Bootleggers’ Boom

Posted by Mark

bootleggers

A redditor shared a scan from an article in The Economist dating back to 1965 on the alcohol prohibition in Kuwait. I typed out the article since the scan wasn’t clear and have decided to share it below:

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International Report – The Economist – February 6, 1965

Kuwait
Bootleggers’ Boom
From a correspondent in Kuwait

Drink has had an odd history in Kuwait and its latest episode, resulting in total prohibition, has been characteristically idiosyncratic. In 1961, when the British political agency was demoted into an embassy, one of its traditional functions – the dispensing of alcohol to non-Moslems – was handed over to the British firm of Gray Mackenzie. With it went the job of issuing drink-permits, allotted according to socio-economic status on the presentation of the right religious credentials.

This neat division of the population, into Kuwaitis who did not drink and foreigners who did, was obviously too pastoral to last. Kuwaitis grew rich, travelled abroad, and learnt forbidden tastes. Since alcohol, like water, finds its own level, it tended to leak across the religious barrier to the richer Kuwaitis. Poorly paid Indian and Lebanese clerks could easily be induced to hand over their ration to Kuwaitis with money. Smuggling from neighboring countries (Iraq produces both beer and arak) was no difficult and made up for any short-fall in the supply. With good whiskey at £1 a bottle, Kuwait was a drinker’s paradise; the fall was sudden and uncomfortable.

In November the Mejlis passed an amendment to the penal code under which sentences of up to 10 years’ imprisonment can be imposed for the import, manufacture or sale of alcohol. Existing stocks may be discreetly consumed (an earlier proposal would have banned this too) but there will be no more. Two conflicting passions converged to bring this amendment about: moral indignation and commercial jealousy. People now find it hard to remember which came first.

The mortal indignation was understandable though, as is often the case, naive about the value of prohibition as a solution. Drink had become a social problem. Alcoholism among Kuwaitis was growing; accidents from drunken driving were increasing and, worst of all, drink was reaching the young. A decision-making scandal (suppressed at the time) was a case of drunkenness in a secondary school.

Meanwhile the fact that drink had grown into a business worth £500,000 – rumor put it even higher – had not escaped the attention of Kuwait merchants who began to agitate against Gray Mackenzie’s monopoly. Their resentment was rational in a free economy, but they overlooked the fact that Gray Mackenzie handled drink precisely because Moslems were not supposed to.

Horrified at the thought of drink being sold freely at every street corner, the moralists acted. A Moslems revivalist group called the League of Social Reform organized a monster petition. Sermons were preached in all the mosques. Pressure was brought upon the members of the Mejlis. Caught in the coils of its own morality, Kuwait’s establishment was helpless. Known drinkers were the most zealous to pay their tribute to virtue, and the crowning irony was when, in the final open session, the only deputy to vote against the amendment was teetotaller.

Prohibition could certainly never have happened without parliament. But Kuwait is now a mercantile democracy and the voice of both souk and mosque is stronger in the two-year-old Mejlis than they would have been in the ruler’s antechamber, where the urbane tones of oil company representatives carry more weight. The government is now committed to carry out prohibition but no one feels that its heart is in it.

It will take some time before stocks are exhausted, though whiskey has already gone up to about £15 a bottle – and is still rising. But the effect on clubs and social life is lethal, and Kuwaitis who employ foreigners are afraid that they will now have to dangle even juicier carrots. The economic consequences of boredom are impossible to assess, but one of Kuwait’s main problems is to keep its population at home and grow roots. Prohibition will probably do nothing to help.

A weightier argument against prohibition is that its social problems are likely to prove worse than those of drink. Already 30 people have died from methyl alcohol poisoning and another 55 are in hospital. Ea de cologne, cough syrups and surgical spirit have gained a new, sinister importance. The weekend traffic on the Basrah road has quadrupled. Smuggling, racketeering, corruption, substitute addictions are other unpleasant consequences which a paternalistic and progressive government cannot ignore.


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Historical News Footage on Kuwait

Posted by Mark

A couple of days ago, the Associated Press and British Movietone uploaded 1 million minutes of historical news footage to YouTube. Among those 1 million minutes is a ton of videos on Kuwait. I flipped through the list and found find five fairly interesting ones which I’ve shared below:

Kuwait: The State Built on Oil
Border Build Up Story
Kuwait: Returnees
Kuwait 14th Jamboree
Kuwait – Precautions for animals

If you want to flip through all the Kuwait related videos in their archives, then click [Here] and [Here]

oldkuwait


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The KOC Archive: The Ahmadi Post Office

Posted by Mark

ahmadipostoffice

These are some photos of the Ahmadi post office I got from my last trip to the KOC photography archive. They’re probably dated back to the early 1960s.


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Magwa Hospital – Ahmadi

Posted by Mark

magwa

I’m in contact with one of my readers who has some old photos of Ahmadi and I’ll be posting some every now and then. Kinda like what I was supposed to do with the KOC Archive posts which I realized I’ve completely forgotten about. Anyway this post is about the Ahmadi Hospital and this is what he had to say about it:

magwa2

Ahmadi Hospital is known to many people especially the oil sector. Ahmadi Hospital was in inaugurated in April 1960 by Kuwait Oil Company and was called then “Southwell Hospital” after Kuwait Oil Company Sir Philip Southwell who was KOC president from 1946 to 1959. Sometime during the 80’s it was changed to “Ahmadi Hospital”

Before the hospital was built in Ahmadi town, KOC had a hospital in Magwa area (North Ahmadi Town, separated with Kuwait airport by the 7th ring road). That is where I was born and many others in that period. Attached are some pictures of Magwa Hospital.

