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Babylon & Beyond

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

Category: Kuwait

KUWAIT: Armed mob descends on TV station after show that criticizes ruling family

_49558700_010442937-1The studios of the privately owned media outlet Scope TV in Kuwait lay in shambles Tuesday after a mob of 150 people armed with knives and pistols stormed its offices over the weekend, smashing windows and hitting the staff shortly after the channel broadcast a show that criticized Kuwait's ruling family, Arab media reports say.

Several members of the ruling family are suspected of having taken part in Sunday's attack on the TV station, which reportedly resulted in more than $1 million worth of damage to its offices and spurred it to halt broadcasts.

"They forced us off the air and started smashing computers, sets, studio equipment and cameras," Scope TV cameraman Fahad Rashed told the Associated Press.

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KUWAIT: Islamic purists hound education minister

Nice humoudKuwait’s education chief has run up against the fire and brimstone of puritanical Muslim members of parliament for her recent decision to tone down the incendiary religious content of the nation's school curriculum.

In late June, reports surfaced that Minister of Education Moudhi Humoud met with some of the country’s teachers of Islamic studies to discuss a controversial draft of a ninth-grade final exam. 

In it, two potentially explosive questions were posed regarding the companions of the prophet Muhammad and appropriate behavior at a cemetery. Some accuse Humoud of instructing teachers to cancel both questions on their exams and to consider revising the state curriculum to skip over the issues completely.

Both topics are doctrinal points of contention between Sunni and Shiite religious scholars. The secular Sunni minister may have hoped to contain brimming sectarian tension in Kuwait, which is mostly Sunni but includes a significant Shiite minority. 

Immediately, a storm erupted in Kuwait City. Puritanical Sunni Salafists and other conservative Sunni parliamentarians called for Humoud’s grilling. Not at the stake, but in the halls of parliament.

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KUWAIT: New labor law grants women the right -- and flexibility -- to work late

The choice to clock late-night hours just like men is now a right for Kuwaiti women. 

In a revision to the labor law this week, the government of Kuwait allowed women to work night shifts at hotels, restaurants, pharmacies, press offices, banks and various other businesses.

AwadiThe amendment overrides a labor law that barred Kuwaiti women from working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Minister of Social Affairs and Labor, Dr. Mohammed Afasi, says Kuwaiti women can work until midnight in such professions as law, medicine, journalism, tourism and hospitality.

However, they still will be barred from jobs described as physically dangerous or taxing, such as those in the manufacturing, construction and petrochemical fields.

Afasi has also decreed other caveats to the labor law, including a ban on any private sector employee, man or woman, from working between 12 and 4 p.m. from June until August due to the perils of the summer sun and heat. 

These revisions come with a recent tide of other gender-conscious legal reforms that put Kuwaiti women at the forefront of gender rights in the Persian Gulf, according to a March 2010 report by Freedom House. 

Generally, they enjoy more comprehensive social and economic rights than their counterparts.

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KUWAIT: Media banned from reporting on alleged Iran spy ring

Capt.photo_1272735788795-1-0A report by the Kuwaiti Al-Qabas newspaper last weekend claiming that the country's security services had dismantled a spy cell allegedly working for Iran's Revolutionary Guard has sparked a ruckus in the Kuwaiti parliament, raised diplomatic tensions and triggered rampant speculation in the Persian Gulf media.

Now, in an attempt to calm the situation, Kuwait has banned any more media reporting on the alleged spy cell.

On Thursday, the Kuwaiti English-language newspaper Kuwait Times reported that Public Attorney Hamed Al-Othman had issued a decision forbidding any more publication of news on the issue.

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EGYPT: Kuwait deports 17 ElBaradei supporters

Egypt-elbaradei1AFPVICTORIA HAZOU

Seventeen Egyptians, working and living in Kuwait, were deported Saturday for violating the emirate's labor and immigration law, a Kuwaiti security official said.

The decision came one day after as many as 25 Egyptians -- including the deported -- were arrested in a Kuwait suburb following their organizing of a gathering to support potential Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei and his National Front for Change.

Speaking to media on condition of anonymity, Kuwaiti sources added that the activists violated labor and immigration laws by gathering without official permission. While Kuwaiti officials have yet to comment on either the arrests or the deportations, Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials said they have heard about the news only from the Egyptian media.

The Egyptian ambassador to Kuwait, Tarek Farahat, said that "despite not being informed of any deportation decisions, Kuwaiti authorities have full sovereignty to extradite anyone living on its soil."

The deportations were criticized by local and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, which issued a statement saying Kuwait was enabling Egypt's repression by harassing ElBaradei's supporters.

"Kuwait's state security should stop arresting and deporting expatriate supporters of ElBaradei," read the statement. "Kuwait should immediately release all remaining Egyptian detainees and allow those deported to return to their homes in Kuwait."

Hassan Nafaa, the National Front for Change's general coordinator, expressed his bemusement at the Egyptian authorities' silence on the matter so far. The Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm reported on Sunday that Kuwaiti parliament insiders believe the Egyptian embassy in Kuwait is behind the deportations after it led local authorities to the activists' movements.

