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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Kuwait

ARABIAN PENINSULA: Majority of Persian Gulf Arabs too afraid to protest against their leaders, new poll says

6a00d8341c630a53ef014e5fc3d324970c-320wi Many Persian Gulf Arabs are frightened and pessimistic about the uprisings and revolutions that are sweeping the Middle East and are too afraid to speak out against their rulers.

According to a new opinion poll commissioned by the Qatar-based public forum The Doha Debates, that's the current mood among many gulf Arabs.

The online study, conducted by YouGov in June in which over 1,000 respondents were polled in 17 different Arab states, said an increasing number of gulf Arabs view the so-called Arab Spring with pessimism and fear. 

And more than more half of those polled in countries in the Arabian Peninsula said they would be be "too scared" to go out in the streets and protest against their leaders.

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KUWAIT: 2,000 rally to demand resignation of embattled prime minister

Headline1987ff Pressure is building on Kuwait's embattled Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Ahmad Sabah, who has come under fire for refusing to be questioned in parliament for allegedly misusing public funds, among other accusations.

Around 2,000 people took to the streets of the oil-rich gulf country's capital amid tight security, chanting, "The people want to topple the head [of government]," in reference to Sheikh Nasser, according to Agence-France Presse.

Local Kuwaiti media reports said activists had dubbed the protest  "Day of Rage"  and that demonstrators, flanked by hundreds of police in riot gear, marched on the National Assembly on Friday night holding banners reading, "The youth want reform of the regime” and "Youths want the closure of corrupt channels,” while chanting against the prime minister.

Some demonstrators went one step further and called for a popularly elected head of government, indicating that they don't want another prime minister from Kuwait's ruling Sabah family, which has governed the country for more than 250 years.

But rally-goers and speakers reportedly made a point of showing that they were not demonstrating  against the emir or the ruling family itself, but for the premier's ouster. 

No violence was reported, but harsh words were exchanged between some protesters and a small group of Sheikh Nasser supporters who marched nearby holding signs reading, “Sheikh Nasser stays and troublesome MPs leave,” according to the Kuwaiti Arab Times newspaper. 

Aside from the prime minister post, members of the Sabah family hold several other key positions, including the defense and foreign affairs posts.

The 71-year-old Sheikh Nasser's five years as premier have been marked by turbulence and he has come under constant fire by the opposition.

He has resigned six times, and he formed his seventh Cabinet a couple of weeks ago.

Kuwaiti protesters are reportedly staging new rallies next Friday that they have dubbed "Day of Departure."

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Demonstrators rally against Kuwaiti premier Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Ahmad Sabah on Friday. Credit: Kuwait Times website.


KUWAIT: Lawmakers throw punches in parliamentary fight over Guantanamo prisoners


The Kuwaiti parliament became a scene of chaos Wednesday when a fistfight broke out between Shiite and Sunni Muslim lawmakers during a session about Kuwaiti detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The brawl began after Shiite lawmaker Hussein Kallaf denounced a number of Kuwaiti detainees held at Guantanamo as Al Qaeda militants, according to local media reports.

Sunni lawmakers immediately fired back, with Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Jamaan Harbash telling Kallaf that the aim of the debate was not to discuss Al Qaeda but Guantanamo detainees. 

Tumult then broke out, and fists began to fly among the lawmakers, prompting security guards to try to break up the fight. The pan-Arab news channel Al Arabiya reported that several lawmakers were involved in the brawl; other media reports said it involved two Sunni and two Shiite lawmakers.

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IRAN: Tensions increase as second Iranian flotilla to Bahrain is blocked


Iranian supporters of Shiite dissidents in Bahrain saw their second flotilla in less than a month turned back from the Persian Gulf kingdom Monday. 

The 120 people aboard the two-ship "flotilla of solidarity" included a mix of workers, athletes, lawmakers, physicians and nurses, according to the semi-official Iranian Mehr News Agency. They had left the Iranian port of Bushehr, traveled a dozen nautical miles and were approaching international waters when they were forced to return to port by the Iranian coast guard, according to Mehr News.

There was speculation that the ships, including one named Ayat al-Ghermezi after the late Bahraini dissident poet allegedly raped and murdered by security forces, were barred from entering Bahraini waters after being intercepted by Gulf warships. 

Shaykh Fawwaz Bin-Muhammad Al-Khalifah, president of the Bahraini Information Affairs Authority, told Al Arabiya satellite network that the Persian Gulf states had responded to what he believed was "Iranian interference."

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KUWAIT, IRAN: Iranian diplomats to be expelled over spy ring row in latest spat in Arab Gulf-Iranian relations

201133123587817368_20 Kuwait is reportedly ready to boot out a number of Iranian diplomats for alleged links to a spy ring working for Tehran in the latest spat in ties between Sunni Arab Gulf states and Shiite Iran.

