Is Yusra Muhammad in too deep? The Kuwaiti presenter battles against Islamist current

Published October 14th, 2012 - 11:59 GMT
Yusra Muhammad.
Yusra Muhammad.

Yusra Muhammad had no idea she would be put on trial for her program Fi al-Sameem (Straight to the Heart), shown on the Kuwaiti Al-Yawm channel.

The program tackles many issues, including physical and sexual violence against women in Arab societies, sex tourism and prostitution rings. All of a sudden, the media ministry in Kuwait began legal proceedings against the presenter, accusing the program of being “an affront to decency.” This is a unique precedent in a country described as the only democracy in the Gulf. What is remarkable is that the controversial episode, in which Yusra dealt with underage prostitution, was aired last February. The media ministry seems to have just woken up to it.

On a twitter page set up by journalists and intellectuals to champion the Kuwaiti presenter, a supporter wrote: “Your and your program’s misfortune is that it came at a time dominated by politics and religion. It is not a cultural or intellectual period. Politics is the AIDS of thought and culture.” Another supporter pointed out that “the [political] current behind the case is famous for sanctioning marriage to underage girls.”

Yusra, a famous presenter in Kuwait, wrote a letter to the media minister, Mohammad Abdullah al-Sabah, in which she discussed the controversial episode, explaining that the sex books used in preparation for the episode were cleared by the media ministry and are sold in Kuwait under license from the ministry itself.

This case clearly shows that Kuwait has been hijacked by what is known as the “Islamist” current. This is a serious stumble for a country distinguished as an oasis of law and freedom in the Arab Gulf. The presenter has criticized the Kuwaiti Association of Journalists for not standing by her and not issuing a statement condemning the attacks against her. But the case has prompted Kuwaiti intellectuals to accuse the authorities of becoming too much like their Saudi neighbors in their McCarthyist cultural policy.

In a phone conversation with Al-Akhbar, Yusra Muhammad said: “Before the lawsuit, a discussion of my program in parliament was led by the Islamic parties. This persuaded the media ministry to accuse me of ‘affronting decency.’ Now the case has come to trial.” It seems that words such as “virgin, underage girls, sex tourism and legal prostitution” have upset the Kuwaiti censor. She tells us: “I have received letters from educated women all over the Gulf who suffer from intellectual oppression and the tyranny of obscurantists.” Someone wrote mockingly: “In the Yusra Muhammad case, the lawsuit came from the Kuwaiti media ministry. If an ordinary citizen had brought the suit, even accepting it would have been considered a disaster. But here we have the ministry itself bringing it.”

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information issued a statement in which it condemned the lawsuit brought by the Kuwaiti media ministry against Yusra Muhammad The statement maintained that the lawsuit is “a clear violation of the freedom of the media and a continuation of the moves witnessed lately in Kuwait to curtail freedoms. These include the pursuit of bloggers on social networking sites, the suppression of peaceful demonstrations and the shutting down of satellite channels. This is against the essence of democracy and the modern state, elements of which Kuwait enjoyed until recently.”

Yusra will appear before a Kuwaiti court on November 6.

© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved

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