Kuwait, a strategic US ally, harbors a startling little-known civil rights secret: its stateless people, the Bedoon.
Bedoon means "without" in Arabic (Bedoon is different than "Bedouin" meaning nomadic/formerly nomadic tribes.) Bedoon refers to people with no nationality.
Kuwait is one of the only few countries in the world where there are citizens within the country who have no nationality. In Kuwait, Bedoon must pay to obtain any official documentation (if they are lucky enough to get that far) including: permission to marry, birth and death certificates, drivers licenses, identification, etc. They have to go to the official Kuwaiti office called the "Bedoon Council" and beg to get any rights at all. Many are not allowed to work. They can not own property. Many can't obtain travel papers. Recently, the Kuwaiti authorities agreed to issue travel documents for the religious journey, Haj, to Bedoon – on the condition that they "solve their identity problem" before returning to Kuwait (therefore not being allowed back into their country).
If a Bedoon man marries a Kuwaiti woman, their children are Bedoon (it is the opposite if a Kuwaiti man marries a Bedoon woman – both she and her children can obtain Kuwaiti citizenship). If the Bedoon man has any difficulties and wants a divorce, the Kuwaiti x-wife can not only be granted full custody of their children, but ask for alimony and child support in almost the full amount of the husband's salary, leaving him destitute. Therefore, Bedoon men are at the mercy of their Kuwaiti wives.
If you drive by Sulaybia, Kuwait, North on 5th Ring Road towards the area of Jahra, you will notice a tin shanty town which is inhabited mainly by Bedoon. Depending on the whims of the Kuwaiti government, there have been several attempts to destroy this area and "relocate" the Bedoon living there. To where? It is often said that they can "go back to their countries". Where are their countries if several generations (some going back to the 1964 census) have been born and raised in Kuwait? If a Bedoon person speaks out, he/she is ostracized and may face legal action including deportation (again – to where?).
Many Bedoon fought for Kuwait; many were in the Kuwaiti military and stayed in Kuwait, fighting as resistance. In a radio address while in exile in Saudi Arabia during the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq, the late Emir, Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, stated that those Bedoon who fought for their country would be granted their Kuwaiti citizenship. Like the promise of women's suffrage, perhaps it is just a long time in coming, but it isn't being discussed at the top levels YET. Kuwait is openly pleased about its ties with the US and foray into world democracy, and yet the Kuwaiti Government is doing nothing to solve the inhumane Bedoon issue.
Often, you can't tell who is Bedoon and who isn't within the same tribes or families; sometimes cousins have Kuwaiti citizenship and others don't. Familial links can be easily established by DNA tests, and yet when they are conducted by the Kuwaiti Government (at the 80 KD expense per person of the Bedoon) the results are locked away and kept from the families.
The older generations of Bedoon were/are mostly proud people who blended into society without discussion of suffering or hardships. As younger generations of Bedoon are coming up, they are learning more about democracy and civil rights. They are an intensely angry group. When people face oppression, stress and psychological abuse take tolls: Petty crimes have been growing (and are likely to continue to grow) in this small country. If people feel that they have no hope, no future, no care – they become desperate. It is a tremendous security risk to an already security-strained nation.
If Kuwait strives to be a pillar of democracy in the Middle East, why not put an end to the suffering of so many of its inhabitants.