In a critical stage of Kuwaiti women's campaign to win the vote, an administrative court is set Monday to rule on cases filed against the interior ministry for its refusal to register women on the electoral roll.
Five cases have been filed by different groups, including one by a Kuwaiti man, and the aim of the campaign is have the issue referred to the emirate's constitutional court for a verdict on the elections law.
"Women's rights have now reached a decisive stage. This is the first time that courts have accepted to deal with women's rights," a leading activist and former dean of Kuwait University's law college, Badria al-Awadi, told AFP.
"If the case goes to the constitutional court, it will have no choice but to declare Kuwait's elections law as being unconstitutional," she predicted.
According to Awadi, an international legal expert, the constitution treats women on an equal basis with men in every aspect. But article one of the elections law restricts political rights to Kuwaiti men.
Hundreds of women protested in February at voter registration centres, only to be turned away by interior ministry officials.
The ministry was holding its annual update of voters, registering new male voters who have reached 21, deleting the names of dead voters, and changing the constituencies of voters who have moved.
In November, a strong coalition of Sunni Muslim fundamentalists and tribal MPs narrowly defeated a bill, which would have granted women full political rights.
The vote came a week after parliament rejected a similar decree issued by Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah in May 1999, on the grounds that it was issued after dissolution of parliament.
"But, it's the point of no return. We are more hopeful now than at any time before that women's rights will be granted," said activist Zainab al-Harbi, one of the applicants.
"We had tried almost every way. We tried with lawmakers, staged sit-ins, held symposia to get to this level," Harbi said, adding she was hopeful that women would win the right to vote within a year.
The activists' lawyer, Ibrahim al-Kundari, has argued that article one of Kuwait's elections law had been nullified by the Gulf state's endorsement of international conventions on women's rights.
"These conventions become law after endorsement and supersede existing legislation, including the elections law," although parliament has refused to amend it, he argued.
Kuwait is alone among the six conservative Gulf Arab states to have an elected parliament - KUWAIT CITY (AFP)
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