the country's ruling system, said prominent UAE activist Ahmed Mansoor.

In July, 69 of the defendants were convicted of trying to overthrow the state.

There was no immediate comment from authorities in either country on the cases.

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, three lawyers are facing trial over social media posts allegedly criticizing authorities.

By Mary Ann Tétreault

Largely unnoticed, terrorist violence is also on the increase in Kuwait. Largely unnoticed with the focus on the war and insurgency in Iraq, and overshadowed by an upsurge in violence in Saudi Arabia, terrorist violence is also on the increase in neighboring Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government had been concerned that the preparations for the invasion of Iraq that began in late 2002 would spur an increase in violent attacks directed at either U.S. or coalition troops. During the run up to the invasion in March 2003 the Kuwaiti government ordered a large area along its border with Iraq vacated, and worked with Americans and others to keep the visibility of foreigners at a low level. In spite of this, there were several violent altercations between locals and individuals associated with military preparations for attacking Iraq. Several persons were injured and at least two died. The attacks were attributed to Kuwaiti "Afghans"—returnees from the wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. But others also were implicated. A member of the national guard confessed to passing military information to Iraq, planning bomb attacks against utility installations, and plotting to assassinate Kuwaiti officials.

The start of the Iraq war in March 2003 overshadowed these apparently random threats and attacks but in the past two months they have returned with a vengeance. By the end of January 2005, about a dozen persons had died in gun battles fought in Kuwaiti streets and residential areas. Shootings and arrests continued in February, with scores of suspected militants arrested while caches of weapons, diagrams of military installations and shopping malls, and bags of explosives have been found on security sweeps by Kuwaiti investigators. In mid-February, Minister of Justice Ahmad Baqr announced that "about 35 people accused of acts of terrorism are in custody, 15 of whom are Kuwaiti nationals." Kuwaiti government officials have linked the militants with al-Qaida, the al-Haramain group in Saudi Arabia, and a local extremist group, the Peninsula Lions. A Bahraini student hit in crossfire, along with one Saudi militant, are among the dead. So is Amer Khlaif al-Enezi, the presumed spiritual leader of the movement, who was arrested last week and, shortly afterward, was reported to have died while in custody.

Government security forces have been on high alert since the fall of 2003, when warnings of possible terrorist attacks were posted on the U.S. State Department and U.S. embassy websites. Even before the new wave of shootings, investigations had led to the arrest and questioning of several military officers, the highest-ranking a lieutenant colonel, along with several non-Kuwaitis (most reported to be Saudis), in connection with plots to attack U.S. and other coalition troops stationed in Kuwait during the mid-January Eid al-Adha holiday. A few days later, news filtered out of two impending courts martial of Kuwaiti military personnel for their role in these plots, recalling the involvement of national guard members in the anti-U.S. attacks before the war had started. Other reported targets include shopping malls popular with both Kuwaitis and foreigners.

Political Conflict

This apparent spillover of terrorism from Iraq and Saudi Arabia into Kuwait has evoked several strands of interpretation. From one perspective, Kuwait is an unlikely place for citizens to erupt into violent militancy. Despite the tendency to put all the gulf monarchies into a single box labeled "dictatorships," Kuwait is very far from that designation. Since 1992, it has had regular elections for members of parliament (While women do not yet have the vote, the parliament may debate such a measure in March); Kuwaiti citizens enjoy significant civil liberties protections; they are well-traveled and well-read—with five Arabic- and two English-language dailies, along with weeklies spanning a wide range of interests and viewpoints, most Kuwaitis are very well-informed about events and their fellow citizens' reactions to them. They also have satellite access to news and other programming from around the world, along with internet access. Kuwait is far from the poster-child example of a nation suffering under state repression. Indeed, it has the most vibrant civil society of anyplace I have ever lived, including the United States.

From another perspective, things are not so rosy. The appearance of security forces among the accused militants reflects the large number of foreigners and bidun (bidun jinsiyya, "without nationality" or stateless persons) in these organizations. Neither group enjoys the same civil and economic rights as the Kuwaiti citizens who rely on them for protection. Envy and exclusion might well play a part in their attraction to militant organizations.

