What Kuwait Thinks About Globalization
What Kuwait Thinks About Globalization

As the saying in the region goes: “Kuwait is the past, Dubai the present, and Qatar the future.” Kuwait gained its independence in 1961. It has had ongoing disputes with Iraq, leading up to Iraq’s invasion of the country in 1990 and the subsequent Gulf War. After the war, Kuwait focused on rebuilding the country and restoring its oil industry.

There were Parliamentary elections  in 1992, with a majority of opposition candidates; however, the Parliament was dissolved by the Emir in 1999. New elections in 1999 were won by Islamist and liberal candidates. Islamists won a majority again in the 2003 elections. Women were given the right to vote in 2005 and, in 2009, the first women candidates were elected to the Parliament. The Parliament and the Government continue to clash on many issues.

Trade
This article highlights, Kuwait’s attractiveness as a retail market, due to its consumer culture among the affluent youth.

Despite its relatively small population, Kuwait is firmly placed among the world’s most attractive and popular markets for international retail franchises. With a strong consumer and shopping culture and a young, growing and affluent population with an affinity for international brands, Kuwait offers an attractive market for leading retailers seeking to expand their footprint.

Management consultants AT Kearney recently placed Kuwait second in its 2010 Global Retail Development Index, which evaluated 25 macroeconomic and retail-specific variables to rank the world’s 30 top countries for retail expansion… International real estate consultancy CB Richard Ellis, in its annual survey measuring the participation of foreign brands in international retail markets, recently put Kuwait in 17th place out of 69 countries– up from 28th a year earlier.

Since Kuwaiti law prohibits foreign firms from opening branches in the country and does not specifically recognise or regulate franchise relationships, retail chains looking to enter the market typically do so via joint ventures or partnerships in locally incorporated companies. In the case of all partnerships and companies, at least 51% of the equity must be held by Kuwaiti nationals.

In this respect, selecting the right local partner is critical to an international retailer’s market success in Kuwait. Retailers would be well advised to seek out partners who can use retail experience and knowledge of local consumer tastes to complement the company’s existing strategies…

“Kuwait is a restricted market because of its population size,” Adel Al Shamali, the general manager for Kuwait’s Al Homaizi Group, which represents brands such as Ikea, Burger King and Pizza Hut, told OBG. “Unless new government projects bring in increased retail demand through the arrival of more expatriates, the market is not growing and competition among brands will intensify.”

Kuwait – The world’s most attractive market for international retail franchises.” Global Arab Network. August 31, 2010.

The Kuwait Times covers the contentious issue of Kuwait’s new privatization law.

The ‘privatization law’ was passed quickly and met with stiff opposition from a large section of the public and some MPs. ..

For many years, the Kuwaiti economy has been relying on oil as its main source of income. We are not pioneers in oil or chemical industries. We have lost out on a lot thanks to our conflicts. Many international opportunities could usher in change such as Dow Chemicals. So the idea is to bring in major companies to our country now.

It can be hard due to the possible and expected obstacles that could and will arise, as posed by the National Assembly and Kuwait’s typical constitutional channels. We are not a ‘golden spot’ for investors unless they are Kuwait’s old clients and know the atmosphere and right channels that pass business deals! That does not include everyone. All business deals do not ensure equality in business opportunities.

How has the private sector contributed to Kuwait and Kuwaitis? That is really a key point here. This is because the private sector in Kuwait has been relying on the government to survive, after being affected by government laws – the good, the bad in order to get into business. Do it and use it as a shield during times of crises or delay.

…So, private sector’s contributions were shy and limited. I think that is why now the law of privatization provokes anger in many who feel that this is a change – to make some companies richer and powerful.

Also , the national manpower versus expatriates theory is skewed. The expatriates, especially Arabs and Asians will accept any salary, of course. These people, mostly owing to poor circumstances, come to live and work here in order to reduce the cost of living…

Al-Fuzai, Muna. “Kuwait’s private sector and privatization law.” Kuwait Times. May 17, 2010.

Culture
Kuwait has long rich, cultural tradition that is tied to its history as a community of fisherman and trademen. Sarah Alzouman writes about the folk music of Kuwait.

