KUWAIT: Female candidates face pressure in upcoming elections

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A crucial civil rights battle was won in Kuwait when women were allowed to run for office and vote in 2005. But apparently much still needs to be done for women seeking a political role in this oil-rich emirate to prevail over religious conservatives.

On Monday, the Salafi movement, which believes in a strict fundamental interpretation of Islam, called for the boycott of female candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled for later this month, reported the website of the Arab TV channel Al Arabiya.


The group’s statements were condemned by civil rights groups in the Persian Gulf nation, which boasts one of the most democratic systems among neighboring kingdoms.

Fuhaid Hailam, a Salafi politician, told the channel that voting for women was a “sin” in Islam. He based his judgment on a saying by the prophet Muhammad, who reportedly asserted that a nation will not prosper if it is led by women.

Although women have been granted full rights to take part in Kuwait’s general elections, as long as they adhere to Islamic law, their participation in political life is still very modest. According to a report by Freedom House released last year, 27 women ran as candidates in the 2006 and 2008 parliamentary elections. But none of the female candidates have won a seat in the country’s National Assembly so far.

The international pro-democracy group also noted that only 35% of Kuwaiti women voted in the 2008 elections. In a response to the conservative stance of the Salafi movement, parliamentary candidate Fatima Abdeli, an advocate for women rights who ran in the two previous elections, told Al Arabiya:

‘Kuwaiti laws that gave women the right to run for parliament are not against Islamic laws.… This fatwa will harm women candidates and the Kuwaiti people might be deceived by it. We are not going to stand still while this happens. Women should not be told what to do.’

Some observers believe that women might have better chances in this year’s elections.

The Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved in March after political tension between the legislative and executive powers.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut