Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Publicly tackling the issue of discrimination in Kuwait

The Real Issue

By Abd Al-Rahman Alyan
Editor-in-Chief, Kuwait Times

It bemuses me how a country that’s a pioneer of democracy in the region could be clouded with discrimination. Let’s stop acting like everything is rosy and deny the fact that there are ridiculous rules being passed that are discriminating and not thought through in Kuwait. Every time I hear discriminating ideas about stopping expats from driving or having hospital hours for Kuwaitis and other hours for expats or this for Kuwaitis and that for expats, I am outraged. I can’t help but wonder why we are then outraged when another country takes a decision to protect its people’s rights such as the Indian Embassy fiasco that has become the talk of the town.

Lately the Indian Embassy has put into effect a decision that was taken by the Indian government to protect the rights of its citizens by asking sponsors in the Gulf to pay a guarantee of KD 720 ($2500) for each female Indian domestic worker in an attempt to protect their rights. As a result several members of Parliament have shown their outrage at the decision and are pressuring the government to take counter measures.

It is understandable when the many decent Kuwaiti families are upset over this decision but they should ask why the Indian government is taking such measures.

Let’s review some of the reasons that could have caused this: It’s a shameful fact that Asian workers are looked down upon by many and mistreated by some in Kuwait. Just look at how Asian domestics are herded like sheep at the airport by Immigration officers who talk to them like slaves or shout abusive remarks at them simply because they didn’t understand instructions. It is a fact that many domestics cannot quit their job and work for someone else unless their sponsor allows it as if they are slaves who have to be bought from their sponsor.

Sponsors are not all angels despite their nationality and yes they do take advantage of the sponsorship laws by threatening to call the police on their domestic workers and deporting them – especially visa traders. It is a fact that some employers abuse and do not pay their domestics their full wage and then when it all gets too much for the domestic and runs away, he or she becomes an illegal fugitive and has to be arrested and deported with no pay or indemnities for the period they have served. I urge the many decent Kuwaiti families to be outraged towards the lack of labor laws to protect the rights of such people who are only trying to make a decent living for their families.

Our religion did not teach us to discriminate and there was never a Holy Quran for expats and another for locals. So why are so many of our laws discriminatory yet deemed natural by our lawmakers? Since when does one person need a university degree to drive just because he is an expat? As a matter of fact I don’t even understand why many things in Kuwait can only be done by someone who has a university degree such as licensing a real estate company or a classifieds publication etc. It seems very hypocritical when many of our lawmakers are not university graduates and hold much more important roles in our society than a real estate agent.

Speaking of hypocrisy the government is always seeking to decrease the number of expat workers in Kuwait in an attempt to create more opportunities for our home grown talents, but then they create so many regulations to trap them in the country such as having to pay all their traffic fines before they are allowed to travel or having to pay KD10 per day fine for each day after their visa expires. If an expat is fired or if he has escaped for not getting paid, he finds himself in a situation where he has no money to pay and he is trapped in a country where he can’t legally get another job to pay or leave. It is an impossible situation to get out.

If you want to decrease the number of expats in the country it would be an idea to allow them to leave and only place ban on someone who is charged with a real criminal offense.

These are the issues and it’s time we dealt with them. Sometimes the truth hurts, but we have to face it.


I LOVE that article.  

I believe I met the author's grandfather many years ago at an embassy reception.  We were both standing alone by the buffet and struck up a conversation.   I didn't know who he was at the time; just a kind older gentleman, but I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation I had with him and walked away with a smile (probably with something stuck in my teeth because I'm always unknowingly embarrassing myself ) and a lifted spirit.   It was only later, when I looked at the business card I had quickly shuffled into my handbag that I knew that he was the founder and patriarch of The Kuwait Times.  God rest his soul. I am sure that he is missed by many.

Ok, back to the story....

