re: Kuwait Blog Publishes Proposed Kuwait Metro Map


A new blog called "re: Kuwait, An Urban Analysis" put up an image of a proposed Kuwait Metrorail Map.  Will we live to see the day?  Check it out by clicking here.  Very interesting blog dedicated to a sustainable built environment in Kuwait and greater urban renewal projects.

Bahrain Bound


Next weekend I will be visiting Bahrain.  I have been one time but did not stay long enough to do much.  I am trying to find information on three things:

1. good sightseeing, such as traditional houses, souks or other related Gulf heritage sites.
2. good places to see art, buy book, quirky stores
3. nightlife that does NOT consist of Gulf men (tourism refugees as I put it once) sipping alcohol and watching Filipino girls dance on stage to Shakira in a hotel bar while expats get sloshed in the back at the bar.

The Megamannequin


Yesterday, I was walking around in a little shopping complex near Al-Fanar when I stumbled across these mannequins of gargantuan proportion.  The person I was with shushed me not to laugh because apparently these are plus-sized models.  To add insult to injury, one of them was dressed in a strange matching shirt-short combination consisting of a print with the Union 76 gasoline station logo...its screaming for some sort of a symbolic interpretation!

Most Abyssmal Logic Ever in This Opinion Article: "The difference between citizenship and patriotism" Al-Watan Daily


Hey, Mr. Khalaf, oh bastion of wisdom and patriot premiere, you know whats the difference between citizenship and patriotism?  Or rather the barrier between one leading to the other?  People like you who see citizenship as a freaking cartel and people who see the government as merely a deliverer of services ande easy money.  Patriotism is caring about your country enough to not just live for the day, blow money and guzzle resources denying future generations a chance to grow.  Patriotism is having a strong work ethic.  Patriotism is civic duty that goes beyond military defense.  Patriotism is caring about your fellow person.  

In your cheap emotional appeal by bringing in the Iraqi invasion you completely forget about all the non-Kuwaitis who also were affected by the war, took part and helped for the freedom of Kuwait and supported your country.  And citizenship should be accessible to all who prove that they care about the country, like generations of people who are not Kuwaitis, but have lived in this country all their lives, as well as their parents and their ancestors.  Kuwait is all they know, yet they are not citizens.  If they are lucky, they have citizenship to another country, which they might not even have any real tangible connection to in comparison to Kuwait, but if they are not lucky, they have a grey passport.

Patriotism means that you do not see yourself as a shareholder, and that you do not have AVARICE in granting citizenship, like your distrust of dual nationals (well then create a law that Kuwaiti males can't marry foreigners!!!), the stateless and the other non-Kuwaitis.  All these people work hard to contribute to your economy and to make your life of citizenship leisure more cushy.  Based on your article, citizenship to you has nothing to do with patriotism, in my opinion of course.

Link here to article
Abdullah Khalaf
The concepts of citizenship and patriotism differ from the concepts of belonging and loyalty. Although a sense of belonging and loyalty are both part of patriotism, the concept of belonging is limited as compared to the concept of loyalty. In the first case, an individual might not love his country but when the need arises; sacrifices his life for its security because he is connected to his country by a sacred bond and that is loyalty. In the other case an individual might belong to a particular country, but does not feel the necessity to sacrifice his life for his nation and that person only has a sense of belonging. These are the people who abandon their country and run for their lives when they sense danger looming in front of them. There are also those who get the citizenship of another country particularly for this purpose. These people will eventually have to fight for the other countries as the laws of those countries require them to defend the countries in times of danger. They also boast about their second countries openly and shamelessly in the press and on radio and television.

Dr. Issa AlـShammas is quoted as saying: "Loyalty is true belonging and thus loyalty and belonging blend together and it becomes very difficult to separate them." "Although people belong to the countries where they were born; loyalty to the country is not born within a man but is imbibed into one''s personality through the educational process which begins in the family, is nurtured through the educational process in schools and finally matured in the wider society where the individual begins to feel that he is a fundamental part of the country." (Civil society, citizenship and democracy: By Dr. Issa AlـShammas, Chapter II: Citizenship).
One of the worst defeatist antiـnational phenomena is abandoning the country when it is at risk or under occupation as was the case when Palestine was occupied by the Zionists and Kuwait by the Iraqi Baathist regime, in which the Iraqis committed horrible acts of thefts and crime and devastated the country with the support of the Iraqi army and forced several people to leave the country.

