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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 07:09 GMT

World: Middle East

Election defeat for Qatar women

Moza al-Malki: "We remain in a male-dominated society"

None of the six women candidates in Qatar's first democratic elections were elected.

The turnout was reported to be high in elections which allowed women to take part as both voters and candidates.

International observers say the poll was free and fair. But most of the winning candidates for the 29-member Municipality Council were well-known civil servants from prominent families.

[ image: Jehan al-Meer: Women were running for the office for the first time]
Jehan al-Meer: Women were running for the office for the first time
Moza al-Malik, one of the women candidates, said she was bitterly disappointed.

"It shows we remain in a male-dominated society to the bone," she said. "Husbands dictated who their wives should vote for. Women should stand by women."

Speaking to the BBC, she said male voters could not accept the idea of a woman being in a position of power.

Some Qataris say that Mrs al-Malik and other women candidates were unsuccessful because the country electorate was wary of sudden changes to their society.

Frank Gardner in Doha: The election is "a milestone in the region's political development".
But some Qataris say that the male candidates ran better campaigns.

Voters arrived in limos

Qatar declared a national holiday for Monday, and men in white flowing Arab robes and veiled women covered in black lined up to cast their ballots.

Voters drove in luxury cars to polling stations - school buildings and white tents with multicolored interiors. Free coffee was served.

The poll was monitored by parliamentary delegations and observers from nine countries - including the United States, Britain and France.

"It seemed to me that it was a very orderly and civilised election, as though they had done it before," said Cheryl Gillan, a British MP.

Ernie Ross, another British oberver said: "What struck me was the enthusiasm of the people who had never voted before. People of Qatar responded magnificently. Everyone was happy."

Gulf neighbours watching

In an interview with the BBC, Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said the elections fulfilled a long-standing promise made by the ruling emir four years ago.

But he cautioned that democracy in Qatar and other Gulf countries could only develop in line with the region's conservative position.

The BBC Correspondent in Qatar, Frank Gardner, says the creation of the new council will be watched closely by other conservative Gulf countries.

The role of women as voters and candidates is a first for the Gulf region.

Kuwait, the only Gulf state that has an elected parliament, does not allow women to vote or run for office. Oman's consultative council has two female members, but the body is indirectly elected.

But many local traditionalists have condemned the unprecedented participation of women as un-Islamic.

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