Another source of concern stems from more than a quarter-century of government leniency toward religious extremists. Not only have Kuwaiti leaders appealed for popular support by sounding religious themes and seeking political allies among the clergy, but they also have been reluctant to move against Islamists because of the respect religious leaders have among much of the population. As a result, Islamists occupy strategic positions throughout the government and increasingly in the private economy. Islamists in government "colonize" ministries critical for advancing their political agendas. This includes not only the ministry responsible for charities and endowments but also the ministry of education, where they preside over the production of graduates who are well-indoctrinated in religion but lack the competencies needed to get a secular job. Youth unemployment is a problem in Kuwait (although less so than in most other Arab countries) but it is far more severe among those without scientific, analytical, or technical skills who constitute another pool of potential recruits for militant activists.

Like kids everywhere, young Kuwaitis also are idealistic and for some, the appeal of defending fellow Muslims against infidel attackers is strong. This is where the Kuwaiti "Afghans" came from in the first place. Their numbers are augmented today by the scores of Kuwaiti youth returning from their experiences driving over the border to join Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah. Regardless of their social and national backgrounds, the "Fallujans" are likely to be similar to the "Afghans," radicalized by what they saw and traumatized by what they did. In addition, some Islamists who were arrested for preaching against the war were radicalized by their experiences in detention, while the photographs from Abu Ghraib scandalized many, including religious youth.

Despite social and cultural commonalities between Kuwait and its neighbors, the differences remain at least as important. It is difficult for a Kuwaiti to have a secret life in a small country where, even if the cliché that everybody knows everybody else (and talks about them constantly) is not literally true, it's true enough. Too, although memories of the occupation are fading, they are sufficiently vivid to elicit a strong distaste for violence, especially when it is aimed by Kuwaitis at Kuwaitis. The successes of Kuwaiti police in flushing out militants rest on information from citizens as well as on forensic techniques and international sources of intelligence. The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq during the second gulf war also offers a lesson for militants, that Kuwaitis are tough and willing to take risks to protect what they value. Kuwait is too precious to Kuwaitis for them to let it be stolen without fighting back.

Having said that, it also is true that Islamists have made headway in Kuwait, and part of the government's reluctance to crack down on them rests on their popularity. A prolonged occupation of Iraq or attacks on other Muslin countries is likely to advance the Islamist cause. How the extension of political rights to women would affect the situation is unpredictable. On the one hand, half or more of Kuwaitis oppose political rights for women and, because most rationales for female disenfranchisement are religious, this could add to citizen disaffection. A better bet for maintaining Kuwaitis' allegiance to their government and to one another is the strengthening of institutions of accountability, such as the parliament and the Audit Bureau. The latter is probably the most respected government body in Kuwait. Confidence that government corruption can be exposed and halted is essential if unemployed youth are to believe that they have a reasonable hope of achieving the jobs and adult status they so desire.

It is true that the longer the occupation goes on and the more Iraqi casualties accumulate, dissent and dissatisfaction among Kuwaitis will increase as well. Still, most Kuwaitis remember their acute vulnerability to Iraqi aggression and are grateful that Saddam no longer threatens their country and their individual lives. At the same time, greater openness in politics, including party competition, could bring Islamist ideas into sharper focus in a critical forum. Interestingly, in early February, the hard-line branch of the Sunni Islamist Salafi movement launched what the group is calling a political party, Hizb al-Ummah. Kuwaitis outside the government have greeted the new group with mixed feelings. Liberals and Shi'ite moderates agree that legalizing political parties would be a democratizing step but find it hard to sympathize with Hizb al-Ummah's radicalism, such as its proposal to Islamize the state. Yet the new party and reactions to it show the utility of the public square. A program is proposed and criticized with the whole nation as audience, a different proposition from the privileged position Islamists now enjoy to impose demands on a frightened government from behind closed doors. A public debate on the impact of religiously dominated education on future employability or one on public performances, a favorite target of Islamist ire, would let everyone learn together the location and extent of the Kuwaiti "middle," and contribute to policies that comport with community rather than communal interests. Political liberalization offers a way to disagree without violence, something to be cherished in a country that has suffered too much violence already.


