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[ADC-ITF] Kuwait: right of women to vote


Kuwaiti MPs on Tuesday put off a divisive debate of a decree by the emir
to grant women full political rights, a first among the Gulf Arab
monarchies, amid a deep split within the conservative state.

The 50 deputies and 14 appointed cabinet members -- who also have a vote
on the matter -- elected instead to discuss the emir's opening
parliamentary speech last month in which he called for MPs and
government to cooperate.

A public row has raged ahead of voting in the 50-member National
Assembly between rival camps on whether women should be given such
rights for the first time in the Gulf.

Fatima al-Ali, a female writer, charged that certain groups in the
oil-rich emirate were simply exploiting Islam to deprive women of their

"What we are asking for today is not really a gain for Kuwaiti women. We
are calling for the country to be given its rights," Ali told a public
meeting in support of the decree.

"We are not asking for a reward for Kuwaiti women for services rendered
to the country but a rectification of a grave decades-old mistake," Ali

Kawthar al-Jouan, head of the political wing of the Kuwait Union of
Women's Federations, criticised the parliamentary interior and defence
committee for "deliberately murdering the political rights of Kuwaiti

"Kuwaiti women have waited 38 years for nothing. MPs should overlook the
controversy that the decree is not constitutional," Jouan said.

The move to grant women political rights already ran into trouble last
week when the committee argued that the decree was unconstitutional
because parliament was dissolved at the time and the matter was not

Several MPs are worried that a vote for women's rights might set a
dangerous precedent.

"If Kuwaiti women go out for the elections, who would be left to take
care of the families apart from Indians and Filipina (maids)?" asked MP
Ahmad al-Baqer, a long-time advocate of cutting back on foreign

Tribal MP Hussein al-Mutairi maintained that only 10 percent of Kuwaiti
women wanted to vote at all.

"Those women demanding political rights are only those who have reached
menopause," Mutairi said, adding that female emancipation would upset
the traditions of Kuwaiti society.

But a meeting of liberal MPs warned on Sunday that foreign ties would be
damaged if the law was blocked, given that world leaders including US
President Bill Clinton welcomed the proposed emancipation of Kuwaiti

"The whole world hailed the decree when it was issue by the emir. What
would be the world's reaction towards Kuwait if we rejected it? I am
afraid there will be negative reactions," MP Abdul Wahab al-Haroun said.

"We have to expect a negative reaction from world parliaments" if the
law is rejected, said liberal MP Ahmad al-Rubei.

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