Bedoun protesters running away from police who used tear-gas and water canon to disperse their demonstration held in Jahra after Friday prayers
Twenty hurt in Kuwait protest Bedouns press for rights in Jahra
KUWAIT CITY, Feb 18: A peaceful demonstration by some members of the Bedoun community in front of a mosque in Tima-Jahra, after the Friday prayer, snowballed into violent confrontation between the demonstrators and about 1,500 special security forces, with support from 500 security operatives from Jahra command, officers from the traffic unit and rescue officers. 20 people among the protesters and some security operatives sustained injuries.
The demonstration continued until late Friday night within Blocks 2 and 3 as the demonstrators refused to stop the protest and demanded the authorities meet and implement their demands. At the beginning of the protest, the demonstrators raised the Kuwaiti flag and displayed a picture of HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. They chanted slogans, saying, “We shall sacrifice our lives and blood for the Amir and Al-Fadhalah will fall”. Other protesters chanted, “We shall sacrifice our lives and blood for Kuwait, while Al-Mulaifi will fall”. “Citizens demand the rights of Bedouns,” chanted another slogan.
The Assistant Undersecretary for Operations Major General Dr Mustafa Al-Za’abie dialogued with the demonstrators at the beginning and gave them 15 minutes ultimatum to leave the scene. The protesters did not heed the advice. This infuriated the Special Forces who used tear gas, rubber bullets and tear-gas to disperse them, but the protesters reacted by stoning the officers and damaged three patrol cars in the process.
The women folk among the protesters held talks with the Assistant Undersecretary for Public Security Major General Khalil Al-Shemali during the protest. This did not pacify the demonstrators who demanded to meet the Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad Al-Hamoud Al-Sabah. Smoke from the tear-gas entered some buildings through which several children, women and men were almost suffocated. Paramedics rushed the victims to hospitals in ambulances, whereas security officers arrested about 60 people. The officers have intensified security at the wards where three women demonstrators among the injured people were admitted to prevent them from escaping so that security operatives could question them later. The officers besieged the entire area and prevented people from entering, whereas the protesters also blocked a road in Tima but the officers later dispersed them and re-opened the road.
Reacting to the incident, Jahra Governor Sheikh Mubarak Al-Hamoud affirmed the determination of the government to solve problems Bedouns are facing and cautioned protesters against confrontation with the security operatives. He denounced protesters’ attack on the officers and promised that the relevant authority will deal with the protesters appropriately.
In the meantime, the incident generated reactions from some lawmakers and MP Faisal Al-Duwaisan complained bitterly about the use of force to disperse the protesters. He said Bedouns have the right to know their current situation, considering the case has been dragging on for almost 40 years. He supported the idea of demanding their rights peacefully because they have been patient enough.
For his part, MP Dr Yousef Al-Zalzala noted that Bedouns deserve fair treatment during the National Days celebrations and that the government should open doors of respite for everybody in the country to be happy and delighted during the festivities.
Another lawmaker Adel Al-Sara’awi urged those who are inciting Bedouns to protest at this sensitive period to fear God because the agitation is capable of denting the national image and that of the Bedouns. He affirmed that the government is doing well by offering qualitative education and healthcare to Bedouns. He stressed that globalizing the issue is a deliberate attempt to discredit the government, especially after the Social Affairs and Labor Minister Dr Mohammad Al-Afasi had sorted out the issue with the international community. He frowned at plan to ensure irrational granting of the citizenship, saying, “We shall repel any attempt to agitate for irrational citizenship.”
In the same vein, MP Dhaifallah Buramiya said it was high time the Bedoun issue was resolved, and urged the government to stop delaying the issue because it relates to their dignity and many of them live below the poverty level, advising the Interior Ministry must allow the protesters conclude their peaceful protest as a way of reaching out to the authority.
Stateless Arabs, estimated at more than 100,000, claim they have the right to Kuwaiti citizenship, but the government says that ancestors of many of them came from neighbouring countries and they are not entitled to nationality.
Kuwait launched a crackdown on them in 2000, depriving them of their essential rights in a bid to force them to reveal what the authorities say are their true identities.
Many Bidouns have no right to a driver’s licence, cannot get birth certificates for their babies or death certificates for the dead. They are also banned from getting their marriage contracts attested.
Due to stringent government restrictions, a majority of them are living in dire economic conditions in oil-rich Kuwait, where the average monthly salary of native citizens is more than $3,500 (2,575 euros).
Authorities said that following the crackdown, some 20,000 Bidouns disclosed their original citizenship and were given residence permits like other foreigners.
Most Bidouns claim to be Kuwaitis whose forefathers, who lived as Bedouins in the desert, failed to apply for citizenship when the state first introduced its nationality law in 1959.