Friday, January 11, 2008


Or, you know, not.

It was probably a slip of the tongue by President Bush, who continued his Middle East tour by arriving in Kuwait today. During a roundtable interview with Arab journalists before leaving Washington, he made a curious statement while he was lauding political reforms by pro-U.S. rulers in the conservative Gulf countries. "You know," he said, "women are now very active in the Kuwaiti parliament." Well, no woman has ever been elected to the Kuwaiti parliament.

The story says a lot about America and the Middle East. What Bush may have been thinking about is the fact that Kuwait has indeed been taking gradual steps to grant women more basic rights, including the right to vote. Kuwait has long been regarded as the most liberal Arab country in the Gulf, with an elected parliament dating back to 1963. (Saudi Arabia still lacks one.) In 1999, amid a campaign by courageous Kuwaiti women activists, Kuwait's ruler tried to decree women's suffrage, but parliament blocked him. In 2005, parliament finally passed legislation giving women the right to vote, and in 2006, women voted and became candidates in elections for parliament. Twenty-seven women were among the 249 candidates competing for 50 seats, yet none of them won, though the balloting was considered free and fair. By virtue of being a cabinet member, one woman, Education Minister Nuriya al-Sabeeh, is currently permitted to vote on legislation, but is not an MP as such.