May 23, 2005
In the particularly reactionary emirate of Kuwait, women did not have the right to vote – despite the fact that for the last dozen years the Constitution hypocritically guaranteed equality between women and men.
In 1999, a decree had been submitted to the Parliament granting women the right to vote and be eligible for office, but deputies representing tribes tied to the ruling family and Islamic fundamentalists were opposed to it. In July 2003, courageous women protested against their exclusion from voting by organizing a symbolic vote when the legislative elections occurred.
Finally, in May of the year 2005, women gained the right to vote and to be candidates.
This was too much for the religious charlatans and tribal chiefs. They were up in arms against what they called disruption of "society's identity." They declared that this measure was "contrary to Islam" and they got the law amended to say that women must conform to "Islamic norms" in the exercise of their rights. What does this mean? No one knows. But one thing is certain: it bodes ill for the new rights that Kuwaiti women are supposed to have.
Even if women get the vote, there's no such thing as democratic rights for the Kuwaiti population. The Kuwaiti monarchy, led by the ruling El Sabah family, strictly limits citizenship to the descendants of "true" Kuwaitis and denies it to hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers who are in the emirate – the ones who produce its riches and who make up the majority of the population. In this country, with more than two million inhabitants, only 150,000 men have had the right to vote. Tomorrow, if everything isn't called into question by fundamentalists who are convinced that women aren't full human beings, 200,000 women will be able to vote. But the Palestinian, Filipino or Indian workers – men and women – who represent 60% of the population, will have no rights. They can only work for a pittance, while the threat of being expelled hangs over their heads from one day to the next.