The Public Debate on the New Amendment Granting Kuwaiti Women Political Rights

By Y. Admon

On May 16, 2005, Kuwait's National Assembly (parliament) passed a bill proposed by the government to amend the Kuwaiti elections law and give women the right to vote and run for office.(1) The first article in Kuwait's 1962 elections law had limited suffrage to men only, stating that voting was the right "of every Kuwaiti citizen from among the men aged 21 [and over]." The new article gave this right to women as well, amending it to read "every Kuwaiti aged 21 [and over]" – thus making the law compatible with Kuwait's 1962 constitution, which states in Article 29 that "All people are equal in human dignity and in public rights and duties before the law."(2)

The bill was ratified by the parliament after lengthy debate. It was passed in the first vote, on February 15, 2005; it was defeated in the second, on May 2, 2005; and it finally passed in the third, on May 16, 2005.(3)

Prior to and following the passage of the bill, there was intense public debate in Kuwait on the question of women voting and running for office. The bill's supporters argued that Kuwaiti women were, like the rest of the women in the world, entitled to realize their political rights – as they had during the early Islamic era. The bill's opponents claimed that it was the result of capitulation to Western pressure, that women's participation in elections was counter to Islam, and that women had no interest whatsoever in participating in political processes.

This report reviews the public debate in Kuwait on the issue of women participation in elections, both before and after the ratification of the amendment, along with reactions to the new amendment. 

"The Time Has Come for Kuwaiti Women to Receive Political Rights, Like Every Woman in the World"

Headed by members of the Kuwaiti government, supporters of the bill stated that strengthening the status of women was part of the process of Kuwaiti development. Kuwaiti Cabinet Chairman Muhammad Sharar said: "We are not isolated from the world, and in all the countries of the world the trend is to allow the woman to participate in politics."(4)

Social and Labor Affairs Minister Faisal Al-Haji said: "The time has come for the Kuwaiti woman to receive her political rights, after women across the world have received their rights... The time has come for us to act in a positive way, and in the framework of the constitution, to anchor the woman's political rights, to actualize her role in society, and to put an end to the doubts regarding the contribution of the woman – who is considered the second half of society. Growth cannot be realized without the women."(5)

"The Muslim Woman's Participation in Political Activity During the Time of the Prophet was Clear"

The bill's supporters also claimed that according to Islam, women are permitted to participate in the democratic process. In order to promote the bill, and in order to – in the words of Cabinet Chairman Muhammad Sharar – "convince anyone who has jurisprudent reservations," on March 19, 2005 Kuwait's Fatwa and Legislation Department issued a fatwa granting the ruler the authority to decide in matters of women's participation in politics. The fatwa stated that although the issue was "controversial," "the decision of the ruler will remove the dispute regarding the issues that are subject to interpretation" because "the ruler has the authority to issue and pass laws in accordance with the existing rules."(6)

In a symposium supporting women's political rights, Kuwaiti MP Ali Al-Rashed reminded his audience that "the woman realized her political rights in early Islam, when she swore allegiance to the Muslim ruler [i.e. Muhammad] in the second Bay'at Al-'Aqaba [oath of allegiance at Al-'Aqaba] – which was not only a political oath, but was also like a fatwa, and is considered legislation."(7)

Shiite MP Yousef Al-Zalzala, formerly a lecturer at Kuwait University, said: "This issue is not connected to the jurisprudent aspect, and the religion, or the Shari'a...The 'ulema of Al-Azhar, headed by [Al-Azhar] Sheikh Dr. Muhammad [Sayyid] Tantawi, have already stressed that denying political rights for women is something that is against Shari'a."(8)

In a column titled "The Woman Has Political Rights," Bashar Al-Sayegh, columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, wrote: "During the era of the Prophet and the era of the [righteous] caliphs, the Muslim woman played a prominent role in setting out the policy of the Muslim state at that time. The Koranic text 'And the believers, men and women, are guardians of each other; they enjoin the just and forbid the evil [9:71]' proves that the opinion of the woman is no different [in importance] than that of the man, and that the woman is [man's] partner in determining what is permitted and what is prohibited in society. All Koranic texts agree that the woman is equal to the man in rights and obligations... Similarly, the Muslim woman participated in the oath of allegiance to the Prophet in the two bay'as – the first and the second – at Al-'Aqaba.

"The modern sense of the oath of allegiance [to a ruler] is elections. If the woman did not have the right to vote and to participate in the political process, then the Prophet would have settled for an oath of allegiance from the man, without [that] of the woman...

