Farah Al-Nakib is an Assistant Professor of History at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Until 2018, Al-Nakib was an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Gulf Studies at the American University of Kuwait. She received her PhD (2011) and MA (2006) in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Al-Nakib’s research focuses on the urban social history of Kuwait before and after oil, on which she wrote her award-winning book Kuwait Transformed: A History of Oil and Urban Life (Stanford University Press, 2016) and has published numerous articles in peer reviewed journals and edited volumes. Her current research analyzes collective memory, forgetting, and nostalgia in relation to modernity in the Arab Gulf.
FA: Hello. I am Farah Alkhoury, an architect at Sharjah Architecture Triennial as part of the second series of SATtalks: Architecture+Cities. I would like to welcome Farah Al-Nakib, Assistant Professor in the History Department at California Polytechnic State University College of Liberal Arts. Al-Nakib's research specializes on the Arab Gulf states and specifically on Kuwait. She is the author of the book Kuwait Transformed: a history of oil and urban life published in 2016. She has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. Her current research analyzes collective memory, forgetting, and nostalgia in relation to modernity in the Arab Gulf. Hi, Farah.
FN: Hi Farah. Nice to be here.
FA: Nice to have you. let's jump into the conversation. First, I would like to ask you, how you come to focus on the relationship between Kuwait's urban landscape and the social behavior of its inhabitants?
FN: I think so much of my work that I've done on Kuwait really started from my own interest, in trying to sort of better understand the society that I'm from. I was born and raised in Kuwait and after the invasion in the 90s, when I was finishing high school, I really started to realize how much the city was changing and people. The society had really changed from what I had remembered growing up. It was becoming more conservative. It was less cosmopolitan. And so, I was starting to do research as an undergraduate and then later in graduate school. I was really trying to understand the transformations of the society that I grew up in, that I was a part of. I started then analyzing it from the perspective of the city and the urban landscape.
I was already starting to experiment in those areas, thinking about things like housing. But really it was through the inspiration of my graduate advisor Nalida Fuccaro, who is a leading urban historian of Bahrain and of the Gulf. She's one of the pioneers in the field of Gulf history but, even specifically, on urbanism in the Gulf and she was working on Bahrain at the time. And so, she was really pushing me to think about some of the things that I was trying to do: to do research historically, from that lens thinking about the impact that the changing urban landscape has had on the transformation of society.
When you look at a region like the Gulf, some of the most obvious transformations that happen in the shift from the pre-oil to oil period are with the rapid and radical transformation of the built environment. And so, the impact that that has had on how we live, and, therefore, how we behave and how we relate with one another, can't be overlooked or minimized. It's one of the most significant ways in which we've transformed over the decades.
FA: In your article “Legitimizing the Illegitimate: A Case for Kuwait's Forgotten Modernity”, you analyze the erasure of Kuwait's modern era in terms of both the physical environment and historical narrative. What is the period that defines the modern era of Kuwait and what factors initiated this erasure and when?
FN: So, I defined the modern era in Kuwait as being those really seminal early-oil transformative decades of the 50s, 60s and 70s predominantly. Now I just want to sort of jump in with one caveat, when I say that these are the decades that really define Kuwait's modern era, it is not to claim that Kuwait before oil was pre-modern or not modern. Kuwait was a very modern society, well before the coming of oil. It was highly integrated into the Indian ocean trading networks so it was already highly integrated into this sort of modern world and the modern global economy from, well before the coming of oil. What happens though after 1950, and really with the transformation in the oil market—that's after the coming to power of Abdulla Al-Salem—when the oil driven development was really initiated at that time. This initiated a very particular meaning of what it meant to be modern at this time: everything was transforming, everything was changing, and Kuwaitis at the time were really embracing this sudden transformation.
There's a scholar that I always reference, his name is Richard Dennis, who defines modernity as the shock of the new and the sudden realization that now is not the same as then, and something is really changing. And that was what was happening after 1950. There were a lot of young students who are writing about this idea of Al-Nahda, the awakening, the Renaissance of society, and that's sort of, where I see this new modern era initiating after 1950. Particularly the 60s and 70s are what I referred to in Kuwait's own discourse as the golden era, Al-Asr Al-Thahabi, and that was in culture, in the arts and all of these different fields. But, I look at it really from the 50s through the beginning, I'd say, of the 80s: this particular and very distinct period of transformation.
