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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
04KUWAIT1811 2004-06-08 13:52:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kuwait
Cable title:  

(C) HARDLINE ISLAMISTS LASH OUT AT US -- FEELING

Tags:   PGOV PHUM KISL SOCI KWMN KU 
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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KUWAIT 001811 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR DRL/CRA, DRL/PHD, NEA/RA, INR/NESA, NEA/ARP
TEL AVIV FOR DCM LEBARON
RIYADH FOR TUELLER
TUNIS FOR NATALIE BROWN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/07/2014
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL SOCI KWMN KU
SUBJECT: (C) HARDLINE ISLAMISTS LASH OUT AT US -- FEELING
THE HEAT ON WOMEN'S RIGHTS?

REF: KUWAIT 1558

Classified By: CDA FRANK URBANCIC; REASON 1.4 (B, D).



1. (C) SUMMARY: An Islamist MP issued a lengthy diatribe
accusing the US Embassy of interfering in Kuwait's internal
affairs; he was clearly reacting to the report detailing our
activities in support of human rights, posted on the DoS
website. GOK officials including the Foreign Minister
quickly denied that the Embassy or the USG was interfering.
At almost the same time, the Minister of Justice, a Salafi,
publicly complained that our Human Rights Report contains
errors. We reached out to his office, stressing our
longstanding desire for close cooperation to ensure access to
all pertinent information. The Minister reacted positively,
chairing a meeting in which members of his Human Rights
Committee vented resentment at perceived interference, and
stressed that some facts mentioned in the HRR are
commandments from God and therefore not human rights issues.
What they did not do was refute the accuracy of our
description. Even some Kuwaiti Islamists attribute these
outbursts to defensiveness brought on by the GOK's fresh push
in favor of women's political rights. The accusations of US
interference are designed to delegitimize what are in fact
home-grown reform efforts. END SUMMARY.



2. (SBU) Much ink has been spilled in the local press this
week over a lengthy diatribe published June 4 by MP Jassem
al-Kandari, in which he accused the US Embassy of interfering
in Kuwait's internal affairs. He was clearly reacting to the
report detailing our activities in support of human rights,
posted on the Department's website. He made it sound that
activities commonly undertaken by embassies around the world
were shocking evidence of cultural imperialism. Even before
the Embassy could react, the Foreign Minister rose to our
defense, denying any interference. The Minister of Social
Affairs and Labor did likewise. On June 7, the Foreign
Minister told Charge that al-Kandari is very interested in
the issue of the 12 Kuwaiti Guantanamo detainees; he
suggested that could be impelling the MP to react negatively
to USG criticism of other countries' human rights record.



3. (C) A few days earlier, Minister of Justice Ahmed Baqer,
a Salafi (and incidentally the only elected MP in the
Cabinet), publicly complained that the Department's Human
Rights Report (HRR) contained errors that unfairly cast
Kuwait in a bad light. We seized the opportunity to contact
his office and stress our commitment to making our reports as
accurate and complete as possible. To that end, we
reiterated our longstanding desire for close cooperation with
all relevant parts of the GOK and Kuwaiti society, to make
sure we have access to all pertinent information. The
Minister reacted positively to this initiative, promptly
inviting the Charge to a meeting in his office June 5. To
our surprise, the Minister was accompanied by his Ministry's
entire Human Rights Committee. While characteristically
gracious throughout, the Kuwaitis were emotionally spun up.
They viewed our HRR as an implicit criticism of their
religion and an attempt to pressure them to depart from
divine commandments -- notably on personal status matters,
e.g. a woman's share of inheritance is half that of a man,
and women's testimony counts as half men's.



4. (C) On women's political rights, the Minister admitted
that good Muslims can disagree. One of his colleagues
asserted that this issue had been debated and rejected
democratically by the National Assembly (conveniently
ignoring that it is, of course, an all-male institution).
Besides, he argued, Kuwaiti women are better off without the
vote than other Arab women who do have the vote but are less
wealthy and free. Another colleague spoke of different
concepts of freedom: what is freedom to Americans is
licentiousness to Kuwaitis. The Minister defended
restrictions on freedom of expression to preserve social
order and prevent violence. He did, however, acknowledge
that our primary TIP concern in Kuwait, the exploitation of
female domestic servants, is valid; he said he had just
received an excellent report on this from the Ministry of
Social Affairs and Labor. (COMMENT: We will try to obtain a
copy. END COMMENT.)



5. (C) Charge underscored the USG's respect for Islam and for
Kuwait, a friend and partner. He explained patiently that
our reports are descriptive, not prescriptive, and that we
are committed to correcting any errors that we become aware
of. Tellingly, the Kuwaitis' specific complaints tended to
confirm the accuracy of our report. A follow-up meeting is
planned for July, after the Ministry translates into English
its voluminous (apparently paragraph-by-paragraph) rebuttal
of the HRR.


6. (SBU) On June 6, Minister Baqer told the press the US is
neither interfering in Kuwait's affairs nor planning to harm
the country's reputation. He claimed that the meeting had
clarified "some factually incorrect information" in the HRR
(though in fact, the items he cited are factually correct as
published, e.g. women's inheritance, prohibition on Muslim
women marrying non-Muslim men).



7. (SBU) Even some Kuwaiti Islamists attribute the recent
outbursts against the Embassy to defensiveness brought on by
the GOK's fresh push to extend political rights to women
(reftel). While the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM,
with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood) is expressing openness
to the idea of women's rights, and religious Shiites openly
support such rights, Salafis and most independent Sunni
Islamists are adamantly opposed on religious grounds;
traditional tribalists are opposed on cultural grounds.



8. (SBU) COMMENT: To Kuwaitis who oppose the kinds of reform
we favor, it seems self-evident that the US is the driving
force behind those reform efforts. Even if they could be
persuaded otherwise, the accusation would still serve their
purpose: the best way to delegitimize a home-grown
initiative is to label it an imposition by the alien
superpower. The latest flurry of Islamist protests comes at
a time when liberal contacts increasingly tell us the
Islamists have passed their peak. Other contacts disagree;
even if it proves true, Kuwait remains a society of
conservative -- not fanatic, but conservative -- Islamic
values, and it is only human for at least some Kuwaitis to
resent being rated by foreigners, some of whose criticisms
seem to them to reflect disrespect for their religion.
URBANCIC