Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Amer Al Hilal on Kuwait’s Ban on DSLR Cameras

Woooooo Hooooo Amer Al-Hilal, a man I am proud to call my friend. It takes such great courage to speak out when something is going terribly wrong, and Amer knows how to do it articulately, rationally, and as the gentleman he is.

From his article in the Arab Times:

Camera ban regressive idea

‘Don’t stifle home-grown talent’

For a country that possesses a Constitution which safeguards civil liberties and freedom of speech, Kuwait sporadically sure likes toying with those liberties such as tentatively banning the Blackberry service, shutting down You Tube, impeding public gatherings and marches, banning and censoring books, literature, films and magazines which are available elsewhere in the Gulf.

This week according to media reports, and highlighted extensively in local Weblogs and Twitter, a palpable growing outcry is directed at the tentative plans by The Ministry of Information, Ministry of Social Affairs and Ministry of Finance to outlaw public photography and relegate it to journalism purposes only. This has allegedly resulted in the ban of Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLRs) in public places. If this charade is true, then it bodes ill for this country, another regressive move into the annals of ignorance.

During the 1980s video cameras and photographic equipment were also shunned by the authorities. I remember visiting Failaka in 1985 and being confronted by a military officer who demanded I hand in my bulky video camera until I left the island. These types of infringements in the name of security were insignificant — we still had an attempt on HH the Amir, explosions at Foreign Embassies in Kuwait and an actual invasion.

Why does this country always attempt to stifle home-grown talent? Banning cameras in public places is demoralizing to all the passionate, talented young Kuwait men and women who have excelled in this field and love their hobby, not to mention visitors who attempt to document their travels here. Moreover, banning DSLR cameras is irrational and counterproductive if you think about it; in this day and age of iPhones, Blackberries, 5 MP plus camera phones, Google Earth and the like, anyone can take photograph of anything, quietly, without fanfare, which makes the potential DSLR ban even more preposterous.

I have just returned from a trip to Dubai where I witnessed dozens of tourists proudly using their cameras to document Burg Khalifa and the other picturesque locations. No one stopped them, impeded them or asked them what they were doing and you know why, because they respect people’s rights and are intent on making their country more appealing. UAE is able to manage security matters confidently because they have proper security and ID processes in place: eye scanners at airports and entry points, proper electronic government, high fines for breaking the law, a brilliant CCTV system in place in every street corner (not the shoddy black and white choppy, streaming-like quality of the limited equipment we have here) — they truly invest in their infrastructure, maintain it and upgrade it.

If Kuwait is serious about its security then it should invest in the same caliber of CCTV and not the bargain basement tenders that usually go towards ineffective systems (i.e. Highway signs with the useless ‘no mobile’ plasma screen) belonging to members of the matching ministry who want a ‘piece of the action’. The sad reality is the government sector here would rather ban something than actually strive to improve it through sheer hard work and effective processes. It’s just easier to ban; a question of laziness and neglect.

Needless to say, Kuwait seems unfazed when foreign jets infiltrate our airspace and take aerial shots of our oil refineries and military installations, or when agents and their local conspirators are found to possess blueprints and photographs of said installations, but no, lets go after the ‘little guy’, the amateur photographer or tourist on the street taking pictures. It’s a hypocritical, spineless action by the authorities.

Moreover, I suspect the issue is not just relegated to security, a myriad of reasons could have led to the support of this ban, fundamentalists who felt cameras and pictures are a ‘Tool of the Devil,’ government officials and ministries disgraced at seeing shots of Kuwait’s dilapidated infrastructure, environment and mismanagement on weblogs, internet forums and magazines. You cannot conceal the squalid side of Kuwait; it is there for everyone to see.

Furthermore, this law against public photography will not be enforced, just as seatbelt, no mobile while driving, no litter, no smoking areas, and other ‘laws’ cannot be enforced in this Land of Confusion.

Amer Al-Hilal is webmaster of http://www.hilaliya.com and can be reached at amer@hilaliya.com.

November 27, 2010 - Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Bureaucracy, Civility, Crime, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Privacy, Values

23 Comments »

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I know I won’t cross any line so I definitely won’t quit my favorite hobby. *takes his dslr and goes out*

    Comment by MacaholiQ8 | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  2. supposedly it is an apocryphal ban. sources are retracting it…

    very eloquent and convincing article. bravo.

    HIIII INTLXPATR!! 😀

    Comment by Mrm | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  3. It was, as I thought right from the start, cobblers! There is nothing (NOTHING) true in the Kuwait Times article!

    Comment by Bu Yousef | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  4. wow. well said, kudos to amer al hilal!

    Comment by Manayer Salmeen | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  5. This whole “issue” has me more perplexed about Kuwait as a whole than ever.

    I went to the web site of each of the three ministries and there was no mention of the ban (however, only portions of the sites were converted to English and I don’t know any Arabic). You would think a “reporter” and “newspaper” would verify the information with one of the three reported sources before making it public.

    Al Watan tv discussion – was the whole video and “ticket” a hoax?

    http://www.248am.com/mark/kuwait/al-watan-on-the-photography-ban/

    KT Retraction – http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MzAwMTg4ODg1

    Do the ministries really notify the paper of “new legislation” as a public opinion “trial balloon?”

    How can the citizens of Kuwait trust either the government or the press under these conditions?

