If you’re at all familiar with Arabic society, you know that it has some roots in the pastoral nomadic lifestyle of the Bedouin, who have herded sheep, goats, and camels around the Arabian peninsula and into the Syrian and Egyptian deserts for as long as people have been keeping written records in and about that part of the world. Most Arab groups have either always been settled or have transitioned over the centuries from nomads to settled folk, but there are still some Arabs who spend at least part of the year as nomadic herders. Nomads and their descendents pose an obvious problem for modern nation-states, which love them some stable national borders, because nomads come and go across borders pretty much at will. This isn’t a problem in the Arabian peninsula, because most of it is Saudi so the Saudis don’t have much issue treating them as Saudi citizens, but countries like Kuwait, Iraq, and the U.A.E. have been dealing for some time now with the issue of nomads and their descendants, who are called Bidoon. This word does not derive, as you might think, from “Bedouin,” but from the Arabic word bidun, or “without,” as in bidun al-jinsiyah, “without nationality,” or “stateless.”
There are around 100,000 Bidoon in the world. Nobody wants to claim them, so they exist in pure legal limbo, literally without a country to call home, though they insist that they are legitimate native citizens of the countries in which they reside and vocally demand that they be treated as such. This is a particular problem in a small country like Kuwait, though it must be said that Kuwait has more than enough resources to comfortably assume responsibility for its Bidoon population. They just don’t want to, and they’ve taken some heat over the years for mistreating these folks. Why not just make them Kuwaiti citizens? Well, some of Kuwait’s stateless residents, as it turns out, are Saudis pretending not to be Saudi, and many more are ethnic Iranians whose families have probably been in the area for centuries, so it’s probably tied up in notions of Kuwaiti national pride and bigotry. That hasn’t stopped Kuwait from using employing these folks in the Kuwaiti army, but that’s not a real solution given that Kuwait still doesn’t want to make the Bidoon citizens en masse. Luckily, a permanent solution has revealed itself: Kuwait bought its Bidoon population citizenship in the Comoros:
Kuwaiti interior ministry official Major-General Mazen al-Jarrah told Al-Jarida on Saturday night that in about a month the government would start helping the Bidoon register for “economic citizenship” of Comoros. This would legalize their immigration status in Kuwait and allow them to qualify for health and education benefits.
In return for the passports, Comoros will, according to the statement, receive direct investment from the Kuwaiti government, which promised to build schools and charities on the islands, the minister said.
Oh, well, that’s nice for the Bidoon, right? I mean now they can just meander over to what I’m sure must be the neighboring Como-
Uh, or not, I guess? Turns out this deal is great for Kuwait and good for Comoros, but it’s going to suck for the Bidoon. Many Bidoon will probably take Comoros citizenship, rationalizing that citizenship of any kind is better than being stateless, but the real danger of this deal is that it will allow the Kuwaitis to deport the Bidoon whenever they feel like it. There are international protections in place governing the treatment of stateless people, but give those stateless people a state and, magically, you can pretty much do whatever you want to them. Whether a country can buy citizenship like this and then bestow it upon their stateless people whether they want it or not, well, that’s the question of the hour.
Kuwait’s GCC compatriots in Dubai, meanwhile, decided to exploit a poorer east African nation not by buying citizenship there for some problematic minority, but by purchasing the ancestral lands of the Maasai (hey, more nomads) in Tanzania to turn them into a big game hunting park for the ruling al-Makhtoum family. I wish I were kidding:
40,000 Masai people will be evicted from their homeland in Tanzania, because the Dubai royal family has bought it with the intention of using it as a reserve to hunt big game. Last year, the Tanzanian government had resisted the purchase, proposing instead a “wildlife corridor” dedicated to hunting near the Serengeti national park. However, the deal will still reportedly go through, and the Masai will have to leave by the end of the year.
The deal was brokered by the Ortelo Business Corporation (OBC), a luxury safari company with a number of elite clients.
Hey, cool a “luxury safari company.” Because a plain vanilla safari is for the poors, am I right? The Dubai royals are paying 1 billion Tanzanian shillings (about $578,000) for the privilege of uprooting and devastating the lives of anywhere between 40,000 and 80,000 people (40,000 will be directly displaced but many thousands more will have their livelihoods completely disrupted), money that the Tanzanian government claims will be used for “socio-economic development projects,” which I’m sure is definitely where it will go in a country as upright and uncorrupted as Tanzania. Meanwhile, even if that money really wasn’t going to go into the Swiss bank accounts of a few Tanzanian leaders, there’s no amount of “socio-economic development” you could buy for $600,000 that would compensate the Maasai for what is being done to them.
On the plus side, another GCC state, Qatar, has promised to reform its unfair and dehumanizing kafala labor system, which is only something like the 23984785th time they’ve promised to Do Something about kafala since the world found out about it after Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup. You know what they say, the 23984785th time’s the charm!
Also good news, apparently some things are not for sale, like spoilers for American TV series:
Gorbachev made HW Bush try and get Lynch to admit who killed Laura Palmer pic.twitter.com/Bb1E1yNEGu
— Ryan Hamilton Walsh (@JahHills) November 16, 2014
Well, actually, I guess that was more about David Lynch being a little off in the head and less about the sanctity of serial TV dramas. But still, chalk one up for the little guy, I guess.