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The class for women was to be taught by women

Originally published on Global Voices

Several lawmakers from Kuwait’s National Assembly pressured the government to close down the ladies fitness club. Public domain photo.

This piece was originally published on Raseef22, an independent Arabic media platform, on August 13, 2021, and an edited version is being republished under a content-sharing agreement.

The Kuwaiti Ministry of Commerce and Industry rushed to close down a sports club and suspended all its activists for the foreseeable future, in response to a crisis sparked by popular and parliamentary protests over the fitness club’s belly dance class.

In exclusive statements to the United States–based Al-Hurra channel, the club’s manager confirmed that the ministry had officially notified him on August 9 of the shut down, and that he — along with others in charge within the club — has been summoned for investigation. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry had indeed already closed the club down one day earlier, August 8, before even alerting its owner.

People of Al-Jahra demand the banning of the belly dancing class in a ladies gym in Al-Jahra district. They rejected the support of such courses that is not suitable for the Kuwaiti society, particularly Al-Jahra.

The crisis began when a ladies gym called “Viva Fit” in the northern governorate of  Al-Jahra, which is home to a largely tribal and conservative population, published an advertisement for a women-only belly dancing class from August 8 to August 24, for a subscription fee of 78 Kuwaiti dinars (around 260 US dollars).

The advert sparked widespread controversy, prompting several MPs in the Kuwaiti National Assembly to voice their concerns over the nature of the class, stating that it violated the values of the Kuwaiti society. This forced authorities to announce the gym’s closure and summon those in charge for an investigation.

Kuwaiti media sources stated that the Commercial Control Department at the Ministry of Commerce will follow up on the closing procedures remaining.

Refusal and Defense

Behind the decision to close the club was the pressure exerted by a number of parliamentarians, including Representative Fayez Ghannam Al-Jumhour, who announced on his Twitter account:

I made a call to the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Abdullah Al-Salman, and informed him of this violation of licensing (legal permit) and our values, and he assured me that he will take legal measures against the license holder and prevent such promotional offers from being made in the future.” He added that, “We were, still are, and — God willing — will continue to be a stumbling block for those who want to steer the Kuwaiti society away from its religion, customs, and traditions.

Meanwhile, many other Kuwaitis considered these courses a “normal” thing that can be found in all Kuwait gyms and clubs.

In defense of belly dancing, Kuwaiti writer and actress May al-Eidan tweeted:

I mean, have all the problems of the country been solved so that what was left was the closing down of an institute or a gym that has a belly dance course? What is the problem? Maybe she [a lady] is learning to dance so that she could dance for her husband to make him happy, or with her friends at a wedding or event. Just because [a lady] is learning to dance doesn’t mean it is in order to dance at a nightclub or in some young men’s house. You only see things through a dirty mind.

Another Kuwaiti opponent of the decision wrote:

A ladies gym..
For women only..
Like all the other different women’s fitness clubs in Kuwait, offering various sports courses and class of all types, including belly dancing..
Where is the problem?
All women-only sports clubs hold these types of classes, belly dancing, zumba, hip hop etc
Why the discrimination?

According to tweets by a number of Kuwaiti women and some local online newspapers, many fitness clubs in Kuwait organize and hold belly dance courses as part of their slimming and fitness programs. However, they must file for and obtain special licenses in order to hold these types of courses.

The fitness club’s director told the Kuwaiti online newspaper Jaridatkum that the course that sparked the debate was expected to be strictly coached and taught by female fitness trainers and attended exclusively by women.

The incident happened shortly after another member of the country’s stateless population, also known as bidoon, committed suicide, the latest in a series of suicides that reflect the community’s decades-long frustration over their suspended legal status, and policy-makers’ idle approach in handling their aggravation.

Referring to this incident, a Twitter user wrote:

I am surprised at Kuwait’s civil society..
They’re outraged by a belly dancing class in a ladies institution, and is not outraged by a Muslim taking his own life. #Priority_to_bidoons

Kuwait is home to the Arabian Gulf’s only freely-elected assembly and has the region’s most democratic political system.

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