Proposed ‘bikini ban’ prompts political standoff in Kuwait


Kuwait’s National Assembly (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari, File)

There seems to be a backlash against showing too much skin in the Middle East at the moment. A campaign in Qatar telling tourists in the country to dress modestly and avoid shorts and leggings made headlines recently.  Now Kuwait is stepping into the mix, with a proposed "bikini ban" prompting a possible political standoff.

According to the Kuwait Times, Hamdan Al-Azemi, an Islamist member of parliament who is head of the committee for combating alien behavior, said the committee had approved his proposal to ban female "nudity" at places accessible to the public, including swimming pools and hotels. Al-Azemi refused to define what he meant by "nudity," telling Al Rai newspaper on Wednesday that "mone of the negative phenomena that are alien to the Kuwaiti culture need to be specifically defined."

The proposal would need to be approved by Kuwait's National Assembly and by the government, the Kuwait Times notes, but there are already signs it could cause serious problems. Lawmaker Nabil al-Fadl has told the Kuwaiti press that he would resign if the law passes, Al Arabiya reports. "If approved, I will deliver my resignation, as I do not approve of this regression and out of respect for my electorates who voted for my ideas and thoughts," al-Fadl reportedly said.

Kuwait is an Islamic country with relatively strict laws and traditions about social ethics, though it has a large expatriate community: The 2011 census found that almost 65 percent of the population were foreigners. The British Foreign Office advises expatriates that "Kuwaitis dress conservatively in traditional dress and can be offended when people dress inappropriately or not in accordance with Islamic values."

In the past, Kuwaiti officials have warned westerners against wearing bikinis. "Visitors should respect the traditions and wear decent outfits," Adel Al Hashash, head of public relations and moral awareness department, was quoted as saying in 2012. "This does not mean we will arrest any woman swimming in a bikini if she did not act immorally." A 2011 proposal to ban bikinis and other revealing attire failed after it was declared unconstitutional by a committee.

According to Gulf News, this week's "bikini ban" proposal comes just days after a Kuwaiti woman lost a custody battle with her ex-husband after the court was shown a photograph of her wearing a bikini while at the beach with another man.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.

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Adam Taylor · May 30, 2014