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The Bedoon or Bidoon (fully Bidoon jinsiya, Arabic: بدونBidūn Arabic: بدون جنسية‎, "without nationality") are stateless people in several Middle Eastern countries, particularly Kuwait, Iraq,[1] and Saudi Arabia.[2] The largest population of stateless people in the region can be found in Kuwait, where the majority of Bedoon are Shia Muslims[3][4][5][6] and the status of the community is considered a sectarian issue.[7] The extremity of the situation of Bedoon in Kuwait has drawn parallels with the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, being labelled a humanitarian crisis and drawing accusations of ethnic cleansing.[8][9][10]


Most stateless Bedoon of Kuwait belong to the northern tribes, especially the Al-Muntafiq tribal confederation.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17] A minority of stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belong to Kuwait's 'Ajam community.[18] It is estimated that 60-80% of Kuwait's Bedoon are Shia Muslims.[3][4][19][11][6][20] and as a result, it is widely believed that the Bedoon issue in Kuwait is sectarian in nature.[3][19][4][5][11][21][6]

In 1995, the Human Rights Watch reported that there were 300,000 stateless Bedoon, and this number was formally repeated by the British government.[7][22] In 2013, the UK government estimated that there were 110,729 "documented" Bedoon in Kuwait, without giving a total estimate, but noting that all stateless individuals in Kuwait remain at risk of persecution and human rights breaches.[23] The Bedoon are generally categorized into three groups: stateless tribespeople, stateless police/military, and the stateless children of Kuwaiti women who married Bedoon men.[24] According to the Kuwaiti government, there are only 93,000 "documented" Bedoon in Kuwait.[23]


From 1965 until 1985, the Bedoon were treated like Kuwaiti citizens and guaranteed citizenship: they had free access to education, health care and all the other privileges of citizenship.[8] The stateless Bedoon also constituted 80-90% of the Kuwaiti Army in the 1970s and 1980s, up until the 1990 Gulf War.[24]

In 1985, however, at the height of the Iran–Iraq War, the Bedoon were reclassified as "foreigners" and denied Kuwaiti citizenship and its accompanying privileges.[8][24][25] The Iran–Iraq War threatened Kuwait's internal stability and the authorities feared the sectarian background of the stateless Bedoon.[24] The Bedoon issue in Kuwait “overlaps with historic sensitivities about Iraqi influence inside Kuwait”, with many of those denied Kuwaiti nationality being believed to have originated from Iraq.[26]

In 1985, the then emir Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah also escaped an assassination attempt. It was later that same year that the government changed the Bedoon's status from that of legal residents without nationality to illegal residents.[24] By 1986, the Bedoon were fully excluded from the same social and economic rights as Kuwaiti citizens, and by 2004, the Bedoon accounted for only 40% of the Kuwaiti Army, a major reduction from their presence in the 1970s and 1980s.[27]

Since 1986, the Kuwaiti government has refused to grant any form of documentation to the Bedoon, including birth certificates, death certificates, identity cards, marriage certificates, and driving licenses. The Bedoon also face many restrictions in employment, travel, and education. They are not permitted to educate their children in public schools and universities. In recent years, the rate of suicide among Bedoon has risen sharply.[8]

Under the terms of the Kuwait Nationality Law 15/1959, all the Bedoon in Kuwait are eligible for Kuwaiti nationality by naturalization.[10] In practice, it is widely believed that Sunnis of Persian descent or tribal Saudis can readily achieve Kuwaiti naturalization, while Bedoon of Iraqi tribal ancestry cannot.[28] As a result, many Bedoon in Kuwait feel pressured to hide their Shia Muslim background.[29] In 2018, the Kuwaiti government claimed that it would naturalize up to 4,000 stateless Bedoon per year, but this is considered unlikely.[28][30] In 2019, the Iranian embassy in Kuwait announced that it would offer Iranian citizenship to stateless Bedoon of Iranian ancestry.[31][32]

Naturalization policy[edit]

