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May 21, 2008

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bb

Realise as a woman my interests in the women of Kuwait might not rate much attention, but AA, have you any information as to whether there were more or LESS women candidates in this election compared to the last, and whether their share of the total vote improved or not or went backwards?

Abdurrahman R. Squires

I think your comments about beard length are, although seemingly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, rather interesting. The Salafis, as you probably know, are rather obsessed with the outward aspects of Islam, often at expense of the inward (which is why the "neo-Pharisee" label is sometimes applied to them). I generally don't count them amongst the sharpest tools in the shed, but they're no doubt crafty enough to realize that their more "Islamic" appearance often provides an air of Islamic authenticity in the minds of less religiously educated Muslims. It's a sad statement that playing the "Islamic appearance" card even counts for much, but it seemingly does.

I remember hearing an Islamic scholar say, when asked which scholar one should follow if faced with conflicting opinions (fatwas), in a clearly jesting tone, "Why the one with the longest beard, of course!" No doubt he was taking a swipe at an unfortunate mentality that does indeed exist. I think a lot of whatever grassroots support Osama bin Laden actually has in the Muslim world is due to some Muslims allowing themselves to be unduly influenced by his outward "religious" appearance.

You should know, however, that beard length in Kuwait, where I lived for four years, can be deceiving. Meaning, of course, not that the actual length is deceiving, but rather the religious affiliation that's normally associated with it. That's because a lot of the Ikhwanis in Kuwait have beards that are much longer than many Salafis tend to wear in other Muslim countries-which is not to dispute your point that in this election, the generally longer Salafis won out over the usually shorter Ikhwanis. However, in this tiny Gulf state, a person's tribal affiliation often has as much or more to do with their appearance, beard length included, than their religiousness or lack thereof.

Anyway, I hope this election isn't a sign that Kuwaiti society is moving more to the extremes in regard to their Islamic outlook, especially because the more Salafi one gets, the more anti-Shi'a one tends to become. I find it interesting that the Shi'a have not won more seats in the Majlis, since they do indeed make up about a third of the voting-eligible population. Why do you think that is? Are they voting along tribal, instead of religious, lines or are they divided amongst themselves?

Brian Ulrich

On the Shi'ites: Earlier I would have guessed they were too scattered, but the fact moving to five electoral districts didn't alter the landscape seems to belie that. My impression is that the "tribal vote" is mostly Sunni, but that could be wrong. In Iraq tribal religion tends to relate to proximity to the shrine cities, but Kuwait is close to al-Hasa.

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