in Kuwait, the anti-migrant racism virus

In Kuwait, May 12.
In Kuwait, May 12. YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP

Have the Kuwaitis, who do not tolerate the total containment to which they are subjected in the context of the fight against the new coronavirus, have they found their scapegoat? In this Gulf emirate, where there are 22,000 cases of SARS-CoV-2 contamination and 165 dead, the health crisis is readily blamed on foreign workers, Arabs and Asians. In the media and on social networks, this category of the population, which represents 70% of the 4.5 million inhabitants of the petro-monarchy, often finds themselves accused of spreading the epidemic and hampering the efforts of the State to stem it.

"The foreigners who live here in paradise have siphoned off the state budget, they have become a burden on health, safety and food", commented for example, this Sunday, a Twitter user, named aljasem74, below a video showing a food distribution in a neighborhood populated by immigrants from Kuwait, the capital. "Uneducated", "Dirty", "Profiteers" : Migrants face a cascade of overtly racist remarks from Kuwaiti internet users, who quickly forget all that this very cheap workforce has brought to their country.

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The Egyptians, the largest foreign community in the city-state with the Indians, are the privileged target of this surge of xenophobia. Hashtags calling for their expulsion abound on social networks. "The coronavirus epidemic has heightened tensions between locals and migrants across the Gulf, but it is in Kuwait that this problem is most acute", said Saudi Arabian Eman Alhussein, an analyst at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

"Purify the country"

The movement was started by two local celebrities. MP Safa Alhashem, the only woman in parliament, said in late March that removing illegal workers would "Purify the country". A few days later, Hayat Al-Fahad, a soap opera star, in turn called for the immigrants to be banished to free hospital beds. "We are fed up, we have to send them away … put them in the desert", dropped the actress. "These outings have snowballed, testifies a Yemeni resident in Kuwait, who wishes to remain anonymous. Since then, we have seen hundreds of anti-Egyptian Tweet daily. "

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This tension is the paradoxical consequence of the relative freedom of expression which reigns in the principality. The populist outbursts of Safa Alhashem and Hayat Al-Fahad have caused them, as annoyances, only outraged comments from compatriots, reminding them that the vast majority of hospital staff is made up of foreigners, on the front line against the virus . Conversely, when Tariq Al-Mehyas, a youtubeur from the United Arab Emirates, a much more repressive state, advised to defend the actress, the local authorities immediately arrested him, for inciting hatred.

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