x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Women arrive in Kuwait's parliament, and some male MPs walk out

Fourteen MPs either walk out or boycott the first session of the parliament's new term, adding to the troubles of the country's crisis-ridden assembly.

KUWAIT CITY // Fourteen MPs either walked out or boycotted the first session of the Kuwait parliament's new term yesterday, adding to the troubles of the country's crisis-ridden assembly. Nine walked out after the emir, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, urged the parliament to co-operate with the cabinet and five others boycotted the session. The absent MPs later took the oath of office after the other members of the assembly were sworn in.

Both the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmad Al Sabah, and the emir addressed the parliament in its opening session. Both called for an end to the friction between ministers and MPs that has marred the assembly in recent years. The prime minister has resigned five times since he was first appointed in Feb 2006. The emir has dissolved the parliament three times in the same period. The emir talked about "developing relations" between the executive and legislative authorities and said he will be "close and monitor the performance of both the parliament and the government".

The prime minister urged the assembly to follow the law and constitution in fulfilling its supervisory and legislative roles. The parliament's first task was to appoint a speaker. Jassem al Kharafi was unopposed and will take the post for the fifth time. The populist MP Musallam al Barrak called for MPs to walk out in protest against the prime minister's failure to present a work programme in his opening speech. Other MPs were unhappy with the presence of women who do not wear the hijab. Four women became the first to win seats in parliament in last month's election.

Two of the four classify themselves as liberal and do not wear the Islamic headscarf. MPs Faisal al Muslim, Ali al Omair and Jaman al Harbash said for female MPs not to wear a hijab was a violation of the elections law. The liberal MP Saleh al Mulla was quick to defend the women, saying that the men should respect the will of the Kuwaiti people who elected them according to the constitution. His remarks earned him a round of applause from members of the public attending the session.

Ultra-conservative candidates had attacked the female candidates in the run-up to the election. The Islamist MP Waleed al Tabtabai said that it was a sin to vote for women. But the Islamists' tactics failed, and the election was widely regarded as a victory for liberals and Shiites. Sunni Islamist MPs held 26 seats in the last parliament; this was reduced to 16 in the recent election. Last year, Islamist hardliners walked out of the assembly when two female ministers were sworn in, complaining that they were not wearing the hijab.

One of those women, Moudhi al Humoud, was nominated by the prime minister to serve in the cabinet again. After overseeing the election of members to the various parliamentary committees, Mr al Kharafi adjourned parliament until June 13. jcalderwood@thenational.ae