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Kuwait: Headscarf not a must for female lawmakers

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Kuwait’s highest court ruled Wednesday that women lawmakers are not obliged by law to wear the headscarf, a blow to Muslim fundamentalists who want to fully impose Islamic Sharia law in this small oil-rich state.

The Constitutional Court dismissed a case raised by a voter who claimed that two of four women elected to parliament in May — Rola Dashti and Aseel al-Awadhi — can not be members of the legislature because they don’t comply with the Islamic dress code.

The other two elected lawmakers wear the headscarf known as hijab, and clothes that fully cover their arms and legs.

The landmark ruling was the second recent breakthrough for Kuwaiti women.

Last week, the same court granted married women the right to obtain a passport without their husband’s approval, saying the decades-old requirement was “unconstitutional” and “compromised their humanity.”

Kuwait’s parliament approved a suffrage bill in 2005 but fundamentalists added an obscure last-minute article saying women have to abide by the rules of Sharia, or Islamic law, when they exercise their political rights.

Although the majority of women in Kuwait wear the hijab, covering up is not compulsory in this country as it is in the ultraconservative neighboring Saudi Arabia.

The court ruled the election law article was neither well-defined nor “specific” to the dress code, and stressed that the country’s 1962 constitution guarantees personal freedoms and freedom of religion.

The five-judge panel said Sharia teachings have to be passed as laws before they become obligatory.

For about two decades, Muslim fundamentalists have been trying to make Islamic law the sole source of legislation in Kuwait instead of a “main source” as it has been so far. They have succeeded through moves in parliament in clamping down on public entertainment and banning coeducation at universities.

Their political foes, Westernized liberals, have become much fewer and less organized.

Following May elections, fundamentalists now hold 17 seats in the 50-member parliament. Their number rose by one on Wednesday, when the Constitutional Court also replaced a lawmaker with his runner up, an Islamist candidate, citing a mistake in vote counting.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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