Showing loyalty to the country is expressed by citizens in both situations; peace and war by enlisting in military service; whether in the homeland or in any Arab land that has been victim to foreign aggression. The Kuwaiti army supported Egypt and Syria on the outskirts of Palestine where many Kuwaiti martyrs met their end. Now, that military service has been made compulsory in Kuwait; does it mean that the national sentiment and fervor has become stronger?

During the recent parliamentary election, the issue of dual citizenship was raised several times. The State must address this duality, which is prohibited by law. It is an offense to the State of Kuwait as well as the other State to which holders of the dual nationalities belong to because they deceitfully benefit from both the States. They receive salaries and enjoy the privileges from both countries but when either of the two countries is at risk; they abandon that country and board the first flight to go to the other country.

During the recent elections, many citizens returned from abroad to participate in the election process and elect the members of Parliament and despite the fact that these people do not live in Kuwait, they receive government houses and other benefits offered by the State. They lease their houses here in Kuwait and return to their second countries. They receive ration cards from the government that enable them to get subsidized foodstuff and also receive plots of land at low prices for agricultural purposes and to raise livestock. They rent out these plots of lands too because they live in other countries. This issue of dual citizenship should be addressed by the National Assembly in cooperation with the Interior Ministry. It is time to get rid of all those holders of dual citizenship whether they are living in Kuwait or outside Kuwait.

knockin' on the doors of your Hummer


I know that M.I.A.'s Kala is old news, but I really almost believe that this song completely represents the idiosyncratic sites of the Gulf Road...

One one hand, we have the Stupid Cars of Kuwait (see the facebook group of the same name) youth sub-culture, filled with Hummers, Ferraris and fancy motorbikers adorning fancy motorgear.  Note, I write adorning, not wearing, as most of the time the bikers who have helmets strap them to the sides of their vehicles, not on their heads...These boys are killing time by cruising up and down the roads, and you can check my inaugural blog entry to get an extensive analysis on this phenomenon.  I've coined the term MadMaxers for these people, and the term comes from the cult hit, Australian post-Apocalyptic movie Mad Max: Road Warrior (duh) starring Mel Gibson in one of his first movies and in his pre-inappropriate-comment days. 

However, in the movie, the "roadrunners" (to use M.I.A.'s term) in the film took to making the rules up as they would go on the most lawless land of all (the road).  The highway was the ultimate anarchy, and driving on it did not mean any rebellion because in a post-apocalyptic world, there is no order to really destroy.  On the Gulf Road, these boys really do not realize how much they are being cattled into having no other option but the road to rebel...ironically, in doing so, they are just perpetuating the consumeristic, censored and contained environment that seems to dominate many young peoples' lives here.  They feel compulsed to soup up their cars-the ultimate capitalist obsession with "improvement consumerism".  They flirt with girls in such a bombastic and exaggerated approach that it would make normal conversation an implausable follow-up, cutting themselves off, rather than improving communication between the genders in my opinion.  They cruise up and down like drones along a street that is often supervised and guarded by various police checkpoints...they are just kids on a jungle gym with the powers to be watching from the benches like mothers waiting to intervene should one child go too far in their playtime.  There is nothing more to this: idle men, passing time, "livin' the dream" a parking space RedBull party at a time.

On the other hand, there is the brute workforce that often relies on taxis, the public bus system, bicycles and walking in a city whose roads were designed to be, literally, the playground of those in possession of luxury cars.  I have seen with my own eyes, the MadMaxers harassing and making fun of many of these South Asian workers walking on the sidewalks or waiting for public transportation as a form of one of the many entertainment options while cruising (the others being dancing from the waist-up in the cars, bluetoothing, and confusing MarioKart with reality by crossing lanes hapharzardly and performing stunts).  My coworker told me once that he saw a group of what looked to be high schoolers roll down their window and approach a worker in a blue jumpsuit cleaning the streets at the side of the road.  They extended their hand and offered the man a 10 dinar bill.  Of course, the man grateful and surprised came running to get the money as quickly as possible.  As soon as he was close, they rolled up their windows and sped off, leaving the man bewildered and-according to my coworker-on the verge of tears.  In the Law and Order section of the newspapers you hear all the time of young female migrant workers getting raped by men who kidnap them as they are waiting for their transportation in the road.

