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Tuesday, November 9, 1999 Published at 12:15 GMT

World: Middle East

Kuwait votes-for-women setback

Women's political rights are a contentious issue in Kuwait

By Frank Gardner in Dubai

Kuwait's parliament has delayed a vote on whether or not to ratify a decree giving Kuwaiti women full political rights.

The 50-member all-male parliament, which is the only elected law-making body in the Gulf Arab states, voted by a majority to postpone their decision indefinetely.

Kuwait's ruling emir issued the royal decree giving women the vote six months ago, but it has to be ratified by parliament in order to become law. It was one of 60 bills introduced by the government after parliament was dissolved.

[ image: Powerful Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah supports the decree]
Powerful Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah supports the decree
One reason given for the delay was that the matter was not considered urgent, since Kuwait's next parliamentary elections are due to be held in 2003.

Kuwaiti MPs are facing a large backlog of decrees that need ratifying, most of which concern government attempts to reform the economy and the costly welfare state.

But a government official, who asked not to be named, told the BBC that the delay was being used by the government to pressure more MPs to support women's political rights.

Islamists object

Tribal and religious MPs have opposed the decree on the grounds that Islam and Kuwait's traditions forbid women from standing for public office.

The ruling al-Sabah family, which dominates the government, has so many public announcements supporting the decree that a defeat in parliament would be a major setback.

Kuwaitis say the government will now have to offer its opponents concessions on other issues in return for their allowing the decree on women's rights to be passed into law.

Kuwait's parliament is due to hold its next session on Saturday, but an extraordinary session could be called on this issue at any time.

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