Framing Nationality in the Migratory Context

The Elusive Category of Biduns in Kuwait

In: Middle East Law and Governance
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  • 1 Institut français du Proche Orient and member of the WAFAW program

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The biduns (“without” nationality) are the segment of the Kuwaiti population that claims entitlement to the Kuwaiti nationality whereas the State of Kuwait, while contesting the truth of their claims, has been holding them as illegal since 1986. As the bone of contention is mainly about the criteria that qualify an individual for nationality, the biduns’ issue has often been analyzed through the sole question of their deserving or proving to belong as nationals and the relations between them. This paper adds a third element, namely the label of aliens – from which the biduns strongly distance themselves, and more broadly the migratory context in which the debate takes place. By analyzing the socially constructed migrants categories that are imposed on, shaped, and contested by the biduns along with other actors, this research investigates the ways in which the elusive category of biduns serves to define nationality but also to fulfill migration policy goals.

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    Iker Barbero, “Expanding Acts of Citizenship: The Struggles of Sinpapeles Migrant,” Social & Legal Studies, 21, no. 4 (2012): 529–547.

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    Scheel 2011.

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    Scheel 2011.

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    Mueller (1963) describes how Egyptian white collars would be deported overnight and even paid a termination package as soon as the Kuwaiti authorities had ascertained their political leftist inclination. Furthermore, the British held the Egyptian lawyer Izzat Jaʿfar to be behind the 1948 Nationality law and saw him as an ‘undesirable person;’ they insisted on the suspension of the law straightaway as they thought, fearing Arab nationalism, that the law had “been drawn by … Izzat, on an Egyptian pattern, in language which is probably designed to ensure livelihoods for the fraternity of the Egyptian Bar.” British archives document dated 5 December 1950 and quoted in Rashid Hamad al-Anezi, A Study of the Role of Nationality in International Law with Special Reference to the Law and Practice of Kuwait. Thesis, Cambridge, uk: University of Cambridge, 1989, 164.

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    Interview in Kuwait, May 26, 2008.

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    In the 1980s, Ahmad Saʿdun, elected Speaker of the Parliament, was among the first deputies to attack the government head-on for its messy nationality policy records. During the electoral campaign for the 1985 Parliament, he became famous for his speech warning “the government that it is seated on a timed bomb because of the way it handled the granting of nationality” (Al Dustur, Jordan, February 17, 1985). This famous ‘timed bomb’ expression referred to the “65,000 persons consider[ing] themselves Kuwaitis and 46,000 [who] appl[ied] for the nationality” and the fact that nationality was granted to many ineligible people, while it was denied to others who were qualified to become Kuwaiti citizens. At the time, the claims from 25,000 Kuwaitis to be Kuwaitis ‘by origin’ were ignored (“The Issue of Nationality is Like a Bomb that Could Explode at any Time: 65,000 Persons Consider Themselves as Kuwaitis and 46,000 Apply for the Nationality,” Al Qabas, February 14, 1985). This discourse has been seen as ambiguous and double-edged. some denounced the situation of biduns, yet others pointed to them, in the troubled context of the 1980s, as a threat. All the articles mentioned in this footnote were accessed from the press archives held at the Information Centre of Al Qabas, Kuwait during the author’s fieldwork between November 2006 and May 2008.

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    Emmanuel Terray, “Le travail des étrangers en situation irrégulière ou la délocalisation sur place,” in Sans- papiers: l’archaïsme fatal, (eds.) Etienne Balibar, Monique Chemillier-Gendreau, Jacqueline Costa-Lascoux and Emmanuel Terray, Paris, fr: La Découverte, 1999, 18–32.

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    Michael Herb, “A Nation of Bureaucrats: Political Participation and Economic Diversification in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 41, no. 3 (2009): 382.

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  • 50

    Interview, Kuwait, August 30, 2007. She employed a very significant vocabulary to make this point, referring to the urban historic distinction overlapping the socio-economic divide: ‘yakhâf yushârikûn min nahîat iqtisâdiyya dâkhil al sûr’ [They [hadhar] are afraid that they [biduns] come to share in the economy ‘within the wall’ (the 1920 defense wall).]

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    Kuwait Times, “Bedoons Unveil New Plan of Action: ‘We will Embarrass them in Front of the World’,” Kuwait Times, January 25, 2007.

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    Kuwait Times, “Solve Nationality Issue Soon: Al-Enezi,” Kuwait Times, February 4, 2008.

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    Bryan S. Turner, “Outline of a Theory of Citizenship,” Sociology 24, no. 2 (1990): 189–217. The conditions of the arrest of the bidun blogger Ahmed Abdul Khaleq on May 22, 2012, as he was summoned to regularize his legal status and accept a Comorian passport in exchange for his current id, illustrated the same administrative ascribing of identity as the Kuwaiti biduns suffered from when they were obliged to carry identity documents stating “illegal resident.” See hrw, “uae: Free Blogger Activist,” Human Rights Watch, May 28, 2012 http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/28/uae-free-blogger-activist.

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  • 75

    Kuwait Times, “Panel Backs Bedoon Rights,” Kuwait Times, November 27, 2007. Both mps quoted are from the Salafi Movement in Kuwait.

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  • 80

    In January 2012, the biduns defied the Ministry of Interior’s ban to demonstrate, which led to waves of arrests and detentions. The demonstrations have continued specifically during symbolic days like the February 18 anniversary and October 2 as the international day of non-violence. According to Amnesty International, during the October 2–8, 2012 protests, over 20 persons were arrested. The organisation further states: “the Kuwait Criminal Court this week reportedly postponed until 19 May 2013 the trial of 33 Bidun for participating in “unauthorised demonstrations” in December 2012” (Amnesty International, “Kuwait: Small step forward for Bidun rights as 4,000 ‘foreigners’ granted citizenship,” Amnesty International, March 21, 2013 http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/kuwait-small-step-forward-bidun-rights-4000-foreigners-granted-citizenship-2013-03-21).

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    Claire Beaugrand, “Statelessness & Administrative Violence: Bidūns’ Survival Strategies in Kuwait,” The Muslim World 101, no. 2 (2011): 228–250.

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  • 85

    Until the 1990s, biduns were admitted at the Kuwait University alongside Kuwaitis. As a result, biduns are divided between those who got access to (higher) education and those who, graduating from the high school in the 1990s, could not.

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    Yazan al-Saadi, “Kuwait: Security crackdown on Bedoon community renews tensions,” Al Akhbar, March 21, 2014 http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/19111.

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