Kuwait's empowered Islamists question all things Western
After an Islamist victory in Kuwaiti elections, lawmakers' new agenda reflects a regional debate over the pace of social change as economies surge.
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Kuwait is seeing a surge in conservative Islamist legislative proposals just one month after the country's Salafi Islamists and tribal candidates gained a majority in its National Assembly. With 29 out of 50 seats, this newly empowered bloc appears to be testing its political capital and could succeed in making an already conservative country even more socially strict.
Their drive comes as the Gulf region debates the pace of social development in a tug of war between traditionalists and modernists. While the oil boom brings in a flood of Westerners and their ideas, traditional local societies are increasingly questioning how much change they'll accept along with the economic surge.
Foreigners now account for 12.5 million people, or nearly half of the 33 million population in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Kuwaitis and other locals are also traveling and studying abroad at greater numbers and returning home with experiences once alien to this arid region of the world.
The impact has indeed angered many here. And some – like the Islamist parliamentarians in Kuwait – are reacting with a vengeance.
Since winning control of the legislature in the May 17 polls, not only has the conservative bloc begun pushing proposals calling for the banning of reality TV and private parties in hotels, but they have also created a parliamentary committee mandated to "study the negative effects of foreign phenomena" in Kuwait.
Islamist member of parliament (MP) Waleed al-Tabtabae, known for his opposition to female sports teams whose athletes would wear shorts, slammed the popular reality music show "Star Academy" (the region's version of "American Idol") when its recruiters came to Kuwait looking for contestants.
"The recruitment of youth for a program that destroys morals and fights our [Islamic] values is no less bad and dangerous than recruiting them for terrorism or for peddling drugs," said the fiery parliamentarian in a statement to the press in late May.
Several Islamist MPs walked out of parliament during its opening session to protest the appointment of two female ministers – one for education, the other for housing.
Islamist tribal MP Mohammad Hayif al-Mutairi said they were boycotting the opening session because the two female ministers "were not abiding by sharia (Islamic law)." Neither of the women wear the hijab, the Islamic head scarf worn by many Muslim women.