The Gulf region will shift its attention to Kuwait on Thursday as parliamentary elections are due to take place. The historical elections will see women take part as candidates and voters after many years of being deprived of this basic right.
The participation of women is undoubtedly a new and prominent issue, however, there is another real feature that we cannot ignore and that is the impact of the Kuwaiti youth on the formation and the structure of the new Kuwaiti parliament. Before getting into detail, we must recall that the student unions in Kuwait are renowned for their remarkable mobility. Kuwait was the first Gulf country to authorize the creation of student unions.
Mohamed Al Khatib, 25-year-old secretary general of an umbrella organization for student unions in Kuwait stated, “Without a doubt, the Kuwaiti youth is now more politically aware in comparison to the past. This is evident from the student role in the fight to decrease the number of electoral constituencies from ten to five. Furthermore, the momentum of the youth mobilized the public and drove Kuwaiti MPs to resolve the issue.” He added, “The most prominent features of the upcoming elections are the women and the youth, and they will change the political map of Kuwait.”
The Kuwaiti consortium of student unions includes powerful student bodies in higher education institutions of both the private and governmental sectors. It was formed mid-2005 and had one overall aim, to support women’s political rights by undertaking a range of activities to support their goal.
To what extent will the visions of the Kuwaiti youth materialize?
In this context, al Khatib gives an important example saying, “During the municipal elections that are affiliated to the main elections, one woman had nominated herself as a candidate amongst a large number of male candidates. She came second as a result of the electoral support that she had received from the youth, as well as the fact that female students in Kuwaiti universities have become strong contestants for high profile posts. One of the most recent successes is that of Jawaher Ali Reda who was voted head of student government.”
What is remarkable about Kuwait, a small country that has been able to achieve democratic success, is the change of many peoples’ positions that once opposed female participation in the political process but now strongly support the cause, asserting women’s fundamental role in building the future. Some of these supporters attempt to flatter female voters to the extent that some issued fatwas in this regard keeping in mind that women in Kuwait represent a significant percentage of voters in some constituencies, estimated by observers of Kuwaiti politics at 60%.
The challenge now remains in the hands of the Kuwaiti youth that holds the decision for which they have fought. The case is not simply one concerned with voting for women but rather focuses on the importance of voting for the most competent candidate, whether male or female. Will they vote for the parties that have long suffered from marginalization and repression?
Kuwait and its nation are heading towards an important stage that will indicate the extent of the success of the Kuwaiti democratic experience to many Gulf countries. On the other hand, however, it could signify the inactivity of Kuwaiti political awareness limited by the conservative culture and the tribal structure.