When I define the modern era, it's not just about the actual physical changes and modernization that was occurring, but it was also the feeling of the time and the excitement and the way people were defining for themselves what it meant to be modern social political beings at the time. And, I would say that that started to really decline in the 80s after the Suq al-Manakh, the stock market crash in Kuwait in 1982 and the decline that starts to happen economically in the 80s, but, then definitely after the invasion. The invasion really marks the end of what I would define as that particular early oil decades of Kuwait's modern era.
Now, you asked in terms of the factors that have resulted in the erasure, it's hard to pinpoint precisely. It's something that I've been trying to investigate and research for many years. I think, as I mentioned, definitely the invasion was a real turning point, but not just in the sense that Kuwait was invaded and occupied and therefore destroyed in many ways all of the infrastructure and a lot of what Kuwait had been building up in the previous decades. It set Kuwait back in many ways.
But, I think also the invasion represented, in some ways, a failure of the modernist project, let's say, for lack of a better term. Kuwait's role in its own economic planning at the time, which were things that were really causing tension in the region with its neighbors was because of needing to shore up the economy because of the Suq Al-Manakh crash. And so, there was a lot of recovery that was being done and that was also a really systemic failure. Kuwait, leading up to the invasion, didn't have a parliament, so, a lot of the decisions that were being made in the tensions and problems between Kuwait and Iraq at the time did not include a lot of public decision making through parliament.
And I don't think the erasure was something that happened consciously in a way, but I think after the invasion, what you see really is more of a reification of the pre-oil period, and I think it was wanting to create the sense of a distinct Kuwaiti national identity. Really, as a way of sort of emphasizing its independence, its autonomy, but, a lot of that identity became rooted in the pre-oil period. And, as we see, this pre-oil period, which was completely erased and forgotten in the early oil decades, was now suddenly being revived. Those decades in between were completely sort of being forgotten or left out of public discourse. And suddenly you see more of this link being made (especially now in the 2000s and so on) as you have this revival of a heritage industry creating a direct link between the pre-oil period and the present and somehow forgetting those pre-invasion decades in between. They were no longer considered a legitimate part of our history and our heritage to really get to the root of what it means to be a Kuwaiti, what this country's identity is. Somehow, we have to go back in time, before oil, before the vices of modernity, and transformation that came from the outside and changed who we are.
FA: The invasion of Kuwait is something unique to that context within the narrative of the Gulf in general, but do you see that there are parallels in other Gulf cities during the same period, in terms of the procedure of trying to establish a national identity or create alternative historical narrative?
FN: Absolutely, I think we see across the Gulf a tendency to emphasize as you put it that national identity, that historical national identity, a tendency to emphasize the pre-oil period. Even from the perspective of the urban landscape, of the built environment. It's so common now to see these juxtapositions like a pre-oil house or a pre-oil mosque or something juxtaposed to these gleaming new skyscrapers.
What I argue in my most recent publication that looks at this across the Gulf, which is how that creates this very linear sort of narrative of history. It gives us a straight line between then the pre-oil period and now as this sort of heroic leap from this much more simple past to this very extravagant, present and future, and eliminating all of those decades in between. Particularly for Kuwait, as one of the first places that began this transformation in the early 50s. For some of the other places in the Gulf, it was a much slower start.
There's a wonderful scholar, I don't know if you're familiar with, Ahmad Kanna, who has written on Dubai, and one of the things that he talks about is, again, in the Dubai context, the revival of what he calls the vanished village, the pre-oil village very centered on the sense of community, of the family, this very mythological past that is drawn as being part of the identity of Dubai.
But, if you look closely at the decades in between, what is being left out of that narrative, the 50s, for instance, across the Gulf, was a very turbulent decade. It was a decade full of very strong Arab nationalist protests and demonstrations. That was opposed to by the British as well as, therefore, very strongly opposed to the extent to which the British were really sort of propping up and supporting some of the ruling families. There was a very strong opposition to the oil companies and there were oil labor strikes.
This is a lot more well known in Kuwait, we know about them, the 50s and the Arab nationalist movement and all of those things that are happening in Kuwait. But this was happening across the Gulf, Qatar, Dubai, in all of the region: there were very strong, populist movements. Like in 1956, in opposition to the British in the Suez Crisis in Egypt, there were very strong movements around the Gulf and these were very challenging to the state and to the rulers. And so, you start to look more closely at what was happening in those decades, and it sheds light on why there might be a desire to forget and to sort of erase those in between decades, whether it's because they represented a period of much slower, more gradual growth in the case of somewhere like Kuwait. As I mentioned, those in between decades were characterized by the sense of excitement and optimism and might be a reminder of the failures that we did not become the society that we were hoping to at the time. But I think every place as you mentioned is going to be different, because Kuwait has a unique experience of the invasion thrown in there.