I’ve also uploaded the two photos of the hospital staff in high resolution in case you’re interested in seeing them up close. You can view those [Here] and [Here]


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The National Library Bookshop

Posted by Mark

bookshop

I hadn’t heard of this bookshop until my friend took me to it recently. It’s supposedly one of the oldest bookshops in Kuwait and it’s called “المكتبة الوطنية” which translates to The National Library. They sell Arabic books and comics, mostly new but they also have a bunch of really old stuff.

hardees

While flipping through one of the old comics I found the Hardees advert above. My very first memory of Hardees is that kids meal box, I think I was around 6 years old and I remember getting it from the now demolished Hardees near my house in Salem Mubarek Street.

If you’re interested in checking out this old bookshop it’s located in Souk Mubarkia, here is the location on [Google Maps]


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The story behind Wizr, Kuwait’s Greatest Driver

Posted by Mark

wizr

Back in October I wrote about Keith Wells, a British journalist who was living in Kuwait back in the 70s. Keith used to work for Arab Times and in his spare time he also used to write books about Kuwait, including a witty series on a character named Wizr who was Kuwait’s greatest driver. Between 1979 and 1984, Keith released three Wizr books which I’m lucky enough to own all three. A few days ago Keith got in touch with me and I asked him if he could tell me how it all started. This is what he shared with me:

I originally wrote the stories for the Arab Times which became very popular. Then I met Peter McMahon at a party, and he hadn’t read any of the stories and asked, “Who is this Wizr character?” “I said, he’s the young, trendy Kuwaiti guy with the scarlet Transam with the eagle decal on the bonnet.’ So Peter picked up a sheet of paper,scribbled away for a minute or two, then held it out and asked “Him?” It was perfect. Thereafter we became close friends. I’d write a story, take it to his flat every Friday, and he’d give me the cartoon from the week before’s story. He somehow drew exactly what I’d imagined. The combination became very popular indeed and after a month or two we were approached by Tony Jashanmal, who owned a department store on Fahed Salem St, and Bashir Khatib, who owned the Kuwait Bookshop to publish a book full of the stories. We had a 3 way partnership to print the book at The Arab Times and Launched it at the British Embassy Garden Fete in November 1979, a week or so before I married Suzi. We sold 428 copies in about two hours… amazing.

We carried on for just over a year, then Peter was murdered by Saddam Hussein’s goons, long sad, sad story… but the upshot was that I sort of lost the fun, we put out the second Wizr book with cartoons we hadn’t used in the first one. And the third book with odd scraps and recycled pics. By then it was getting a bit heavy with the Iran Iraq War getting very dangerous and I left the Arab Times and took a very low profile job teaching at the university of Kuwait. After 4 years there I went back to the paper and wrote more stories with an Indian cartoonist called Edgar, but they were never collected in book form. I left Kuwait in June ’87. We emigrated to Oz in Oct 1989, and the following March I had a massive heart attack in a small town in southern Queensland. After recovering, we spent the rest of our working lives doing PhDs in Communication Studies, and setting up Comm Depts in various universities and colleges in Macau, Singapore, Morocco, The Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

I’ve been a bit of a hermit since retiring in ’07, but am beginning to re-emerge and was very surprised and grateful for the interest in Wizr and Dozi and his pals. Someone told me a few years ago that the fabulous cartoon of Dozi with the two rubber stamps “PERHAPS” and “PERHAPS NOT” is to be found in many offices to this day. Peter would have loved that.

– Keith Wells


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The Kuwait Cat’s Meat Crisis

Posted by Mark

catstory

The Qatar Digital Library have published an article about a scandal in Kuwait in the 1930s when one restaurant was accused of using cat meat instead of mutton. It’s an interesting read and it also sounds like an incident that could take place today. Kuwait really hasn’t changed much. [Link]


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Comedy in Kuwait back in the 50s

Posted by Mark

comedy

The lovers of humor and comic stuff had the chance in Kuwait back in the fifties to enjoy it through the comic magazine “Al-Fukaha” which means humor in English.

“Al-Fukaha” magazine was released in October 1950, the chief editor was Farhan Rashed Alfarhan and the owner was Abdullah Al-Khaled Al-Hatem.

At first, it was printed in Kuwait. Then, they started printing it in the Syrian capital Damascus and the distribution of this comic magazine was in Kuwait.

“Al-Fukaha” that was released in 1950 continued until 7th February 1951 and then stopped. It was released again on July 20th 1954 but stopped one more time on 24th November 1958.

First time I’m hearing of this. [Link]

Thanks Farran


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Women of the Resistance

Posted by Mark

This is a Sheila MacVicar ABC News report produced and edited from inside Kuwait City just after the Iraqi forces fled at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War. The segment was broadcast on World News Tonight March 7, 1991. It features many of the brave women that took on a major role of resisting the occupying Iraqi forces that had taken over the besieged city.

This short report was uploaded a few hours ago on Vimeo and sheds a bit of light on some of the Kuwaiti women resistance during the 1990 Iraqi invasion. [Vimeo]

1990


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The KOC Archive: Kuwait’s Old Police Force

Posted by Mark

police

I’m going to start sharing some of the photos I got from my last trip to the KOC photography archive. This group of photos in this post are of the old Kuwaiti police force, I don’t have a specific date but I’d say the photos were probably taken in the 60s.

Photos courtesy of the KOC Information Team.


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