Why Kuwait’s Cross Cultural Diwaniya wants to challenge the norm
KUWAIT | Jethu Abraham
For most people in the region, Kuwait is a small country situated in the Persian Gulf with a high-income per capita rate, most of it coming in from oil exports, similar to the economic climate seen in the more affluent countries of the region. Yet, what makes this country stand apart is its hybrid government, comprising a hereditary monarchy as well as a semi-democratic political system.
While democratic and constitutional forces are at work at the top level, the socio-political undercurrents that influence the country and especially Kuwait’s youth are also equally hard to miss.
Kuwait’s youth movements and groups—largely formed out of a common need for addressing issues pertaining to their future such as unemployment and gender discrimination as well as broader issues— the high rate of corruption in the country, judiciary reform and the fundamental need for their voices to be heard at the highest level.
THE TOPIC ON THE TABLE
The Cross Cultural Diwaniya (CCD) is one such popular initiative— a brainchild of Faisal Al Fuhaid and Leanah Al Awadhi, started out to host gatherings to encourage an open dialogue about various topics and across different communities.
“Back in 2013, there used to be a lack of public spaces, where individuals could converse with others openly within a safe circle. There were only traditional Diwaniyas which were mostly restricted to Kuwaiti men, thus not enabling their networking and knowledge-sharing advantages to the wider society,” explains Leanah.
“The aim”, adds Faisal, was to start conversations “in and around topics of social and global significance and to be a networking platform.”
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Initially, reactions were not as welcoming since individuals in Kuwait were not used to attending Diwaniyas outside societal norms where individuals would be welcome regardless of their socio-economic position, corporate hierarchy, gender or age, says Faisal.
Over the years, the influence of the group reached out to a wider crowd and the Diwaniyas soon became a popular platform among the youth. Leanah points out they still do have ongoing challenges in the form of topic selection and language issues (as the Diwaniyas are open to all and attended by both citizens and expats).
As part of the forum’s formula to encourage proposing solutions to some of the problems that the country faces, the team sometimes engages the attendees to work on case studies where they work together as groups and look at issues from multiple angles.
“Some of the solutions proposed by the attendees are then taken into account when policies are drafted or decisions made,” explains Faisal—made possible because of the team’s collaborations with groups such as the Kuwait Transparency Society, Equate Petrochemical and Kuwait Commute— where suggestions were put forth to bring about changes in the country’s urban infrastructure.
FOR THE COMMON GOOD
Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 crisis raged on, the country was rocked with several high-profile scandals on corruption and human trafficking—an effort that was well-appreciated but with elections fast approaching, it remains to be seen whether these measures would be followed up with stricter reforms.
“It is vital that all citizens make use of their voting powers to elect parliamentary members that have the country’s best interests in mind and confront officials who actively engage in corruption, no matter who they are. No one should be above the law,” points out Faisal.
In recent times, Kuwait has also faced much criticism globally for its gross negligence of human rights and blatant xenophobic attitude towards the expatriate population in the country. Leanah reiterates the CCD team’s values to the topic of xenophobia, “Everyone is welcome, regardless of their nationality, gender, or religion,” she says. “We have hosted multiple sessions discussing xenophobia and human rights and work tirelessly to make sure that the CCD is a space where all participants listen to and learn from each other.
“The only way to progress is to coexist.”