According to Kuwait's foreign minister Mohammed Sabah, a number of Iranian diplomats are to be expelled for alleged spying that reportedly dates back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"There will be action against a group of Iranian diplomats.... They will be considered persona non grata and expelled from Kuwait," he was quoted as telling reporters in Kuwait on Thursday.

Tehran slammed the claims as baseless, and Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the Islamic republic was not meddling in Kuwaiti affairs, according to Iranian state media.

Arab Gulf media reports say that Kuwait has recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations.

Ties between Arab Gulf countries and Iran appear to becoming increasingly strained since the wave of Arab protests reached Iran's Shiite neighbor Bahrain where the Sunni government's security forces crushed the mainly Shiite-led protest movement last month.

The crisis in Bahrain quickly transformed into a regional standoff between Sunni Gulf Arab states and Shiite Iran with both sides throwing accusations at each other.

Authorities in Bahrain have accused Iran of meddling in its affairs, and some Sunni monarchies have sent troops to Bahrain, a move that has drawn stark criticism from Iran.

On Thursday, an Iranian parliamentary panel warned Riyadh that it was "playing with fire" by contributing troops to the joint military force in Bahrain.

The kingdom fired back, urging Iran to mind its own business and to not interfere in the affairs of Gulf states. A Saudi government official called the statement "irresponsible" and condemned it "in the most strongest words," reported the state-run Saudi news agency SPA on Friday.

News about Kuwait planning to oust Iranian diplomats came two days after a Kuwait City court sentenced two Iranian nationals and a Kuwaiti to death for spying for Tehran. All three had served in Kuwait's army at the time of their arrest in 2010. Sabah alleged that the Iranian diplomats were connected to the spy ring.

A Syrian national and a stateless Arab were given life terms at the conclusion of the trial while two Iranians were acquitted.

Salehi dismissed the allegations by Kuwaiti court, saying the death sentence rulings were part of a "plot," reported Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency.

"Focusing on an outdated issue by a Kuwaiti court and attributing it to the Islamic Republic of Iran is a plot being pursued by those who are jealous of Iran's good and friendly relations with Kuwait," Fars quoted Salehi as saying.  

The court heard charges that the spy ring had given secret military information and taken photographs of military sites in Kuwait and spied for the Islamic Republic.

Local media said the men confessed to having taken pictures of Kuwaiti and U.S. military sites for Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, but the defendants reportedly denied the charges in court and stressed they were tortured to confess, according to Agence France-Presse.

Oil-rich Kuwait has a sizaeble Shiite population.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed Sabah. Credit: Agence France-Presse,0,6348665.column

KUWAIT: Court sentences 3 to death for being part of Iranian spy ring

_47802396_kuwait_city_g A Kuwaiti criminal court condemned two Iranians and a Kuwaiti national to death on Tuesday for being part of an Iranian spy ring, media reports say.

A Syrian national and a stateless Arab were also handed life sentences at the conclusion of the trial while an Iranian man and the daughter of one of the Iranians sentenced to death were acquitted, reported Agence-France Presse.

The three men sentenced to death and the Syrian were all serving in the Kuwaiti army back at the time of their arrest last year while the stateless Arab was said to be an ex-soldier in the country's military.

The men were charged with spying for Iran and with monitoring and providing information on Kuwaiti and U.S. military in Kuwait to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.  Iran has denied the accusations and the defendants reportedly said in court that they were forced to confess under torture.

When the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas newspaper last year reported that the country's security services had dismantled a spy cell allegedly working for the IRGC, it sparked a ruckus in the Kuwaiti Parliament and strained diplomatic relations between Iran and Kuwait. Several Kuwaiti lawmakers began calling for the expulsion of the Iranian ambassador to Kuwait and urged that the Kuwaiti envoy to Iran be recalled.

For its part, the Iranian Embassy in Kuwait denied the media reports about the dismantling of the alleged spy ring, and a high-ranking official dismissed the allegations as a "Zionist plot" to slander the image of the Revolutionary Guard.

Soon enough, Kuwait imposed a media ban on the case.

An estimated 45,000 Iranians live and work in oil-rich Kuwait, which has a considerable Shiite minority.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: A view of Kuwait city. Credit: Getty Images

KUWAIT: Riot police break up protest by stateless Arabs

Shamseddin20110308142923717 Police in anti-riot gear descended Friday on a small protest rally near Kuwait City that was staged by stateless Arabs demanding greater rights, media reports said.

According to the Reuters news agency, despite a stern warning from the new minister of the interior, about 200 protesters had congregated for a peaceful demonstration in an area west of the Kuwaiti capital after Friday prayers. Other media reports put the number of protesters a bit higher, at about500.

Rally-goers carried banners reading "Stateless since 50 years, we demand citizenship," and chanted "we will not leave without a solution," reported Agence France-Presse.

But when riot police began firing tear gas into the crowd, the protesters quickly ran for cover.