So why the song you might ask?  Well here the lyrics and the video that includes the song.  You can judge for yourself, but I think it really captures this divide I see, as if were written for this place.  I also included some clips I found of the Madmaxer variety.  I suggest listening to the song, putting the other songs on mute silent and letting the tune be your soundtrack.

Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going 100 mph
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going 100 mph
With your radio on
With your radio on
Roadrunner, roadrunner
Going 100 mph
With your radio on

Somalia Angola Ghana Ghana Ghana Ghana
India Sri Lanka Burma Bamboo Banga
It's a Bamboo Banga, I said Bamboo Banga

This a Bamboo Banga, I said Bamboo Banga
And we hitting our rackets like a tennis player
And the drummer do this shit like he makarena

This a jungle banger, I said cold jammer (3x)
I'm bored of banana want gwanabana
I gon warm my buns this summer summer
Coz I'm sitting down chillin on gun powder
Strike match light fire, who's that girl called Maya
M.I.A. coming back with power power
I said M.I.A. is coming back with power power
I said M.I.A. is coming back with power power!!

I'm knocking on the doors of ya hummer hummer (4x)
Yeah we hungry like the wolves huntin dinner dinner
And we moving with the packs like hyena yena
Barbarella looks like she my dead ringer
When I'm dogging on the bonner of ya red Honda
I'm a road runner a world runner
I'm a road runner a world runner

I'm a big timer it's a Bamboo Banga
I' m a big timer it's a Bamboo Banga

Vintage Kuwait Blog


I stumbled accross a blog called, and it a great vault of old clips and photographs, as well as plenty of images of the Kuwait football team in the 80s.  Here is one of the pictures from the site.

!Read Between the Lines! "Two Egyptian workers die at Heritage Village construction site, al-Watan Daily


The following is an article from the Al-Watan Daily today.  This is actually quite sad because I have been excited about the Heritage Village Project opening up.  Little hints of negligence are peppered throughout.  Why were the workers not being supervised so that more help would be readily available?  In this kind of heat, especially, there should be people monitoring in case of faintness, dehydration or other "scorching"-temperature related health problems.  How did they "slip"?  Why is the Al-Watan Daily so quick to assume that "verry little could be done"?

KUWAIT: Two Egyptians, aged 27 and 32, died Saturday morning under the sands of the Heritage Village project site opposite Souk Sharq. After one of the workers slipped into a sinkhole, the other laborer tried to rescue his compatriate, but bother were engulfed by the hole, buried within the scorching sands almost immediately. Firefighters, paramedics and police officers were rushed to the scene, but there was very little they could do for the pair.

What is the difference between the time of the accident and the time of the phone call?  This can be achieved through a temperature reading of the bodies to determine the time of death.  Again, this article is truly sad in that the heroism of the other worker who died is completely underreported.

Informed sources say that a call was received at 9:30 am at the Operations Room Saturday regarding the accident, which prompted security forces to rush to the scene where they found one of the two men completely covered by the sand, while the other partially covered.

How much of a gargantuan amount of sand could there have been to require so much time?!  If so, then this is an operation that would have required much more assistance than just that of the two men!  Or was it assumed by the rescue mission that they were most likely already dead so in reality they took their time?  If the company has the equipment to unload such a huge amount of sand, they do not have a quicker ability to sift through it?

The rescue operation required digging, searching, rescuing and lifting them out of the sand. The rescue forces needed two hours to lift the first body out, while the second body required the assistance of police dogs to locate it in order to lift it out. The rescue operation took in total five hours. The Criminal Evidences Department was summoned to refer the bodies to the Forensics Department.

Minister of State for Municipal Affairs Dr. Fadhil Safar stated that an investigation will be performed to determine the reasons behind this tragic accident.  "The contracting company will be held responsible and measures will be taken against it for not placing sand supporters and for not following safety procedures," he said.

Why can't the contracting company be named in the article?  Is this not a main way of holding them responsible?  The first thing a representative from the Municipality does is wash its hand clean!?  What kind legal relationship is there?  The rep is unclear.  Where WAS THE municipality's assigned observer for THIS project, which is a huge undertaking aimed at reviving historical tradition?  I have the feeling that the Municipality must have been pretty involved in the project from the beginning for this reason.