Folkfore Music Performance in Kuwait

There is something about music. It has a kind of magic that can capture an emotion or moment in time. Traditional Kuwaiti music is enchanting in the sense that it can evoke the founding chapter of Kuwait’s history and tie the native listener inexorably to his or her past…

Art of the sea song
The sea was once the very life-blood of Kuwaiti society in particular and Gulf society in general. Al-Fan Al-Bahri, or the Art of the Sea Song, is an art in which Kuwait’s roots are intertwined with Bahrain. Kuwait was once dependent entirely on the sea for its prosperity, either through trade or pearl diving expeditions, which often lasted months at a time.

On the ocean, music served many purposes that were both psychological and emotional and practical as well. During working hours, the ‘nokhetha,’ or ship captain, would tell the professional musicians what to play so the men on board would know what to do. This was a more respectful alternative to giving them direct orders.

Dr Urkevich discovered that Kuwait’s seafaring society is absolutely unique because it is composed of 20-30 percent of professional musicians, a statistic unheard of anywhere else. Dr Urkevich understood that statistic as an aspect of the Kuwaiti love for music and synchronized clapping (Sharbukka), where boys and young men spontaneously sync up the rhythm of their clapping. ..

…The Bin Hussein band, the Mayouf band, and the Amari band. Bu Saoud, manager of the Bin Hussein band, explains that there are two main categories of sea songs: work songs and celebratory or entertainment songs.

‘Sangeen’ and ‘yamaal’ are two types of work songs… “Sangeen is sung when the sailors are putting the ship out to sea…Bahrain, Daman, and Qatar are all seafaring societies which share in Kuwait’s bahri musical heritage, but sangeen only exists in Kuwait.

… Different kinds of yamaal are sung when the sailors row the vessel, trim the sail, or begin to pull the ship back towards the anchor dropped earlier in the day. ..
Happiness

Al-Uns, which is the celebratory branch of sea music, comes from the Arabic word meaning ‘happiness.’ It also has a very revealing structure. Al-Uns takes places when the men arrive home safely from sea. They get together for an evening of singing, playing instruments and dancing to celebrate their successful journey…

War dance
In the traditional tribal societies throughout the Gulf, music and dancing was also used to exhibit military power and intimidate the enemy before battle. Men dance the ‘Ardha, which comes from the Arabic word ”ardh,’ which means ‘show.’..Saudi ‘Ardha is danced with a sword in hand and sheath hanging from the dancer’s belt, which is connected to the criss-crossing ammunition holsters on his chest.

In Kuwaiti ‘Ardha, which is more typical of sea faring cultures, the dancer does not wear a belt or ammunition and usually dances with both the sword and sheath in hand, sometimes using the two to mimic a bow and arrow…

…Dr Urkevich, picking up on comments made by bedouins about how traditional music matches the camel’s unique gait, strapped a recorder to a camel’s saddle and found the animal’s rhythm did in fact correspond with the asymmetrical rhythm of Arabic music.

Baddawi, like ‘Ardha, is a chance to show off and is very competitive, not only between larger families or tribes but between the individual dancers themselves. Baddawi dancing is an opportunity for a young woman to exhibit her availability and eligibility for marriage..

Sawt of Kuwait
Sawt, which literally means voice and was traditionally used in the Arab world to mean “song,” is the name given to a Kuwaiti music genre developed in the 19th century. Sawt is the classical music of Kuwait and the music of the educated class…

…”Sawt is unique in that it is based on the oud, while traditional Gulf music is generally based on percussion instruments. Sawt is also an individual art as there is only one singer with his oud…

Folkloric music is an important part of Kuwait’s past. In fact, the music is still enjoyed by young and old alike and we want to make sure it is always available to them.

Alzouman, Sarah. “Kuwait’s musical heritage: The heartbeat of a nation.” Kuwait Times. February 20, 2009.

While folklore is still popular in Kuwait, some fear the influence of strict interpretations of Islam on Kuwaiti culture.

Tragically, intellectually and culturally we have surrendered to the whims of the religious clergy within our society who believe that they are guardians of our morality. They have taken it upon themselves, from within the hall of Abdallah Al-Salim, to dictate a policy of supposed ‘piety’… Despite their supposed ban on music, it is no longer uncommon to see them appear on television advertisements, singing!