"Woman's political rights are not strictly a women's issue; rather, they are linked to the liberation of half of society and the liberation of all society. That is, the realization of full democracy, and the political participation [of the woman] as voter and as candidate, will complete her natural role in society."(9)

In her column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, attorney Badriyya Al-Awdha wrote: "The Muslim woman's participation in political activity during the time of the Prophet was clear, and was manifest in the women's ba'ya to the Prophet, since they saw him as leader of the Muslims. [This participation] attests to the woman's independent personality and to the fact that not only is she not subjugate to the man, but that she swore allegiance [to the ruler] just like the man..."(10)

The Bill is a Western Attempt to Pressure and Ruin Kuwaiti Society

Opponents to the bill argued that the bill was the result of capitulation to pressure by the West, which seeks to change the structure of the family in Kuwait. A prominent opponent of the bill, Islamic Party MP Daifallah Buramya, launched what he called a "religious parliamentary attack" on the "so-called political rights [of women]." In a symposium that he organized, titled "According to Islamic Jurisprudence, the Woman Has No Political Rights," Buramya said that "by pressuring the Arab and Gulf countries, the Western countries are trying to impose the violation of Islamic law in order to ruin the society."(11)

Islamic Party MP Ghanem Al-May' told Al-Rai Al-'Aam: "We must pay no attention to the external demands that call on us to give women political rights. They must know that the situation of women in Kuwait is better than their situation in the advanced democratic countries. The issue goes beyond engaging in voting or candidacy for parliament; the [Western] goal is comprehensive social change [in Kuwait] that will influence the structure of the Kuwaiti family and the relations among its members."(12)

Granting Political Rights to Women is Against Islam

The bill's opponents also argued that Islamic jurisprudence bans women from participating in politics, based on a 1985 fatwa issued by Kuwait's Fatwa and Legislation Department, which determined that membership in parliament is a type of public post to which women may not be appointed.(13)

MP Daifallah Buramya told Al-Rai Al-'Aam that Islamic jurisprudence bans political rights for women and that "the so-called [granting of] political rights to the woman must be opposed, as stated in the [1985] Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs fatwa." He said that several Hadiths and Koranic verses prove that "[the fact that] women were not appointed to leadership posts [was] not because of their reduced value, but in preservation of their honor."(14)

Islamic Party MP and Parliamentary Human Rights Committee Chairman Walid Al-Tabatabai told Al-Rai Al-'Aam that he was against the bill because "[it grants] public authority to women, and Islam forbids the woman's appointment [to public office]." Nevertheless, he noted that he would support changing the bill "to enable [women] only to vote" but not to run for office.(15)

The secretary of the Association for Protecting the Principles of the [Muslim] Nation, Muhammad Haif Al-Matiri, said: "There is no instruction by the Prophet Muhammad, nor by the four Righteous Caliphs, and no historical documentation, that a woman was appointed to a public post during the period of the Muslim state."(16)

"Women are Completely Uninterested in Participating in Political Processes"

The bill's opponents also argued that women had no interest in participating in political processes. In a symposium against the bill, MP Buramya said: "In the elections of the Kuwaiti Journalists Association, out of 460,000 women, [only] 830 voted. This proves that women are not interested in participating in political activity."(17)

Likewise, Salafi Islamic Union Spokesman Salem Al-Nashi stated: "The union is against giving political rights to the woman, both for voting and for being elected...Five studies published by official and government institutions, including Kuwait University, have shown that the Kuwaiti woman has no interest whatsoever in taking part in political activity."(18)

Reactions to the New Amendment: "[This Legislation is] a Victory for Kuwait and Democracy"

Along with the anticipated criticism from opponents, the amendment was welcomed by other members of the government, as well as by some columnists, and by women's rights activists.

High-ranking government officials expressed their satisfaction at the bill's passage, seeing it as the realization of democracy in Kuwait. Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sabah Al-Ahmad stated: "We are satisfied with the result. I hope that the Kuwaiti woman will be a help to the men in developing the country... The government now has the right to appoint a woman as a government minister."(19)

Prime Minister Al-Ahmad also rejected the accusation that Kuwait had capitulated to external pressures, saying: "Granting political rights to women is the will of the Emir of Kuwait [Jaber Al-Sabah], and not the result of an external will."(20)

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Nawwaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah congratulated Kuwaitis "for believing in half of society, that is, the woman, for receiving her political rights,"(21) and noted that the Interior Ministry was taking the necessary measures to register over 200,000 women voters for the February 2006 elections.(22)