What I find amusing in a sad and pathetic way is how many Kuwaitis are commenting on my posts, offended/insulted that I would infer that they are racist or sectarian; and that indeed foreigners are the root of all social problems in Kuwait.  Then, they go on to "justify" the reasons why they're so great and others are not.  BINGO!  That's exactly it.  My point has been validated.  Arrogance and entitlement.  Not, of course, attributes held by everyone, but the attitude is becoming more acceptable and pervasive; not only in discussion, but much more obviously through Kuwait law.

I was shocked about 10 years ago when I came across a website/blog/forum (can't remember) called, "Kuwait for Kuwaitis".  It was a novel approach back then - foreigner bashing - and not one that I personally held as "true Kuwaiti".  I still firmly believe in the tenants of Kuwaiti kindness and generosity to all.  I think many have lost their identity - maybe since the Gulf War or shortly thereafter?  Not sure.  I remember walking through Mubarakia in 1997 with my mother.  Kuwait was still on a high from being liberated and there was an attitude of gratitude (pardon the rhyme).  As we walked along, two elderly Kuwaiti women stopped and asked if they could take their photo with us, "Ashan Amreeka" (for America).  They were so kind and I still have the photo of that day.

Sadly, the notion of foreigner bashing has seemed to take hold and those sweet  moments are few and far between.   There are many opinions now of foreigner vs Kuwaiti; like some kind of weird Mortal Kombat game being played here.  I've noticed a tremendous difference - mostly the looks.  Where once people were happy to see me, now they're looking at me like an unwelcomed visitor.  (This happens pretty often.  There aren't as many "friendly" moments that counteract the unwelcoming ones, unfortunately.  ... and I can only make statements about my personal experiences.)  I try to smile at everyone, even in traffic.  

So anyhoooooo.... while everyone is enthralled in blaming and bashing others, what's happening behind-the-scenes?  Divide and conquer.  


Anonymous said...

I hope that that article (and the others like it that have been appearing lately) are being translated and reprinted in the Arabic newspapers. That way the message will reach even more of the people that it's meant for.

Chirp said...

I think racism has increased all over the world.

There are a lot of reasons that racism has been increasing in Kuwait, and one of the main reasons (in my opinion) is the lack of education and manners in people. A lot of times I am in groups of people and I hear them talk about the increasing number of expats in Kuwait and blaming them for the traffic and for all the issues, they do not understand that its not their fault the government doesn't do its job correctly to build better road systems in Kuwait. Its not their fault the government doesn't stop people from getting thousands of poor souls in the country on fake job permits and then telling them to go find their own jobs but at the end of the month they have to pay the Kuwaiti that brought them.

If our government was strong and had an actual plan they they worked on, we wouldn't be in this situation right now.

What is frustrating is that as a Kuwaiti I can't find a job (I have been technically jobless for 2 years now), when I used to look for an apartment they usually only rented to foreigners even if we promised them to pay 3 months up front and have a standing order every month.

The government loves to have a scapegoat for all its mishandling and shortcomings, first it was the Shia then it was the bedouins and now its the expats.

Anonymous said...

Even though I (as an ex-expat) developed both - feelings of gratitude for having benefited from Kuwait, and also resentment for having to put up with Kuwaiti arrogance and racism - I really feel for Chirp. I don't know the reason why (s)he's not been found acceptable for employment, or the reason why (s)he won't be accepted as a tenant, but I applaud him/her for staying objective and identifying his/her government's shortcomings as the cause. It takes a big person to do that, so I tip my hat to him/her in respect.

I just hope that he/she is not the object of reverse discrimination (because that's not fair either) and that if (s)he is worthy of it, (s)he gets both a job as well as an apartment really really soon.

Hebah Dwidari said...

isn't that ironic when they keep them from getting another job, but yet prevent them from leaving the country. because they don't have any means of paying for their way out. its about the same over here. in Saudi Arabia. God help us all.

Anonymous said...

Why do Kuwaitis hate expats?