FA: In your work, when you talk about, the development of Kuwait and the suburbanization of the city. Does the zoning of Kuwait city's masterplan create social segregation and has this shifted over the past 15 to 20 years?
FN: Absolutely, the urban planning created in many ways segregation. One of the main features of what we'd call “modernist city planning” across the world entails functional zoning. Whereas, Kuwait before oil was much more integrated as far as the different spaces of the city: you could do multiple things in similar places at the same time. After the advent of oil, you have a complete separation of functions. So, you have the new suburbs that are created in the desert outside of the downtown. You have residential suburbs, so residents become completely segregated and separated from work. Work then becomes completely separated and segregated from leisure. So where do you go to spend your free time? where do you go shopping? or do you go to school? And then industry has its own zone, healthcare has its own zone. So, everything is sort of separated out. What that means is you have to travel by private car. But, predominantly, we don't have a very strong public transportation infrastructure and so what it meant is that it completely created a much more insular and privatized society. We don't have multiple places where you're really engaging with different people at different times of day.
But, more specific to your question is social segregation, Kuwait's housing policy was very deliberate in its separation of people of different backgrounds. From the 1950s, through the 1980s, it had separate housing policies for what were known as the hadar; the former townspeople were relocated, so their old houses in the city were acquired by the state, through what we call the tathmın; the land acquisition. Their land was taken by the state and they were allocated houses in the suburbs outside of the old town wall. But then they also started developing a program sort of from the early sixties for what was known as tahdır al-badu; the settlement of the Bedouin, and that's the official term that was used in a lot of that early planning documents. And those were deliberately sited in areas outside of the main metropolitan area. There were known in the official planning discourse as al-manatiq alkharijiyya; so, the outlying areas, whereas the areas where the hadar; the town people were being located at the time were known in the planning records as al-manatiq al-numudhajiyya. And so, you have these different areas being developed, we had some villages, like in the South of Kuwait Faheya Al-fintas; these were largely like small agricultural or fishing villages, also, Jahra was one of the main agricultural villages. When they were being given new houses in the 60s, 70s, they were only able to be in the same area where they had been living before.
So, what it means is that you've created these distinct zones, even within the Kuwaiti population. So, you have the townspeople relocated to certain suburbs, the Bedouins settled in particular areas on the far outskirts of the city and, through the eighties (even after the invasion) some of those areas weren't even really well accessible by car to the main city. And then you had the former village areas also confined to their same neighborhoods and same areas. What that meant is that, for decades, as the Kuwaiti population is going through these changes and transformations, there's very little integration among these different sectors of society.
In one of the articles that I've written on this, particular in relation to housing. What I argue is the reason for one of the main social fault lines in Kuwait now, especially in recent decades, has been between the so-called and I'm putting this in quotes, "Hadar" and "Badu" is because it's constructed in these categories. There is no Bedouin in Kuwait anymore, we don't have roaming Bedouin who are camel and sheep herders, but, they've been kept into the social category. I largely argue that because of the way the society was segregated in the landscape and in urban space, it kept these groups apart and therefore antagonistic in many ways to one another.
On top of that, of course, the largest part of the population, which is Non-Kuwaitis. Non-Kuwaiti's were also deliberately kept away and apart from Kuwaiti neighborhoods. And the way that was done was for instance, preventing rentals in the Kuwaiti neighborhoods and the new suburbs. There was a slight variation of that in one area that was developed in sort of the 70s, early 80s. People who know Kuwait will be familiar with like Jabriya or Salwa and Salmiya, only neighborhoods where you find both Kuwaitis and non Kuwaitis villas and apartments, for instance, but by and large, the restriction on rental properties in Kuwaiti suburbs meant that was done to keep non-Kuwaitis out of those areas.
Then, you have other areas where properties can be rented because, of course, non-Kuwaitis are not allowed to own land and property in Kuwait, so they have to rent. So, you had areas that were restricted to rental, and that was predominantly areas like downtown Kuwait City, Salmiya, and that became the places where non-Kuwaiti's would reside. So socio-spatial segregation was built into the way our city was planned. And, what I argue in my work is that it's no wonder then that we have such rigid divides and tensions between different groups in the population, because when you're only used to interacting with and engaging with people of your own background, then you become over time, much less tolerant, much less willing to engage with difference because you're so used to being around people who are very similar to you.
