The trappings of democracy.

Author:Darwish, Adel
Position:Current Affairs - Includes related article on the granting of the right to vote to Kuwaiti women - Kuwait politics and government

Is Islam compatible with modern day democracy, or do the faithful have to forego their legitimate ambitions to have a say in the way they are governed in order to be regarded as being good Muslims?

This was the dominant question last month, where the 50-seat Majlis Al-Umma (the National Assembly, or parliament) was dissolved by the Emir, Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah, on 3 May, some 17 months before the end of its term, scheduled for October 2000.

The latest suspension - the third in the parliament's 36-year history - brought to a halt a two-year period of acrimonious and rancorous tension and debate, that blighted the relationship between a feisty parliament and a reluctant cabinet.

However, within days, the Emir, on the recommendation of the cabinet, issued a decree giving women the right to vote and also to run for parliament.

The move has increased the popularity of the government of Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah in contrast to the unpopularity of the old parliament, where debates had become dominated by Islamic issues that largely bypassed women's interests.

The atmosphere of distrust which prevailed in political circles resulted in both cabinet and parliament being weak and ineffective. However, the ultimate clash between the two sides was the result of a row over Islamic books.

Last year Information Minister Sheikh Saud Nasser Al-Sabah resigned when a government book fair was accused of displaying "immoral publications" by Islamist members of Parliament. Sheikh Saud's decision resulted in the mass resignation of the cabinet. The relationship between cabinet and parliament then sank to an all-time low with accusations of mismanagement and corruption becoming commonplace. A general divergence of opinions regarding Kuwait's economic reform package, employment and even electoral districts, deteriorated into prolonged and undignified squabbling between the two sides.

On 3 May, the minister for justice and Islamic affairs was lambasted by members of parliament after a pro-government MP demanded he accept responsibility for the publication and distribution of 120,000 copies of the Holy Koran, both inside and outside Kuwait, with missing or misprinted verses; a serious charge in an Islamic nation, since Muslims believe the Koran to be the exact word of Allah.

The minister faced a vote of no-confidence which he was widely expected to lose. In an attempt to avoid the anticipated chaos, the Emir, in the afternoon before the vote was scheduled to take place, dissolved the National Assembly, the only democratically elected...

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