Kuwait increases diversity in its armed forces

By Hussein Ibrahim in Kuwait


Kuwaiti soldiers participate in a live ammunition exercise at Udaira military range, 140 kilometres north of Kuwait City, on January 17th, 2017. [Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP]

Kuwait's move to allow the stateless people known as "bidoon" to serve in its armed forces will enhance its security and that of other Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) member states, regional experts said.

The decision, approved by Kuwait's parliament by an overwhelming majority on March 18th, 2018, has been in effect for just over a year.

It is expected to support national unity, and to raise the social standing of the more than 100,000 bidoon in Kuwait, who do not hold Kuwaiti citizenship.

The decision also aims to increase the number of Kuwaiti troops participating in the Jazeera Shield force, the military arm of the GCC, according to a source in the Kuwaiti defence ministry, who preferred to remain anonymous.

This will enhance the combat capabilities of the regional force at a critical time in the region, the source told Al-Mashareq.

"Enlistment is not wide open, as acceptance requires that the enlistees’ fathers had either served in the army, are retired or are still on active duty," he said, noting that until 2004, the bidoon had been able to serve in the military.

Additionally, he said, the official census must show that the enlistees' families have lived in Kuwait since before 1965.

The move will "facilitate their integration into society and enhance social peace among the people of Kuwait", he said.

Enlistment under way

Kuwait's parliament has authorised the enlistment of bidoon into the army in order "to take advantage of their manpower in serving the country’s interest and protecting its capabilities and resources", said Kuwaiti MP Askar al-Enezi.

"We received great co-operation from the Ministry of Defence in this regard, and it has already responded to our proposals by accepting batches [of bidoon enlistees] into the army," he said.

To date, around 1,300 bidoon have been accepted into the army, he said.

The number of bidoon applicants has reached about 27,000 people, of whom only 7,000 meet the enlistment requirements, according to Kuwait's Al-Siyasa newspaper.

Minister of Defence Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah, Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah and the head of the Central Agency for Illegal Residents have met to discuss challenges in implementing this decision, al-Enezi said.

"We confirm that the coming days will bear a breakthrough and good news for people without nationality [bidoon] as the Ministry of Interior is preparing to naturalise about 4,000 people who meet the requirements," he said.

Enhancing national unity

Allowing the bidoon to enlist in the Kuwaiti army would "further national integration and cohesion in the country, guarantee diversity and inclusiveness, and dispel social differences", said Jaber al-Enezi, who is a stateless person.

This measure will "support Kuwait as a regional power that is actively involved in enhancing stability in the Middle East", he told Al-Mashareq.

Kuwait took a "remarkable step" with the re-admission of the bidoon into military service after the introduction of an amendment to Article 29 of the Kuwaiti Army Law, he said.

The law also allows for the enlistment of other groups of people, including the sons of Kuwaiti women who are married to non-Kuwaitis, he said.

The legislation opens the door to "granting more rights to the bidoon, especially in the areas of education and health, as 87% of the bidoon are not educated past middle school", he said.

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