FA: You mentioned the areas of Salmiya and Jabriya, and you talk about them as areas where you could potentially have both Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis living in the same parameters within the city. Do you still see that the typology of housing is still assigned or associated to nationality even within these areas?
FN: Yes, and the typology, as you put it, of housing has always been, or historically has always been, really associated with nationality. So, villas are predominantly Kuwaiti and apartments and rentals are predominantly non-Kuwaiti. Having said that, that has been changing over the last couple of decades. The one way in which I see that the typology might be changing is the fact that there is a severe housing shortage in Kuwait for Kuwaitis. So, the demand for housing is much higher than what the government is able to keep up with in terms of actually being able to provide housing for the population. And so, in the meantime, as you're waiting for your government-built house, a lot of younger Kuwaitis have started, over the past couple of decades, renting apartments. And so, one new factor that you start to see is for instance, buildings that are being constructed, apartment buildings that are more high-end, that are predominantly targeting Kuwaitis. So, in some of these newer apartment buildings, you see more of a mix in those. Whereas in the past, there was a tendency for apartment buildings not to rent to Kuwaitis, like apartment buildings would be for expats only.
But, there's still that tendency that at least, eventually I will end up in a villa in a suburb, that's my right as a Kuwaiti, that is my entitlement. I don't believe that that paradigm is sustainable anymore. But I think all that it's doing is exacerbating a lot of the existing problems by continuing this assumption that we're going to live in our privatized suburbs in these isolated areas, far away from where we work far away from where we go to school far away from other people who we might interact with. It's just perpetuating and prolonging some of the social problems ascribed to our segregated housing paradigm.
I feel like if there were more options, A) that the government build more and more apartments. But also, B) if there was more of a private housing market where you could apply for a mortgage, but all of this requires a shift in mentality.Housing as being provided by the government has to take on different meaning than just the schemes that we developed in the early decades, which is like Arth wa Karth: you get a plot of land and a loan from the government to build your house, or you get a government issued house that is built by the state and then handed over to you.
The one thing that was done, which was the Al-Sawaber housing complex, which was a public housing complex that was built in the 80s, at a time when there was still that stigma that apartments equals non-Kuwaitis. And Al-Sawaber was built for middle class, young Kuwaiti families who refused to move in, and, by the time of the invasion, Sawaber was at minimal occupancy (and it had been around for at least four or five years), less than 50% occupancy? After the invasion, they started, for instance, giving it to Kuwaiti women who are divorced, who were able to apply for housing and those kinds of things. Sawaber just got demolished, but there was a huge movement among architects, but also people who wanted to save Sawaber, to preserve Sawaber, who would have loved to live in a structure like Sawaber now, as there's been this more drive back towards the downtown and back towards the city.
But we still seem stuck in those old paradigms of what public housing means. State provided housing means what it means for a Kuwaiti to live in a villa in the suburbs. And, I think, we need to really rethink those typologies, as you said, to think of what's more suitable to our society and what's more sustainable in the long term for our society.
FA: Apart from housing policies in Kuwait, how does the city's urban development agendas and policies reflect on the fact that over 70% of its inhabitants in Kuwait are temporary or cannot obtain citizenship?
FN: Yeah, that's a good question and of course other than, as you said, the clear housing segregation, you also see that how certain parts of our city (not just downtown Kuwait city but the whole metropolitan area) is built for transience, is not built for permanence. And if you look at apartment buildings that predominantly house the middle to lower middle to working class, non-Kuwaitis, migrant workers and so on, a lot of these apartment buildings have no upkeep.. It's like buildings in Kuwait are built for obsolescence: once they're built, the expectation is that within 15 years, 20 years, they're going to be demolished. So, there's no point in renovating them and maintaining them and upkeep.
There is a sense of permanence for a lot of the expats who live in Kuwait… some have been there for generations. Some would like to come and stay, but increasingly, this emphasis on transience, on guest workers, that’s the term that's used—that you're not here permanently is reflected then in the built environment. Which sends the clear message that you're not meant to set up home here. The fact that, non-Kuwaiti can't own their property, can't buy property, can't buy land, can't buy their own businesses and that they have to have more than 50% owned by a Kuwaiti partner, all of those things emphasize this notion of transience or impermanence.
The other way of thinking about the impact that non-citizens have had on the built environment is the fact that our built environment has been built by not only migrant workers—they're the ones who actually build our city and our landscape— but, from the 50s onwards, the vast majority of our landscape was built by architects and planners who are working locally. Some Kuwaitis were involved, and increasingly so Kuwaitis are becoming architects and planners, but, in those early oil decades, when this was a new profession, a lot of our landscape was built by other Arab nationals, Indians, Pakistanis, people who are living and working in Kuwait. And so, to inscribe into our landscape this sense of, “us and them” really obscures this much more multicultural history in the production of our landscape.
But it's, it's really problematic also because then it creates this sort of, again, that it builds that impermanence into these areas. The presumption is transience: they're coming in and going out and new ones are coming in and these are going out. That's not necessarily the case; the numbers of non-Kuwaitis are not changing and regardless of what they're trying to do, as far as laws are concerned, in reducing the number of expats in Kuwait. But by not acknowledging that results in a severe overcrowding of non-Kuwaiti areas where predominantly expats are living.
FA: You touched upon the recent bill introduced by the Kuwaiti government, which aims to bring down the migrant population, to 30% from 70% to 30% of its total inhabitants. How do you think this would impact the urban development in Kuwait?
FN: I mean, before even necessarily seeing how this might impact urban development in Kuwait, one of the factors to think about is there's no plan for what that means. It's one thing to say, we're going to reduce the number of expats by 30% in the next, however many years. But those 30%, that's a very high number, first of all, I think probably close to a million, we're talking about, if not more. Those expats are doing jobs in this country, and if you're saying that you're going to reduce, remove, let's say a million people from the population, who's going to do those jobs? Those experts are predominantly working in the private sector and are predominantly doing a service sector or manual labor jobs. Are Kuwaitis going to do that?
As its happened before, whenever there have been waves of wanting to reduce the number of expats, there's a wave of initial thrust in terms of reducing the number, but then all that happens is that they get replaced by new ones, because Kuwaitis aren't doing the jobs that expats are doing. I'll give you an example, for instance, in 2018, a study showed that there were about 5,700 something, so nearly 6,000 Kuwaiti graduates who are entering into the workforce. And, they were allocated jobs by the public authority for manpower and 80% of those graduates who were offered jobs in the private sector, refused those jobs. Like what we call daem al amal, the government subsidy where your salary gets subsidized by the government if you're a Kuwaiti working in the private sector. That still has not been enough to incentivize a sizable portion of the Kuwaiti population to go and work in the private sector. And so, again, reducing the expat population by 30%, those are predominantly private sector jobs and, and, or manual labor jobs who is going to fill in that void. So, definitely, we need a shift in thinking, and redressing what is often referred to as the demographic imbalance, but not for xenophobic reasons.
We have to stop thinking about this country as ours and not theirs. Kuwait has been built in a partnership, from before oil through to the present, we are a society of immigrants. There was no such thing as an indigenous Kuwaiti before the 18th century. Everyone from the 18th through the 20th century came from somewhere else. Everyone who moved and settled in Kuwait, came to Kuwait to work in the economy in pearling, in trading before oil, and contributed to creating the society that we are today. That doesn't change just because citizenship law says that now you don't have access to become a permanent part of that community. The reality is the country and our economy and our landscape and everything continues to be developed and made as a partnership between all of the different people who live in Kuwait from the top to the bottom of the socio-economic scale. While there might be economic factors or other questions of sustainability that forced us to rethink these demographic realities, part of redressing the demographic imbalance, as it's often referred to, is loosening our restrictions on citizenship.
FA: To divert a bit from this topic, because I think this topic requires a session on its own. We'd like to speak about something that is really dominant in your work, in which you map out various spatial and organizational bodies that make up the public sphere in Kuwait, in the past and in the present. Could you elaborate on the various entities that facilitate public engagement and debate and what is the government's response to them?
FN: So, on one hand, when you think about the public sphere in Kuwait, the space of public discussion and debate on matters of collective concern, historically, first of all, the predominant space for that Kuwait has been the diwaniya. But of course, that has always been very gendered, it is predominantly a male space, even though that has changed more recently. And then, you've also had, since the 1940s and 50s, the media: so newspapers, those places of public discourse. One of the places I think is very significant in Kuwait, has been the realm of civil society organizations and those kinds of spaces, those have existed since the 50s onwards. And so, you had a lot of those clubs and organizations that were very active in public discourse, in spaces outside of like the formal venue of parliament, for instance, where you go to debate these national issues.
