By Sahar Moussa
KUWAIT: Khaled woke up early on Friday morning to the sound of his energetic son who wanted to go outside and play. But Khaled was confused because he didn’t know where to take him to. He eventually decided to take him to the mall for the third time this month. Leisure options are very limited nowadays, especially after a lot of entertainment places closed in Kuwait.
On his way to the mall, Khaled recalled all the places he used to go to when he was a child, such as Entertainment City, Shaab Park, Showbiz, Aqua Park, the zoo, the ice skating rink, sea clubs of Touristic Enterprises Company, Marah Land and others.
“Whatever we had is closed now – all we have now are malls,” said Youssef, a Kuwaiti father of two. This is the case of many parents in Kuwait, who are struggling to find proper and decent places for their children to play, other than going to malls.
A Kuwait Times survey on social media revealed 89 percent of respondents said there are not enough entertainment places in Kuwait. Since the government announced a nine-day holiday on the occasion of National Day, Liberation Day and Israa and Meraj, some commenters asked where they can go with the few options they have.
“Entertainment doesn’t exist in Kuwait at all these days. They have closed down almost everything that is actually entertaining, and we don’t know what to do in the holiday, except going to the same places which are malls,” one commenter wrote. “There is not enough free entertainment for kids or clean and child-friendly parks. Everything is dilapidated, and we don’t know where we should take our kids in the holiday,” said another.
Meanwhile, many people raised concerns about the condition and safety of the few outdoor parks in Kuwait. “In some parks, the swings and slides are broken, outdated and filthy. The parks are not clean and not maintained,” they said.
Meanwhile, many people demanded that there should be more interactive entertainment places and activities in a country like Kuwait. “We need skateparks, rollerblading, arcades, amusement parks, concerts, more recreational and interactive parks, proper museums, organizations for the youth to participate and organize events and more touristic things – anything that doesn’t only include food and movies,” said one of the commenters.
The lack of entertainment options has led many people to start comparing Kuwait with other GCC countries, mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia arranged the country’s first yoga festival, which was attended by 1,000 people in just one day, while Kuwaiti authorities banned a yoga event in the desert.
“Kuwait needs something like Global Village and Expo 2020 in UAE, concerts in Saudi Arabia, and the ability to host big events like Qatar,” said one commenter. “Where are we living; in Afghanistan ruled by the Taleban? Kuwait is going backwards while the rest of the Gulf is innovating and improving on their past. If this country doesn’t improve what it is doing, I can guarantee that Kuwait will collapse on itself, leaving citizens to find somewhere new to live,” said one commenter.
“The fact that people think about moving out of the country and want to travel all the time is because Kuwait literally has nothing. This is upsetting to think about. Kuwaiti citizens deserve more than just malls, cafes, chalets and parks and spending money in other countries instead of their own. They could be doing a lot to help make the country more entertaining and comfortable for the people living in it, but they are not.
They should at least think of a way to fix the boredom that we feel from going to the same places repeatedly. There is so much potential for this country, but they are not doing anything about it,” said another.
While some people praise UAE and Saudi Arabia, others question the current trend of drifting away from longstanding Gulf customs and traditions. In Kuwait, the conversative voice remains strong, both on the political and social spectrums. In fact, Kuwaiti authorities banned the yoga event in response to comments raised by MP Hamdan Al-Azmi, who described the event as “dangerous”, which would threaten the country’s conservative society.
The line between freedom and oppression
Azmi also sparked debate when he demanded during a parliament session that the government must not allow concerts in Kuwait, saying that they are “destructive” to society, “corrupt our children” and go against the Kuwaiti society’s conservative nature. The Kuwaiti Artists Society criticized Azmi for his comments. They released a statement highlighting the message Kuwaiti arts has carried throughout history, in line with the Kuwaiti society’s customs and traditions, noting that the constitution stipulates that the state must protect sciences and arts.
In response to Azmi’s objections to the yoga event, the Kuwaiti Progressive Movement issued a statement rejecting “puritanical claims to restrict personal freedoms”. They said: “We call on Kuwaiti citizens to confront this reality that is being imposed on the state, society and individuals in Kuwait.”
Another Kuwait Times survey on social media asking people about banning yoga in Kuwait revealed 78 percent are against the ban. All these developments lead to a protest at Irada Square on Monday against MPs’ “guardianship of women and liberties”. “Guardianship of the public is unacceptable. We are not against religion; we are against guardianship in the name of religion. We refuse to be under the guardianship of people who are equal to us,” said Sarah Al-Mikaimi, one of the women at the protest.
Louloua Al-Mulla, head of Kuwait’s Women’s Cultural and Social Society, said “we are witnessing an attack from the forces of backwardness to limit the features of the civil state. Kuwait is a civil state ruled by the constitution and not fatwas, and we will defend it.”
As Khaled sat down and watched his kid playing in the mall, he reminisced about the time when Kuwait hosted many cultural and entertainment activities, which attracted visitors from all over the region. At that time, Kuwait used to be known as the ‘Pearl of the Gulf’, and he like many others wonder if it will be called that again.