When temperatures are tolerable in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula in winter, the people of the region enjoy the leisure opportunities that the endless expanse offers: safari, shisha and barbecue by the campfire and a little sport in the morning. In Kuwait, however, things are very different, especially when it comes to women. A canceled yoga retreat has now become a political issue in the oil-rich little state. Conservative voices had previously warned the government against “indecent” meditation in the desert. MP Hamdan al-Azmi, who belongs to the powerful Bedouin-Awazim tribe, urged on Twitter the government to prevent the “dangerous cause” and “this cultural encroachment on our conservative society”.
The Ministry of the Interior actually responded and had the event postponed, the authorities found that the necessary permits were missing. Dozens of women then protested in front of the National Assembly in Kuwait, calling on the authorities to respect their civil rights. They referred to Article 30 of the Kuwaiti Constitution, which guarantees the personal freedom of all citizens. On their posters stood slogans like “No future for a nation without equality, no freedom in a nation without free women”. Journalists from the Kuwaiti daily newspaper al-Qabas talked to some protesters. “They want to lock us in at home. This is not Kuwait. We have to stand up to it,” said an elderly woman.
Restrict women’s rights to win conservative voters
In Kuwait, the citizens have more say than in the other Arab oil monarchies. However, the opposition is increasingly trying to restrict personal freedoms, especially for women, to secure conservative voices from major Bedouin tribes. The government gave in to opposition demands to determine political results, said Kuwaiti human rights activist Hadeel Buqrais of SZ. “It’s not about yoga, it’s about women’s issues being made in politics in Kuwait. As if we were a magazine in the air that MPs can seize at any time.” The government recently withdrew its decision to allow Kuwaiti women to serve in the army. Kuwait’s defense minister ordered a religious legal statement in late January that said women could only perform medical work and not take part in combat operations, let alone carry weapons. The opposition was satisfied.
In fact, women do not have much to say to the oil-rich microstat. It may also be due to the current composition of parliament: not a single woman is among the 65 MPs. Although 29 women ran in the 2020 election, no one entered parliament. Women in Kuwait have only had the right to vote for 15 years.
Meanwhile, misogynistic male talk can be seen live on TV. For example, Member of Parliament Hamdan al-Azmi, who prevents yoga, recently told the television company Al-Adala (whose name means “justice” in German) that the place of women is at home. He calculated for the other men present how expensive maids had become (1,400 Kuwaiti dinars, equivalent to 3,471.83 euros) and that this amount could be saved if the women stayed at home. Oh, and the traffic chaos in Kuwait City is also due to women, he added.
In neighboring Saudi Arabia, which was once much more conservative than Kuwait, the first yoga retreat functioned. In late January, international yoga masters were flown to the Kingdom. More than 1,000 people, women and men aged ten to 60, rolled out their yoga mats in the port city of Jeddah. However, on the grass, not in the desert.