We have gone from a country that encourages theater, to one that questions ministers for using school theaters! We have gone from a country that produces shows and plays that call for enlightenment to serials that portray social darkness, disguised in a cloth of hate, sectarianism, and social prejudice. We have gone from a progressive society that is open to globalization, to one further entrenched in the cloak of a veil ruled by Fatwa…

We are a society that needs to realize that the power of ideas and ideals are what moves countries and nations. We need to find inspiration perhaps in a mystified glorious past, however such should not be our main concern. For, a vision of the future is what we need to guide our collective march into what is hoped to be a bright future.

Borrowing the words of the last World Cup motto, “This time for Africa,” it is high time that we adopt “this time for Arabia”.

Al-Obaid, Fouad. “The state of Kuwait’s culture.” Kuwait Times. August 9, 2010.

Health
This article discusses the problem of pollution on the residents of the town Um Al-Haiman, Kuwait.

According to a statement issued last week, residents of Um Al-Haiman are inhaling chemical and poisonous substances emitted from the factories there. The problem has continued despite official institutions, such as the Environmental Public Authority and the Industrial Public Authority, promises to solve the problem since October 2009. They promised to close or move factories found violating environmental standards.

…Al-Matar, who is also Head of the Kuwait Green Peace Organization, thinks the best solution for Um Al-Haiman residents is to move away from the area. “We can’t move the refineries. The factories are licensed and the mistake is to build houses in this industrial area. It would be better for them to move as opposed to risk their lives and wait for a solution to be provided by the government. The pollution coming out of these factories is really dangerous,” he added.

The government provided some solutions but some believe it is not enough. “They planted several trees in the area, and it’s true that it produces oxygen and gives a beautiful view, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” Al-Matar said. “I don’t believe the government will ever solve the problem unless they decide to provide residents with houses in another area.

Fattahova, Nawara. “Um Al-Haiman residents concerned about health risk.” Kuwait Times.

Environment
This article highlights the challenges of water consumption in Kuwait and the region in general.

Kuwaitis are consuming almost more water than the country can produce.

An estimated 1.5mn cubic metres of water was being consumed daily in Kuwait, dangerously close to country’s maximum production capacity at, the business news site Arabian Business reported.

According to the report Kuwait, which produces nearly all of its water from desalination plants, produces just 1.51mn cubic metres of water a year. The Gulf state, like its neighbours in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, has all but depleted their fresh waters supplies and depend heavily on desalinated sea water to meet the demands of their growing populations.

The Kuwaiti ministry of electricity and water has plans to add an additional 150,000 cubic metres daily this coming year, about a 10% increase in daily production. Even this was not expected to be enough to keep up with the population growth and higher water demands. More capabilities will be needed to meet demands in 2012 and 2013…
Kuwaitis say that the government has been encouraging people to cut back on their consumption in commercial on TV and in newspapers.

“The rate in the increase in urban water consumption in Kuwait, as well as in most of the Gulf Co-operation Council countries, is relatively high if compared to other parts of the world. And it is rather escalating in some of the GCC,” Prof. Waleed K Al-Zubari, Department of Water Resources Management Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain told The Media Line…

One long-term consequence of heavy desalination is that the salt residual, sometimes referred to as brine, that is separated from the water during the purification process is discharged back into the sea adding to the already existing salinity of the water…
“The over-extraction of groundwater beyond safe levels has caused the existing problem,” Raouf said.

He added that the little water there was in the aquifers, which have always been brackish, were much saltier now.

Gonn, Adam. “Water worries for Kuwait.” Gulf Times. September 14, 2010.

Development and Human Rights
The blog post connects the issue of human rights and economic development.

Economic development is a major concern for Kuwait, as it is for any other country. But Kuwait has proclaimed some rather ambitious goals; the country is to become a “world financial hub” through new developmental projects. In addition to infrastructural renewal, the country is also looking to improve their record on human rights and corruption. But if Kuwait is to become the politically correct financial alternative of the region, some rather big changes have to occur.

In as far as Dubai (still) is the shining beacon to aim for with regards to becoming a “financial hub”, Kuwait has a long way to go… Kuwait lags far behind UAE and the other Gulf countries in terms of foreign direct investment. Moreover, they have fewer tourists visiting than any other gulf state. In addition, the turbulent relationship between parliament and Government hasn’t made the job of catching up with Dubai – if that is the goal – any easier.

