A Kuwaiti MP said that his Islamist bloc presented a proposal to shift the 2008 New Year's holiday, which falls on a Tuesday, to the weekend, as a prominent lawyer and journalist criticized the government for giving in to Islamists and issuing no more permits for New Year's concerts.
Islamists criticized the government for making New Year's Day more special than other holidays, including Islamic New Year, and considered this as a violation of Islamic identity in a society that has a sweeping Muslim majority.
But Islamist MP Walid Al-Tabtabaei denied to AlArabiya.net that his bloc had a problem with making New Year's Day an official holiday: "We just didn't know why it should be more sacred than Islamic New Year. All we ask for is equality."
Tabtabaei pointed out that the government passed a law to shift all holidays that fall during the week to the weekend: "New Year's Day was the only exception."
Tabtabaei does not agree that what they're asking for violates the rights of Christians in the country: "The first of January is not a religious holiday. It's just a fun day."
Tabtabaei is hopeful that the government will approve their proposal. His optimism is not groundless: The Information Ministry decided to issue no more permits for non-Kuwaiti singers to give concerts on New Year's Eve based on a proposal they had presented earlier to the Parliament.
Editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan and the Arabic edition of the Newsweek Mohamed Al-Jassem said that those MPs are just trying to manipulate the emotions of Islamist groups by linking the issue to Muslim identity.
"Forcing an Islamic identity on society is not something new whether in Kuwait or other Arab countries. The whole issue is not significant, and the controversy is not serious."
Jassem added that New Year's Day has been a holiday in Kuwait for the past 40 years and stressed that the Christian minority is granted full rights through seven churches that enjoy total freedom of faith.
When the government gave in to Islamist requests about New Year's concerts, Jassem argues, it just proved how weak it is: "They just want to avoid trouble and don't want to upset Islamists."
When the government decided to stop issuing permits for singers, press reports saw this as a political decision since there is no law that prohibits such concerts. The government, argue the reports, is worried about parliamentary interpellations.
The Kuwaiti Information Ministry is said to have a black list of female singers, including Lebanese Haifaa Wahbi and Marwa and Egyptian Ruby.
Another sign of the government's weakness according to Jassem was what happened in the last Book Fair: "They banned books about Islam although the very same books are exhibited and sold in Saudi Arabia."
Christian presence in Kuwait goes back to the early 20th century, according to Emanuel Gharib, pastor of the Anglican National Church and the first Kuwaiti priest.
"Throughout history, Kuwaiti Christians have been equal to Muslims. They occupied prominent positions and became ambassadors. The constitution grants equal rights to all citizens."
Head of the Kuwaiti Catholic Church Archbishop Camilo Balen estimated the number of Christians in Kuwait at 400,000, only 200 of which are citizens. The Catholic community, around 300,000, is mostly foreign.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)