By Ben Garcia
Malls and shopping complexes play an important role in Kuwait’s social life. They are not just destinations for shopping and eating out but also important gathering points for socializing, meeting friends and enjoying the weekend. This is especially true in summer time when outdoor temperatures make life indoors the only viable option.
But malls also have a complex half life; one is built and comes into fashion and becomes a gathering place, then a new shopping mall is built and the older one fades from popularity. Most people who have grown up in Kuwait remember a shopping mall popular in their youth that has now fallen out of favor.
One such mall is the near empty Al-Muthanna Complex in Kuwait City. Once the most popular and visited shopping destination for people in Kuwait, Al-Muthanna is now mostly a store of memories. Built in the early 1980s, Al-Muthanna Complex once played host to a wide range of clothing and shoe stores, bookshops, restaurants and cafes. It was a thriving, popular location especially on weekends.
Helen Emmanuel has loads of memories of Al-Muthanna Complex, from the time she arrived in Kuwait in the early 1980s. When her cohort of nurses from the Philippines arrived in Kuwait in 1986, a restaurant in Muthanna Complex was their first stop from the airport. “We arrived in April 1986 in the afternoon. Of course we were all hungry, so the mandoub from the ministry of health took us to Al-Muthanna Complex to eat before taking us to our accommodation in Riggae,” she recalled.
“We had no cameras at that time and no smartphones to capture the moments. But my memory of Muthanna Complex is vivid and until now I can visualize the first time I arrived in Kuwait and at the complex,” she said. “For many of us expats, Kuwait City was Al-Muthanna and Al-Muthanna was Kuwait City. I cannot forget Al-Muthanna because I met my husband at this complex. It was our meeting place from the time of courtship until I finally said yes to him,” she said.
“Al-Muthanna became a sanctuary for my children too – I have seven kids and they all grew up visiting Al-Muthanna Complex, especially for lunch or dinner at restaurants or to play after Sunday church service,” she said. Helen’s last visit to Al-Muthanna Complex was in 2016.
Ahmed Jaber, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, shared his unforgettable experiences of Al-Muthanna Complex with Kuwait Times. “I miss the old days when I used to visit that place to play computer games with my brother. We played from morning till evening…those were the days,” he reminisced.
“After I completed my university, my first job was at Salhiya Complex near Muthanna. So I normally hung out with friends there after work. It is really sad to see the current condition of the complex. It’s old, there’s no maintenance and there seems to be no more branded shoes, watches or clothes there anymore, unlike before when we used to see big names inside,” he lamented.
Anna Del Mundo, a Filipina businesswoman who arrived in Kuwait in 1985, has fond memories of Al-Muthanna Complex. “Kuwait City, especially Muthanna, is a special place for me because I have lots of memories of my younger days in Kuwait there. I remember buying stationery from a huge bookstore in the basement and sitting on the benches to write letters and send them to my family in the Philippines. Muthanna was a household name for many expats. We could buy almost everything there, from shoes to sunglasses to food; you name it, they had it all,” she recalled.
“I used to meet several Filipino community leaders at Muthanna. Many Filipino entertainers and singers were brought to Kuwait by Kuwait Plaza Hotel, before it changed to Swiss-Belhotel. Now it’s Inn & Go. When it was the Kuwait Plaza Hotel, many Filipino singers visited for a week or two to entertain visitors. That’s how I remember Muthanna,” Anna told Kuwait Times. “Muthanna was once very popular – it was The Avenues mall for us at that time.”