Kuwait moves to calm ominous sectarian tension

September 15, 2010

Kuwait’s government and parliament speaker have called for restraint and an end to statements by lawmakers likely to inflame sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites triggered by abusive remarks made by Yasser Al Habeeb, a Shiite hardliner.

The government should be allowed to handle the situation as it is determined to take all to adopt all legal measures to curb tension and statements and counter-statements, communications minister and government spokesman Mohammad Al Busairi said.

Al Habeeb two weeks ago made disparaging remarks against Aisha, Prophet Mohammad’s wife, in London where he has fled to avoid prison terms in Kuwait.

His inflammatory remarks made at a special ceremony he held to celebrate the anniversary of Aisha’s death sparked angry reactions from Sunni Islamists who have been putting pressure on the government to take string action against him. Some Shiites reacted by demanding appropriate action against Sunni Islamists who criticize Shiites.

The ensuing war of statements and counter-statements and death threats has sent ripples in the country and the government moved to control the situation.

“We hope that the MPs realize how sensitive the situation has become and stop issuing statements that could fuel sectarianism,” Al Busairi said after his weekly protocol meeting with Parliament Speaker Jassem Al Khorafi. “Kuwait cannot tolerate more rows.”

The minister also urged the local media to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and refrain from fueling discords, according to Kuwait Times daily.

“The government has started taking measures 10 days ago and it will move forward with them. However, we need to give it enough time to complete these steps. Things will become clearer over the next few days and we hope that everyone realizes how sensitive and dangerous statements and counter-statements are,” he said.

Al Busairi’s statement was issued one day after acting prime minister and defense minister Shaikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah issued a stern warning against inciting rifts and sectarian tensions in Kuwait.

Sunni Islamist lawmakers have called for taking stern action against Al Habeeb by either having him extradited from Britain or withdrawing his Kuwaiti citizenship.

Shiite MPs on their part called for taking similar action against Sunni activists, especially Shaikh Othman Al Khamees, whom they accuse of being critical of their faith.

On Monday, Sunni Islamists held a large public gathering in Firdous to press for their demands and speakers at the event warned that they would quiz the prime minister if the government did not take action.

The Islamist Reform and Development Bloc said it would grill the interior minister if the government did not honour a pledge to take action against Al Habeeb.

It said that he should either be extradited from London to be punished in Kuwait or

have his nationality withdrawn.

However, Al Khorafi told MPs not to issue provocative statements that incite sectarian tensions and allow the government to handle the issue and to curb attempts to incite discord and rifts.

Al Khorafi said that the people of Kuwait did not accept sectarian rifts and have always promoted national unity.

Addressing a message to Mubarak Al Bathali, an Islamist activist who allegedly threatened to kill an MP, Al Khorafi said: “You are not living in a jungle, but in a state of law.”

Al Bathali has been quizzed by state security after he reportedly threatened to kill Shiite MP Hussain Al Qallaf in a message he posted on YouTube.

The liberal National Action Bloc said in a statement on Tuesday that all people should assume their responsibilities in ensuring that Kuwait is free of sectarian problems.

Shiites make up about one third of Kuwait native population of 1.1 million people and have nine members in the 50-seat parliament and two members in the 16-member Cabinet, according to Kuwait Times.




About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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