art of resistance, Kuwait

Illustrations By Owaikeo (Ahmed Al-Refaie).

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Ahmed Al-Refaie, going by the artistic name of Owaikeo, is an illustrator from Kuwait. His illustrations are colorful, clever and playful – definitely worth your attention.

About the inspiration behind his work, Al-Refaie says“I’m sparked with everything around me, spinning old cultures with a modern twist to bridge the gap between what’s modern and what’s traditional.”

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Follow Owaikeo on Instagram, plus – click here if you’re interested in checking out his merchandise.

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art of resistance, Palestine

The Dupes of the Day.

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This post is a small mental note, to capture the disturbance I am feeling and don’t want to forget.

The Dupes (1972) is a film by Tewfik Saleh, based on Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun. In Men in the Sun the story is a story of Palestine – story of memories and realities, leaving and returning (in both space and time), waiting and expecting. Constant internal state of chaos and confusion is inevitable.

It is the story of three men who try to leave their impoverished and hopeless lives to get work in Kuwait. They hire a water-truck driver to transport them illegally across the border in the tank of his truck. The journey is not an easy one.

It is a journey that millions of people embark on nowadays. I just came back from Belgrade, where there are thousands of refugees, most of them trying to reach Hungary and enter the European Union (I will write more about that soon). They are being smuggled and cheated on, they are played with, their lives are bargain cheap to politics. They are the dupes of our time.

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Watching The Dupes right after I came back from Belgrade was a truly emotional experience. The film managed to capture the essence of Kanafani’s novella perfectly. The characters are philosophical and the focus is on them rather than the plot. Their internal struggle is what matters.

All of them are, through desert and heat, for days and weeks, staring at the same invisible door somewhere ahead – to open, to let them in. What they are ready to go through for that is beyond imaginable. Last couple of years, from time to time, media shows us the photos of bodies of drowned refugees, bodies of refugees suffocated, bodies of refugees who died from hunger…

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Their whole life is what they are ready to invest to travel into the unknown. Saleh’s film and Kanafani’s novella capture that so well. We have a refugee crisis, Europe screams. The thing is – we’ve been having a refugee crisis since Saleh made this film (1972), since Kanafani wrote this book (1962), and way before that.

Palestinians have been refugees for so long now that being a refugee is a normal thing, it’s an identity, it’s one’s whole life. People are fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq for decades now. People are leaving Syria and Libya for years now. And that is just to name a few.

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Europe is acknowledging refugees now only because they are now coming to Europe, because they are not far away, somewhere out there. And the saddest part is that this new awareness is not obtained in order to help the refugees, but in order to preserve ‘our’ borders.

The truck moves through the desert, carrying people, their thoughts, their dreams, their families. All of them stare in silence. When will they reach it, that inivisible door? How will they see it? Will it see them?

/You can watch the The Dupes on YouTube./

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art of resistance, Kuwait

Non-Citizens of Kuwait.

Faisal Al Fouzan is a Kuwaiti photographer. He considers the camera as an extension of himself and spends a lot of time collecting visual stories in and around Kuwait. He is the recipient of the 2014 Arab Documentary Photography Programme (ADPP) Grant by Magnum Foundation.

Non-Citizens of Kuwait is Fouzan’s series of street portraits of the low income laborers working and living in Kuwait.

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There are two groups of non-citizens in Kuwait. The first one is migrant workers. According to Human Rights Watch (2012 report), migrant workers in Kuwait comprise eighty percent of the country’s workforce, but continue to face exploitation and abuse under the sponsorship system.

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The second one is Bidun. At least 106,000 stateless persons, known as Bidun, live in Kuwait. After an initial registration period for citizenship ended in 1960, authorities shifted Bidun citizenship applications to a series of administrative committees that have avoided resolving their claims.

While maintaining that most Bidun are “illegal residents” who deliberately destroyed evidence of other nationality, the government has not provided individualized review of Bidun citizenship claims. Kuwaiti law bans courts from ruling on citizenship claims. Interestingly enough, until 1990, the Bidun accounted for eighty percent of the Kuwaiti Army.

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Concerning the migrant workers, the government passed a new private sector labor law in 2010 that set maximum working hours, required a weekly rest day and annual leave, and set end-of-service bonuses. However, the law excluded migrant domestic workers, who come chiefly from South and Southeast Asia and work and live inside employers’ homes in Kuwait. Many domestic workers complain of confinement in the house; long work hours without rest; months or years of unpaid wages; and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

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A major barrier to redressing labor abuses is the kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties a migrant worker’s legal residence to a “sponsoring” employer. Migrant workers who have worked for their sponsor less than three years can only transfer with their sponsor’s consent (migrant domestic workers always require consent). If a worker leaves their sponsoring employer, including when fleeing abuse, the employer must register the worker as “absconding.” This can lead to detention and deportation.

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Abdulrahman al-Ghanim, the general secretary of the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, talked about kafala as a system of slavery, in an interview for Migrant Rights. He talked about the work of the labor ministry saying it is really bad and: “Even the weak companies who have no connections and friends in the ministry, are punished with only 1 year suspension of their Kafala privileges; meaning they are not allowed to sponsor any workers within that year. The big companies, however, are untouchable. Recently there was a case in which a company admitted committing violations. The company was only asked to sign a paper promising not to repeat violations. They are still recruiting new workers, getting 2000 KD (Kuwaiti Dinar) for every recruitment!”

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For more on Bidun and migrant workers issues, see the Human Rights Watch report, and for the efforts of the Kuwait Trade Union Federation – see the interview on Migrant Rights.

For more on the photography of Faisal Al Fouzan, visit his official website.

/all images © Faisal Al Fouzan/

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