x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A funny thing is happening in Kuwait

A political satire for Ramadan that was banned by the ministry of information started broadcasting again after the producers of the show changed its name.

KUWAIT CITY // A political satire for Ramadan that was banned by the ministry of information started broadcasting again on Wednesday night after the producers of the show changed its name. The show, originally called Sotik Wisal (Your Voice Has Been Heard), is a parody of Kuwaiti politics with actors who are made up to look like the country's MPs and ministers. The 30-programme series aired for three nights before the ministry of information told the private satellite broadcaster, Scope TV, to suspend the programme.

On Tuesday, the broadcaster replaced the show with a letter it said it had received from the ministry for the entire 20-minute slot, but on Wednesday, the series was back with a new name, Amak Asmakh (They Don't Listen to Anything). The ministry said in a press release on Wednesday that the programme violated a media law, adding that it was suspended until a general prosecution completes an investigation and a ruling is made in court.

The show's owner and writer, Fajer al Saeed, said MPs who had criticised the programme had pressured the ministry into action. She said: "The MPs were elected by the people; I don't know why they don't want to hear the people's voice." The court date has been set for September. The ministry declined to elaborate on the reasons for the suspension. Ms al Saeed said the ministry threatened to take the channel's equipment if it continued, but because of a poorly written media law, all they had to do was change the name.

"I changed the name today and we're playing it again. In two days, I'll change the name again, in three days I'll change it again - until Ramadan's finished," she said. Although the characters in the show are never called by name, the international make-up artists who were brought in to work on the series leave Kuwaitis with little doubt about who the actors are supposed to be. Much of the dialogue and events are taken directly from the national assembly and neither MPs, ministers nor even the prime minister are spared.

One clip shows members of parliament saluting Kuwait's national anthem, while an actor dressed to look like Mohammed al Mutairi, an Islamist MP, is sitting on a chair sending text messages. Another shows all the MPs in a classroom, while the teacher, who looks like the parliamentary speaker, Jassem al Kharafi, tries to control the unruly students. In another episode, a man who looks exactly like Waleed al Tabtabae, another Islamist MP, is seen sneaking through what is made up to be the underground tunnel from Egypt into the Gaza Strip to hand out Kuwaiti riches to Hamas.

"They said we criticised the representatives in a bad way, but we didn't do anything. The scenario is exactly what happens in the national assembly," said Mohammed al Saeed, general manager of Scope TV and Ms al Saeed's nephew. Mr al Saeed said the show is not only about the national assembly. It covers issues like bidoons, the national team's football ban and electricity shortages. He said the first three episodes were about the assembly first because "they were the most powerful and we wanted to capture our audience in Ramadan".

The programme has started a debate in Kuwait about how far freedom of speech can be taken before it becomes offensive. "You can say anything you want in Kuwait; you can criticise anybody except the emir and Sheikh Nawaf al Ahmed, the crown prince," Mr al Saeed said. "Government people are not from God." One of the actors, Ebrahem Alkqttan, said he is now recognised in the street and is relishing his new-found fame. He said everybody has urged them to keep it going and even Jassem al Kharafi, whom he plays, has seen the show's funny side.

Scope TV has gained a controversial reputation since it began two years ago. Ms al Saeed said in its talk shows the channel supports the dissolution of the national assembly and criticises giving aid to Hamas. She has a special dislike for the Muslim Brothers, which she said she "destroyed" in the last election. But the reputation for being a rebel comes at a price. Ms al Saeed said "the court is my other house"; she estimates the company has been sued 30 times. Few cases have reached completion and she has lost only one so far.

She said: "They said I have to go to prison or pay 5,000 dinars [Dh64,000], and I said, 'Take me to jail', but my lawyer paid the money. "I'm trying to go to jail. If I go, I'll be the first lady to go to jail in Kuwait. If I have to go to help my country, it's a privilege." jcalderwood@thenational.ae