What happened on Oct 21, 2012 is historic, hopeful and tragic on different levels. Despite what many commentators on official channels have attempted-and are still attempting to portray the demonstrators as ‘thugs’ and ‘tranquility disturbers’, the reality that I witnessed differs largely. In this editorial I will recount the events as I saw them.
Here’s my personal analysis.
Early in the evening seeing that much talk has happened the previous two days, I decided to call a few friends to see whether they would want to go to observe the demonstration.
From a rather simple concept present in our constitution guaranteeing our inalienable right to speak freely and assemble, and from what seemed to be a massive moment in the history of our country, it felt both right and necessary to go to the protest if only to observe. Those with whom I went had differing political ideas – not necessarily with nor against – but what united us was the desire for a better country, one that would live up to its potential.
Upon heading down to Kuwait City before the cover of darkness overtook what appeared to be an eerie silent afternoon- a sort of calm before the storm – the initial gathering squares were cordoned by police guarding them as if they were guarding a gold filled central bank! Driving around the city it seemed that every major empty square was cordoned in anticipation of what seemed to be a massive deluge of nationals just about to come.
Not finding parking, people started to park anywhere around the city and in a rather magic manner – noting that Kuwaitis usually loath walking long distances if even for groceries – the sight of men, women, old, young, all walking together towards the then re-routed gathering point at the Kuwaiti Towers was indeed a sight in itself.
Droves of people five here, ten there, seven here, nine there… As we walked towards the towers uninterrupted by the police, special forces, or national guard Tens, then hundreds, then thousands of citizens amassed before a view of tens of thousands of unarmed, citizens from all walks of life; liberals, conservatives, Sunnis, Shiites, young, old, handicapped, healthy, men, women, urban and bedouin together in unison in show of unprecedented national unity all finding themselves at the same time, and what a sight it was.
No sooner that people started congregating that as in a surreal movie sandwiched between two heavily armed and equipped forces; the MoI special forces forming a crowd control barrier coming from Souq Sharq, and a National Guard unit coming towards the Towers from the Dasman Gulf Road intersection.
As all exit attempts were no effectively blocked in a deliberate fashion and an urge to repress no other than their very fellow countrymen, amongst a crowd waving the Kuwaiti flag and singing the national anthem, what appeared as fireworks baffled many in the crowd that had to take a few seconds to understand what was happening! In effect it was the beginning of the cowardly shameless attack by the special forces on unarmed, peaceful, nationalist Kuwaitis singing the national anthem carrying the flag on a ground so symbolic to the post-invasion generation as it was from this very point time and again we were shown footage of the Iraqi troops attacking our country at the Kuwaiti Tower location, murdering civilians in that area! This time the attack was internal against women, people in wheel chair, elderly, and the youth of all walks of society both rich and modest. First stun grenades were fired, followed by smoke grenades and tear gas up against the crowd.
The ensuing panic followed by heroic acts was indeed a sight. I stood for a minute as the events unraveled shocked to my core at what my eyes were seeing, and yet these were only the first minutes. At that point the question was no longer why people gathered, the focus became what is happening, is it real; is it a dream? With nowhere to go people started to run, some to the beach, others stood their grounds for no escape was possible, and the events were meant to instill fear into the people’s heart for no plea to disperse were made prior to the attack, no warning of what was to come communicated.
In the panic of the crowd I found myself in one of the restaurants on the beach and in a surreal environment of fear, and courage amidst a non-stop causality flow brought to the restaurant, that heroic doctors present in the protest were administrating first-aid the best they could in a sight not-short of a movie! I observed the pain and agony of people beaten, people burnt, people that collapsed due to shock and people that couldn’t breathe as the various gases they smelled intoxicated them. Once there the endless sound of stun grenades only added panic and confusion, as even those that wanted to leave were unable to do so. The forces were beating upon sight anyone.
Tragically a friend of mine in a show of cowardice was handcuffed and beaten before being set free, insults and belittlement faced those that were not physically abused. Casual observers in the eyes of the state became ‘rebels’ and ‘hooligans’, the absurdity of it all was that despite the attacks, the insults, the free violence not a single plant was damaged by the tens of thousands that were there. As special thanks is to be made to the guards of Dasman Palace that reportedly threw water bottles to the crowds in help as opposed to the other forces who were there to create fear and chaos. Well into the night as the crowd dispersed those that were there for whatever purpose went home shattered by the experience and a repression that our very state is condemning in other countries not least in Syria! The irony! (to be continued)
By Fouad Al-Obaid