The State of Kuwait formally has an official Nationality Law which grants non-nationals a legal pathway to obtain citizenship.[33] However, access to citizenship in Kuwait is autocratically controlled by the Al Sabah ruling family, it is not subject to any external regulatory supervision.[34][33] The naturalization provisions within the Nationality Law are arbitrarily implemented and lack transparency.[33][34] The lack of transparency prevents non-nationals from receiving a fair opportunity to obtain citizenship.[35][34] Consequently, the Al Sabah ruling family have been able to manipulate naturalization for politically-motivated reasons.[34][36][37][38][39][35][40][41][42] In the three decades after independence in 1961, the Al Sabah ruling family naturalized hundreds of thousands of foreign Bedouin immigrants predominantly from Saudi Arabia.[38][43][34][40][36][41][37][35][42][44] By the year 1980, as many as 200,000 immigrants were naturalized in Kuwait.[43] Throughout the 1980s, the Al Sabah's politically-motivated naturalization policy continued.[43][34] The naturalizations were not regulated nor sanctioned by Kuwaiti law.[34][36][38][44] The exact number of naturalizations is unknown but it is estimated that up to 400,000 immigrants were unlawfully naturalized in Kuwait.[44][38] The foreign Bedouin immigrants were mainly naturalized to alter the demographic makeup of the citizen population in a way that makes the power of the Al Sabah ruling family more secure.[39][34][36][38] As a result of the politically-motivated naturalizations, the number of naturalized citizens exceeds the number of Bedoon in Kuwait.[35] The Al Sabah ruling family actively encouraged foreign Bedouin immigrants to migrate to Kuwait,[43] the Al Sabah ruling family favored naturalizing Bedouin immigrants because they were considered loyal to the ruling family unlike the politically active Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian expats in Kuwait.[43] The naturalized citizens were predominantly Sunni Saudi immigrants from southern tribes.[42][38][36] Accordingly, there are no stateless Bedoon in Kuwait belonging to the Ajman tribe.[36]

The Kuwaiti judicial system's lack of authority to rule on citizenship further complicates the Bedoon crisis, leaving Bedoon no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.[35] Although non-nationals constitute 70% of Kuwait's total population, the Al Sabah ruling family persistently denies citizenship to most non-nationals including those who fully satisfy the requirements for naturalization as stipulated in the state's official Nationality Law. The Kuwaiti authorities permit the forgeries of hundreds of thousands of politically-motivated naturalizations,[35][44] while simultaneously denying citizenship to the Bedoon.[35][44] The politically-motivated naturalizations were noted by the United Nations, political activists, scholars, researchers, and even members of the Al Sabah family.[35][34][36][38][39][37][45][40][43][41][44] It is widely considered a form of deliberate demographic engineering. It has been likened to Bahrain's politically-motivated naturalization policy.[34][39][42] Within the GCC countries, politically-motivated naturalization policies are referred to as "political naturalization" (التجنيس السياسي).[34]

Ethnic cleansing[edit]

According to several human rights organizations, the State of Kuwait is committing ethnic cleansing and genocide against the stateless Bedoon.[9][14] The Kuwaiti Bedoon crisis has also been compared unfavourably with the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.[10] In 1995, it was reported in the British parliament that the Al Sabah ruling family had deported 150,000 stateless Bedoon to refugee camps in the Kuwaiti desert near the Iraqi border with minimal water, insufficient food, and no basic shelter, and that they were threatened, on pain of death, not to return to their homes in Kuwait City.[22][17] As a result, many of the stateless Bedoon fled to Iraq, where they remain stateless people even today.[46][1] There have also been reports of disappearances of Bedoon and the discovery of mass graves of presumed disappeared persons.[9][47][48][49][50][51][17] The Kuwaiti government also stands accused of attempting to impose a false identity narrative on the Bedoon.[52]

The 1995 Human Rights Watch report stated:

"The totality of the treatment of the Bedoons amounts to a policy of denationalization of native residents, relegating them to an apartheid-like existence in their own country. The Kuwaiti government policy of harassment and intimidation of the Bedoons and of denying them the right to lawful residence, employment, travel and movement, contravene basic principles of human rights. Denial of citizenship to the Bedoons clearly violates international law. Denying Bedoons the right to petition the courts to challenge governmental decisions regarding their claims to citizenship and lawful residence in the country violates the universal right to due process of law and equality before the law."[22]

British MP George Galloway stated:

"Of all the human rights atrocities committed by the ruling family in Kuwait, the worst and the greatest is that against the people known as the Bedoons. There are more than 300,000 Bedoons—one third of Kuwait's native population. Half of them—150,000—have been driven into refugee camps in the desert across the Iraqi border by the regime and left there to bake and to rot. The other 150,000 are treated not as second-class or even fifth-class citizens, but not as any sort of citizen. They are bereft of all rights. It is a scandal that almost no one in the world cares a thing about the plight of 300,000 people, 150,000 of them cast out of the land in which they have lived [when] many have lived in the Kuwaiti area for many centuries."[22]


Immediately after the 1991 Gulf War, many stateless Bedoon from Kuwait migrated to Iraq, most with no recognized nationality or official papers.[1] There are currently tens of thousands of Kuwaiti stateless Bedoon living in Iraq.[1] The process to obtain Iraqi citizenship is much simpler than Kuwait due to the presence of judicial court systems reviewing citizenship.[1] Since August 2017, the UNCHR has been coordinating with Iraqi NGOs to help stateless Bedoon receive Iraqi citizenship.[1]

United Arab Emirates[edit]

According to Federal Law No. 17 of the United Arab Emirates Citizenship and Passport Law of Year 1972, any Arab who resided in the Trucial States prior to 1925 is eligible to obtain UAE citizenship.[53] Many stateless people who lived in the UAE have failed to obtain Emirati passports, either because they have failed to demonstrate that they lived in the region prior to 1925, their roots cannot be traced back to the tribal region, or because they arrived to the region after 1925. Stateless are generally considered immigrants from Baloch or Iranian origin by the UAE. The UAE has also deported some Bedoon people after the Arab Spring.[54] Stateless who are not able to obtain any passport are offered the Comorian passport for free through a government initiative for a citizenship by investment deal worth million of dollars with the government of Comoros and enjoy certain citizenship privileges such as subsidized education and access to government jobs in the UAE.[55][56][57]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Bedoon in Saudi Arabia are not considered Saudi citizens and therefore have no benefits. Saudia Arabia has revoked citizenship of certain Saudis in the past too, which means these people become Bedoon. However, some of them have the right to education, free healthcare, and access to jobs that are not exclusive to citizens. Most of these Bedoon are displaced from Yemen or Jordan and Syria. [58][59]


Qatar has a number of stateless people living within its borders. Qatar has not helped them out; instead it has imprisoned many of them.[60]


