Celebrating Independence

March 3, 2008 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS

Grandiose fireworks displays, picnics, barbeques and outdoors games are just some of the ways people in the US celebrate their Independence Day. Families come together and use the day as an opportunity to unite under the same flag of patriotism. However, all countries do not celebrate in the same fashion as in the US. This holds especially true for countries in the Middle East.

Each country in the Middle East has its own unique way of celebrating its Independence. In Egypt, the government arranges fireworks displays and decorates public buildings with lights and flags. In Saudi Arabia, the celebration is considerably low key with only a minimal showing of national pride, as Islam does not allow celebrations other than the two Eids. Contrastingly, in Dubai, no expense is spared in the organization of a wide array of events ranging from ornate light shows, fireworks displays, rock concerts and dance parties. However, the State of Kuwait has the most unique and albeit strange way in which the public celebrates National Day.

This past Tuesday commenced Kuwait’s National and Liberation Day. Both holidays coincide as a result of the 1991 Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait. Liberation Day is the day in which US Allie Forces pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait and reclaimed it as a sovereign nation whereas National Day commemorates the day in 1960 when Kuwait took back its independence from British rule. For over a week now, stores have been decked out in the red, white, green and black Kuwaiti flag. Eager customers have scrambled to get their stock of Kuwaiti flags, stickers and other national fare including tall hats featuring the colors of the Kuwaiti flag and glittering formal wear for girls designed to look exactly like the Kuwaiti flag. Other essential items that consumers purchase during the event is ‘silly string’ and ‘snow foam’.

Year in and year out, the activity is the same. Almost everyone in Kuwait hits the road during the National Day and Liberation Day celebrations, which thanks to an Amiri Decree, has turned a 2-day holiday into a 5-day extravaganza of glee. It does not matter if you are a Kuwaiti or not, all of the denizens of Kuwait take great pride in being a part of the social fabric of this miniscule Gulf state. The cars of both expatriates and Kuwaitis are often draped in the Kuwaiti flag during the entire holiday. Drivers, with their families stuffed into the back, cruise around the main roadway, Gulf Road, and take part in some ‘traditional’ celebrating. No matter what the age, just about every one you see on the roads has a can in their hand. From fathers to kids as young as three, participate in a street wide “foam fight” as the best way to express national pride.

Children line the streets and spray passing motorists. And motorists roll down their windows just a crack so that the nozzle of the spray can fits through it as they spray unsuspecting pedestrians. Raucous laughter and intense fear of getting sprayed are the order of the day during the festivities in Kuwait. Tales of the Kuwaiti National and Liberation Day Celebrations has reached across the Gulf. This year has seen an unprecedented amount of nationals from other GCC States sweep across the border. Cars with license plates from Qater, Bahrain, Dubai and Saudi Arabia can be seen in the exact same traffic jams as the Kuwaiti ones and they too are covered with foam. Several of the cars this year bear the image of the late Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Jaber Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, who died on January 15, 2006, in a touching tribute to a man that was beloved far and wide. Hotels have been booked for weeks and restaurants are enjoying a boom in business.

It is not all fun and games during the celebrations, however, and each year hooligans outdo themselves in wreaking havoc on the public. Last year, the police confiscated several water pistols that some young boys had filled with Clorox and were spraying at girls they passed on the street. This year there have been reports that some boys have been filling the guns with urine and spraying unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians. In addition, motorists too are being put at risk and have been advised by the police to stay at home. The reason being is that some motorists have been accosted right in their cars. Kids armed with spry cans of foam or string routinely jiggle the car handles of vehicles as they pass. In the event the door is open, they have no qualms about jumping right into the back of the car and coating the driver’s head and face with spray thus burning his eyes and rendering him unable to drive. And for the drivers who have the foresight to lock their doors before hitting the road, their car windshields are covered in foam and then the sprayer lifts up the windshield wipers so that the obstruction cannot be wiped away. Most drivers, not wanting to get sprayed, continue to drive even though they cannot see properly and put other drivers and pedestrians at a grave risk. In a recent entry on a Kuwaiti blog, one poster shared his sentiments about going out on the Gulf Road during the celebrations, “It’s like going on safari. You’ve got a chance of being attacked by the animals!”

This year the Kuwaiti government has really cracked down on hooligans and even the cans of spray. The government took the decision to cancel all police vacations and stipulated that all police officers must report for duty no matter what the circumstance. Several roads have been blocked to control the flow of traffic and the police are out in an incredible show of force on the roadways. Cars are routinely stopped, checked and any spray cans or spray devices are confiscated on sight. However, despite the checks and confiscations, the public is very clever in hiding their spray cans with women hiding them under their abayas and children wearing long sleeved shirts to conceal the can under the sleeves. The roadways of Kuwait lay testament to this fact as they are littered with colorful bits of smashed plastic spray caps and flattened aluminum cans of empty spray. The clean-up effort will be immense, with civil servants left to polish up the roads and private car washes left to remove the foam stains from battle weary vehicles.

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