He went on to explain that the Municipality "is not responsible for this accident, since the project was given to the company according to tender conditions and bylaws."  He added that the Municipality assigns observers for such projects, "but such accidents are unpredictable and occur quickly."

Moreover, Chief of the Technical Rescue Center Lieutenant Colonel Hamad AlـHadlaq announced that the reason behind this accident is "the mismanagement of the contractor, who should have followed safety measures, especially since another worker was digging while the two deceased were standing at the edge of the hole, which led to the tragic accident."  He held the contractor responsible for the lives of the victims.

How exactly is the contractor to be held responsible?  Why can no names be given and what will be the compensation for families...many of these question I know are simply rhetorical.  All these sorts of articles on worker-related deaths need to be looked at with scrutiny and not taken for face value.  If no one does, then how can pressure be put on complacent contractors and the people who condone them?

Al-Watan Daily: "Bus drivers strike"


This is probably the shortest article in the history of the newspaper, but at least it is being noted that there is a bus strike.  I hope it runs successfully and their claims are heard.  In other news, Kuwait spoke at the United Nations, urging the international community to help with the formation of a Palestinian State.  While I agree with the need for this, I think Kuwait needs to reflect deeply on its own stateless population as well.

"Bus drivers of the Kuwait Public Transport Co. (KPTC) stage a sitـin to demand better salaries at the main station in Kuwait City, May 24, 2009. All of the company drivers are expatriates from Arab and Asian countries" 

Shate'aal Watyia Restaurant


Yesterday I went for dinner in a retaurant near the Christian Church complex along the Gulf Road.  We went to eat at a traditional Kuwaiti restaurant that I rather enjoyed.  I am putting up photos of the interior, which was filled with vintage pictures of Kuwait and relics.  The mission of the restaurant seems to try to be actively help preserve Kuwait's historical legacy.

More Postcards from Near Bubiyan




I picked up a copy of Muhajababes by Allegra Strutton in the Virgin store of the Beirut Airport.  I am currently 40 pages into the book.  For now, the chapters are Lebanon-heavy but they will focus on the Gulf countries later.  Anyone read it before?  Any comments?  I'll be posting a book review once I finish it.

Another Slumdog Child Actor's Home Demolished


The State of Maharashtra's sledgehammer henchmen have now demolished the home of Rubina Ali, who plays the young Latika in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  This same state government had promised these two child actors new homes.  What is going on?  If this does not set an example of the twistedness of Marashtra's Slum Rehabilitation Authority, I do not know what will.  Again, the slumarazzi were there to capture the event on camera.  Here is one of the photos.

Children-Nannies, Parents-Children, Nannies-Parents


Today I witnessed something incredible.  There was a Kuwaiti man, his child (a girl of about three) and a South Asian nanny who were in queue to get visas.  For the nanny, a interview was required.  At first the nanny brought the child in with her, but then the father was ordered to take care of his own child in the lobby while the nanny was being interviewed.  As the father reached out his hands to take his daughter in his arms, the girl recoiled and started frantically grasping onto the nanny's neck; she obviously did not want to be away from her side and preferred to be with her than with her father.

The nannyfication in this society is alarming.  The instances of seeing a mother, strolling down the mall with her child, but in the care of the nanny instead is so common.  How difficult would it be for them (mother and father) to spend time with their children?  They already are exempt from housework?  On the Marina Crescent, you often see the parents sitting while the children play in the pedestrian sidewalk.  The kids individually play with their respective nanny rather than interacting with each other.  After school, it is the saddest thing in the world to see children being chauffeured home alone in a car with their driver.  Many Kuwaitis tell me things were not always this way.  Parents who are perfectly capable of treating with their children directly prefer to have maids and nannies accompany them to do this for them.  How is this in any way natural?

The main problem with being raised by a nanny is that a nanny can never discipline you to the extent a parent can-especially not in a society that has such low protection for domestic workers, so that nannies feel too afraid to punish and upset the children.  The other day, I watched a child throw a fit in the street, tossing anything he could get his hands on down to the floor, while the nanny silently went picking up each item as it fell.  Nannies and children reinforce a strange relationship.  They become surrogate parents, doing all the intimate tasks to take care of the kids that normally bond mothers and father to their children, yet their is a huge power dynamic that I believe most children are well aware of.