Kuwaiti Parliamentary Speaker Jassem Al-Kharafi said, "Parliament's agreement [to the amendment] is a victory for Kuwait and for democracy, and a response to the will of the Emir... After the vote [granting] political rights to the woman, there is now nothing to prevent the Kuwaiti prime minister from appointing a woman as minister in his government... He also has the right to appoint a female member of the current municipal council."(23)

The Kuwaiti government's intention to appoint women to public posts was actualized on June 5, 2005, when engineers Fatima Nasser Al-Sabah and Fawziya Al-Bahar were made members of the new Kuwait City municipal council. Engineer Al-Sabah said she was "proud and happy about the appointment," which, she added, was "a responsibility I aspire to carry out conscientiously, for Kuwait." Energy Minister Ahmad Al-Fahd congratulated the two appointees, and estimated that their appointment would "affect Kuwait in a positive manner."(24)

On June 12, 2005, a month after the ratification of the bill, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sabah Al-Ahmad announced the appointment of Kuwaiti women's rights activist Ma'souma Al-Mubarak, a political science lecturer at Kuwait University, to the post of Minister of Planning and Administrative Development. Prime Minister Sabah Al-Ahmad said: "We see a Kuwaiti woman's appointment as a government minister as an important step that we had hoped to realize – and today we witness the realization of thiswish..."

Commenting on her appointment, Minister Al-Mubarak said that she was honored to be "the first woman minister in the history of Kuwait," and added that she "hoped that the experience of appointing a woman to this kind of post will serve as a source of strength and as proof of [women's] contribution. [The goal] of my being a minister is to prove the capabilities and ambitions of the Kuwaiti woman, and her role in the building and development of this homeland."(25)

Kuwaiti Women's Rights Activists: An Historic Day in the Life of Kuwait's Women

Kuwait's women's rights activists welcomed the new amendment, and saw it as historic. They said that the day of its ratification, May 16, would be an historic day in the life of Kuwait's women – and all the more so because the date also marked six years since the 1999 order by Kuwaiti Emir Jaber Al-Sabah to accept a bill giving women political rights; the bill, however, was defeated by the parliament.(26)

Latifa Al-Sabah, who is the wife of Kuwaiti Crown Prince Saad Al-Abdallah al-Sabah and who is chairwoman of the Parliamentary Women's Affairs Committee and president of the Kuwaiti Union for Women Societies, welcomed the new amendment and expressed hope that "the Kuwaiti woman will help in actively developing the homeland."(27)

Following the passage of the amendment, a number of Kuwaiti women activists announced their intention to run in the 2007 elections.(28) One of them, 'Aysha Al-Rashid, said that she intended to open an office in her home for persuading voters that "the woman is capable of participating in the political arena."(29)

Columnists: This is the First Link in the Chain of Reforms

Support for the bill and the amendment was also expressed by Kuwaiti columnists. Sami Nasser Khalifa wrote: "Granting political rights to the woman – to vote and to be elected – is considered one of the most important historic achievements, which we must only support and welcome because this is the right that Allah determined and that has been anchored in most of the constitutions in the world, and also because it is a high-quality and unique addition that deepens the democratic process in which the representation of the people is lacking... This, in my view, is the first link in the chain of genuine political reform, which we hope that the government and parliament, acting together, will adopt."(30)

Columnist Faisal Al-'Olati wrote in Al-Rai Al-'Aam: "I would like to congratulate our sisters upon receiving their full political rights. Similarly, I give a bouquet of red and white roses to every Kuwaiti woman to mark this happy event for us all. We wish success to every woman candidate for parliament and for the municipal council. I ask the woman to place at the top of her agenda [the goal of] helping her [Kuwaiti] sister persecuted by the government. I hope that laws in favor of the Kuwaiti women will be passed, such as, for example, a law enabling a Kuwaiti woman married to a non-Kuwaiti man to own an apartment, a law giving Kuwaiti citizenship to the children of a Kuwaiti woman and a non-Kuwaiti father regardless of the father's citizenship, and [a law enabling] the sons of [these] Kuwaiti women to join the military."(31)

*Y. Admon is a Research Fellow at MEMRI


(1) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 17, 2005.

(2) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), May 17, 2005. For the Kuwaiti Election Law, see:

for the Kuwaiti constitution, see: http://www.majlesalommah.net/run.asp?id=6.

(3) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 17, February 16, May 3, 2005.

(4) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), February 23, 2005.

(5) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), March 7, 2005.

(6) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 20, 2005.

