In contemporary national discourse, multiple voices are often present, representing the varied social segments that make up a given society. Kuwait, not differently, is home to a kaleidoscope of strata that render this Arabian Gulf nation a highly unique positionality and a multitude of voices that are distinct in their resilience.
A recent video that surfaced online on August 23 was one such voice. Titled "#WhatDoYouSee" and offering a voice that is conflicted, yet hopeful, the video successfully positioned itself center-stage on multiple social media platforms. Initially released as an article on the corporate social networking site LinkedIn, and later turned into a visual essay by its creator Fawaz Al-Sirri, the video has received a high volume of online exposure since its release.
Narrated in English, the video opens with sights and sounds that represent Kuwait's diversity. It portrays a realistic image of Kuwait, highlighting a sentiment of nationalism that is ever-present despite the negative attitudes that often prevail. In just over four minutes, the video conveys a message of hope, initiating a much-needed online dialogue.
This dialogue, however, is a narrative that has not been easy to articulate. In an interview with local media, Ministry of Youth Affairs Undersecretary Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah highlights "the fact that it has been produced by a team of Kuwaiti youth is testament to the fact that this demographic's fresh outlook and guidance is precisely what is needed to take this society, so pregnant with contradictions and corroborations, and develop its advantages, allowing our nation to flourish and thrive as a whole in all its intertwining parts." She adds, "it is precisely these components that make us a nation, and not just a country. It is what disrupts the skepticism, allowing our true values and sense of unity to shine through."
Commenting on the impact the video had on her personally, human rights activist Dr. Ebtehal Al-Khateeb said that from her perspective, the #WhatDoYouSee conveys the complexity of life while simultaneously portraying the "hope and good and opportunity," explaining that within this web of "complexity lies our uniqueness as humans, as Kuwaitis. The video succeeds in peeling back layers that hamper our vision, Al-Khateeb says, adding that this causes us to "lose sight of things, good and bad get so tangled that we cannot tell them apart and we fall into despair."
Instead of focusing on that despair, the video serves as a vehicle that urges the viewer to stop and review. Kuwaiti director and film-maker Yarub Bourahmah describes the video as "beautiful words and picture that merge to create a four-minute reality check," adding that it is a "magnificent, eloquent slap in the face-with a zest of hope."
Within the first 24 hours, the video had been viewed 20,000 times on YouTube, boasting a Twitter reach of nearly one million. Digital media expert Qutaiba Al-Rabe explains that online presence has created an atmosphere that facilitates media sharing in a way that never existed in more traditional platforms. "The length of the video, at slightly over four minutes, is perfect. It's not too long, so it can be easily viewed at any interval during day day, and social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter provide a lucrative ground for easy sharing," he stated. By integrating the hashtag into the video's title, Al-Rabe explains, the conversation has already been initiated.
Writer and novelist Dalaa Al-Moufti is one social media user who used Twitter to convey her voice, as projected through #WhatDoYouSee. Impacted by the video, Al-Moufti highlights the accurate portrayal of the varied social segments of Kuwait as represented in the short clip that examines "the poor, the rich, the expatriates, the citizens." Al-Moufti emphasizes the impact that the reality that was conveyed in the video had on her, as well as the aesthetic qualities, hoping that the video gets translated into Arabic as soon as possible, where it would ultimately succeed in addressing a much wider audience. Al-Moufti dedicated several Tweets to the video when it was first released, which resulted in 29 retweets and 36 favorites, highlighting that what she liked most about the video was its representation of coexistence between the various segments of Kuwaiti society.
Similarly, the video has resonated with both the Kuwaiti population as well as with expatriates. Shannon Griffiths, a British-Canadian educator living in Kuwait since 2004, said that the video was very emotional for her "because it articulates the push and the pull that I feel about living and and loving Kuwait for the past 11 years."
She further explains that #WhatDoYouSee portrays a "community where people rally and come together when its needed, even if their beliefs and backgrounds are different." Highlighting the diversity that Kuwait celebrates, Griffiths adds that Kuwait's positionality between holding onto its historic roots and embracing innovation and modernity are what she admires most about the country that she loves. Another expatriate living in Kuwait echoed the same sentiments.
Joanna AlMuqbel, a citizen of Poland and permanent resident of Kuwait, explained that she found the video to be very inspiring in that it "offers an optimistic change of heart." Despite the fact that "every country has its own struggles and no place is perfect, Kuwait, AlMuqbel continues, remains a tolerant and peaceful country that she loves. Subsequently, the video can be described as an introspective view of prevalent attitudes in Kuwait. Shamael Al-Sharikh, writer and women's issues activist, underscores that as a society the collective tendency is that "we wallow in negativity and self-pity, which then turn into either complacency or the urge to escape." Instead, she posits that we alter our views to consider the slow yet continuous developments, so that "we, too, could see that Kuwait has hope."
Focusing on the tempered- yet optimistic- voice that is highlighted in "WhatDoYouSee", Dr. Mai Al-Nakib, Associate Professor at Kuwait University's Department of English Language and Literature, explains that the video "captures some of Kuwait's historical and contemporary complexities, which can be both encouraging and distressing.
The video leans on the side of tempered optimism. We still have the resources to thrive as a nation, it suggests, if only we would put as much energy into working toward that goal as we do into complaining. Good advice in these dark times."
Despite the slump that has affected the collective psyche of the Kuwaiti people and permeated national discourse of late, this video has surprisingly triggered a wave of optimism. Columnist Ahmed Al-Sarraf also engages in the discussion sparked by this video, saying that he sees "a country that can, in no time, be the best, not only among Arab countries, but also in the entire Middle East." He states that Kuwait has lots to offer because of its cultural diversity, emphasizing that "we have a beautiful country that can be much more beautiful," echoing the tempered optimism highlighted by Al-Nakib.
In its conclusion, the narrator in #WhatDoYouSee engages the viewer in the online dialogue, professing that she sees apathy, depression and determination equally. She acknowledges that the status quo is a puzzle, a conundrum, a challenge, yet solutions and opportunities arise everywhere, emphasizing that it really is all about perspective.
Watch the YouTube video here: