“The Complex” is a chapter from Mohammed Rabie’s Year of the Dragon, a novel that explores the infuriating, bizarre, and sometimes hilarious underbelly of Egyptian bureaucracy. Rabie was born in 1978, and his first novel Kawkab Anbar (2010, Amber Planet) won first prize in the Sawiris Award’s emerging writers’ category. Year of the Dragon was released in 2012.
Translated by Mona Kareem
Na’em arrives at Aisha al-Taymouriya St. in Garden City, walking as he looks at the buildings, searching for their numbers. Within meters, he sees Qasr al-Nil police station on his right. He then looks across and finds building number six. He notices the huge sign atop the building with the name “The Committee of Dilemmas, Obstacles, Troubles, and Glue.”
Na’em hesitates before he enters; he wants to get the task done and return home. But now he needs to focus on the pink death certificate and forget about going home. He needs to arrange his thoughts to get this certificate. His thoughts are interrupted by a ringing voice that asks him what he needs. Na’em looks for the source of this voice.
Kuwait has moved to regulate the use of social media as part of a continued crackdown against critics of the regime. In April, Minister of State Affairs Mohammed Mubarak al-Sabah announced plans to issue a special law concerning social media. Shortly before his announcement, parliament approved a draft of a new telecommunications law that puts a special committee in charge of “regulating the sectors of telecommunications and information technology to grant the best standards of quality and rates for consumers.”
The proposed law has already come under fire from political groups and activists who criticize it as intentionally ambiguous, granting authorities the power to block websites, monitor phone calls and terminate phone lines for "security reasons." In a public talk organized by the Kuwaiti Progressive Front, lawyer Hussain al-Abdullah said the law allows the telecommunications committee to make decisions to monitor and block without legal permission. He added that security reasons are used as a broad excuse to bypass constitutional restrictions protecting individual rights to free speech and privacy.
On May 15, Sheikh Mazen Al-Jarrah Al-Sabah, the assistant undersecretary for citizenship and passports affairs in Kuwait’s Interior Ministry, announced in a TV interview that his country is negotiating with a fellow “Arab country” to naturalize Kuwait’s stateless community in exchange for economic benefits. Jarrah added that the Central Agency for Illegal Residents, headed by former parliament member Salih al-Fidala, is managing the negotiations after having studied the UAE-Comoros deal to naturalize stateless Emiratis. Although Jarrah did not disclose details of the negotiations, it was clear for the Bedoon that the Arab country in negotiation is the Comoros, as it was previously approached with a similar proposal in 2008. Following Jarrah’s interview, Kuwaiti and Bedoon activists expressed their outrage over social media, denouncing the authorities’ continuous attempts to deny naturalization rights to the stateless.
Over the past three years of Arab revolutions, Kuwait’s foreign policies have shifted drastically, reflecting a change in its approach toward the region. During the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution, Kuwaiti authorities warned against protests at home, while attempting to remain neutral in their comments about President Hosni Mubarak’s future. Mubarak's eventual downfall was no doubt worrisome to his Kuwaiti friends, among them the ruling family, investors and nationalists.
The Egyptian army’s role in the liberation of Kuwait after its invasion by Iraq was seen as courtesy of Mubarak, but the coup d’etat that took place in Egypt on July 3, 2013 showed that Mubarak was not Kuwait and the Gulf states' only favored star. The oil countries rushed to offer their moral and financial support to the new potentate, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, employing the rhetoric of Arab nationalism. Kuwait’s changing stance in regard to Egyptian politics reveals much about the country’s political conflicts and fears.
في الثالثة والعشرين من عمرك،
تصلين مع عائلتك الحزينة
وتعتقدين أنك فتاة تذهب للمطارات ولا تسافر.
تجلسين في الطائرة محاطة بجنود سود
ينامون ويحلمون بعراقيين اضطروا لقتلهم.
خلال 16 ساعة، خسرت بلدك للمرة الثانية،
بلد لا يمكن لأحد أن يحبها.
الجامعة تدفع لك راتباً أقل من الحد الأدنى
لتعلمي أبناءهم عن نساء يتزوجن بشكل تقليدي،
وعن رجال لم يكتشفوا مثليتهم.
تذهبين للفصل كأنك في مقابلة للحصول على فيزا.
هناك حياة تركتها وتعلمين أنها ستموت مثل تمثال،
وهنالك حياة في المنتصف لا تخرج من مربع skype
هذه بيوت تصلح للفئران، للصناديق، ولنا.
أن قلبك ينبض وحيداً،
أنك لا تغضبين طويلاً لأنك مشغولة بعمل الكثير،
أن كل الأشياء تتغير إذا انتظرنا بلا نهاية،
أن لا وعود يمكن إنقاذها بعد عبور المحيط.
It took Western media a few weeks after the toppling of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to bring up the question of women’s rights in relation to the Arab revolutions. The question is certainly not innocent considering the deployment of women’s issues in war propaganda and the presumed image of Arabs as incapable of intellectual revolutions that can bring about values of equality and freedom, presuming these values exist elsewhere.
The recent poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation does not diverge from this discourse. On social media, women and men have been debating the methodology and outcomes of the poll. Although the status of Arab women did not witness any significant developments, a critique to this report is necessary to highlight how problematic these polls are, particularly when measured on “human rights.”
