Middle East


Expanding Suffrage

Just weeks before Kuwait's July elections, the emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, stunned the nation with a decree allowing women to vote in future elections and to run for public office. So far, public reaction has been mixed, writes London's conservative newsmagazine The Economist.

The decree will not take effect until after July and awaits approval from the new parliament. Feminists remain pessimistic as to how many women will register to vote, let alone run for office, in male-dominated Kuwait. The move has drawn the ire of Islamists, who, The Economist says, view the decree as an "attempt to undermine Ku-wait's traditional Islamic culture with Western values."

But Kuwaiti women and the local press are more sanguine. Writing in the Palestinian expatriate Al-Quds al-Arabi of London, Luke Phillips says that hundreds of Kuwaiti women gathered at the emir's palace to express their thanks, while newspapers have called the decree "historic."

Some interpret the emir's decision as a wake-up call to Kuwait's parliament, which has managed to pass only four laws in three years. According to The Economist, "Many Kuwaitis suspect that the emir took such a dramatic step ... to highlight how little the obstreperous ideological types in the outgoing parliament had actually achieved."