Like neighbouring Qatar, Bahrain also has a number of stateless people, some of whom were dissidents.[61]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Charlie Dunmore and Edith Champagne in Basra, Iraq (10 October 2019). "Citizenship hopes become reality for Iraq's Bidoon minority". UNCHR.
  2. ^ World Migration 2005 Costs and Benefits of International Migration. International Organization for Migration. 2005. p. 53. ISBN 9788171885503.
  3. ^ a b c "Government of United Kingdom". “The Kuwaiti Bedoon`s continued exclusion from nationality can only be understood in the light of the power struggle in a system which was largely based on sectarianism and tribalism within newly emerging emirates striving to assert their legitimacy and authority. The majority of the Bedoon are in fact an extended branch of tribes across the borders between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and are largely of the Muslim Shi'ite faith”.
  4. ^ a b c "State formation of Kuwait" (PDF). p. 83.
  5. ^ a b "Stateless in Kuwait". 14 January 2013. The Sunni ruling elite discriminate against the bidoon, many of whom are Shia.
  6. ^ a b c "כוויית: עושר רב לצד מתחים אתניים ודיכוי". Israel Hayom (in Hebrew).
  7. ^ a b "THE Bedoons of Kuwaiy Citizens without Citizenship". Human Rights Watch.
  8. ^ a b c d "Kuwait Bedoon - Special Rapporteurs, United Nations, Requesting Investigation of Kuwait's Treatment of the Bedoon". Un Special Procedures Request.
  9. ^ a b c "Kuwait's humanitarian disaster Inter-generational erasure, ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Bedoon". OHCHR. 2019.
  10. ^ a b c David S. Weissbrodt (2008). The Human Rights of Non-citizens. p. 98. ISBN 9780199547821.
  11. ^ a b c Eman Shams Aldeen (September 19, 2012). "البدون فــي الكويـــت.. مواطنون بلا هوية". As-Safir Al-Arabi (in Arabic).
  12. ^ Fayez Alfayez (February 26, 2021). "أزمة الهوية الوطنية - د. فايز الفايز". Platform Post (in Arabic).
  13. ^ Ahmad Jaber (February 2021). "Critical sociolinguistic ethnography as a lens to statelessness: a case from the Bidoon community in Kuwait".
  14. ^ a b "Kuwait's Laws and Policies of Ethnic Discrimination, Erasure and Genocide Against The Bedoon Minority Submission on 'Human Rights Protections for Minorities Recognised in the UN System'". Susan Kennedy Nour al Deen. 2020.
  15. ^ Report to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - Annual Study. Bedoon Indigenous Rights in the Context of Borders, Migration and Displacement (PDF) (Thesis). OHCHR. 2019. p. 1–63.
  16. ^ "Stateless Bedoons Are Shut Out of Kuwait". The Christian Science Monitor. 1991.
  17. ^ a b c Susan Kennedy Nour al Deen (2018). "The Bedoun Archive: A public archive created for the northern tribes Bedouin of Kuwait".
  18. ^ Ajam Media Collective (2018). "Between Two Deserts: Visual Vignettes from an Iranian-Kuwaiti Bidoon in New Mexico".
  19. ^ a b "Exploring the perceptions of informed individuals about the education provisions of Bidoun in Kuwait". p. 13.
  20. ^ Enam al-Wer, Rudolf Erik de Jong, ed. (2009). Arabic Dialectology: In Honour of Clive Holes on the Occasion of His Sixtieth Birthday. 53. Brill. p. 99–100. ISBN 9789047425595.
  21. ^ Jaber Al-Sharefee (January 26, 2021). "خمسة أسباب لاستمرار قضية البدون - جابر الشريفي". Platform Post (in Arabic).
  22. ^ a b c d "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 23 Oct 1995 - Parliament Publications". House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Oct 23, 1995.
  23. ^ a b "United Kingdom Government - Bedoon" (PDF). p. 2.
  24. ^ a b c d e "United Kingdom Government - Bedoon" (PDF).
  25. ^ "Kuwait City Journal; The Bedoons: Outcasts in the Land They Served". The New York Times. 1991.
  26. ^ "Australian Government - Bedoon" (PDF). p. 3.
  27. ^ Ghanim Al-Najjar (2004). "Challenges of Security Sector Governance in Kuwait" (PDF). p. 5-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-17.
  28. ^ a b Mona Kareem (2013). "Is Kuwait Serious About Bedoon Naturalization?".
  29. ^ "The National Project to Resolve the Kuwaiti Bedoon Case (Kuwait) End Statelessness Foundation (Australia) - 1 February, 2019 Report to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - Annual Study - Bedoon Indigenous Rights in the Context of Borders, Migration and Displacement" (PDF). p. 23.
  30. ^ "Assembly OKs bill on number of people to be granted Kuwaiti citizenship in '18". ARAB TIMES - KUWAIT NEWS. 2018-03-21. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
