Women and Politics in Kuwait

Article excerpt

Abstract

On May 17, 2008, Kuwait conducted its Twelfth election of its National Assembly. The most remarkable aspect of the election was the active participation of women, who gained their right to vote in May 2005. This paper argues that the main impediment for women's inability to win any seat in the 11th and 12th Assemblies is their failure to work with each other and support their political rights. The objective of this article is to examine the Kuwaiti women's struggle for political rights, their participation in the last two elections and investigate their inability to win any seats, in spite of the conduciveness of the political environment to their electoral success.

Key words: Kuwait, women's movement, Political IslamMuslim Brotherhood

Political Modernization in Kuwait

Kuwait's modern political history began in the 1960s. The country gained its independence from Britain on June 19, 1961. However, historians date back the existence of Kuwait as a political entity to the early years of the eighteenth century. For instance, Crystal maintains that Kuwait "has been a distinct political entity since it was founded early in the eighteenth century" (1), while Tetreault refers to the period from 1896-1915 as a critical period in the history of the process of power consolidation in the country. (2) Al-Mughni, maintains that "early in the eighteenth century, structural changes began to occur in Kuwait, caused by a complex of factors" among which "was the revival of European mercantilism and its penetration into northern parts of Arabian Gulf". She continued to say that "Kuwait flourished in the second half of the eighteenth century" due to its strategic location and its free-trade policy. (3) Overall, the political history of Kuwait can be classified into three major periods; the pre-oil Kuwait which began in the early Eighteenth Century to 1960, the Independent Kuwait from 1960 to the Iraqi invasion on August 2, 1990 and the Post-liberation Kuwait. In the pre-oil era, Kuwait was a small port on the Northern tip of Arabia with limited resources. In the era of independence, Kuwait was a vibrant society empowered by a modernizing monarch--Amir Abdullah Assalim Assubah (r: 1950-1965), a vibrant government, and abundance of oil wealth. However, Kuwait's developmental efforts were greatly hampered by some domestic, regional and international challenges that shaped its politics over the past fifty years. These include the turbulence in the Middle East, Arab nationalism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iranian Revolution, political Islam, the Iraq-Iran War, the Iraqi invasion, the American occupation of Iraq and the current War on Terrorism. In spite of such challenges, Kuwait has managed to rebuild itself and build a distinguished model of democratization in the region. Currently, Kuwait is freer than any other Arab country in the region, and enjoys a wide range of freedoms incomparable to most Middle Eastern countries.

Women's Rights and the Constitutional Framework of Kuwaiti Politics

The Kuwaiti constitution which was adopted in 1962, provided for a wide-range of freedoms for the people of Kuwait. In essence, the constitution was heavily influenced by the US Constitution, the French and the British legal tradition. It is also heavily influenced by Kuwait's Arab-Islamic heritage and body of jurisprudence.

Part III of the constitution entitled Public Rights and Duties provided for a wide range of freedoms for Kuwaitis equally. Article 29 states that "All people are equal in human dignity, and in public rights and duties before the law, without distinction as to race, origin, language or religion", but the article did not mention "gender". Furthermore, the constitution provided for citizenship and nationality rights (27), right to residency (28), equality (29), personal liberty (30), unreasonable search and freedom of movement (31), due process of law (32), personal reasonability and protection from collective punishment (33), presumption of innocence (34), freedom of religion (35), freedom of expression (36), freedom of the press (37), sanctity of the home (38), freedom of communication, from censorship and prior-restraint (39), right to education free of charge (40), the right to employment (41), no forced labor (42), freedom of association and the right to civil-society institutional building (43), freedom of assembly (44), the right to petition authorities (45), and the protection of political refugees (46). …