Prince William sparks outrage in Kuwait after meeting athlete who likened stateless Bidoon to 'bacteria'
Balsam Al-Ayoub, an international fencing athlete, is well-known in Kuwait as an advocate for women’s empowerment and gender equality. However, in 2013 she published a tweet calling the Bidoon "bacteria multiplying on the land".
"They are a burden which God has burdened us with. May God relieve us from them and their evil. I hope we eventually are free of them and their scourge," she added in the 2013 tweet.
There are approximately 100,000 Bidoon in Kuwait. They have lived in the country for generations but have been denied citizenship by the Kuwaiti government.
Their ancestors lived in remote rural areas and failed to register with the authorities when Kuwait gained its independence from the UK in 1961.
Kuwait, which is one of the richest countries in the world, treats them as illegal residents and denies them access to healthcare, education, and employment.
Many Bidoon are illiterate or have never been treated for easily treatable chronic conditions such as asthma.
Balsam Al-Ayoub appeared with Prince William on Wednesday in a traditional tent in the Kuwaiti desert.
The British royal was meeting with a group of Kuwaiti entrepreneurs and young people in order to get to know Kuwaiti traditions.
Kuwaiti activists expressed their disappointment that Prince William had met the controversial fencing champion, re-sharing her 2013 tweet and questioning how Ayoub could be given access to the prince as a representative of Kuwaiti youth and business.
The Palestinian news website Al-Watan Voice quoted Ibtihal Al-Khatib, a lecturer at Kuwait University as saying, "Today, news of a meeting between Prince William and a lady who called the Bidoon bacteria was published. Vetting of individual before meetings is feasible and necessary."
"The prince has a strong media team and it’s assumed they'd study every individual he meets. [Ayoub] being part of a group is not an excuse. The tweet is there until this lady disowns it."
A Kuwaiti activist, Noura Sayer, said "There are plenty of good and decent women in Kuwait, why are the ones representing us in parliament and international delegations racist?"
A Kuwaiti female parliamentarian, Safaa al-Hashem, last year alleged that 300,000 migrants had forged Kuwaiti documents and referred to them as "rats".
Another activist, Abrar Al-Shammari, said that Ayoub’s racist comments on the Bidoon would never be forgotten until she apologises.
Prince William began a four-day visit to Kuwait and Oman on Sunday, focusing on historical sites in the two countries. He returned to the UK on Wednesday.
The New Arab has informed Kensington Palace of the controversy and is awaiting a response.