Published: 11:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 21 May 2012
Kuwait’s ruler blocks parliament’s bid to impose sharia law
Country/Region: Kuwait, Middle East and North Africa
The Emir of Kuwait has blocked a proposal by the Islamist-dominated parliament to make all legislation comply with sharia law.
The Emir of Kuwait,
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah was said to be “not in favour” of the proposal to change the country’s constitution to make sharia “the only source” of legislation rather than a major or main source, as the document currently states. His approval is required for any constitutional change.
The proposal was put forward by the Islamic Justice Bloc, which gained a majority in snap elections in February and has since made a number of moves to strengthen Islam. It received the backing of 31 out of the 50 Kuwaiti MPs.
One of them, Mohammad al-Dallal, said:
Our society is a conservative society, a lot of people request that laws comply with sharia. We also do not have a stable political system.
He added that the change could help make law-making less chaotic; political parties are banned in Kuwait, so MPs have to form blocs.
Mr Dallal said:
We must think again about convincing the emir or submitting it again in another format.
Kuwait has a sizeable Christian community, most of whom are expatriates, comprising nearly 14 per cent of the population. Amending the constitution to make sharia the only source of legislation would inevitably make life more restrictive – and perhaps even dangerous – for them.
Blasphemy bill decision
On 3 May, the Kuwaiti parliament passed a controversial bill that would make insulting key Islamic figures and the Quran punishable by death.
This too requires the approval of the emir before becoming law, and he has 30 days to make a decision. His rejection of the sharia law proposal suggests that he may also block this attempt to introduce draconian penalties for blasphemy.
Kuwait is a regional US ally, and the emir may be conscious of the country’s reputation on the international stage.
The blasphemy bill has attracted widespread criticism from human rights’ advocates.
Leonard Leo, Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said:
These penalties are alarming and contrary to international human rights standards ... because they jeopardize the lives of individuals that exercise their internationally-guaranteed freedoms of religion and expression.