By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO
â€œThose who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselvesâ€.
The word â€œfreedomâ€ is one that is being heard more and more often in the Middle East whether it is in the media or brought up in simple conversation. Countries like Egypt and Tunisia have already tasted the sweet tang of freedom in recent months. Other countries, like Bahrain and Libya, are still waiting to savor even a morsel of freedom in their countries. While certain parts of the Middle East have yet to provide full throttle freedom for its denizens there is one country that has been a beacon of light for a primary liberty, freedom of speech, in the Middle East for many years.
The State of Kuwait has topped the annual Freedom House â€œFreedom of the Press Surveyâ€ for several years running and has been heralded as having one of the most free media sectors in the region. However, this year, Kuwait was toppled from first position by Israel and further pushed down a notch by Lebanon to take third position.
Itâ€™s not surprising that Kuwait lost the top spot given that the past several months have seen quite an amount of political turmoil in the country with some media outlets not only reporting the news but also becoming part of it. At least one television station was ransacked in the pasts several months and one writer jailed over public statements they made which were deemed to be inflammatory.
Members of the public in Kuwait have also been prone to having their freedom of speech impugned as of late. This past January a Kuwait-based blogger was sued by an international eatery over writing a negative food review. Fortunately, the blogger proved victorious as the case was thrown out of court. However, this past week a group of Kuwait University students found themselves simmering in a pot of â€œhot waterâ€ over comments made about one of their teachers on the social-networking site Facebook.
According to the teacher, who chose to press charges, the students posted derogatory comments about her teaching methods on a personal page. Other students chimed in about their experiences and it snowballed from there. Authorities investigated the incident and the case was seemingly closed until the teacher demanded punitive measures from the universityâ€™s governing panel. All of the students, some of which are set to graduate in the coming month, involved in posting the comments online face expulsion. In a counterclaim, a spokesman for the student union known as â€˜The Democratic Circleâ€™ has retorted, â€œFreedom of speech is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution. The fact that a university instructor does not respect this premise signifies the existence of a larger issue and jeopardizes the universityâ€™s reputation as an educational institute.â€
Only time will tell if Kuwait can regain its status as the exemplar for free speech in the region. But one thing is for sure, censorship and transgressions against freedom of speech are both meals best served up cold.