By Shabana H. Shaikh
Outspoken columnist and a prominent media personality, Muna Al Fuzai, is the quintessential successful woman. “I believe that you need to fail before you succeed,” said Muna, in a candid interview for The Times, Kuwait, describing her life as the perfect example of finding success after hitting rock bottom.
A born-thinker, today, she’s a noted columnist, a business consultant, a political activist, and a regular presence on national television. Over the years, this prolific personality has held many reputable positions, including currently as the Executive Director of American Business Council Kuwait (ABC). With sheer determination and drive, Muna has earned a grudging reputation for herself, as those who know her or read her regular columns in Kuwait Times would readily vouch for.
Yet, for Muna Al Fuzai this recognition was hard earned. With an honesty that is essentially Muna, she shared with me about her tough childhood that reads straight out of a motivational book, what she is believes in and is passionate about, and how she never gave up in life.
The Times Kuwait : Tell us a little about your journey so far.
MF: As a child, I was the worst in my class, especially in English and Mathematics. I was always the class joke, mocked by schoolmates, ignored by teachers – practically everyone. When I was about ten-years-old, I was the only one who flunked my class. And I cried all day. At that time, I found myself sitting at the entrance of my home, and saw some ants building a house…it made me think ‘even ants were smarter than me in mathematics’, because they were only little insects and yet, could build something. But, I found the rebel in me that day. That’s when I decided I won’t let ants -or anyone else -defeat me in life.
Thanks to the ants, Muna went on to not only top her class grades in Mathematics and English, but few years later, was also chosen as the ‘Student of the Year’ in English and Morals at her High School graduation. Not only did she excel, but she topped her school – beating 350 students for the honour! “Obviously, no one believed I was doing it fairly!” recalls Muna. “But eventually they all did. I got there after many falls, and that was my first taste of success,” says Muna, with the gleam still lingering in her eyes. “More than the grades, what mattered is that I earned respect and it has been an invaluable lesson.”
TTK: The girl who once flunked in English went on to earn a degree in English Literature and classical studies – Latin, no less! What steered you towards language studies?
MF: (Laughs) Yes, I never looked back or at failures. My only mission in life was to succeed, so no matter what I did – I aimed for success. I got my degree in English Literature, majoring in translation, and being one of very few to study Latin.
TTK: Tell us about your illustrious career, that ensued soon after you graduated, and how it influenced your view on life.
MF: I spent six years with Ministry of Defense, before I joined the UN in the Mid-nineties. It is while working with the various arms of the UN that I came face-to-face with something foreign to me – poverty. I saw other people’s suffering, their struggles, women and children abuse – all of which left an indelible impression on my mind. I realized how much agony prevailed in the world and yes, till date all humanitarian causes and social issues are close to my heart.
TTK: How long have you been associated with Kuwait Times? Was the transition back to Kuwait and into mainstream media an easy one?
MF: Definitely, not! I came back to Kuwait after 10 years with the UN and a mind to do something more with what I have learned from experience. I wanted to talk and write about these things. The first Arabic newspaper I joined fired me after my first few articles, because they just did understand why I was writing about social issues, expats, civil IDs, etc. and not fashion or beauty! Another daily told me to write about ‘glossy stuff’ and I had no clue what that was. At one point, I was more concerned with keeping a job rather than being paid.
When I approached Kuwait Times, I remember telling the late owner, how I had just been thrown out of other newspaper offices. I will never forget the kindness he showed me and appreciated the fact that I could be honest with a prospective employer! I joined KT in 2002 and currently I am a columnist and a consultant for the newspaper. I also write for Al Qabas newspaper.
TTK: Your columns are often about social and taboo subjects. What kind of reactions do you usually get when published?
MF: I decided a long time ago not to think about what others might think. This has served me well. Although, now reader-responses are mostly positive, I did get many ‘hate’ mails when I first started out. People did not approve many of the subjects I was addressing. Nobody wanted to talk or read about labor abuse in Kuwait or rape of expatriate women. These are serious and ugly things, which were happening, so I can’t see how we can turn a blind eye to it. I am a Kuwaiti and I love my country. It is unacceptable to me to see
my country being associated with such shameful acts and events. By 2007, everyone gave up trying to dissuade me from writing! Now, people actually reply constructively to my columns. As for my colleagues, they are very proud of me.
TTK: Is it your patriotic and socially conscious spirit that stirred you towards politics?
MF: As I mentioned, I was once made to feel a loser, but I decided I would not be one. I look back on my life and see the personal milestones I have achieved and I feel very proud of how far and how well I have done. When I ran for elections, I knew what I wanted for myself and my country. Making a difference is important to me. I see men in politics, who have no clue about the plight of women. I see women in politics, who frankly, have hardly done anything to push the envelope for womankind – be it Kuwaitis or expatriates. It is now my mission to run again until I succeed, so that as an MP, I can bring about some much need changes in the lives of women in Kuwait.
TTK: Can you share with us what difference you want to make in the lives of women?
MF: Among many things, I am currently focusing on having a shelter for ‘Abused Expatriate Women’, who do not fall into the labor category. These are housewives, women dependent on their husbands for social and financial support. I met an Asian woman, who was severely abused, her money and passport confiscated by her husband, but unfortunately, she had neither family nor a shelter where she could take refuge. She is just one example.
It got me thinking ‘where can these women go?’ There are so many issues like these and I just do not write about them, they were also on my agenda when I was running for elections.
TTK: This year, Kuwait is celebrating the 52nd anniversary of its National Day and 22nd anniversary of Liberation. What is your vision for Kuwait?
MF: I believe we can be the best ambassadors to others by being role models. As mentioned earlier, I want Kuwait to be a progressive and a fair country. I want fellow citizens to celebrate these occasions in a proper manner, and not by making a ruckus. Even the government should take steps to make it a festive affair for everyone. That having said, Happy National and Liberation Day!