Yet, this relationship seems to be changing. Since the elections last year, the level of “crisis” in Kuwaiti politics have declined, and new laws have been passed. A new labor law, a five-year development plan, and even a draft of a privatization bill have all passed through parliament… Arab Times recently reported that HH The Emir have expressed his appreciation of the good relationship between the legislative and the executive powers in the country… if the elected parliament and the government together manage to diversify Kuwait’s economy it would be ground breaking in the region. There is, however, no guarantee that this will happen. For instance, the privatization bill has been met with fierce opposition.

And then there are the issues of human rights and corruption. One should think that this is an area where Kuwait holds the upper hand towards the UAE; whereas Kuwait has an elected parliament and a history of grass roots political mobilization, the UAE has nothing the Kuwaiti democratic project. This may constitute a major Kuwaiti advantage; the parliament may give economic reforms legitimacy in the population, and a stable democracy may seem as s sound alternative to invest in. Yet, in the whole, Kuwait’s human rights record is not much better than the UAE’s…

And newspaper reports indicate that the authorities are still not serious enough in dealing with abuse of migrant workers. For instance, on the 25th of July, Arab Times reported of one housemaid dying when trying to escape, one being seriously injured, and another who hanged herself. In both cases, the police “registered a case and started investigations”. …Nevertheless, one need not follow Kuwaiti news for a long period before one detects a pattern. For obvious reasons, Kuwait needs to deal with these issues. And if the goal is to “improve Kuwait’s international image on human rights issue”, the authorities must step up their efforts.

As for corruption, Kuwait is ranked no 66 on Transparency International’s annual report for 2009, just behind Georgia… Just as unflattering, the country was banned from both the international football federation (FIFA) and the international Olympic committee (IOC), due to “government interference”. In other words, Kuwait has a long way to go in terms of corruption if the country is to become tempting for investors.

If Kuwait manages to institute economic reform through democratic procedures, this may give them an advantage in the region. But in order to become something of a politically correct alternative, human rights and corruption must be addressed more seriously.

Nordenson, Jon. “Human rights and Economic Development.” The Gulf Research Unit’s Blog. August, 24 2010.

International Law

This article in the Kuwait Times discusses the challenges of bringing democracy to the region.

Do we need democracy in the Arab world? What is it about democracy that we can’t figure out? I personally have lots of thoughts as to why parts of the Arab world have become developed enough to obtain democracy, as practiced in the west, while other parts won’t even get close to it 100 years from now…

It’s like we have been programmed since birth to accept the code of life and adjust our current and future lives accordingly. It’s as though we are expected to accept the existed of good or bad and even the existence of laws…

The problem with democracy in the Arab world is that to many it is associated with freedom, humanity and majority rule. A value that we, even the normal people, barely know what to do with…

Don’t we have enough laws to regulate our life? Why then are we all so eager for a democracy like the one we see and hear about in the west?! That is the general idea many educated Arabs think about when comparing their life in their native countries and the countries where they either studied or lived. This is a dilemma for many of the educated but there is no way to end such confusion…

Those with democracy in the Arab world may want to use it as a tool to carry on with their own wishes. In many cases some would use weapons to prove their points. They misunderstand what they want to use democracy for and what they will do with it! That is why democracy is a hard goal to achieve in the Arab world.

Democracy requires the continuous update and upgrade of laws. It requires a call to change the ideas and attitudes of everything that is an obstacle to progress.

Alfuzai, Muna. “Arab democracy.” Kuwait Times. May 27, 2010.

Some are doubtful that the Kuwaiti model of democracy has been effective. Abdullah Shayji, a professor of international relations at Kuwait University, writes:

As Kuwait heads once more for parliamentary elections in 2009 – having held such elections just last year – repeated clashes between the executive and legislative branches are creating doubts about the Kuwaiti model, once a source of inspiration to many in the Gulf and beyond.

The Kuwaiti National Assembly has begun to be seen as an institution obstructing the investment that the emir hopes can further develop his country’s economy. The fact that the Assembly has been dissolved three times in nine years, that four governments have stepped down and five others have been formed in less than three years, and that interpellation of ministers has often ended with the government resigning or the National Assembly being dissolved has stripped the Kuwaiti experiment of much of its appeal.