  31. ^ "Iran offers citizenship to stateless people with 'Iranian roots' in Kuwait". Al Arabiya. September 9, 2019.
  32. ^ "طهران: مُستعدّون لتجنيس "البدون" الإيرانيين". Al Rai (in Arabic). September 8, 2019.
  33. ^ a b c "IV. DISCRIMINATION BASED ON ORIGIN AND STATUS: THE BIDUN". Human Rights Watch. 2000.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rivka Azoulay (2020). Kuwait and Al-Sabah: Tribal Politics and Power in an Oil State. p. 100-110. ISBN 9781838605063. Political naturalizations of tribesmen
  35. ^ a b c d e f g h "Human Rights Council, Forty-sixth session, 22 February–19 March 2021, Agenda item 3, Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. Written statement* submitted by International Council. Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization in special consultative status. The Secretary-General has received the following written statement which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31". United Nations. 17 February 2021. p. 2.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g Claire Beaugrand. "Statelessness and Transnationalism in Northern Arabia: Biduns and State Building in Kuwait, 1959-2009" (PDF). p. 137. Extra-Legal Naturalisations and Population Statistics
  37. ^ a b c Frederic Wehrey, ed. (February 2018). Beyond Sunni and Shia: The Roots of Sectarianism in a Changing Middle East. p. 186. ISBN 9780190911195. To counter the strong influence of Arab nationalism in the decades after independence in 1961, Kuwait naturalized more than 200,000 Bedouin tribesmen to serve as a reliable pro-government bloc in parliament.
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  39. ^ a b c d Michael Herb (18 December 2014). The Wages of Oil: Parliaments and Economic Development in Kuwait and the UAE. ISBN 9780801454684. How then do we explain the naturalizations that have occurred in the Gulf states in the past, such as the granting of citizenship to thousands of bedu (bedouin) by Kuwait in the 1960s and 1970s? Typically these naturalizations were imposed by the ruling families and were designed to alter the demographic makeup of the citizen society in a way that made the power of the ruling families more secure
  40. ^ a b c Gwenn Okruhlik (February 8, 2012). "The identity politics of Kuwait's election". Foreign Policy.
  41. ^ a b c Justin Gengler (August 29, 2016). "The Political Economy of Sectarianism in the Gulf". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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  43. ^ a b c d e f Andrzej Kapiszewski (2005). "Non-indigenous citizens and "stateless" residents in the Gulf monarchies. The Kuwaiti bidun" (PDF). p. 70.
  44. ^ a b c d e f Sheikh Sabah Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah (February 10, 2018). "اتقوا الله وجنِّسوا الكويتيين البدون". Al-Shahed Newspaper (in Arabic).
  45. ^ Mohammad E. Alhabib (2010). The Shia Migration from Southwestern Iran to Kuwait: Push-Pull Factors during the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries (Thesis). Georgia State University. p. 46.
  46. ^ "EASO Country of Origin Information Report Iraq Targeting of Individuals" (PDF). European Asylum Support Office. p. 149-150.
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  53. ^ "UAE Citizenship and Passport Law of Year 1972, Article 17". Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  54. ^ "UAE turns to deportation to silence regime's critics". The Independent. 2012-06-07. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  55. ^ "Citizenship hope for UAE stateless". Retrieved 2018-01-23.
  56. ^ "Special report: Ten years on, the UAE's stateless people reflect on how life has improved and on the challenges ahead". The National. 5 September 2018.
  57. ^ Abrahamian, Atossa Araxia (2018-01-05). "Opinion | Who Loses When a Country Puts Citizenship Up for Sale?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  58. ^ "Immolation in Riyadh exposes plight of Arab stateless in Saudi Arabia". Reuters. 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  59. ^ "The 'Bidoon' of Saudi Arabia: Generations of discrimination". Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  60. ^ "Doha rejects opportunity at UN to end its persecution of Qatari tribe". Arab News. 2019-10-09. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  61. ^ "The new unpeople". The Economist. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2020-02-12.