In the Middle East people sometimes seem to have a love-hate relationship with the West, and particularly the United States. On the one hand they love the West: they travel there, they study there, and many wish that they could permanently move there. Not only does the West often provide them with better economic opportunities, it is also a society that is often more liberal and open-minded than their own. That is one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is that Western nations have always imposed their own designs on the area, from the French and British during the colonial times until the Americans today, causing anti-Western sentiments too.
Kuwait (as well as the other Gulf countries) lean towards the former. The majority of the population is very much pro-Western and especially pro-American. No one has forgotten how the Americans came to the rescue during the Gulf War, and there’s still a very close relationship between the US and Kuwait. Although officially not allowed, a substantial number of Kuwaitis has a double passport – as a safeguard against any future attack on the country. Some 15 years after the Gulf War, conflict is still in the back of their minds.
On a more personal level, it means that young Kuwaitis are often well-travelled. I don’t doubt that there are many who have seen more of Europe than I have. Each year the government sends a large number of students abroad, to study mainly in the US and Great Britain. Because the West equals authority in the eyes of the Kuwaitis. It is for the same reason that for important consultancy jobs, they like to hire Western companies. All knowledge comes from the West, so to say.
I am an old-fashioned Orientalist. Whereas I love anything Eastern, many Kuwaitis love anything Western. They shop at Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and all those other brands I can’t afford on my researcher’s salary. They drink their coffee at Starbucks or Costa, eat at MacDonalds or KFC, get their furniture from IKEA and drive a Porsche or Ferrari. Pepsi makes here as much profit as anywhere else in the world, and so does Burger King.
But regardless of their fascination, I haven’t met many who wanted to move to the West on a more permanent basis. Unlike in Egypt, where almost everyone I met wanted to come to Germany, in Kuwait people seem okay to return – despite the strictness of their own society. For Egyptians Germany is paradise. Kuwaitis like to travel here, spend their summer here, maybe study here for a few years – but that’s really it. But then again, Kuwait is not such a bad place to be either!