    Comment by bitjockey | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  6. Amer Al Hilal on Kuwait's Ban on DSLR Cameras « Here There and ……

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

    Trackback by World Spinner | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  7. It has the feel of a trial balloon, doesn’t it, Bit Jockey? And, thanks to the outcry of concerned citizens and/or bloggers and photographers, it was all waved away as non-existent. Or maybe things are quiet in Kuwait and the KT was just trying to stir things up?

    Are bloggers in Kuwait being closely monitored?

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  8. Wooo HOOO, Mac, nice to see you and hope your new life is sweet. 🙂

    Wooo HOOOOO Mrm, I see you out there with your video camera on your forehead shooting mocumentaries, LOL!

    Yaayyyyy, Bu Yousef, YOU WERE RIGHT! (It’s the rule in our family that when someone is RIGHT, the other person has to say it. “You were RIGHT!”)

    Welcome, Manayer, and yes, kudos once again to Amer.

    Bit Jockey, thank you for your input and analysis. It really is a very odd – and not untypical – little incident. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 27, 2010 | Reply

  9. Check this new website :
    http://athoob.com/blog/?p=2519

    Comment by Hayfa Almughni | November 28, 2010 | Reply

  10. Pretty cool blog, Hayfa, and he has a great eye.

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 28, 2010 | Reply

  11. so all’s well that ends well!! 🙂

    Comment by onlooker | November 28, 2010 | Reply

  12. Dear Intlxpatr, you are very much missed in Kuwait but I am happy to see you have held on to your love of the country and your old fans ~ thank you for linking the article and for highlighting this issue.

    Comment by hilaliya | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  13. What have we learned?
    Al-Watan TV, Kuwait Times (Which is also a part of Al-Watan) and the four horsemen who were interviewed in Taw Al-Leil are nothing but attention lovers who did nothing but confuse people and shake our trust in our country.

    Not that we don’t have irrational rules and restrictions, we do. But this is unbelievable even by common sense.

    intlxpatr, it’s been a long time =D

    Comment by Q8GEEK | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  14. Onlooker – You said it. 😀

    Hilaliya – I was fascinated by Kuwaiti politics. Kuwait is such a dramatic country, and I had such wonderful friends. I am a student of politics by nature, and was always trying to piece together an understanding of how Kuwait works (no matter how many times people explained things, I never figured it out; there were always other factors coming into play, LOL)

    I also have friends in Kuwait – and Qatar – who still send me items of interest, so I am not so involved on a daily basis, but still fascinated when a freedom of speech/ press issue comes up, and fascinated by the balance between freedom and privacy.

    I am also fascinated to find we are still working these same things out in the USA. 🙂

    Geek! I am happy to see you. Long time. 🙂 Geek, I don’t think these things are based on nothing, even if they came to nothing. I suspect there were rumbles headed in the direction of a ban, and the outcry headed off any attempt at formalization. There were cameras confiscated. It bears keeping an eye on.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Thomas Jefferson

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  15. There are ban rules. But non on them are related to public or banned by government (Excluding military building\institute or something similar, oil fields and houses of the ruling family members)

    Other than that, there’s bans from the private property management (You can include malls, markets or institutes… They’re still private and have the right to forbid photography for their own reasons)

    Comment by Q8GEEK | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  16. Nothing stems from nothing. My take/guess: Someone leaked the new ‘law’ to the media while it was still in the making, and the newspaper ran away with it. Then they halted the idea after seeing the Kuwaitis’ and the world’s reaction.

    I applaude Amer Al Hilal for this amazingly well written article. He did a great job.

    Intlxpatr, the weather is great in here! you would’ve had great pictures of sunrises from your window 🙂 I miss those posts..

    Comment by Yousef | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  17. Ah, Geek, now I remember, yes, there were rules, like at the Marina Mall. And of course, the military installations, and specified residences. I had forgotten. There was an implication that cameras were taken – do the private locales have that power? The security guards never seemed to have that much authority that I remember . . .

    Yousef, I your scenario sounds plausible. I would love to be in Kuwait; I watch the weather on Weather Underground and it looks like great weather in Kuwait. I would love to have that view, and those sunrises . . . I miss those posts, too!

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  18. Intlxpatr ;

    I think they should ban Ansam from taking photos only , she was having lunch in sheraton and she took photos half way across kuwait without zoom even.

    check this out

    http://ansam518.wordpress.com/2010/11/19/eid-lunch-at-sheratons-shahrayar/

    😉

    Comment by daggero | November 29, 2010 | Reply

  19. LLOOOLLLL, Daggero, I looks to me like she is using a digital zoom! That restaurant looks YUMMY. Ansam is a great blogger. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  20. Intlxpatr *hugs* not as a great as you my dear!!

    Daggero!!! Daggero Daggero!! Maaashi

    Comment by ansam518 | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  21. Ahlen! Ahlen, Ansam. 🙂 I am wondering, did you ever have any problems taking photos publicly? You take photos everywhere! *hugs you back* 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | November 30, 2010 | Reply

  22. #7 “Are bloggers in Kuwait being closely monitored?”

    Mark (@248am) just recently posted a relevant update –

    http://www.248am.com/mark/kuwait/were-being-watched/

    Comment by bitjockey | December 10, 2010 | Reply

  23. I checked the reference, bitjockey, and evidently Mark has removed the post. Maybe he wants to continue blogging and took it down out of discretion?

    Comment by intlxpatr | December 10, 2010 | Reply


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