Almost two months after the parliamentary elections, the Kuwaiti opposition is still reluctant about its next steps. The opposition, led by its Islamist and conservative former parliamentarians, has boycotted the past two elections that took place in December 2012 and July 2013. Before the July elections, Emir Sabah IV Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah scored a victory against the opposition when the Constitutional Court found his amendment of the voting law to be legal and in favor of “national security and the representation of minorities.” He has also succeeded in calming local and international criticism by issuing a pardon for political prisoners at the end of Ramadan.
The opposition is not only besieged by the emir’s tactics, but also isolated by other political players such as liberals, independent Islamists and tribesmen who decided to join the last elections using the court’s decision to legitimize their parliamentary participation. The stances of other political forces have also provoked an internal rift within the opposition, as some of their supporters found the boycott decision a dead end.
قد أكون سلحفاة،
بينما يغزو دخانك نصف المدينة..
السلحفاة وحدها قادرة علي رؤية كل شيء:
الفتاة التي ارتدت حجاباً
لأنها تعبت من تسريح شعرها،
الشاب الذي يجمع الفقه بالهب هوب،
والدولة العميقة التي نستمني في حفرها..
أمي تعّرف غربتي بفقدان رائحتي التي تتوهمها،
أنا أعّرف غربتي في علاقتي مع غسالة الملابس..
وحدها المغاسل العامة في أمريكا
تحترم التعددية الثقافية،
فقد تغسل ملابسك بعد عدوك
واهماً بأن العرق لم يختلط!
أنا أحب المدينة،
وأحب الحداثة فعلاً،
فقط لأنني لا أطيق الحشرات!
* نشرت في أخبار الأدب
From romance novels to opposition protests, Sara Aldrees has become Kuwait’s first female political detainee, as many refer to her. Although not the first to be prosecuted, the 26-year-old high school teacher has been one of the most vocal females in Kuwait in protests, media and through her work with the newly-formed Civil Democratic Movement.
Unlike some others, Aldrees did not try to deny to have written the four tweets critical of current Emir Sabah IV al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, his era and his policies. She was given 20 months in jail, and the court of appeals confirmed the conviction within a week, violating her right to defense. Kuwait’s constitution criminalizes the defamation of the emir and the state; a law that has been heavily criticized lately.
The question of how the Arab uprisings have and will affect the lives and rights of women in the region is particularly significant in the Arab Gulf states.
Women in this part of the region find themselves faced with two challenges: the efficiency of state-driven feminism on one side, and their struggle to push for their rights in the public arena on the other. Both the state and social forces often fail to prioritise women's rights with the result that women are compelled to negotiate their rights within these two spheres.
In Kuwait, educated women of the upper and middle classes have fought for decades for their rights to vote and to run in parliamentary elections. In 2005, they were granted those political rights despite opposition from Islamists. Throughout their struggle, those activists recognised the state as their supporter.
Ali Abdulemam is a Bahraini blogger whoseBahrain Online Forum was blocked in his country. For his activism, Abdulemam was imprisoned in 2010 and tortured. In an attempt to calm the protesters of the February 14 movements, the Bahraini regime released Abdulemam. He immediately resumed his activism, calling for the end of the regime during the 2011 Pearl Roundabout protests. When the Saudi-led forces of the “Peninsula Shield” invaded Bahrain, he went into hiding to avoid living the nightmare of imprisonment and torture once again. When tried in absentia, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the regime.” Last May, Abdulemam arrived in London after being smuggled across the Bahraini-Saudi border. What follows is an interview with the activist on how he sees political developments and online activism in Bahrain.
Since you escaped from Bahrain, we have been reading heroic scenarios about you “gaining freedom.” Do you feel free?
To me, freedom does not mean exiting through that brown door that I was trapped behind during my time in hiding. Freedom has a more complex definition: to be able to object; to oppose; to think and move freely; and to be myself and not someone else. I could have been free in Bahrain, with a comfortable job, but I would not have been myself. I would be the person that the regime wants me to be and the person that the economic, political, and media elites want me to be. I, however, do not feel free because Al Saud occupies my country, and the regime—with regional and global support—has conspired against its people. My real freedom would come when Bahrainis have the freedom and ability to make their own decisions.
When Kuwait’s constitutional court ruled in favor of the emir’s amendment of the voting law, supporting minorities were used as a reason. The debate over the validity and practicality of the one-vote law (instead of the older law that allows four votes for each citizen) is ongoing as politicians boycott elections or announce their candidacy.
One of the names in favor of the amendment right from the beginning is Kuwaiti activist Abdullah Fairouz, who is mostly known for his support of the Bedoon. He has been active for the cause of Kuwait’s stateless for over four years now through the “Nebras” group that also supports migrant workers. He has recently announced his intention to run for the elections set to take place in July, although the date might change to meet constitutional measures.
Riyadh Alsalih Alhussain
Translated by Mona Kareem
[Riyadh Alsalih Alhussain (1954-1982) was born in the Syrian city of Dara’a on March 1954 to a poor family. Growing up as a deaf-mute, he struggled with his education and decided to quit school. He worked as a journalist from 1976 until his death in Damascus in 1982. He published three poetry collections and this poem is from his third collection “Simple as Water, Clear as a Bullet.” (Basitun kal-Ma’, Wadihun Katalqat al-Musaddas)]
The beginning is tomorrow
And tomorrow is neither a tie nor a pair of fancy shoes,
The beginning is tomorrow
And tomorrow is neither a crossword puzzle nor the Havana Conference.
The beginning is tomorrow
And tomorrow, under the guillotine or in chains,
I will call for the new life;
For the life they talk about in books,
The life we see in TV ads,
The life that sleeps on the sidewalks
Is not the life we want.