Kuwait can claim some real achievements in political life… Kuwait finally extended the vote to women in 2006, though none have yet been elected to the legislature, which also happened to have played a critical role in steering the succession in 2006 and in revising the electoral law in 2008.

In some ways, the existence of a lively political life helps the emir’s plan to transform Kuwait in the upcoming years into a financial and commercial hub for the region. In January 2009 the country hosted the first Arab summit on economic and social development, asserting the need to gauge development’s role in Arab societies. The Kuwaiti model of freedoms was also on display; after an unprecedented leap in the number of daily newspapers (now 15 Arabic and three English dailies), Kuwait took first place among the Arab countries in the 2008 Press Freedom Index.

The freewheeling Kuwaiti system is more often blamed, however, for impeding economic development…

Similar political pressures jeopardize other projects, including a $15 billion project to build refineries…There is not much optimism in Kuwait that the upcoming elections will end this stalemate between the executive and legislative branches.

…The situation is neatly summarized by a new saying in the Gulf: “Kuwait is the past, Dubai the present, and Qatar the future.” Surely this is too harsh a judgment of the Kuwaiti experiment, which deserves more serious examination and revision so that it can again become a workable model and inspiration to the region.

Shayji, Abdullah. “Kuwait: A Democratic Model In Trouble.” The Daily Star. February 24, 2009.

Women
While women serve as representatives in the Kuwaiti Parliament, they still have to fight for their rights.

…The more I think, the more convinced I am about the way plots are hatched against women in Kuwaiti society. All calls that are made to seemingly attract women’s interests in fact just carry the opposite message. This will prevent Kuwaiti women, especially the youth, from receiving equal opportunities to good education, better future and good jobs.

This demand made to grant unemployed Kuwaiti women an allowance is dangerous to the Kuwaiti society and future generation. In fact, I think it is part of an actual hidden agenda. When the woman is confined to the four walls at home, she will complain. The man will then say, ‘You have an income, a monthly allowance paid by the Kuwaiti government!’.

…Another fear is that when such demands are met by a law, female education will no longer be given any priority. What could happen to any woman without proper education? Who are the ones making these repeated demands with the aim of luring women to the confines of home and hearth ?

Al-Fuzai, Muna. “Women without education.” Kuwait Times. May 26, 2010.

It has been a year now since four women won their seats in the National Assembly and this issue was subject to heated discussion and sometimes to unfair, unjust criticism by their own colleagues and followers.

…I think there is a common misconception that a woman will fail unless she proves herself otherwise. A man is expected to succeed until he fails!

Kuwait like any Arab country, is new to the women’s participation in mainstream politics. Although Kuwaiti women have emerged far ahead in the realm of public life when compared to other Gulf countries, they are very new to the political game…

I also think that it is only fair to say that those women were elected not only to focus on women’s issues but on other issues as well. What if we are to accuse women about questioning male MPs who dominated the National Assembly and political life for years and did nothing for women?

For example , the four women MPs are being accused of refusing to grant hefty allowances to the unemployed! I have never heard about a country that rewards its citizens that sit at home and do nothing but sleep, eat, and spend their money on shopping!..

Another accusation leveled against them is their refusal to cancel citizen’s debts. As far as I can recall, many MPs had refused this move and is not limited to female MPs…

Al-Fuzai, Muna. “Four women under attack.” Kuwait Times. May 24, 2010.

Energy
Kuwait is building four nuclear reactors and has become the fourth Arab state to plan to use nuclear energy.

Kuwait will build four nuclear reactors over the next 12 years…

The move would make Kuwait, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, the fourth Arab state to announce plans to build nuclear reactors for energy, after Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia…

….Kuwait faces a greater energy crises than its Arab neighbors. “Kuwait’s need to develop its power infrastructure is greater than other Arab countries” Murakami said. “Summer power shortages are severe.

Arab countries have taken a number of initiatives in recent years to expand their alternative energy sources. Saudi Arabia made plans in July with two firms in the United States and one from Japan to begin construction on what will be the nation’s first nuclear power plant. Following suit, in August Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced the site of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant along the Mediterranean coast. Oil exporting nations have a vested interest in finding alternative sources of energy so as to maximize their oil exports. By investing in alternative energy now, Arab states hope to see gains in oil exports in the future.

Fourth Gulf state to announce nuke program.” Kuwait Times. September 14, 2010.

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