Muna Al-Fuzai

The legislative committee at the National Assembly’s approved a proposal to amend the nationality law to allow granting Kuwaiti citizenship to non-Muslims. Under the current law issued in 1959, Kuwaiti citizenship can only be granted to Muslims, and the amendment – if approved by the National Assembly and the government – will certainly eliminate the obstacle for naturalizing non-Muslims.

The Kuwaiti nationality law regulates granting, relinquishing and withdrawing of citizenship. According to this law, Kuwaiti nationality is divided into two categories – original nationality and naturalization. Both types have different rights and guarantees. A person who originally settled in Kuwait before 1920 is granted citizenship under article 1 of the nationality law. A naturalized Kuwaiti is a person of another nationality or stateless person who is granted Kuwaiti nationality.

The news was surprising to all and although some received it with reservation and without comment as run by Arab channels and published in local newspapers, I tried to follow the views of some citizens. I found out that they are divided into two main groups. One group rejects the proposed amendment and opposes it, while the other is more reserved about it, and circumspect if the Assembly can pass such a change. A third party has no influence on the matter but welcomes the amendment of the legislative committee – this party is usually human rights groups.

I noticed that the first group believes that non-Muslims do not have the right to Kuwaiti nationality and any agreement to grant citizenship to non-Muslims will open the door to other non-Christian doctrines demanding Kuwaiti nationality. This makes sense, and I think this is worth considering and clarifying. We all know that the Kuwaiti constitution refers to the principle of equality as one of the pillars of society. Article 7 says: “Justice, liberty and equality are the pillars of society; co-operation and mutual help are the firmest bonds between citizens.” Also, as stated in article 29 of the constitution: “All people are equal in human dignity, and in public rights and duties before the law, without distinction as to race, origin, language or religion.”

I believe that even though the Kuwaiti constitution says freedom of belief is absolute and that the state protects the freedom to perform religious rituals in accordance with established customs, there are some laws and decrees that need to be revised to remove any possible discrimination against non-Muslim believers.

This question will remain if the National Assembly is ready to put this issue at the top of its priorities. And I really wonder who is meant by non-Muslims here? Are they Christians or other sects, and other beliefs such as Hinduism? I have not seen a detailed explanation of the matter according to the published news. This left the door widely open for debate among some people on social media. I hope to see more details on the subject to be more than a news item. If the amendment is intended for Christians only, the number of Christians in Kuwait is estimated at 450,000 from different sects, of which only 150 are Kuwaitis.

I know that there are many expats who are looking at the subject of nationality on the grounds that getting it is easy in foreign countries, and this is normal because foreign countries need more taxpayers and manpower, but in Kuwait, I do not think that the issue of granting citizenship can be done in the same way because the state is small and the societal situation does not allow the same facilities as Western countries on this subject. I think this proposed amendment is a sensitive issue for many, and I do not expect that many MPs are ready to accept to defend it and risk losing a large electoral base of those who reject such an amendment. Only time will tell.

By Muna Al-Fuzai