This creates an "ana" culture (me myself and i).  Children grow up learning that anything they demand can be given and that there are no boundaries.  Self-entitlement, cheating the rules and, yes, treating foreign workers like they were born to serve them are consequences of parents not taking a more proactive initiative in the day-to-day routines that are formative in establishing a child's perception of their parents.

Please, I would like to know more information about nannies, children and parents.  If anyone has any anecdotes to share I would appreciate it.

The Architectural Monstrosities Collection: "City of Silk/Madinat al Hareer""


About a month ago, I visited the area that would be the proposed site for this mega-project to build a new, planned city in Kuwait. It is a quiet coastal flatland with sparse estuaries, seagulls, shell critters and crabs. Here are some pictures that I took from the tranquil, sunset stop in the middle of nowhere.

While I would love to see a Kuwait that as not so subject to urban primacy, the idea of the Silk City project currently on the books to be built in the Subiya area of Kuwait scares the living daylights out of me, and in a less casual tone-only perpetuates the Dubai Model monopoly that seems to have local urban planners under a sinister hypnosis.  

The project, according to an article from The Guardian, would cost 132 billion USD and is estimated to be finished by 2023.  This host city (مدينة الحرير) would also be the location for Burj Mubarak al-Kabir, which would stand as the tallest tower in the world at 1001 meters high.  To compare, here is a picture that shows the largest tower in Dubai in relation to the proposed Burj.

According to the developers, a group called civicarts (click here for link to full description of the planned city) the tower will be:

"Burj Mubarak Al Kabir: the Tower of a Thousand and One Nights. Every City has a symbol that stands as an icon for the world to know. For Madinat Al Hareer, we have many: a grand waterway on the Bayside of Kuwait, a new resort & leisure community on the Riverside, a new centre of culture on the Gulfside, and a new wildlife sanctuary and science academy on the Desertside. But on the skyline, we will have a new icon as the skyline pinnacle of Madinat Al Hareer: the Burj Mubarak Al Kabir, the Tower of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Standing 1001 metres tall, it will house 7 vertical villages combining offices, hotels, leisure, and residential into a vertical city centre that reaches for the heavens. This ‘sky city’ will combine the ceremonial grandeur of a great city, the heroic routine of everyday life, and all the support services and facilities that are accustomed to the finest hospitality offers for any community in the world. It seeks to be one of the taller towers in the world. The design is inspired by the defiant flora of the desert as much as the rich folklore of Arabic heritage described in Kitāb 'Alf Layla wa-Layla. These stories of life become a metaphor for the complexity of lives that will emerge from Madinat Al Hareer, the City of Silk."

A Thousand and One Nights?  Are they serious???  If they want to speak of learning from the desert, one of the most fundamental truths about this land is that man can only fight against nature before his battle is lost in the sands.  The land's oil might give ammunition for the battle today, but its climate will ultimately consume these unsustainable creations back into the dunes.

This example is the bottle of champagne to break in commemoration of the first entry of my architectural monstrosities collection.  It is the epitome of an urban planning cancer taking hold of the Gulf.  Here is the website for the new city:  Prepare to be frightened with this video experience:

New York Times: "First Women Win Seats in Kuwait Parliament"


"Women won four seats in the Kuwaiti parliamentary elections over the weekend, a historic first and one of several electoral surprises that appeared to reflect a deep popular frustration with the political deadlock in the oil-rich gulf state of Kuwait.

Liberal Kuwaitis celebrated the landmark with fireworks and parties after the elections on Saturday. Women gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005, but none had been elected until now. Many conservatives resisted the idea, and in recent weeks Islamists urged voters not to elect women to the 50-seat assembly." (for full link, click here)

Al-Watan Daily: "Sponsorship system under severe criticism from within Kuwait"


"KUWAIT: The six Gulf States have been subject to severe criticism over the sponsorship system, also known as the kafeel system.

Opponents to the kafeel system believe that such a system tarnishes the image and reputation of Kuwait which makes the country a target by human rights organizations, not to mention that it is essentially contrary to Islamic principles and the Kuwaiti Constitution.

Others maintain that most Kuwaitis are against causing injustice to foreigners, attributing that the structure of the Kuwaiti luxurious life is behind it. They admit the system is inhumane and call for unification of efforts to improve the image of Kuwait in international forums, as more than 120,000 foreigners are unemployed and are facing deportation.

