Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama...What it means to be a Leader

This speech was given by President Obama on June 4th, 2009. The name of the speech, "The US is not at War with Islam". While I'm not sure whether or not this is the official name of the speech, I can already tell you that it does not do it justice. The truth is anything I write will not do this speech justice. Sure there will be people out there who attempt to belittle the statements said on that historic podium by claiming that its "a ruse", "only words" or "that's what he says today but what will he DO tomorrow". With all do respect to naysayers, I believe that people who say such things do not understand a) American Politics b) Arab Politics c) that change has happened.

I'm not going to analyse this speech further, because the symbolism combined with actionable Presdiential Promises are far more elequent. I will say this: Presidents like this don't come everyday...we Arabs better make the best of it while he lasts.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kuwaiti Politics: Taking The Gloves Off

During election season, one of the most effective methods of campaigning in Kuwait is visiting the Diwaniya. This can be a deciding factor in whether or not the candidate wins or loses and to this date, I have yet to see someone who refused to go to diwaniyas win the election. Moreover, why should he or she win? I mean, if a political district consists of 50-100 thousand voters, depending on each district, surely a candidate can make the time to head to some key figures in each residential area. The former head of the Parliament, Jasem Al-Khorafi (who also happens to be one of the world’s wealthiest men) has been known to visit “Koat Diwaniyas” where the oldest person present was 24 years old. Entering a diwaniya and seeking support of your fellow citizen is viewed as the ultimate sign of humility and if there’s one pre-requisite to succeeding in Kuwait….its being humble.

Interestingly enough, Diwaniyas used to be so appreciative of the candidate (or in many cases, former MPs) that they would indulge in small talk while the sweet and Arabic coffee was served. Sure they would ask about how he sees the future, or perhaps a general question about the relationship between the Executive and the Legislative branches but always in a way that triggers a pre-scripted response. A healthy scoop of rhetoric, topped off with some personal achievements (relevant or irrelevant) and mixed together with praising the host family. It’s a song and dance we’re all too familiar with and its politics.

The other day, during our family Diwaniya, one of the candidates came in at a relatively late hour. With all due respect to this candidate (this respect will be shown by me not writing his name, and that’s as far as I’m willing to go), he has very little to offer Kuwait and would most likely not represent a 10th vote, let alone one of the sacred four. He’s a career candidate (never making it to the Parliamentary seat but still choo-choo-ing forward) who actually had some very interesting analysis with regards to this election.

He began discussing the transformation of Kuwaiti politics, through the Diwaniya as a primary medium. “Before,” he said, “the predominant language of the Diwaniya was that of gracious welcome and formalities”. “Today, though” he continued “people know about the issues and they want details. It’s not enough to simply speak and say farewell.” Now, knowing this candidate and his ability to recite pre-scripted 6-liners, spiced with some sophisticated terms (with a gleeful glow to follow suit), its only appropriate that he would notice such change.

I began by describing this change in the tone of the diwaniyas, as they host fellow citizens with Parliamentary aspirations as a transformation. However, if we’re to be fair, it can and should only be described as evolution. When formality is replaced with inquisitiveness. When instead of being urged to try the sweet, they are urged to defend their views under sophisticated scrutiny. When instead of saying reassuring words to those who we placed our trust in and now find themselves jobless, the words they say are harsh but genuine. When “how is the family” is replaced with “what did you do to stop the others from turning the Parliament into a circus?”… that’s when you know Kuwaiti politics is evolving. Kuwaitis worked hard to build this beautiful country and we have a right to make sure that the people we elect will work just as hard as our forefathers. Its time to take the gloves off, because Kuwait deserves better.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dr. Aseel Al-Awadhi... What Gives?

By now, there is no one in Kuwait that doesn't know the name "Dr. Aseel Al-Awadhi". Kuwait is small, I know, but she is arguably one of the most well known, non-former MP, candidate in the country. Why is that?

