For those of us who recall the many promises made by the Kuwaiti government in exile in the 1991-1992 period to improve all the rights of its citizens and resident Bedouins, it comes as ironic that a Kuwaiti women's political presentation at the AWARE Centre in Surra, Kuwait on May 23, 2007 was interrupted by the howls of a controversial Kuwaiti human rights activist, named Dr. Omran Al-Qarashi, berating the Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Kuwait, Steward Laing, who had come to attend the women's lectures at 7pm that evening.
The activist, Dr. Al-Qarashi, shouted slogans, like "Down with the United Kingdom. Down with the United States!" as he was escorted from the room by men who appeared to be body guards to the ambassador.
In the meantime, Dr. Al-Qarashi had already made numerous claims about the unwillingness of the British Ambassador to meet him privately and publicly over his personal concerns and on behalf of others in Kuwait who suffer from lack of political rights. Al-Qarashi charged that the United Kingdom had promoted the poor political development of the regime of Kuwait during Britain's decades of imperialism in the Persian Gulf and within the Arab world.
Initially, to both the audience and to the Ambassador, Dr. Al-Qarashi made a few human rights claims at the personal level, i.e. Al-Qarashi needs and desires to have his Kuwaiti passport returned to him by his own government--a government which has decided not to let him travel abroad for several years.
Dr. Al-Qarashi, an engineer and a professor at the University of Kuwait, had noted in a recent article in the KUWAIT TIMES that against-his-will he had four times been sent to a mental institution by the Kuwait government. Each time he has been certified mentally competent and released
Al-Qarashi's main tirade of complaints that May 23 evening was directed at the UK Ambassador Laing was conducted on the behalf of thousands of Bedouins within Kuwait who have long not held full-citizenship rights-even after living in the country for generations. Moreover, the May 19, 2007 edition of KUWAIT TIMES showed several photos of Dr. Al-Qarashi, including two of him holding a sign board stating on one side: "Bedoons are Legal Residents, Human Rights to everyone." The backside of the signboard states, "Islamic Constitution: Provide Human rights to all Bedoon's & Residents."
With Kuwait consisting of a population of over 2 million non-Kuwaiti residents out of a 3.4 million total residents, it should be noted that neither Bedouin nor foreign born residents have many political rights. Therefore, the Kuwaiti doctor of engineering is purporting to speak on behalf of all people in Kuwait when he makes his political demonstrations around Kuwait-i.e. whether he demonstrates at the parliament or in private meeting rooms around Kuwait.
Obviously, Kuwait is no Burma and it actually allows its residents and citizens to enjoy quite possibly the greatest level of freedom of speech and press in the Middle East. For example, as long as the ruling family is not called by name one can generally criticize the government as one pleases.
So, in a way, Dr. Al-Qarashi is certainly a bit-over-the top with his protestations-often manifesting his outrage at injustices by shouting uncontrollably until escorted to the door. On the other hand, there is a huge vacuum of such Kuwaiti voices in the country in terms of public outcry, especially in terms of human rights advocacy and labor rights activism in a land that has currently the highest per capita income rate in the world. (Moreover, it is a member of the WTO and should be asked by the U.S. and the U.K. to do better.)
In short, there is much room for improvement in terms of legal-, medical-, worker- and other forms of human rights in this petroleum nation of wealth and plenty-a land which the world knows as the state of Kuwait.
Like the United States, Kuwait has depended on NGOs and religious affiliated groups to take care of the great percentage of its poorer and un-empowered peoples. The AWARE Centre itself is an NGO that promotes intercultural relations, i.e. interaction between the Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaitis in this Gulf Arab country.
The wealthy government and ruling family should learn from these non-governmental organizations and compliment their efforts more to give a platform for the neglected and provide public space for more interaction by providing the non-Kuwaitis to organize more readily in order to promote human rights and dignity for all. Moreover the government and society ought to try to become a country with a government that more thoroughly listens to and carries through on promises to provide justice, politico-economic access, and relief to those in need.