There is no doubt the kafeel system has also been a source of human trafficking and is seen by many as a form of slavery and source of disease in the community due to the poor living conditions in which foreign workers live. In some cases, more than 20 people share one room, therefore the abolishment of this system makes it all the more necessary and urgent." (for full article, click here)

Rights of Children to Health Care in Palestine


Touching and heartbreaking report from Al-Jazeera

When My Masters Thesis and Hollywood Combine


I wrote my Master's thesis last year on slum demolition campaigns in Indian megacities, looking at the  local political motivations behind bulldozing and the informalization of poor housing.  I had become interested in the topic after learning about the Yamuna Pushta River eviction in Delhi in 2004-2005 and the Shanghaization of Mumbai in that same year.  Both these drives saw thousands of families displaced.  Demolitions without notice are about the politics of control-whether looking at Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina or demolitions of houses against Palestinians by the Israeli government.  Indian cities, however, are a paradox-the combination of slumdwellers being some of the biggest voting blocks, as well as forming the majority the population of urban cities in globalizing cities such as Mumbai makes demolition drives difficult to comprehend.  

When Slumdog Millionaire came out I was happy that finally some attention from the West was being put on the contemporary situation of urban slumdwellers in India, but I noticed that they failed to look at the fragility and risk associated with living in unauthorized housing in these mega-cities.  Unfortunately, while I would rather see it got on film and not in reality, I am afraid to say one of the child actors of the movies (from whose attention a strange sub-niche of slum paparazzi has been born) recently had his house demolished, without prior notice, before his very eyes.  During my thesis, my main observation was that many eviction campaigns happen closely before and after elections, particularly regional ones.  This example substantiates this trend.

Out of Office Reply


I will be travelling today to Beirut for the weekend later today.  I hope to be able to update a little bit and write up on some of the things I see there, especially in the run-up to elections.

Cutting Communication Off to the Poor


This entry is a bit more anecdotal than per my usual writing, but I wanted to relate an experience I had today attempting to redeem a mail parcel my well-intentioned friend in Lebanon sent to me by post...yes actual, traditional snail mail.

She had sent me from Beirut a book that I had searched the city up and down for during my visit to see her a couple months back. I had combed several bookshops, but eventually gave up, figuring that it simple was not written in my stars to find that book during my time in Lebanon in March.

So, she decided to send me a copy of the book via post, not DHL, not AREMEX--rather the traditional public post office. She put my residential address as the destination, not having my P.O. box number at the time. Three weeks had passed by since she sent it, and today I went in the morning in taxi to the Post Office in Dasmaan to try to localize it.

A post office in Dasmaan you may wonder? Yes, there is. It is located in the same shopping complex as a co-op grocery store and a Naif Chicken. Perhaps the most unique feature of the office is that in order to find its entrance, one must first go through a Kid's Chuck-e-Cheese-esque Cartoon Network-themed discovery zone indoor playpen, turn at the claw machine, through the double doors, and into a strange service corridor--which also happens to have a post office with a crumbling hand-written sign on it. I bet it is the only post office in the world of its kind.

Sure enough, I was directed to the MAIN post office branch in Safat. The woman at the counter even offered to drive me there, but as I had a taxi waiting, I decided to continue on my adventure on auto-pilot. At the Safat post office, I interrupt and office of perhaps twelve Kuwaiti men sitting and chatting over tea in a tiny room to ask about where to pick up mail. They direct me to the front counter, the customer representatives of whom direct me to a hallway to the left. I enter into another office and am offered several options of refreshing beverage.

The lady who attends to me tells me that there is no way of looking for my package, but that she guesses it probably has gone to the "post office" in Shaab, which is closest to my residence. I ask her if she could tell me where this office is located, to which I am told, beside the main supermarket. I then ask her if she is able to simply call the office and see if they can find the package on the phone to avoid an extra one at the central post office has the number to this office.

I think to myself off-hand: As much as I appreciate to be served with drinks and offered a free ride, I would trade all this hospitality for there to simply exist a system to at least make it so that my package can be looked for. I was not expecting the package to ever be found, and I knew I was facing an uphill battle, but they must really just throw all the mail in a hole in the ground for there not to be any storage room to examine. So, what do these employees do? What functions does the post office have?

On another note, I realized I had spent 4.500 dinars and one and a half hours on a failed outcome. This made me think-there are many people living in Kuwait who cannot afford to send everything through something as expensive as DHL, especially sending packages abroad, which matters most to to many laborers. Low-income foreign nationals are shut out of the postal systems-both the public one, for its high risk costs and incompetence, and the private services, which are reliable, but expensive.