In the 2008 elections, Aseel (while articles normally abbreviate using the last name, her first name has become somewhat iconic and is used even in the daily papers)was the first woman to become part of an election grouping. At the time, that grouping was pushed forward by the National Democratic Alliance and inclueded two of her colleauges: Faisal Al-Shayee and Khaled Al-Khaled. She outperformed them significantly.

In fact, Aseel was a mere 600 votes away from snatching victory from HADAS candidate and co-founder Dr. Naser Al-Sane (a seasoned politician who's had a seat in Parliament almost continuously since the end of the Iraqi Invasion). Dr. Naser isn't running this time around.

What is it that makes this candidate, out of all the other male and female candidates, so special? Perhaps its her ability to relate to the youth of the country, by adapting her campaign to the online arena and her extensive use of facebook, youtube, and her Obama-sized website. Is that it? Her facebook group boasted more than 2000 members in less than 4 days, and consists of voters in the district, voters out of the district, a strong underage following, and I even saw a few foreigners in the mix.

Maybe its her calm and logical demeanor. She does have a PhD in political science, and from the US no less. Still, there are very few people, especially from the academic world, that can enter advanced argumentation without sounding eletist and condescending. Strangely enough, after watching more than my share of Aseel interviews, I can say that she sounds sophisticated but not snobby, smart but not stuck up, logical but not bitter.

The more seasoned politicians tend to sound bitter these days. It could be their vast experience in Parliament has worn them down, much like a warrior who's fought one too many fights. It could be that these politicians believe that voters are looking for those who are just as bitter as they are to represent them in office. If the latter is the case, I believe there has been a grave miscalculation. Even the most bitter person wants to believe in our future. They just don't know where to start. Is that it? Is Aseel's continuous message of hope, change, and rejuvenating our nation as generations before us have done the key to her growing popularity?

I honestly can't say what it is that makes Dr. Aseel Al-Awadhi such a magnetic personality. Or why its tough to switch the television channel when one hears her talk about what Kuwait can be if we take the time to envision it first. Maybe I like the higher standard of political rehtoric she uses and the fact that she doesn't feel that the Kuwaiti veiwer needs you to "dumb-down" your thoughts for them. Maybe I feel that her educational background gives her resources that many of our previous MPs were lacking, and equips her to make change instead of only talking about it. Or maybe, just maybe...I believe her. You have to decide for yourself, wheter or not you believe her too.

Note: Dr. Aseel Al-Awadhi's official headquarters opens tonight, April 29th 2009 under the heading - "A Nation Renewed"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some People Just Don't Learn

Al-Qabas today wrote a feature piece and on the release of Former MP Dhaifallah Buramia. I'm not gonna get into details about it, but for more information you can find the article and the source of this picture at the following link:

Suffice as to say, I'm a proponent of freedom of speech. I boast about it to all my foreign friends (from the Gulf and otherwise) claiming that Kuwait is the truest form of democracy in all the Arab world. I stand by that statement now, just as much as when I said it. Some will attempt to rebuff that argument by discussing the freedoms enjoyed in Lebanon, and how they are the first country to have more than 10 daily journals. While I agree with those facts, I would argue that Lebanese democracy as of late (and pretty much for my natural life) is closer to shooting down the other opinion with a gun rather than freedom of speech. In any case, as Kuwaitis we only wish on the Lebanese people stability, prosperity, and happiness.

Having discussed my high regard for Kuwaiti freedoms, I think we can dive in slightly deeper into this sticky Buramia topic. People, in the United States you can stand at the White House and say whatever you want. You can insult the President, call him a thief, a war-monger, Nazi what have you...and you will still spend the night in the saftey of your bed. HOWEVER, try just once, going to the White House, and mentioning an intention to change the leadership by "any means necessary". Not by "force" mind you, but by any means necessary. Suddenly, out of the bushes around you, secret service agents reveal themselves with the undeterrable goal of locking you up (in the most painful way possible I'm sure). Why is that? Its simple: the U.S. Constitution says that while you enjoy the freedom of speech, you cannot conspire against the Government.

