x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Kuwait settles down after a rough week

Arabic language newspapers consider the recent political dispute in Kuwait, the dilemma of individual rights in changing societies, and the contributions of literature from the Maghreb.

Kuwait tensions rose last week over changes to elections law - but calm was restored

"Last Sunday, my daughter came up to me and said, 'Daddy, is a war going to happen tonight?' 'Who told you so?' I asked. 'The girls at school,' she replied. In all likelihood, the misgivings that my daughter and her friends had were shared by all Kuwaitis on that long and stressful day," wrote Dr Mohammed Hussein Al Yusefi, a Kuwaiti academic, in yesterday's edition of the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan.

"Many would agree with me that it was one of the longest days in the history of Kuwait," he added.

That Sunday, opposition members of parliament and groups of young activists called for a march into downtown Kuwait City after Isha (night) prayer. They wanted to protest against recent changes to the national elections law.

By virtue of the new amendments, each voter became entitled to cast one vote only, while in the past a Kuwaiti voter was allowed to cast as many as four ballots, each ballot for one candidate.

The detractors argued that the amendments, which have been promulgated by the country's emir, amount to "fixing the people's will" and "controlling the results of the electoral process", the author wrote.

The Kuwaiti people held their breath in trepidation when the ministry of interior announced that it was going to block the march on grounds that it was not licensed, he said.

"Indeed, the government took unprecedented measures, deploying special units - squads trained in riot control - in addition to the national guard, and put the army on alert."

It was even rumoured in the social media that "foreign help" from neighbours could be mobilised, which Kuwaiti authorities denied.

Memories were still fresh from clashes between law enforcement and young protesters who, just a few days earlier, were marching towards the central prison to demand the release of MP Musallam Al Barrak, "who is now considered the undisputed leader of the opposition", the writer said.

But amid all the street tensions of that long Sunday, there were political endeavours to prevent further escalation.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, met with tribal elders who have a considerable parliamentary and demographic weight as well as former MPs and representatives of Kuwait's Salafist community.

Supporters of the march, like so-called "scientific Salafists" and the Muslim Brotherhood, did not take part in those meetings.

"Eventually, Kuwaitis were relieved to know that, at about 8pm, only a small group was on the street … and that no real clashes occurred," the writer said in conclusion.

"Kuwait is too small for its own people to fight each other, and if some refuse the one-vote system, others still see it as the only, if temporary, way out."

Will revolts bring more individualism?

One of the thorniest issues facing Arab Spring societies is the conflict between the individual and society, Ali Fakhrou wrote in the Sharjah-based paper Al Khaleej.

"This is an incendiary issue on the streets of Egypt and Tunisia's cities, and elsewhere, manifested in ferocious clashes between some hard-line Islamists and some of those who define themselves as liberals."

While the present face-offs centre around dance and singing parties, women's clothing, liquor stores, and some tourism-related activities, they will later shift focus into more intricate questions.

This problem is not new. It stems from the lasting conflict between the individual's desire for greater freedom as to their personal views, way of life and relations with others, and the society that has regulates relations between individuals and institutions, to prevent excesses and sustain social peace through the state authority.

But throughout history, no society has achieved a perfect equation between individual liberties and social responsibilities, he noted.

The individual-society dichotomy is probably most experienced and analysed by the West. Western societies tried some totalitarian rules to solve this equation and they failed. And later on under modernism, individual freedom has become a sacred cow to the detriment of social and family bonds.

Eastern Arabs must open to the Maghreb

The Maghreb intellectuals bemoan the failure of their peers in the Middle East to give Maghrebi literature its due, opined Abdel Malek Mrtad in the Saudi newspaper Okaz.

The first Maghrebi to have berated his peers over this failure to do justice to the literature was probably Ferhat Al Daraji in an article published in Algeria's newspaper Al Bassair back in 1937, where he wrote "We have been so preoccupied with the East that we have forgotten about ourselves".

When it comes to literary output, Maghrebis have always been open to the Arab Orient. Yet, they have felt that Oriental intellectuals have not made an effort to return the favour.

For instance, since the French occupation up to this moment, much of Egyptian literature has been present in the Maghreb's school curricula, and yet one can hardly find Maghrebi writings in Egyptian curricula, he remarked.

One of the rare exceptions came from Egypt's Taha Hussein, a former minister of education who noticed this failure and introduced Assad (the Dam), a play by Tunisia's Mahmoud Messadi.

Yet, a silver lining came with the emergence of Arab satellite channels that has helped in bridging this gap.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk