Islamists set the agenda in Kuwait

By: Jon Nordenson

During the last week, Islamist MPs have raised issues of female MPs and veiling, as well as unislamic curriculum in the schools. Liberals fight back.

The issue with female MPs and veiling started directly after last election, in which four women were elected to parliament. Two of these (Rola Dashti and Aseel al-Awwadhi) do not wear the Hijab, which sparked strong reactions among some islamist MPs. Mohammed Hayef Mutayri, a Salafist MP, referred the question to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which gave their ruling last week. In it, they concluded that “Muslim women are obliged to wear the hijab in front of men not related to them”. Islamists also argue that Kuwait’s election law specifically demands that female MPs wear the Hijab, since the law states “that women must abide by the rules of sharia while participating in elections as a candidate or voter” (this requirement was added by islamist MPs when women were given suffrage in 2005).

However, this does not mean Hijab will become compulsory for female MPs. Liberals argue that such a religious ruling has no authority to interpret laws in Kuwait, and that this is the exclusive domain of the constitutional court. Moreover, liberal female MP Rola Dashti launched a counter attack this week, proposing to remove the above mentioned requirement from the election law. In her view, “the regulations clearly violate articles in the constitution which call for gender equality and make no reference to sharia regulations”. The issue might be resolved by the end of this month; on the 28th of October the constitutional court is set to give their verdict on a Kuwaiti citizen’s law suit against the two unveiled MPs, demanding that they lose their seat in parliament.

As for unislamic curriculum, this may not be the most noteworthy news story of our time, but it may tell us of confident islamists eager to pursue their agenda. This Tuesday, independent islamist MP Hussain Mizyad attacked the Ministry of Education’s official curricula for having “deviated from the principles of Islam”. As an example, he cited the “music subject for class six students”, which “purportedly aims to instill Islamic principles in the hearts and minds of school children”.

MP Mizyad’s attack probably won’t amount to anything. Still, it probably won’t raise smiles among liberals either. And although the constitutional court’s verdict on the hijab issue might resolve it for now, it will hardly be the end of liberal-islamist battles over issues like these.

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