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New Kuwaiti Minister Shuns The Hijab

April 03, 2007


Nouriya al-Sabeeh became the second female minister in Kuwait history, after Maasuma al-Mubarak's appointment followed the May 2005 grant of full political rights to women. Today al-Sabeeh became the first to forgo a head cover, causing consternation among the men of Kuwait's parliament:

Kuwait’s new Education Minister Nouriya Al-Sabeeh took the oath in Parliament yesterday amid protests by some lawmakers that she was not wearing a head cover or hijab.

As Sabeeh began reading the oath, MP Daifallah Buramia, supported by a few others, shouted out that she should not be sworn in unless she complied with Islamic regulations.

“She should not be allowed to take the oath without complying with Sharia regulations,” Buramia shouted as Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi refused to allow him access to the microphone. ...

Sabeeh appeared unbothered as she completed taking the oath to applause from some 50 women supporters in the public gallery, most of whom were not wearing the hijab either.

However, most of the Islamist and tribal MPs, who control the 50-seat house, did not join the protest. Nasser Al-Sanae, an Islamist MP, played down the importance of the incident. “This issue is no problem for the government. These are individual opinions. It is her own decision,” he said after the assembly was dissolved.

During and after our liberation of Kuwait, Americans pointed out that Kuwait hardly qualified as a democracy. Its women had no suffrage, and the conservative Islam practiced by the emirate contrasted with our professed intentions of freeing the Kuwaitis, except in the narrow context of freeing them from Saddam Hussein. The Bush (41) administration countered that by claiming engagement would bring the best results of reform.

It took a while, but we have begun to see the fruits of that policy. Kuwait has not only allowed women to vote, but has seen two women take ministerial roles in the government. With Sabeeh's example, women now have the ability to determine whether to wear the traditional garments of Arabic Islam or to adopt more moderate dress instead. And even though the uncovered head of Sabeeh generated yells in Parliament, it also generated even more calls for individual choice and freedom.

Liberty sometimes needs time to find root in a nation. The Kuwaitis have taken a while to reach this point along their development, but the momentum is on the side of freedom, and in a peaceful transition. It couldn't have happened under the thumb of Saddam, and it couldn't have happened without Western engagement and the gentle pressure of three American administrations.



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