(7) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), March 3, 2005. The Ba'yat Al-'Aqaba was an oath of allegiance

given to Muhammad by 73 men and two women from the Arab tribes of Aws and Khazraj

in the 13th year of the Hijra.

(8) Al-Siyasssa (Kuwait), March 3, 2005.

(9) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), February 28, 2005.

(10) Al-Qabas (Kuwait), February 27, 2005.

(11) Al-Rai Al-'Aam,  (Kuwait) March 3, 2005.

(12) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), February 27, 2005.

(13) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 20, 2005.

(14) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), March 3, 2005.

(15) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), February 22, 2005.

(16) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), March 3, 2005.

(17) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), March 3, 2005.

(18) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), February 22, 2005.

(19) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 17, 2005.

(20) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 17, 2005.

(21) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 17, 2005.

(22) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 18, 2005.

(23) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 18, 2005.

(24) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), June 6, 2005.

(25) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), June 13, 2005.

(26) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), May 17, 2005; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 20, 2005.

(27) Al-Watan (Kuwait), May 18, 2005.

(28) Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 31, 2005.

(29) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 21, 22, 2005.

(30) Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), May 20, 2005.

(31) Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), May 20, 2005.

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Teaching art in a Muslim nation

By Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield
Special to The Leader

Mafoom banat?" translates into "Do you understand, ladies?" – a phrase I use frequently teaching art to young women in Kuwait.

"Yes doctora," replies the class, even though I know that rendition, spatial relationships or thematic representation defies my Arabic translation and many of my students’ comprehension of this English terminology. Language is just a small barrier in teaching art in this small Middle Eastern country that produces 10 percent of the world’s oil and borders a war zone.

In 2004 I accepted a two-year contract to work as an assistant professor for Kuwait University, where I teach in the Art and Design Department at the newly established College for Women. In my first year in this desert state, about the size of Rhode Island, I was more taken by the differences than the similarities I share with the people in this Islamic culture. While most of my students might pray five times a day, wear headscarves or cover in black, live with extended family in mansion-sized homes and never know housework, like their Western counterparts many are fashion hounds, mall worshipers and devotées to televison’s "Oprah" and "Days of Our Lives."

There are drawbacks to being an American woman, a small percentage of the 2.1 million people living in Kuwait, 63 percent of whom are expatriates mainly from third-world countries who find working for the 881,000 Kuwaitis more lucrative than work in their homelands of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan. How I dress, socialize and exercise are conditioned by this conservative culture.

I am a runner. Before I left for Kuwait, my Port Townsend Running Club mates gave me a send-off run along the Larry Scott Trail. I brought black bedsheets, which we alternately draped over our athletic wear to symbolize the constraints on my own running days in Kuwait. Between strict Islamic laws, intense heat, religious and militant extremists, I thought my days of outdoor running were over. That memorial run ended at the Port Townsend Brewing Co. That cold beer after a hard run would also become a thing of the past in Kuwait, where Islamic law forbids the consumption of alcohol.

Many of my misconceptions and stereotypes have clarified in the real light of living in Kuwait. One was upon entering a race two weeks after I first landed in this country, which is as dry and brown as Port Townsend is wet and green. The 10K race sponsored by a large shopping mall followed the Arabian Gulf. It was 115 degrees, hotter on the asphalt where I ran, passing men who’d had a head start in this segregated race, men before women. I placed first in the women’s division and was applauded by the men I had passed.

I live in a high-rise apartment building, faculty housing, on Kuwait University campus, gated and guarded at every point of entry. Almost every evening, from September to June, I play tennis on the courts below my large apartment. The view from my windows, still taped to seal out potential chemical warfare attacks, offers views of the Arabian Gulf, a beachhead still being cleared of derelict ships left over from the 1990 Iraq invasion, and in the distance the road to Iraq. For a short time it was not safe to make my morning 5K run around campus, as insurgent terrorist cells and resulting gun battles mired this normally quiet country in armed patrols and military checkpoints – and increased personal vigilance. (Later these “terrorists” faced public hanging.)

The Moathen begins chanting the afternoon prayer from the mosque across from the college. Even though the doors and windows are closed in the air-conditioned painting studio, it is difficult to carry on conversation over his amplified and undulating voice. Within 15 minutes I will break the class so they may pray. Abeer does not go with the others to the prayer room, two flights below the studio. She is eight months pregnant and performs her prayer on a rug, facing Mecca, behind painting easels. The other students take the elevator down to the prayer room, although I know some also worship Burger King across the street because they return to class with French fries.

