May 16 marked a major watershed in Kuwait's political history. By a margin of 35 to 23, that country's Assembly extended the franchise to women, making it the fourth Gulf country to do so. Yet the impetus for the legislation did not stem from advocates within the Assembly itself. Instead, it came from the oft-criticized government, still ruled by the Al-Sabah clan. Indeed, the franchise law was passed on a snap vote, intended to surprise and outfox the Islamists who dominate Assembly proceedings and who, six years earlier, had overturned the government's decree extending the franchise to women.1 Such are the meanderings of democracy in the Middle East, where hereditary authoritarian rulers outwit elected legislatures in order to advance the cause of democracy and liberalization.
From the issue
September 1, 2005