Kuwait's stateless Arabs are known as "Bedoun" and have lived in the oil-rich Persian Gulf state for a long time. They regularly complain of discrimination and clashed with Kuwaiti police last month when they staged protests demanding greater rights and benefits, including citizenship and free healthcare.

Last month, Kuwaiti officials reportedly assured the Bedoun, who number around 100,000, that their concerns would be addressed, but the parliament refused on Tuesday discuss a bill that would provide them with more rights. The Kuwaiti government still refers to them as "illegal residents."

Earlier this week, hundreds of Kuwaitis took to the streets to call on the country's prime minister to step down and demand more political freedom.

--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Stateless Arabs stage a protest near the Kuwaiti capital on Feb. 20. Credit: Press TV website

KUWAIT: U.S. confirms detention of American citizen who claims being beaten

MohamedA U.S. official has confirmed that an American citizen of Somali origin who claims he was beaten by security agents in Kuwait while they were interrogating him about his travels in Yemen and Somalia is being held in detention in the American-backed Arabian Peninsula country.

State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley offered few details about the case other than to say that the man, 18-year-old Gulet Mohamed from Virigina, was receiving U.S. consular assistance. Crowley denied that Mohamed was arrested by Kuwaiti authorities on behalf of the U.S.

"I’m not at liberty to say a great deal," he told reporters Friday. "We are aware of his detention, we have provided him consular services ... he was not detained at the behest of the United States government."

According to a report, Mohamed -- who said he was studying Arabic in Kuwait -- was taken into custody around Dec. 20 when he went to the airport there to have his Kuwaiti visa renewed. Mohamed had done the procedure every three months since he arrived in Kuwait in fall 2009, but this time he didn't get his visa stamped. Instead, he said he was hauled into a room and interrogated for hours by unknown officials before being blindfolded, handcuffed and driven to another location.

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MIDDLE EAST: In wake of WikiLeaks scandal, Arab leaders are cautious on Iran censure

GCC Nahyan

Arabian peninsula states have adopted a conciliatory tone on Iran a little over a week after U.S. diplomatic cables released by the watchdog site WikiLeaks appeared to show serious anxiety among Arab leaders over Tehran's growing power, and even enthusiasm in some corners (and at certain points) for a military attack on its controversial nuclear program.

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Atiyyah stopped short of an outright repudiation, but he described the content of the leaked cables as "guesses or analyses that can hit or miss" and that "generated misunderstandings," according to the Abu Dhabi-based National newspaper.

The council wrapped up a two-day summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Tuesday, gently calling on Iran to cooperate with the international community over its nuclear program in order to end sanctions against Tehran. The closing statement also reiterated Arab support for Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear program.

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KUWAIT: Telecom privatization accompanied by crackdown on civil liberties

In the Persian Gulf, at least, capitalism does not equal freedom. _47802396_kuwait_city_g

In Kuwait, the government has announced plans to privatize phone and mail services while at the same time increasing censorship. It has begun shutting down all pornographic websites, and on Saturday, three ministries issued a joint ban on photography cameras with large lenses in public places, according to a Kuwaiti media report.

Kuwait's communications minister, Al Busairdi, announced plans to privatize landlines and postal services within the next two years, the UAE-based daily Gulf News reported.

A wider crackdown on illicit Web content seems to be part of the package as well. It will partly be conducted with the help of the provider of Blackberry services, Research in Motion, Al Busairdi said.

"The three telecom operators in Kuwait have also decided to install filters to block pornographic sites," he was quoted as saying by Gulf News. "Kuwait has also reached an agreement with Research in Motion (RIM) to provide information about any phone number, in accordance with the law."

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MIDDLE EAST: Eid al Adha animal slaughter sparks debate in Muslim world

Sacrifice in Kuwait - Eid Nov 2010 Animal rights activists are speaking out against the treatment of millions of animals that will be killed and eaten during the Eid al Adha holiday, as suppliers and butchers are accused of ignoring religious edicts on humane slaughter.

On Friday, an Australian animal rights group reiterated its call for the Australian government to stop the sale of livestock to the Middle East after activists documented sheep in Kuwait and Bahrain allegedly being subjected to brutal treatment.

Australia is one of the largest exporters of livestock to the region, with trade totaling $297 million in 2009, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The group has already succeeded in banning livestock export to Egypt.

"In the same way that Christmas has become the peak time of animal suffering in the West with vast numbers of factory farmed animals slaughtered for Christmas celebrations, the Festival of Sacrifice is the worst time of animal suffering throughout the Middle East," the Animals Australia campaign homepage read.

A recent report in the Egyptian newspaper the Daily News featured butchers who admitted to ignoring Islamic hilal methods of slaughter in order to meet the high demand for meat. 

"Islam has put regulations for the slaughtering process ensuring that the animal is well treated before, during and after slaughtering and those who defy these rules are punished," Sheik Saber Taalab, former member of the Islamic Research Center in Cairo, told the paper.

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