x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Kuwaitis need to be prudent about change

Yes, there are problems in Kuwait, a Saudi journalist writes, but "yielding to the power of the masses" is no solution. Other topics: Sudanese arms and Tunisian films.

Kuwait's dysfunctional democracy is flawed, but the country should resist wholesale change

"As a Gulf national trying to put myself in the shoes of a Kuwaiti, I wonder what my stance ought to be regarding what is unfolding in the country," wrote Abdullah Nasser Al Oteibi, a Saudi journalist, in yesterday's edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

It was reported last week that Kuwaiti authorities used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse demonstrators protesting against changes to Kuwait's elections law. The opposition views these amendments, which were decreed by the country's emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, as favouring pro-government candidates.

"Should I be in favour of the measures recently decreed?" the author asked. "Or should I take the side of dissidents, who consider what happened as yet another episode in a long process of reversing the principles on which modern Kuwait has been built?"

To put these questions in perspective, some basic facts about Kuwait's political life must be clarified.

The opposition in Kuwait is not like other opposition camps around the world, the author said. "It is doomed to stay exactly where it is, whether it achieves a majority in parliament or remains a minority. In either case, it has no mandate to form a government. All it can do is monitor, legislate with its hands tied and, if need be, foment a crisis."

Kuwaiti voters cast their ballots freely. And if they give the bulk of their votes to a parliamentary block that is aligned with the ruling elite, government projects are passed without a hitch - and without due diligence either, the author said.

In other cases, however, there is a problem. "When the voters choose the opposition, the emir issues a decree forming an independent cabinet, leaving out the opposition."

What would the opposition do, then, except seek revenge on this appointed government? It does precisely that, by blocking as many projects as possible.

Compounding this "strange" political status quo in Kuwait is the involvement of some local "political theory" groups with links to foreign democracy lobbies, which have no understanding of the country's politico-tribal composition. And these groups mobilise young Kuwaitis inspired by the Arab Spring.

The fact remains, despite all this, that all Kuwaitis - including those who turn out for demonstrations - agree on the legitimacy of the Sabah ruling family, the author said. And all of them want their 50-year-old constitution preserved.

"Sure, I have strong reservations about the new elections law, and I firmly believe that it involves more harm than good. But I'm even more certain that yielding to the power of the masses at this stage would later result in even bigger demands, which could not be met without some drastic sacrifices."

Errors in the attack 'by Israel' on Sudan factory

The Israeli attack on Al Yarmouk industrial complex in Khartoum earlier this week may be a bid by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to secure victory for his alliance in the early parliamentary elections on January 22, the Egyptian daily Al Ahram suggested in its editorial on Monday.

"[The assault] reveals the Israeli hardliner's keenness to prevent Sudan from acquiring defence capabilities, just as it did previously in Iraq when it destroyed a nuclear reactor that was still under construction, " said the paper.

Had the international community adequately chastised Israel for the aforementioned assault, it wouldn't have dared to repeat the same behaviour, this time claiming the destroyed facility was an Iranian-run arms factory.

For his part, Tariq Al Homayed, the editor of the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat, suggested that Sudan has brought calamity on itself through bad political judgement and a corrupt government.

This isn't the first time Sudan has been implicated in dubious arms production and weapons smuggling for other parties.

"A close look at the reality of Sudan reveals that since the Brotherhood-led authorities arrived in power, the state has been involved in a series of systematic errors.

"In the end, it is the Sudanese citizens who are paying the price," he concluded.

Cultural subtext in the debate over subtitles

The issue of Maghreb dialects usually comes to light only at Arab film festivals, as subtitles in standard Arabic seem to incense people from the Maghreb, Egyptian movie critic Tarek El Shenawi noted in the London-based paper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

In a conference following the screening of Nouri Bouzid's Manmoutsh (Hidden Beauties) during the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival, the question of subtitled Tunisian movies was brought up.

Bursting into anger, the Tunisian filmmaker, who took the best-director award for a movie from the Arab world for Manmoutsh, replied: "Why do we understand the Egyptian dialect and you don't understand ours? Why don't you make an effort to decode Tunisia's dialect?"

Conversely, at the Troopfest Short Film Festival, the young Moroccan director Khaled El Boumeshouli demanded that his movie Two, Six - which won second place at the festival - be accompanied by subtitles in standard Arabic. But the fact remains that the dialect issue has usually proved to be particularly incendiary, the writer remarked.

The spirit of the films, with all their culture-specific references, is undermined by translation, but that is the lesser of two evils. It would be worse if they were not understood at all.


* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk