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KUWAIT: Lawmakers throw punches in parliamentary fight over Guantanamo prisoners

May 19, 2011 |  7:44 am


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.

The Kuwait Times reported that Kallaf swung a cane at his opponents. Shiite lawmaker Adnan Mutawwa received a cut near one of his eyes and was transferred to a nearby clinic for treatment. Another lawmaker, Salem Namlan, emerged from the session with large bruises on his face.

870223-01-08The debate was adjourned, and Speaker Jassem Khorafi reportedly called the fistfight a "shameful" incident and ordered a probe.

To add to the embarrassment, the fight took place in front of a group of U.S. lawyers who are defending some of the Guantanamo prisoners and who had been invited to watch the debate, according to Agence France-Presse.

The scuffle came amid heightened sectarian tensions between Shiite and Sunni lawmakers after Kuwait dispatched naval forces to neighbor Bahrain, where the Sunni government crushed a mainly Shiite-led protest movement. Shiites make up about a third of Kuwait's 1.1 million inhabitants.

A steady stream of articles by Kuwaiti columnists criticizing the incident and denouncing the actions of the lawmakers surfaced in the local media on Thursday morning.

"Yesterday Kuwait and the world witnessed a disgraceful scene in the house of parliament," Ziad Alyan wrote in an opinion article titled "Rumble in the jungle" published in Kuwait Times. "It was indeed a scene straight from the World Wrestling Federation. Our parliamentarians displayed their hidden talents. I have to stand corrected when I previously accused them of being good for nothing -- they are value for money when it comes to entertainment."

Another headline on an article discussing the fight read "Disgraceful!"

The Kuwaiti parliament has also been busy debating Syria. A few days ago, Harbash along with 23 other lawmakers called on the Kuwaiti government to sever ties with Syria, which is led by members of the Shiite Alawite sect, and boot the Syrian ambassador from Kuwait in connection with the Syrian government's crackdown on mostly Sunni anti-government protesters.

At a news conference held at the Kuwaiti parliament earlier this week, representatives of the group accused Syrian authorities of "committing atrocious acts against the people," according to Kuwaiti media reports. Photos said to depict murdered Syrian civilians were displayed on the walls of the parliament during the news conference.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Upper photo: A fistfight broke out between Shiite and Sunni lawmakers on Wednesday during a session in the Kuwaiti parliament. Credit: Arab Times

Lower photo: Security guards are called in to break up the fight. Credit: Arab Times