Kuwaitis can't find jobs while expats make more than two thirds of population. Please don't start giving me examples like Kuwaitis not willing to work as street cleaners or in hospitality services... there are thousands and thousands of jobs that can be done by Kuwaitis and currently being done by expats... that includes government jobs as well as the private sector. We have Kuwaitis graduating as teachers and not able to find a job in teaching at government schools... at the same time the government is contracting teachers from egypt, jordan, morocco and every shithole in the world. Also please don't start talking about Kuwaitis underperformed. If you put poor under skilled management of course you're going to end up with unproductive staff. We have numerous Kuwaitis who over preformed once they were put under good management.

Because expats who can't afford to ride a donkey in their home country come to Kuwait, get a cheap car, a driving license and drive below the speed limit and crash into our expensive cars.

Because expats live in Kuwait City, Hawally, Salmiya, Jabriyah... and Kuwaitis have to wait for 20 years to get a plot of land in the desert near the borders.

Kuwait has a severe housing crisis, many Kuwaitis are cramped in tiny apartments with 5 kids. Expats live in Kuwait City, Hawally, Salmiya, Jabriyah… and Kuwaitis have to wait 20 years to get a plot of land for a house near the borders.

Most expats earn 300 dinars max (which is enough for them to afford in South Asia big houses, staff, cars, lands, properties ,etc) while Kuwaitis earn around 1,200 dinars on average (and they still live in tiny apartments until their kids are 20 years old).

The bread you eat, the water you drink, and the petrol you use are all subsidized with Kuwait’s revenue. Meanwhile many Kuwaitis are struggling to get by


Right now, expats are in Kuwait, benefiting from all the subsidies on food, electricity, water, municipality services, roads, health care and so on… Just like any Kuwaiti citizen.

Desert Girl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Desert Girl said...

Dec 19 - 3:16 - I don't usually publish hate mail. Since yours started with "Why do Kuwaitis hate expats" - I classify it has hate mail.

Your comment also sounds rather presumptuous. You presume to TELL me what to do with my blog and how to respond.

I'll respond any way I want to. BAM.

300KD is NOT enough money for "most expats" to afford HOUSING IN KUWAIT. I would advise anyone not to come to Kuwait if they were being paid that little money.

Fascinating that you are so racist that you believe that expats (like myself for example? Who drive a Mercedes in their home country?) "crash into your expensive cars". Hmmm. (I've never driven a donkey, although I would love to quite honestly.)

Management jobs are filled by Kuwaitis as and when Kuwaitis acquire the skills and experience necessary to do the jobs. And there are a LOT of managers in Kuwait. However, You can't go from graduate to manager in a day. And those are the higher-paying jobs. I started work as a maid in a family's home in the US. I got paid $10 a day. Are you willing to do that and spend a few decades working your way up to a managerial position? That's how you get to a higher paying job.

I don't know where you shop, but I shop at the Sultan Center and I can guarangawddamntee (guarantee) you that the bread I buy is not being subsidized. I pay the same amount of rent here that I would in the US (and in the US the water would be included in the rent also). I CONTRIBUTE to this economy. I believe in contributing to Kuwaiti-owned businesses (contributing to the local economy). I am speaking for myself.

As far as bringing teachers in from other countries - that's a Kuwaiti government decision, isn't it? Expats didn't make that determination. Can't really blame them for wanting to fill positions where they can feed their own families by working.

I do agree with you that Kuwaitis are facing problems in their own country - LOTS of problems (including the housing shortage which has more to do with the Government policies/processes and lack of land price caps than anything else). I know of quite a few Kuwaitis that are facing economic hardship.

However, why the hatred? Why blame expats? What brought on your hatred and why are you aiming it against the people who can do nothing about any of the issues taking place in Kuwait?

If KUWAITIS want change, they should make change. They are the ONLY group of people who can make it in their own country. Go to the parliament. Sit there and listen to what is happening within your own country. Talk to MPs within your constituency. Write to the law makers. they are NOT out of reach (and I am an expat and can tell you which diwaniyas they go to). If you're not willing to go, get your family members involved. KNOW your own political system and work for change.

The change has to come from Kuwait. Stop blaming others and do something.

Maybe even start your own blog and/or grass roots organization. Because I won't tolerate another comment like this one.