Furthermore, while we are in the digital age and witnessing greater egalitarianism of internet use, not everyone has a computer in their household for easy correspondence. One of the greatest e-revolutions of the last years has been the development of Skype for communication. However, for many who reside in Kuwait and are well aware of the issue, skype is blocked by the Ministry of Communications-further adding cost to overseas communication. These policies isolate the sections of an already marginalized majority in this country, and hurt the poor the hardest. Are they merely unfortunate casualties of an indept and protectionist bureaucracy or is there a deliberate attempt to keep communications delivery as a public good low in the country? I am curious to know how the rest of the Gulf compare.

The Arabian Gulf and the Exclusion of Non-Citizens from Universal Labour Rights: Focus on Kuwait


Numbers Matter.

Many of our most important decisions are logically weighed and decided on by factoring numbers into our most difficult choices—whether we admit it or not.  A decision to attend one university and forgo another might come down to the best financial aid package offer put forward in the admissions letter.  Whether we arrive on time or late for that first, intimidating job interview is captured in those few seconds that were lost fumbling for change at the ticket machine to catch the metro train.  Numbers carry weight and can evoke irrecoverable consequences, so we must respect their great power to change our lives. 

Numbers perhaps matter the most to the vulnerable members of society—those sitting precariously near the poverty line, the illegal and the unaccounted for and victims of injustice.  One simple number can make a great difference in the fate of their lives.  Enticing promises of a better situation are often made with luring numbers.  On the other hand, fear of numbers can also keep people from reaching out and speaking up when they are in a bad situation: fear of loan debts amounts, years of a prison sentence, salary cuts, etc.

Each year, thousands of migrants travel from countries around the world (such as Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Pakistan Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) in hopes of a better economic future working in low-skilled labor posts in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula.  The six Gulf Cooperation Council (or GCC) States include Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  These immigrants come to work in many sectors that form the backbone of the economy.  Their occupations include construction workers, domestic aid, cleaners, guards, taxi drivers and other forms of basic services. 

However, these migrants are often the victims of verbal and physical abuse, sex crimes, visa and loan money scams, and overall discrimination.  The threat of deportation and the practice of many visa sponsors of confiscating their passports put many of these workers in a situation from which they cannot escape, as paperless prisoners in the country or as indentured servants.  Furthermore, many employers withhold full payments of salaries as a manipulation tactic.  Much of the quick development of these rapidly globalizing and urbanizing desert kingdoms has been made by turning a blind eye to international labor standards.  However, international criticism and attention on the plight of these workers is now forcing these countries to reflect on their policies. 

According to the World Bank, as of 2007 Kuwait ranks second after Luxembourg in the world in terms of gross national income per capita according to purchasing power parity.[i]  Here are some numbers that make a difference in this country:

Real Numbers

·         2/3

The portion of the population in Kuwait that is comprised of non-Kuwaitis, foreign workers and expatriots –the majority of the country’s residents

·         3

The tier rating of Kuwait in the 2008 US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report.[ii]  This is the lowest ranking (1 being the highest), shared by Algeria, Burma, Cuba, Fiji, Iran, Moldova, North Korea, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Syria.  These countries’ governments “do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Irrational Numbers

·         40 KD (151 USD)

This is the minimum wage per month set for laborers, in a country where the average income per month for a local Kuwaiti family is 2,200 KD (7,565 USD)[iii]

·         50°C (122°F)

The temperature at which all outdoor activity must stop by law, although there are allegations of the government’s Meteorological Division falsifying the readings to underestimate the true temperature[iv]

Imaginary Numbers

·         ???  

         The true number of workplace-related accidents and deaths among migrant workers due to safety negligence and purposeful violations

·         ???  

         The true number of hate-related crimes and discriminatory abuse, especially related to domestic violence, sexual offenses and heckling towards female migrant women

·         ???  

         The true number of suicides per annum of migrant workers in Kuwait, as well as the amount of untreated cases clinical depression

You Count Too!

