Kuwait is a small country in the Gulf with a high-income per capita rate, most of it made from oil exports, similar to the economic climate seen in the more affluent countries of the region.
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Yet, what sets this country apart is its hybrid government, comprising a hereditary monarchy and a semi-democratic political system.
While democratic and constitutional forces are at work at the top level, the socio-political undercurrents that influence the state and especially Kuwait’s youth are also equally hard to miss.
Kuwait’s youth groups were largely formed out of a common need to address issues pertaining to their future such as unemployment and gender discrimination, as well as broader issues including corruption, judicial reform, and the fundamental need for their voices to be heard at the highest level.
The Cross Cultural Diwaniya (CCD) is one such popular initiative — the brainchild of Faisal Al-Fuhaid and Leanah Al-Awadhi — which started out hosting gatherings to encourage an open dialogue on various topics 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,” Al-Awadhi said.
“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.”
According to Al-Fuhaid, the aim was to start conversations “in and around topics of social and global significance and to be a networking platform.”
Initially, the reception was not particularly warm, as many Kuwaitis were not used to attending diwaniyas outside societal norms where individuals would be welcomed regardless of their socio-economic position, corporate hierarchy, gender, or age, Al-Fuhaid said.
Over the years, however, the group’s influence has gradually widened and the diwaniyas have become a popular platform among youth. Their main challenge now is choosing relevant topics and crossing language barriers, as the diwaniyas are open to all and attended by citizens and expats, Al-Awadhi added.
As part of the forum’s formula of exploring solutions to some of the country’s challenges, the team sometimes engages attendees to develop case studies where they work together in groups and look at issues from multiple angles.
Collaborations with groups such as the Kuwait Transparency Society, Equate Petrochemical, and Kuwait Commute mean some of the suggestions put forward at the forums lead to changes in the country’s urban infrastructure.
“Some of the solutions proposed by the attendees are then taken into account when policies are drafted or decisions made,” added Al-Fuhaid.
Earlier this year, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak took hold, the country was rocked by several high-profile corruption and human trafficking scandals. But with elections fast approaching, it remains to be seen whether initial measures will 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,” Al-Fuhaid said.
In recent times, Kuwait has also faced criticism for its human rights record and perceived xenophobia toward the expatriate community. The CCD aims to highlight and address these challenges.
“Everyone is welcome, regardless of their nationality, gender, or religion. 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.”
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