KUWAIT CITY // A female Saudi academic who lives in exile in the United Kingdom has become the latest high-profile figure to be barred from entering Kuwait, which is limiting the number of visits from foreigners with controversial views. Madawi al Rasheed, a professor of the anthropology of religion at the University of London, was scheduled to speak at a conference on political, economic and social development in the Middle East this Wednesday. Ms al Rasheed said in a phone interview yesterday that she had originally received permission to attend the event but her clearance was revoked on Thursday.
Jusoor Arabiya, the consultancy organising the event, informed the scholar of the ministry of information's decision. Shafeeq Ghabra, who is the firm's chief executive officer and an academic at Kuwait University, said the ministry's ban was "a political decision: nothing more, nothing less". Saudi Arabia had put pressure on Kuwait to stop her from entering the country because of her vocal opposition to the Saudi government and criticism of its human rights record, Ms al Rasheed said. "They don't like an academic who writes history in a particular way."
Ms al Rasheed said it is in the interests of Saudi Arabia to undermine democracy in the region, but she is surprised that Kuwait "bowed to Saudi pressure", especially because "I had a lot of positive things to say about Kuwaiti democratic development". The academic and author has been living and working in the UK for "many years" and now holds British citizenship. Ms al Rasheed is the third public figure to be prevented from entering Kuwait in recent months. In December, an Egyptian with liberal views about Islam, Nasr Abu Zaid, was barred from taking part in a conference at the Kuwait Women's Society. And in January, Mohammed al Arifi, a Saudi cleric who had upset Shiites, was told he would not be allowed in, although the ministry's decision was reported to have been reversed.