Kuwait's woman minister under fire

Country's only female minister could be forced to step down after national lawmakers seek a vote of no-confidence.
Kuwait's woman minister under fire
By Ulf Laessing
Wed 09 Jan 2008 01:48 AM

Kuwait's only woman minister will face a no-confidence vote, the Arab state's parliament decided yesterday after questioning the liberal politician for 10 hours at the request of an Islamist lawmaker.

Education Minister Nouriya Al-Subaih has been under fire from the start of her tenure after defying Islamists' calls for her to wear a head scarf when she was sworn in in April.

Islamist legislator Saad Al-Sharie accused Subaih of failing educational standards and irregularities at her ministry.

"We have been trying to find indications of educational reform but we have found only the opposite," Sharie said.

Parliament Speaker Jassem Al-Kharafi said 10 lawmakers requested a no-confidence vote which could force Subaih's resignation. He did not say when the vote would be held.

The house has been locked in a row with the government, paralysing political life for much of last year.

Newspapers have said the latest clash could prompt the Opec oil producer's ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, to dissolve the assembly.

Pressure has been mounting on Subaih since her ministry tried to deny an incident in which three boys were sexually assaulted by Asian labourers at a primary school, newspapers have said.

Sharie, requesting the questioning session, said the assaults had been the result of negligence. He described Subaih's management style as "I can do what I like and no one can hold me accountable".

Subaih rejected accusations of irregularities in her ministry. "I am implementing law," she told the house, whose public gallery was packed with women.

The minister also defended her handling of the sexual attack incident. "I referred the case to the state prosecution," said Subaih who enjoys the support of the government, liberal politicians and women rights activists.

Many women in Kuwait and other Muslim countries wear head scarves in line with Islamic teachings. Women in Kuwait won the right to vote and run for office only in 2005. Subaih's female cabinet colleague, Massouma Al-Mubarak, stepped down as health minister in August, bowing to pressure mainly from Islamist deputies after a hospital fire.

The government has dodged previous efforts to oust ministers by reshuffling portfolios. Kuwait has yet to name an oil minister to replace Badr Al-Humaidhi who resigned days after his appointment in November under pressure from hostile deputies.

The emir, who has the last say in politics, has repeatedly urged deputies and the government to work together, but to little avail. (Reuters)

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