Kuwait: Controversy as Islamists 'move to curb social freedoms'

Kuwait: Controversy as Islamists 'move to curb social freedoms'
A proposal by Kuwaiti Islamists to amend the constitution has met with fierce pushback from secular groups, who say that it is designed to restrict social freedoms.
3 min read
24 November, 2022
At least 27 of 50 elected MPs have signed a request to amend Article 79 of the Kuwaiti constitution [Getty]

Kuwaiti Islamists have proposed constitution amendments which critics say curb social freedoms, sparking controversy in the Gulf state.

At least 27 of 50 elected members of parliament have signed a proposal to amend Article 79 of the Kuwaiti constitution, to ensure laws may only be put into effect if they are "in accordance with Islamic law", MP Muhammad Hayef Al-Mutairi announced last Thursday.

Al-Mutairi said the proposal would be submitted "soon, God willing".

The article currently stipulates that "a law shall not be put into effect unless the National Assembly approves it and the Emir ratifies it."

Al-Mutairi said that the amendment is a "legitimate" to protect Kuwaitis from "the danger of the spread of Western culture among Muslims" and to ensure Kuwaitis don’t "fall victim" to laws contradicting Islam.

"It is to protect society and protect Islamic identity and future generations from outside cultures and negative phenomena… we do not know what will happen after another 20 years from the change of cultures" he told The New Arab’s Arabic-language service Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

In order for the revision to be approved, two-thirds of the National Assembly must endorse it, and the Emir must ratify and issue it, according to Article 174 of the constitution – which Al-Mutairi believes is possible.

However, the proposal has received fierce pushback. 

The Kuwaiti Progressive Movement called on Kuwaitis and "the vital forces in Kuwaiti society" , to "take clear positions in refusing to tamper with Article 79 of the constitution, and adhere to the foundations of the democratic system".

The group cited "serious" fears that the revision would encourage "prejudice" and compromise principles of "freedom and equality", accusing Islamist MPs of trying to establish "a legislative religious authority".

The Kuwaiti Democratic Forum also issued a statement against the amendment of the article.

"We refuse to undermine our democracy and violate our constitution and its articles, whether by amending Article 79 of the constitution, or any other amendment that does not guarantee freedom and equality," they said.

In addition, five Kuwaiti members of parliament have proposed that the Gulf state amend Article 198 of the penal code targeting transgender individuals, Kuwaiti National Assembly news network Al-Dustor reported.

The proposal by the Islamist MPs says that "whoever adopts an external appearance other than his innate gender" should be imprisoned for up to one year and/or receive a fine not exceeding 1,000 dinars, based on Islamic religious rulings.