The latest battle in Kuwait to give women the right to vote in parliamentary elections reflects the state of a society on the brink of many political and social developments.
Evidently, the social and political dimensions intermingle. The religious factor, or the subject of Islamic jurisprudence, in the debate on women’s political rights, is one of the least problematic, despite some observers believing conflicting interpretations of Islamic law are at hand.
Only one group, of the Salafi persuasion (the tradition of Salaf, or early Muslims, a term sometimes used to indicate to the Wahabi branch of Islam) objected to giving women the right to vote on the premise that such rights for women are abomination under Sharia law (Islamic law). However, in truth, this group bases its stance on society, more than religious. Coming from tribal
regions characterized by conservative attitudes to women, the views of the Salafi Members of Parliament serve more to dispel the anger of their grassroots than to offer an objection to women voting, based on Sharia.
In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies in the Kuwait Parliament, their viewpoint has changed repeatedly. Although predominantly a religious group and not a political party, and despite some of its members advocating an Islamic liberalism, the varying positions of the Brotherhood have reflected the political opportunistic attitude common in the group’s history. At first, the object to giving women their political rights on the basis of Shariaa. Then, the secretary general of the Brotherhood declared that their opposition on such rights was based on social, and not as previously declared, judicial reasons. The group later voted against giving women the right to vote, after it struck a deal with the Salafi group, fearing a loss of seats in the next parliamentary elections in Kuwait, despite the Brotherhood’s favorable attitude to women’s rights in other Arab countries.
The government of Kuwait, previously accused by liberals of not taking the issue of women’s rights seriously, has proved that it can rely on its majority in parliament when it seeks to settle a divisive issue. It was able to persuade representatives in all the political blocs, including the Islamic and tribal groups, and successfully push for giving Kuwaiti women the right to vote.
This raises serious questions about the possibility of the government using its majority in Parliament to pass future laws.