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Kuwaiti youth desperate for social freedom

Vast majority yearns for a life beyond strict conservative boundaries

Gulf News

Kuwait City: Some young Kuwaitis say they are also frustrated by restrictions on behaviour in their country.

Men and women sit segregated in Kuwaiti universities and relationships before marriage are generally taboo, with courting either done in the presence of family members or in secret for those from more traditional backgrounds. Many get around the rules online, and some of the more daring gather on the main roads at the weekend to flirt in traffic jams.

Young people complain that there are few places for them to socialise outside the home, away from their families. There are coffee shops and juice bars but no nightclubs; entertainment centres are oriented towards families. Scorching summers mean outdoor activities are restricted to the winter months.

“It’s boring,” said Fajer Zaman, 20, as she strolled through a shopping centre with her sisters. “We don’t know where to go at the weekends. We are so bored of the shopping malls... we always go to the shopping malls.”

Her sister Fatma, 21, was interested in the latest political debate, but already appeared to be disillusioned. “I think 75 per cent of the candidates are only in it for the money and the special seat,” she said.

She said if she did decide to take part in the election, she was only certain of who would not get her vote. “We don’t like the very strict Muslims, the Salafists, they want to make Kuwait like Saudi Arabia and restrict women, to stop us from being able to drive.”

Others said they felt distant from Kuwait’s political system and did not feel like they could seek change through elections.

Kuwait’s government is run by a prime minister appointed by the emir and top posts are filled by members of the ruling family.

The 50-member parliament has legislative powers and the right to summon ministers for questioning, but the emir has the final say in state affairs, can veto laws and dissolve the assembly. December’s election will be the fifth since mid-2006.

“The problem in Kuwait is that the people do not feel like they run the country,” said 26-year-old research assistant Faraj Al Sa’adi. “We don’t have an elected prime minister and the government is appointed. It is always someone else making the decisions.”