We have a constitution in Kuwait. Although it looks very different than Americas, Kuwaitis are no less proud and see that document as the protector of our rights as human beings. A country's constitution is a reflection of their culture, their ambitions, and their will to be free. I've said all of this to reach one point, and one point alone:

When we trust the constitution to protect our rights as citizens, why are we not equally eager to protect the constitution from those who would do it harm?

The law is clear in Kuwait. You are innocent until you are proven guilty. Buramia has not been convicted. However, Kuwaiti citizens just like Buramia pulled him in because our Judiciary system believed that this man breached the constitution. Today he's released to a hero’s welcome, without of course knowing the verdict of the immense accusation he faces. If you want the Constitution to protect you, you have to be willing to protect it back. Celebrations do not a hero make.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Of Cats and Government

Did you know that controversial Al-Watan columnist Fouad Al-Hashem has a TV show now? I think it may be for the election period only, but basically, he interviews one person a night and they've all been either Ministers (Ahmed Baqer) or people running for office.

Anyway, there are those who love him and there are those who hate him. There are those that consider him the worst thing that ever happened to Kuwaiti media. There are those that see him as the true voice of the Kuwaiti citizen. To call him controversial is an understatement. Now I'm saying this because I plan on quoting him, without commenting on my personal feelings or position when it comes to this man. The quote, however, I subscribe to 100%:

On his show, Al-Hashem began discussing his encounter with this old Egyptian teacher. They used to sit together and speak of politics, and social aspects. So he recounts a story that this Egyptian teacher told him, in the following way:

"One day, a man was about to get married. He went to his Father and asked him if he had any pearls of wisdom for him so that his marriage will be long and successful. The Father looks at his son and says 'Do what I tell you, and you will have a long and fruitful marriage'. He went on to tell him to hide a cat under their bed on the night of their wedding (ringing bells anyone?). 'Then, once the cat makes the slightest sound, you quickly grab him from under the bed and execute him in front of your wife'.

The wedding night comes and goes, and the man decides against his Father's advice. He loves his wife very much, and the idea of killing a cat in front of her seemed cruel and arcane. After 40 years of marriage, the man reflects on all that has happened and realized that this woman undermined him, disobeyed him, scolded and even hit him for his entire life. On that day, after another one of her yelling sessions, he decided that he'd had enough. He ran out to the street, found a stray cat and brought it back to the house. After the woman saw her husband kill a cat in front of her, she said "Oh honey, its a little late for that, don't ya think?"

That's the story Fouad Al-Hashem used to describe our Government. I think he hit the nail on the head with that story. Nevertheless, correcting our mistakes is important and reviving the lost prestige of the law is worth the effort.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Far3eeyaat and Paperclips

Its funny what things people will turn into games. When you walk into someone’s office (who has way too much time on his hands), you might catch him stringing up paperclips. After you sit down, pick up the newspaper on his desk to scan through the headlines, you lower it, and still find him fiddling with those paperclips. You let out half a smile, and lift up your paper until the CEO of the company walks in to the office. Suddenly, you find yourself up on your feet, “Saba7k Allah Bil 5air Bu-Flaan”. Besides the wide age gap between the CEO and yourself, there is the significant difference in stature: he’s a CEO and you’re an employee. Then to your surprise, you look to your friend who’s sitting on the desk…

He’s let out a smile “Saba7 il 5air”, yet his eyes are still fixed to the paperclips, and he’s made no effort to stand. The CEO seats himself down, and now its you, your fiddler of a friend and the man who decides your future all in one small office. To your surprise, the CEO begins a conversation with your friend, while not really reacting to the fact that your friend is replying in “hmms” and “ahaaas” working on what he’s now decided will be the longest paperclip snake in the world. After 3 minutes, the CEO with his mood unchanged, stands up and leaves this office. No reaction to the blatant disregard to company time, no reaction to the lack of respect shown to his stature, no reaction to the nonchalant grunts that countered his attempt at dialogue…. What the hell just happened?

Congratulations to the tribes on their successful far3eeyat…you officially have the longest paperclip snake in Kuwait.