But these civil society, clubs and organizations that were established largely by students, by returning students from abroad, really became the main vehicle or venue of public discourse in Kuwait. Now what I've been seeing in recent years, since the early to mid 2000s, there has also been a proliferation for various reasons of new organizations and societies, largely youth- driven or youth based, and they've been very creative and trying to create new kinds of spaces, literally both in terms of actual physical spaces but also these realms of public debate and interaction.
Some examples of places that I've written about in my work are sort of more deliberately created for those purposes, like Arabana which was an organization largely created by architects and young designers who wanted to create like a collective shared workspace. But, it was also meant to be literally like a vehicle arabana, a cart, to encourage public engagement in urban planning and development processes. A lot of these places like Arabana and others have not really succeeded because they keep coming up against government roadblocks, bureaucratic inefficiency, that has really made it a struggle to deliberately create these kinds of spaces of engagement and interaction. And so, I think that that is part of the problem in terms of creating a very vibrant public sphere in a society that is increasingly consumed in its own sort of private realm of the home, the family, all of those things.
But then also when there is more of a desire to create these new kinds of spaces of public engagement interaction, they come up against these very old sort of arcane laws and, and bureaucratic restrictions, like licensing, even zoning law, something as trivial as that. One of the problems that Arabana had was that their warehouse was literally an industrial warehouse. But to get it to work properly, this space had to be licensed in a certain way, because mainly people were using it as like an office space. But then they couldn't get the proper licensing, it ended up having to just pretty much shut down. And with that then went out Arabana's work that they had started doing, which was engaging public debate and discussion on urban planning, they held workshops, held talks and discussions
So, because young people are trying to do things in new ways, they're coming against an old system that doesn't know how to accommodate and facilitate and make the process easier for new ideas to flourish. And again, it goes back to everything I've been saying, it needs, it's a paradigm shift. We need to realize that people want to have a stake in their built environment and not just have everything planned and taken care of by the government. Since the 50s planning and development has always been considered the purview of the patriarchal state, we are going to develop our landscape and provide this for you as the citizens, whether it's through housing infrastructure, etc. But what that has meant is that there has never been a mechanism for public engagement and discussion. Our public sphere does not entail these kinds of deliberate spaces where people are given the chance to express what it is that they want from the city.
FA: Could you elaborate on the nature of what you called the planned or state driven public spaces and could you talk about who has access to them? And if there were any scenarios or examples where they were successful in social economic integration.
FN: That's an interesting question to be asking right now, because I believe that that's also changing in Kuwait. Since the advent of oil in the 1950s, the state was largely responsible for producing the landscape. And so, everything that was not privately-owned property was under the purview of state planning, that usually did not entail the creation of public spaces really until the 80s. The first real initiative in the 80s to create more publicly oriented spaces was for instance, the planning of the sea front, the Corniche sort of from the Kuwait towers down to Salmiya, that was sort of the first phase, and then it would continue from the Kuwait towers North towards Shuwaikh. That was that planning and development started in the 80s, under the state, with the lead architect at the time who was working on this was the Kuwait architect Ghazi Sultan, who is very well known in Kuwait. He passed away a few years ago, but he was really a lead architect in Kuwait at that time, and who had developed the master plan for the seafront project in the 80s.
Now, unfortunately what happened is after the invasion, all of that area was handed over to private hands, meaning that what was supposed to be a very, very public oriented Corniche and sea front became these people privately owned restaurants. So, a lot of the public areas of the city that were being developed for public use became commercialized, especially on the seafront, which is sort of the most significant I'd say of those public areas. Now, the reason I said that it's changing in recent years is because we have sort of a new dynamic occurring over the last, I'd say decade, or definitely over the last four years or so, but at least the planning of this happened sort of from 2012, onwards, is that the Diwan Al-Amiri which is the ruler's office has started to take a more proactive role in creating particularly cultural spaces.
But to go to your question and then about who uses these spaces, these are now public spaces that are being created by the Dewan Al-Amiri. So, restoring that role of the state to create these kinds of venues, rather than just having commercialized spaces, shopping malls, restaurant districts, and so on that the private sector has been developing, but they're very segregated, they're very elite spaces. It's predominantly Kuwaitis that you see going to these performances. So again, it questions the public nature of these spaces when the kinds of activities that are performed in them are very much targeting elites. So we still are struggling with the creation of the more equitable, integrated kinds of spaces. And that, I think again, is having to shift this mentality of the patriarchal state that is there to provide all of these things for the people, rather than letting the people also have a role in deciding how they want their city to look.
(Visual ID credit: SAT, Image credit: Farah Al-Nakib, Podcast soundtrack credit: Rambling by Blue Dot Sessions)