I have found that several Western expatriates, especially male diplomats, like to visit diwaniyas in Kuwait. But what is the secret behind this passion? This article reviews the role and importance of diwaniyas. Diwaniyas in Kuwait hold a strong position in political, social and cultural life, the formation of ideas and discussions and sometimes decision-making according to the prevailing circumstances.
I recalled the importance role of diwaniyas while I was reading a statement of a new diplomat in Kuwait, in which he said he looks forward to visiting many Kuwaiti diwaniyas. I believe he will undoubtedly be welcomed. Kuwaiti hospitality is well known and diwaniyas are in fact cultural, social and political spaces to hear what Kuwaitis think and talk about daily. Also, Kuwaitis prefer to welcome visitors in diwaniyas. Visitors feel that they are welcome in their homes and this reflects the generosity and the Arab sense of hospitality.
Diwaniyas are the perfect place to share ideas and hold debates without fear or anxiety, as the diwaniya is excluded from the law of gatherings, and it is not required to take permission from the interior ministry regardless of the number of people who gather in one place. Also in recent years, Kuwaiti women have established their own diwaniyas in modern Kuwait, which is normal in light of the development of civil society.
Diwaniyas have become more luxurious with modern furniture and décor, but what matters to most Kuwaitis is their content. In the past and before the discovery of oil, men used to meet to discuss their businesses and problems. Kuwait had many diwaniyas that were well-known as powerful, such as the diwaniya of the Al-Nisf family, the diwaniya of Mulla Saleh and many others.
Another major example of diwaniyas is Diwan Marafie. It has played a fundamental economical and historical role in Kuwaiti history. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Diwan Marafie played a distinctive role during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – it remained open and performed its national duties, helping Kuwaiti families.
Even with the advent of social media, the diwaniya maintains a strong influence in Kuwaiti society. Diwaniyas are also cultural places where attendees wear dishdashas or Western suits with ties. I know some may not like the taste of Arabic coffee because it is a bit bitter, but with good dates, it forms an acceptable mix and an icebreaker to open talks.
Kuwaiti diwaniyas have been able to adapt to volatile local situations, whether political, social or economic, and created an environment for free discussions and political criticism sometimes by Kuwaiti youth, especially in light of its use by some opposition movements to accommodate diverse opinions. I think this is normal and must be accepted. Kuwaiti diwaniyas are an example of how the values of a society can continue in the context of development, moderation and social media. I encourage visitors who want to learn about Kuwait to visit Kuwaiti diwaniyas, because they will feel the pulse of Kuwaiti society.
By Muna Al-Fuzai