Following his return to Egypt on Feb. 18 after stepping down from his post as head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, ElBaradei formed the National Front for Change to pressure President Hosni Mubarak's regime for democratic reform. ElBaradei hopes that amending the constitution can help him and other independent candidates to run in the 2011 presidential elections.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: ElBaradei among some of his supporters. Credit: Victoria Hazou / AFP

KUWAIT: Diva blasted by Islamic clerics for singing in Hebrew at club

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The 28-year old Iranian-Kuwaiti composer and singer Emma Shah has written and performed in many languages, including Arabic, Russian, French and Japanese.

But her latest choice of language did not go over so well in Kuwait. After singing in Hebrew at a recent gathering in Kuwait City's Alumni Club, she's now being accused of promoting Zionism and normalization of ties with Israel, reports the UAE-based English newspaper Gulf News.

Her performance upset Kuwaiti religious figures, including the religious scholar Sheikh Mohammad Awadhi. In an article published in the Kuwaiti daily Al Rai newspaper, he condemned the singer for  "alien attitudes that clash with the spirit, culture and values of the Kuwaiti society."

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KUWAIT: Accused 'sex maniac' allegedly killed teen

Kuwaiti police were scouring a waste dump in search of the body of a Pakistani teenage girl believed killed and tossed there by an Egyptian "sex manic," according to the English-language Kuwaiti news website Arab Times, citing local newspapers.

According to the news report, the Ministry of the Interior has ordered a team of investigators to comb the Sabhan waste grounds in hopes of finding the remains of the young woman.

Police described the unnamed suspect, who was in custody, as a "quite eccentric" man who allegedly targeted young men and women, whom he "sometimes molested," according to the news report. Authorities said they found underwear, both men's and women's, at his apartment that they said had been stolen.

"He is also said to have hidden in obscured places and derived 'self-pleasure,' while he now and then visited rooftops of abandoned schools, snooping at apartments," the report said. "The suspect confessed to practicing ‘self-pleasure’ since he was 14 years old."

But another newspaper said the suspect was preparing to get married in a few weeks.

The victim was married to a man who also had disappeared, the report said.

-- Los Angeles Times

MIDDLE EAST: Women's status up in Saudi Arabia, down in Syria, says study

Kuwait060109

The subject of women's rights in the Middle East is contentious. Sensational media coverage of honor killings and child brides equates religious conservatism with gender inequality, incensing Western feminists on the one hand and provoking regional backlashes on the other.

The reality is far more nuanced, according to the the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report released in late October by the World Economic Forum, which ranks countries based on women's economic participation, educational attainment, health and political empowerment.

In Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar -- socially conservative Persian Gulf countries that all rely on some form of Sharia Islamic law -- more women than men enroll in higher education, although they have yet to be fully incorporated into the workforce. 

Syria, on the other hand, which is ruled by a nominally secular regime, has slid in the rankings for the last three years. 

Iran scores low in the fields of economic, educational and health equality, but performs relatively well on political empowerment. 

Saudi Arabia and Egypt still hover near the bottom of the list, but have improved steadily since 2006. 

Yemen remained the lowest-ranked country in the world for the fourth year in a row.

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KUWAIT, EGYPT: Censors pull plug on shows that mock politicians

Kuwaiti and Egyptian censors recently banned two television shows because they satirized prominent political figures, said the Cairo-based group the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, or ANHRI, in a statement.

According to the organization, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Information banned the program "Soatak Wasal" ("Your Voice Is Heard") because it was "offensive" to Kuwaiti officials. 

The comedy makes fun of Kuwaiti officials. Apparently, a sketch mocking Kuwaiti lawmakers and Cabinet members was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Shortly afterward, Egypt clamped down on "Hokuma Show" ("Cabinet Show") after Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief was criticized in an episode. 

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KUWAIT: Groom's 'scorned' ex-wife suspected in deadly wedding blaze

Kuwait-fire

At least 43 women and children died Saturday night when a fire broke out in a women's wedding tent, and now several local newspapers are reporting that the 23-year-old ex-wife of the groom may have started the fire in an act of revenge against her former husband and his new bride.

The headline of the Kuwait Times today read, "'Scorned' Woman Unleashed Fury." The accompanying article said authorities had arrested the suspect after her maids claimed to have seen her setting fire to the tent with kerosene.

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MIDDLE EAST: Daily headlines from Gaza, Israel, Iran in your mailbox

Newsletter_3The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily e-mail newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East and the Muslim world.

It includes stories from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as links to articles about the frictions and encounters between Islam and the West in the United States and Europe.

The newsletter also includes links to the latest Times editorials and opinion pieces about the Middle East, Islam and national security.

You can subscribe by logging in or registering at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates," and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

— Los Angeles Times staff

KUWAIT: In a first, four women elected to parliament


Kuwait-elections002

Some great news for women in the conservative Persian Gulf: Kuwaitis elected their first-ever women lawmakers [second item] to parliament. 

Voters in four districts elevated women into parliamentary jobs. It's believed to be the first time women have been elected to serve as lawmakers in any of the oil-rich Gulf monarchies.

Kuwaiti women were only granted the right to vote in 2005.

"It's a victory for Kuwaiti women and a victory for Kuwaiti democracy," lawmaker Aseel Awadhi, a philosophy professor, said after winning a seat. 
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