Photography Ban Irks Kuwait

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”

– Dorothea Lange

d90It is not uncommon to happen upon a photographer along the streets of Kuwait as he sets his lens on whatever strikes his fancy, whether it is a group of kids happily playing on the beach or a landscape shot of the glittering ocean waves as they rise and fall just barely kissing the parched seashore. However, not all photographers are as innocent as they may appear. For the past couple of years, scores of complaints have inundated Kuwaiti police stations with mainly women complaining about having their picture taken without permission by some “Romeo” equipped with a digital lens.

The Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, which is capable of taking crystal clear shots even at great distances, is the primary camera that has come under scrutiny recently by Kuwaiti authorities. The availability of DSLR cameras in the Kuwaiti market and ease of use has recently come under fire by three separate ministries. The Ministry of Finance, The Ministry of Information and The Ministry of Social Affairs have jointly banned the use of DSLR cameras in public places, like malls, parks, or recreational facilities. Now the only permissible use of DSLR cameras in Kuwait is by journalists exclusively.

The recent ban has taken DSLR camera owners by surprise especially since only a small percentage of photographers use the camera as a means to harass or provoke females. Now, in the wake of the ban, parents wanting to capture their little darling hard at play during a seaside adventure or professional photographers seeking to build up their portfolios now have cause to worry for using their DSLR camera in public.

Kuwaiti blogs have been one of the first places that people have gone to air their dismay and frustrations over the ban. On one popular Kuwaiti blog, a reader comments, “Define what they mean by “public places” and does it mean that I will get arrested if they see my DSLR hanging on my neck even if I’m not shooting?” Another writes, “If this is true then we are regressing faster than we anticipated.”

A few conspiracy theorists have also been floating around their own theories about the Kuwaiti ban on DSLR cameras. The primary one is that protecting people from unwanted photography is only a cover for the real reason for the ban. Some conspiracy theorists say that the ban has been put into effect to protect sensitive Kuwaiti installations from being photographed by persons seeking to bring harm to Kuwait. The name on just about every theorists tongue is Iran and one can only assume there is a tangible threat of Iranian spies moving about Kuwait armed with DSLR cameras.

Regardless of the reasoning, Kuwait has set its sights high for creating a tourist destination that rivals the likes of Dubai in the coming years. Banning a type of camera that is popular with tourists and photography enthusiasts alike may be the deciding factor on whether someone chooses to visit the tiny Gulf nation or not. 


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