Voices from the Arab press: The Women – Not the ‘Harem’ – of Kuwait

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 Kuwait women (photo credit: REUTERS/STEPHANIE MCGEHEE)
Kuwait women
(photo credit: REUTERS/STEPHANIE MCGEHEE)

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, February 23

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Language, any language, is a deep-sea of meanings, gestures, and interpretations. Therefore, ideological and civil history is replete with intellectual differences that sometimes originate in the interpretation of a single word. Last week, a notable political Islam commentator published a sarcastic article titled “Kuwait’s Harem,” referring to the women of Kuwait. Before delving into the details of that hurtful article, we must first pause and reflect on the interpretation of the term “harem.” Across virtually all Arabic dialects, the word “harem” is used with the intent of belittling the social status of women.

Specifically within Gulf states, the term has long been dropped from people’s vocabulary. Indeed, today there is no harem council, no harem door, and no harem entrance. All these concepts have become obsolete and out of touch with the progress that women have made to date. Therefore, those reading this author’s article cannot help but sense, whether explicitly or between the lines, the sense of irony  and mockery he used to describe Kuwaiti women by referring to them as the “Harem of Kuwait.”

In terms of content, the article was rife with contradictions and fallacies that the political Islam movement is famous for. Indeed, the rights achieved by Kuwaiti women, which were mentioned in the article, wouldn’t have been achieved if women had remained “inviolable” according to the perspective of political Islam. Allow me to return to the language, its sources, and its interpretations in order to find accounts about the history of the use of the word “harem” instead of a “woman.” One of the accounts says that the Arab region did not know the word “harem” until late in the 14th century and that this word didn’t spread among the Arabs except after the first centuries in which dictionaries of the Arabic language were developed. The spread of the word increased with the sultans of the Ottoman Turks allocating a special place for women and concubines known as the haremlik.

Since we have certainly passed the Ottoman era, it seems only fitting that the word “harem” would disappear from everyday jargon once and for all. After all, when a writer writes about the virtuous women of Kuwait using the term “harem,” he isn’t using it to honor or celebrate Kuwaiti women, but to provoke and insult them and their remarkable achievements. – Suad Fahad Al-Mojil 

 JORDAN’S QUEEN RANIA hosts Britian’s Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at a private dinner at Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Nov. 2021. (credit: IAN VOGLER/POOL VIA REUTERS) JORDAN’S QUEEN RANIA hosts Britian’s Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, at a private dinner at Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman, Nov. 2021. (credit: IAN VOGLER/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Founding Day: Pride and Gratitude

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 24

This week, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia celebrated its first-ever Founding Day, which marks three centuries since the first Saudi state was established. Announced on January 27, the new public holiday has been heralded with nationwide celebrations and festivities that honored both the kingdom’s past and future. Since the establishment of the first Saudi state at the hands of the late Imam Muhammad bin Saud, the Saudi people have always sought to spread modernity and fight ignorance. As a ruler, Ibn Saud pushed for the expansion of the state and repelled attacks from eastern Arabian armies. Because of the loyalty of the Saudi people to his mission, the second state emerged under the leadership of Imam Turki [Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud], who fought and won the fiercest military campaigns the state has known. Around 200 years later, his descendant, King Abdulaziz [Ibn Saud], unified the kingdom to form the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. In recent years, under the leadership of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom underwent monumental transformations in the fields of science, technology, and education, making Saudi Arabia a leader of the Islamic world and a global capital of human creativity and innovation, including in renewable energy.

So when you walk the streets of Riyadh or Diriyah – where the first Saudi state was founded in 1727 – make sure to listen to the sounds of joy emerging from every street corner and recall the great men who sacrificed their lives for us and for our great nation. – Mazen Al-Sudairy

Defending Stability and Order in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Al-Watan, Egypt, February 23

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan represents a point of equilibrium and stability in the middle of a tumultuous and turbulent region. Between the ongoing civil war in Syria, the spread of radical militias in Iraq, the ongoing conflict in Palestine, and the political and economic problems in Lebanon, Jordan has benefited from law, order, and safety. There’s no doubt that this stability has been guaranteed and preserved thanks to the wisdom of those leading Jordan, whether in the foreign or domestic policies they have enacted, in addition to the success of the Jordanian economy in recent years. Unfortunately, it seems as if there are those who aren’t content with Jordan’s promising status and are thus trying to undermine its position. For example, there have been attempts to destabilize the royal family by spreading rumors and fake reports pertaining to the fortunes of King Abdullah and his family.

The Jordanian Royal Court was bold and courageous when it issued a statement describing this information as inaccurate and misleading, and refuted the allegations made against the king and the queen. Publishing fake findings, relying on half-truths, and doctoring tidbits of information to craft a false narrative that fits a certain political trope are dangerous endeavors that must be fought against. Jordan’s growing strength within the Arab world may bother some and its economic alliances may annoy others.

However, the kingdom has been able to escape from the turmoil that affected most of its neighbors, and the Arab world should show solidarity with it. The Kingdom of Jordan has been able to balance its foreign relations with its domestic politics and promote the interests of both the Arab world and the Jordanian people. For all this, it has become and will continue to be targeted by extremist voices, and attempts to sedition will not stop, whether through false information or other means. All of this requires a strong, unified Arab stance in support of Jordan and the royal family. – Mahmoud Muslim 

Protecting Those Among Us Who Live With a Disability

Al-Ittihad, UAE, February 24

Last week saw the conclusion of the Global Disability Summit, hosted by the governments of Norway and Ghana, and held in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. This Summit aimed to monitor and promote the implementation of the principles laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, especially the notion that no disabled person should be neglected or ignored and that all societies should promote greater inclusivity of those living with a disability. This convention, which has been ratified so far by more than 182 countries, obligates all countries to enact laws that enable people living with disabilities to participate in the community; to grant them the same rights that healthy people enjoy in the areas of education, work, cultural activity, property ownership, and inheritance; and to ensure that they aren’t discriminated against in any aspect of life. With less than eight years remaining to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals, the summit’s participants sought to urge and encourage state leaders to promote procedures and legislation to ensure justice and equality for people with disabilities and their inclusion in their societies as individuals with equal rights.

The convening of this Oslo summit comes at a time when international data indicate that one billion people, or approximately one out of every seven people, suffer from some form of disability, including 190 million individuals over the age of fifteen who suffer from severe disabilities that require medical treatment. These numbers are expected to increase in the future, because of expected demographic changes and the increase in the prevalence of chronic noncommunicable diseases. The term “disability” refers to a wide range of physical and cognitive impairments that a person faces because of a specific health condition, such as cerebral palsy, dementia, blindness, and deafness, or conditions that come as a result of psychological disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia.

Discrimination against these disabilities can take many forms, ranging all the way from stigma and “othering” to lack of social support systems to meet the special needs of disabled individuals. For example, people with disabilities often receive services that are subpar when they pursue health treatment. They may encounter services, such as public transportation, that are simply inaccessible to them. And they may be singled out and ostracized for their condition. All these things make it important for us to increase the measures and procedures we enact to empower these individuals, especially when it comes to basic services that every citizen deserves. It’s our responsibility and our obligation toward those who seek to maintain a normal life. – Akmal Abd Al-Hakim 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.