“What is the point of Kuwait?” This is a popular phrase in Saudi Arabia with interesting origins behind it. The story goes that a young man living in Qassim, central Saudi Arabia, became fed up of the social and religious aspects of his environment especially since he would be woken up every day in the early hours to take part in the Fajr prayer at the mosque. So he decided to immigrate to Kuwait, which is more relaxed. After a tiring journey and upon his arrival, he attempts to get some sleep when there is sudden knock on the door. “Wake up; it’s time to pray Fajr.” With disappointment, the young man says, “What’s the point of Kuwait then?”
Regardless of the authenticity behind this story, away from any religious debate or discussion on the openness or seclusion of Kuwait or Qassim, I remembered this lucid story as I observed what is currently taking place in Kuwait and the local concerns there. The situation is somewhat odd to the extent that it brings this popular phrase to mind.
The Kuwaitis are occupied with the issue of gender segregation at universities; some present themselves as the preservers of virtue whilst others believe that parties that call for gender segregation are fanatics. However, the debate barely reached its peak when it was overshadowed by the case of the two Shia members of parliament, Adnan Abdul Samad and Ahmed Lari who eulogized the assassinated Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyeh who was murdered in Damascus, causing public outrage on the Kuwaiti streets.
Abdul Samad had delivered a heated speech during a rally in commemoration of Mughniyeh, speaking highly of him and absolving him of his role in terrorist activity that afflicted Kuwait throughout the 1980s. The angry public stated that Abdul Samad, Lari and the Kuwaiti National Islamic Coalition, known as Hezbollah Kuwait by some, have stabbed the people of Kuwait in the back.
This unprecedented campaign caused the opposition Popular Action Bloc to which the two MPs belonged, and that was unable to overlook the campaign, to demand an apology from Abdul Samad and Lari to the Kuwaiti people. The two MPs had offered an explanatory statement but not an apology and so the Popular Action Bloc expelled the two MPs.
The issue did not end there. There were calls for the two MPs to be removed from parliament whilst others escalated the issue further and demanded that they would be denaturalized, imprisoned or exiled. At this point the government intervened and the Minister of the Interior demanded that the MPs would be referred to public prosecution and this is what actually happened…yet the campaign against them continued. A media figure and a friend from Kuwait told me that the issue had reached dangerous levels among the general public. The issue began to focus on Shia versus Sunni. This despicable sectarian issue was reinforced by parties that would benefit the most from such escalation whether for reasons affiliated to political enmity, or in the interest of a certain political party or of fundamentalist Sunni parties that antagonize Shia for reasons related to creed.
Personally, I believe that the eulogy that Abdul Samad, Lari and the National Islamic Coalition had given in praise of Mughniyeh was a mistake that they should be reprimanded for especially by Kuwaitis who were directly afflicted by the evil acts of Mughniyeh whether his actions were instigated by the Dawa, Jihad or Hezbollah parties, as all they are all synonymous. I believe that Abdul Samad and Lari were motivated by ideology and mere partisan tendencies. They were completely focused on the political Shia ideology over anything else.
I do not regard Mughniyeh as a saint or a hero; rather I think he is a more complicated version of Osama Bin Laden owing to his extensive ties to the Syrian and Iranian intelligence units. This is one issue, but the transformation of the campaign against the two MPs into a campaign against the Shia of Kuwait is something else. Perhaps this collective campaign will be more harmful. Here we must clearly differentiate between individual responsibility and collective responsibility. The fact that Abdul Samad and Ahmed Lari had adopted the same attitude towards Hezbollah and participated in a rally that commemorated Imad Mughniyeh does not mean that the Shia of Kuwait would act in the same way or share the same beliefs. And even if this is the position of a large number of Shia, this should not invalidate the important history of the Shia in Kuwait. The Shia stood side by side with the Sunnis in defending Kuwait, for example in fighting the occupying army of Saddam Hussein in 1990 and this caused sectarianism to subside after the liberation of the country, and harmony prevailed. However, after the American invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 and the Shia assuming the largest share of power in government, sectarianism reared its ugly head once again. This caused some Shia movements in Kuwait to restate their demands including recognizing Ashoura as an official holiday and establishing more Husseiniyat. Such demands were considered dangerous by Sunni fundamentalists; a number of young men attacked a Shia mosque in Al Jahra, 7 October 2005.
The status of the Shia in Kuwait has always been affected by the Iran-Iraq milieu and major events that took place in the Gulf region and particularly Kuwait. The history behind the relationship between Shia forces and political life in Kuwait runs deep. Most prominently, there was the parliamentary crisis of 1938 when some Sunni traders and politicised Kuwaitis conflicted with the government of Kuwait during the reign of Sheikh Ahmed al Jaber whilst the majority of Kuwaiti Shia supported the authorities.
Moreover, when the Battle of Al Jahra broke out between the Ikhwan and Kuwait in 1920, one of most prominent Shia religious references Sheikh Qazwini and his followers offered their support [to Kuwait] according to Ahmed al Daeej (Al Watan Newspaper, 20 February 2008) quoting Hussein al Sheikh Khalaf Khazaal. He also quoted another historian, Seif Marzouq al Shamlan who claimed that some Shia, Iranians specifically, asked the British commissioner not to join the battle but he refused.
Some members of the Kuwaiti Shia community established themselves in the fields of finance and business during Kuwait’s prosperous years. Some of them assumed important ministerial positions and served Kuwait in the best way possible. The Shia include liberals and normal fundamentalists who are not interested in creating movements (for example the Mirza Ahqaqi Movement or the “Hasawiya” Shia who refused to support the Khomeini revolution in Iran on the basis that they are Kuwaitis, according to researcher Dr. Falah al Mederas in his study about Shia movements in Kuwait); they also include revolutionary fundamentalists. In short, they are like any other group: they include rightists, leftists and centrists. At the end of the day, they constitute an important component of Kuwait however some people insist on adopting a collective sectarian approach towards events and standpoints and this is unfair and hazardous. Collective judgments cause a neutral person in any movement to feel that he is antagonized simply because he is Sunni or Shia and this is a primitive method of thinking that dominates collective thought in our Arab world.
In an interesting article entitled ‘Secrets of the Eulogy Campaign’ [Asrar Hamlat Ata’bin] by the Kuwaiti writer Abdul Latif al Daeej that appeared in the Qabas newspaper, he discussed the positions of some Salafist and Ikhwan representatives as well as [members of] the Popular Bloc and others who praised Hassan Nasrallah and the heroism that the party demonstrated in the 2006 war with Israel during a rally in support of Hezbollah that was held in Irada Square, 21 July 2006. Speakers such as the Salafist MP Waleed al Tabtabai commended Hezbollah and its master.
Al Daeej stated that those who call for patriotism and claim that the Shia MPs who eulogized Mughniyeh are traitors, are part of Sunni fundamentalist movements that supported or partially supported Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Zarqawi in Iraq. This is in spite of the fact that the “Asood al Jazeera” [Lions of the Gulf] movement was a direct product of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, so what kind of patriotism are they talking about? The issue here is simply related to exploitation of the concept [of patriotism].
How can we replace what’s positive with something negative? How can primitive sectarian political motives and instincts dominate the scene in Kuwait; a scene that was a model for the Gulf and was admired and appreciated by the people of the Gulf owing to the tolerance and development that it demonstrated?
Had it not been for the storm caused by Abdul Samad and Lari in eulogizing Mughniyeh, we would have been discussing the statement by the Ikhwan about the dangers of free mixing between genders which, along with the sectarian fanaticism that is demonstrated today, forces us to ask, “What’s the point of Kuwait then?”