This is the first time an American woman arts instructor has stood before this class of young women, most of whom are veiled in hajeb (headscarves) or covered from head to toe in black robes called abaya, and bosheya or negab, face coverings which leave a slit only for the eyes. I feel as if I’m in Catholic school again, only in reverse – it is the students who look like nuns. When I teach I wear dresses or skirts just above or below the knee and have my elbows covered. When the desert temperatures reach into the 130s, I fail to understand how some of my students can tolerate being covered from head to toe in black.

All of my students are Muslim, and some cannot sit facing the corridor window, where a passing male could glimpse her face if she has removed her veil in class. These students show their faces only to male members of their immediate family. Other students wear only hejab, with modified abaya, or tight designer jeans and T-shirt, high spiked heels, styled hair and perfect make-up.

The College for Women was inaugurated last year. Unlike the main campus, it is not segregated. Because only women attend, classrooms are not divided in half with partitions to keep the male and female students separate.

Teaching studio art in an Islamic society forced me to alter my Western-trained teaching practices. It is “haram” – bad or forbidden – to render in any form the human face or figure, the latter basic to all Western studio art classes. While some students adhere stringently to these beliefs, other students do not. I encourage the students to model, but because they wear abaya the human anatomy gesture drawings are reduced to drapery studies. Some of the students will not put facial features on these drawings. Others have no compunctions and pencil in eyes, nose, mouth.

Fatma, who removes her black gloves and face veil in the drawing studio, explains why she cannot draw faces. "When I was a child I did draw the faces. When I got older I was told it was haram. So I stop. You can draw faces if it is in cartoons or sometimes if it is serious, like in study. But then you must draw the face with a little line across the neck."

"You mean to indicate the head is cut off?" I ask.

"No like in the big shopping malls there are those people in the windows who do not move, the people that wear the clothes we buy." Fatma freezes in a pose.

"Oh, manikins."

"Yes. If you draw a line across the neck, then the drawing is not real. It is like a manikin." Fatma goes on to explain that to draw a face or human figure would be to emulate the work of God, the only entity righteous enough to create human and animal forms.

When classes end for the day, some students will be driven home by mothers, protective brothers or personal drivers waiting in the parking lot. Others walk out in giggling groups, talking on sophisticated cell phones, and driving away in their new SUV, BMW or Mercedes, with Louis Vuitton handbag purse in tow.

These women are Kuwait’s future, and just last year parliament granted them the vote. Nearly 41 percent of Kuwaitis are under the age of 15, and 52 percent are under the age of 20. Those under 30 represent 69 percent of this population. Dalal falls in this percentile. One night she tours me around Kuwait in the brand new bronze Jaguar her father purchased for her 19th birthday. Like the majority of my students, her needs are taken care of by a stable of servants. As a result Dalal has never learned to cook, launder, clean.

Kuwait is as close to Baghdad as Port Townsend is to Ellensburg, except there is no body of water separating the countries. (Kuwait is the only country in the world with no natural lake or water reservoir.) One weekend, as part of a biking club, I rode over desert where, nearly 15 years before, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Allied Forces pounded the retreating Iraqi occupation out of Kuwait. Just off this infamous retreat, called "The Highway of Death," spent ordinance and military vehicles bake in the sun behind manmade sand berms.

We ride where the desert is clear, over windblown hard pack and through wadi so soft we must carry our bikes. Camels and their Bedouin herders watch us as we shoulder bikes that cost more than they will make in four years. I take up the tail end of our cycling convoy, but not because I want to let those before me accidentally discover one of the land mines left over from the invasion that innocent sheep and camels and their keepers find with disastrous results.

The Iraq border is a short pedal ahead. One of my cycling pals tells me that every American killed in Iraq is flown out of Kuwait. Some nights these military aircraft fly over the tennis court where I volley with other expats from around the world, and I wonder who is going home.

Is it safe to live and work in Kuwait? Is it safe to drive Highway 101 from Port Townsend? With either route you take chances, stay vigilant and on the defensive. My place in the Middle East as an American does not involve war or oil. I am here to teach young women creative expression through art. And that is a road worth traveling.

(Port Townsend resident Yvonne Wakefield is an assistant professor at Kuwait University College for Women, Department of Art and Design.)