Knowledge is the first step to making a difference.  In some ways, repeated focus of the western media on Dubai’s migrant problems has eclipsed attention on the greater Gulf region that also shares this labour question.  The most challenging aspect of the problem is that it also takes the support of domestic citizens in these countries to rally for policy change—especially coming from a new, rights-focused youth.  Some starting points for reading up on the rights of migrants and/or issues related to the Gulf include the following websites:

A Project of Mideastyouth :

The Middle East/ North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch:

The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights:

The International Labour Organization Migration Programme:

Al-Watan Daily: Academics believe women will make it in May 16 elections"


KUWAIT: Academics agreed that the relative drop in performance of the former all-male parliament was likely to boost the chances of female candidates getting elected, found a study conducted by KUNA.

"Kuwait University's political science professor Dr. Abdulredha Asiri told KUNA that he expects many more males will be voting for women in this election round, and their choices will likely be more rational and realistic than before.

He said, however, that before focusing on the performance of men, one must admit that women contributed to their gender's failure to reach the parliament because many favored male candidates over females.

Asiri noted that the matriarchal mentality which claims that women are
incapable of representing the nation had driven many women to exert greater efforts to win a parliamentary seat and defend the basic rights of women, who constitute more than half of all voters.

Moreover, he explained that although caring for the home and children were important roles played by many women, political activity is also essential and women need to be included in deciding the country's fate..." (click here for full article)

Al-Jazeera News: "Jewish-Arab duo face Eurovision discord"


International Obsession with Dubai Ignores Larger Trends in the GCC


As global awareness of Dubai’s notorious “dark side” come to the fore through in-depth reports focused on the post-crisis, most particularly Johann Hari of the Independent’s recent article, attention on other countries in the Gulf has been detracted.  When things in Dubai were going well for foreign investors and Western expats, Dubai seemed like the next world city—a veritable desert pearl, that from grains of sand built up a glossy, escapist urbanity. 

With the economic downturn however, the mucky underworkings of this dream became dramatically exposed, turning the city into the ultimate macabre mirage, somewhat reminiscent of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island.  While the problems highlighted in Dubai’s model of urban development may not be so embellished and internationalized in the other GCC countries, they cannot afford to go under the radar vis-à-vis their more famous cousin. 

The main points of contention in the Dubai Model as delineated by the foreign press community focus on environmental sustainability, city design of scale and migrant labor rights.  Coupled with the recent exposure of torture tapes implicating Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the United Arab Emirates is facing its first real PR crisis, or as its government media spokespersons have labeled it, the “growing pains” of an emerging international economy. 

This is indeed adequate, as when countries want to enter the ballpark as major global players, they have to grow up, step up to the plate and commit to the bundle of new responsibilities that come with this new territory, burdens that cannot be selectively chosen.  However, this is indeed the same conundrum of many GCC countries rapidly globalizing but failing on many human rights and democracy indicators.  As their economies grow and their presence emerges in the spotlight—they seem to have become too big for their own space—tripping over their limbs in readjustment to their new circumstances.  To use another Disney metaphor, an incredibly growing Alice enclosed in a house suddenly too small.  Their domestic patterns of conducting business no longer fit with their international image.

Critics of the emerging Dubai-bashing genre argue that the Western media has chosen to examine Dubai’s underbelly only once it suited them for a good story.  When the business environment in Dubai for expats was doing well, they described the city through rose-colored glasses.  Furthermore, according to the backlashers of the Dubai backlash, no city is without its sordid details and “dark side”—including many European and American urban areas.

Are these defenders of Dubai correct in their pointed criticism of the international media’s sensationalist journalism exploitation of Dubai’s cheap oil and labor exploitations? No, I believe they are not.  In the end, this is not the end of the growing pangs, only the beginning of adjustments.  As Dubai further develops, UAE leaders will find that it will become increasingly difficult for Dubai to have its cake and eat it too—ignoring the rules of the international game that do not suit its interest while embracing the benefits of globalization that do.

While sometimes these countries can hide behind the curtain of religious and cultural differences (particularly with the gender question, freedom of other religions to practice freely, and greater democracy), there is no such deus ex machina escape chute for issues of environmental sustainability and labor rights for example.

However, the exorbitant and myopic media coverage on Dubai has translated to the eclipsing of the other GCC countries by this United Arab Emirates’ destination.  Is this city an accurate representation of the other Gulf countries?   Do Dubai’s woes serve as a symbol of the larger region’s adjustment problems into the global community?  I have asked this question to myself many times and am curious to know readers’ opinions.