Friday, August 31, 2007

Deadends !!

I apologize upfront for the length of this blog, but I wanted to give you the FULL picture ;)

Many parents, like myself, gave up on the Government services and turned to the privately provided services to assure our kids the best education and health services. But the government seems eager to maintain equity in suffering:

(1) Back in late June I received this e-mail as one of the parents of BBS students.

FROM: Katherine Phillips, Al-Bayan Bilingual School Middle School Deputy Principal, Kuwait
US PASSPORT NUMBER: XXXX9279 --- contact ISR if needed.
TO: Whom It May Concern
DATE: June 21, 2007
RE: Detained in Kuwait/In Fear for My Safety

I am a Middle School Vice-Principal at Al-Bayan Bilingual School in Kuwait. I have been employed in Kuwait for 6 years at the same school. One of my primary responsibilities is student discipline. On March 8, 2006, three boys in grade 5 were suspended for fighting. I interviewed the boys, met with my principal and followed normal procedure. There is no stigma here regarding suspension. Students spend the day in the office where they study, are visited by teachers, and are taken to the canteen, etc. It's a normal consequence for fighting; all students are aware of this and the procedure is clearly defined in our Parent Handbook.

In the afternoon of March 8th, I received a phone call from one of the boys' fathers, Mr. Fawaz Khalid Al Marzouq, who is a powerful man in Kuwait. He called to inform me that this situation was "personal," that he is "friends with the emir" and that he planned to "destroy" me. This conversation, which lasted about 9 minutes, was littered with profanities and threats. On March 11, 2006, the parents met with me, my principal and our director, Dr. Brian McCauley, to discuss the suspension. The father requested that if there was an issue involving his child that I would call him immediately. On April 27, 2006, I was requested to write a synopsis of events and to visit the Ministry of Education to answer questions regarding the suspension, describe the room in which the boys spent the school day and provide a copy of our handbook. In June 2006, the father transferred his children to a different private school in Kuwait. Also, we received notification from the Ministry of Education that in-school suspensions were no longer to be applied; instead, parents must be contacted to take their children home.

In February 2007, I learned that a case had been filed against me at the Jabriya Police Department in Kuwait; the charge was "illegal detainment" of his son on March 8, 2006. I answered questions in my director's presence and the Consul from the US Embassy, Mr. Sonny Busa. My lawyer was also present. The police did not suggest that there was any reason for me to be concerned as all of the questions were answered to the apparent satisfaction. On June 13, 2007, I was at the Kuwait International Airport intending to fly to Bahrain. I was stopped at immigration where I was informed that there was a case against me, pending further investigation and that a travel ban had been placed on me. I had not been informed. My lawyer had not been informed. This travel ban was placed upon me 15 months after the boy was suspended. The parent said that he would make this personal and this seems to be what he is intent upon doing.

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I visited the American Embassy where I met with the Vice Consul, Mr. Jared Caplan, who informed me that he sympathized but could do nothing to lift the travel ban. He suggested that I get an older Kuwaiti man to appeal to Mr. Marzouq. I was told on Wednesday that my file would be transferred to another agency for review so the ban could be lifted. Five working days later, the whereabouts of my file are uncertain. I have been told that my file is in 2 different places; this seems to be a delay tactic. Why? Because I angered an influential Kuwaiti national who is at the top of the social register both locally and at the US Embassy? On I visited the office of a police inspector named Falah Al Otaibi, whose office is in Salmiya. He is a police official who was to evaluate my file and determine if I could leave or not. He stated that he didn't have my file. I visited him on June 17th and 18th. On June 18th, not five minutes after I left his office with my director, the Business Officer of my school and another school representative, I called Mr. Jared Caplan, Vice-Consul at the US Embassy to gain his insight into the situation and to see if any progress had been made to help me leave. He was completely aware of my visit to Mr. Al Otaibi's office and instructed that I not return as it "interfered."

Several Kuwaiti families are aware of my situation but they are not in a position to help or they don't want to get involved. They have ALL said that I should go to my embassy because my embassy can help me. The fact that the embassy can't seems shocking to everyone. Many people also question why this accusation from Mr. Marzouk is placed solely on me - not the school, not the principal, not the director of school. I feel that I am being used as an example because I am a single, American woman and he wants to show others that he can do what he said which is to "destroy" me. Yesterday, June 20, 2007, I received a paper from Mr. Al Otaibi's office in Salmiya which lifted the travel ban. This waiver had been granted by the Kuwait Minister of the Interior. Not long after the Minister released me, he reverted his decision at the request of the Marzouq family or his representatives. I went to the airport last night, only to learn that I couldn't leave. I am in fear for my safety. If the Embassy can't help me, then who can? I contacted the FBI in Riyad, Saudi Arabia yesterday and talked to "Mike" who couldn't give me his last name. He was non-committal but did suggest that he thought the embassy should be able to get me out. Mr. Sonny Busa has informed me that they are "working on it." That seems a little vague and I am not sure if the US Embassy completely realizes the level of danger that I feel that I am in. Why does Mr. Marzouq want me in Kuwait during the summer when no one from my school will be in country to offer their support? To make me feel vulnerable? He is well-connected and his friends are supporting his mission to damage me in any way that he can. What's next? I do not feel safe. I am not safe. I need someone from the US to acknowledge the urgency of my situation and coordinate my release. I committed no crime. I am simply the victim of "wasta" which roughly translates into "influence/pressure" at a high level.

I called some of the school officials and they confirmed the story. Many Kuwaiti politicians and businessmen tried their best to help and they all failed. Finally the matter reached the Prime Minster. He, after a long struggle, managed to get her out of the country. And rumor has it that the Father is suing the government for interfering with the Court procedures!!

Needless to say, she is not coming back and this is the reaction among the expatriates teachers’ society:

(2) Ministry of Education insisted on spreading its success onto the private education by forcing its curriculum on those schools. So, in addition to the typical Arabic, Islamic Studies and Social Studies they have added a special curriculum for Quran. This of course had to be slotted in at the expense of Science and Math hours that gave the good schools international accreditation.

(3) Finally, the MOE became eager to share its management successes too and has announced that within the next 3 years they expect all private school to have 100% Kuwaiti Management!!!

My questions are:

1. Why?!!
2. How can we stop this mess?
3. What do I do with my kids?