Kuwaitis have spoken out against Sondos Al Qattan, calling her an “embarrassment” after the beauty blogger said the backlash against her was an affront to Kuwaitis and the hijab.
Enraged by Al Qattan's comments, many have taken to social media to denounce her and say they will boycott the brands that are still sponsoring her. This is in direct contrast to Al Qattan's tirade, in which she said her followers would stop supporting the companies that had cut ties with her. Several brands sponsoring Al Qattan have revoked their deals after her controversial remarks, notably Max Factor and Mac.
“She’s an embarrassment. As far as I can remember, everyone knows that Sunday is a day off for those of us lucky enough to have help,” said Samia Al Duaij, who works at an international organisation in Kuwait. “Otherwise, it’s Friday if you're Muslim. I don’t know where this new idea of no days off came from.”
Ms Al Duaij said domestic help is entitled to a day off, as is usual in Kuwait and now enshrined in the country's new labour law. She said Al Qattan was perpetuating an image of Kuwaiti nationals as being oppressive.
“Yes, of course there are cases of inhumanity, as there are anywhere else in the world. But when [the Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte asked the Filipinos to leave earlier this year, 90 per cent of them began protesting,” she said. Ms Al Duaij was referring to a protest held in Kuwait this year over comments made by the firebrand Filipino president in response to the murder of Joanna Demafelis by a Syrian-Lebanese couple in Kuwait.
Al Qattan, a social media star and make-up artist, has courted controversy after her remarks on the recent law that entitles domestic workers to a day off and access to their passports.
The video, posted this week to her 2.3 million Instagram followers, garnered international attention just months after Kuwait and the Philippines resolved a diplomatic spat regarding treatment of domestic workers in the country.
Al Qattan has doubled down in her latest video, shocking many by not apologising and instead responding with a bizarre counterattack. “After seeing all this, I felt there's an attack on Islam, saying 'look, she is wearing the hijab, look at the Muslims, of course [look] at the Kuwaitis in particular, and similarly the people of the Gulf region, look at the Arabs',” she said in her video.
Al Qattan has been so heavily criticised online that she made her Twitter account private and disabled comments on her Instagram page.
LS, who works in Kuwait at a marketing agency, said her defence was clearly aimed at trying to create a diversion.
“I think it’s ridiculous. It doesn’t represent who we are, it doesn’t represent how we treat our housekeepers, because at the end of the day we need them as much as they need us,” LS said. “They take care of my children, so if I don’t treat them well I am not setting a good example to my children.”
Others said that domestic workers in homes become part of the family, with some living in the same house for decades on end.
In the video Al Qattan also said that after reading headlines referring to her as a Muslim woman wearing a veil, she believes the media backlash is an attack on Islam and Kuwait.
Many Kuwaitis interviewed by The National suspected that she used the defence as a way to gather support from other Arabs and Muslims worldwide, to get them to see the matter as religious or ethnic.
"If that's what she's hiding behind she should know that wearing the hijab should be about showing respect and modesty," Ms Al Duaiji said. "How do her comments show that? I don't understand."
Al Qattan tried to justify her comments this week by saying her intentions behind keeping her help’s passport, which is against the law in Kuwait, was to “ensure their safety”. “This is not how we were raised. If some do support it, then I am sure their parents didn’t. This is a new phenomenon and to those who do support it, where has the humanity gone? I don’t know,” Ms Al Duaij said.