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Backlash in Kuwait after conservative candidates propose ‘values document’ 

Candidates pledge to honor conservative values, force dress code, segregation

KUWAIT: A document announced by a group of conservative candidates for this month’s National Assembly elections reignited debate over constitutional rights in Kuwait, amid efforts to preserve traditional values met by calls for protecting public freedoms in the country.

Several conservative candidates contesting Kuwait’s parliament elections slated for September 29 signed a so-called ‘the values document’ on Sunday in which they pledge to support Islamic laws, enforcing traditional values such as gender segregation at beaches and gyms, rejecting “immoral” parties, concerts and festivals, and implementing stricter controls over massage parlors.

The signatories also undertake to apply, if elected, regulations that call for enforcing modest dress code, and stopping all pagan practices, imitating the opposite sex, gambling and insulting the companions of the Prophet (PBUH).

The candidates’ move seems to cater to a wide segment of the Kuwaiti society who’ve pushed in recent years for more action from politicians to maintain the conservative nature of the Kuwaiti society and its Islamic values and traditions. However, these efforts are often met with a counter drive from liberal activists; the most recent of which are efforts led by civil society groups and liberal candidates who voiced their rejection to the ‘document of values’ that they believe violates the constitution by forcing guardianship on the public.

Kuwait’s Women’s Cultural and Social Society released a statement rejecting the document, saying that Kuwait is a “civil and constitutional state” where personal rights and freedoms are protected by the constitution.

Third constituency candidate Jenan Bushehri said that the Kuwaiti people do not need guardians who tell them how to behave or what values they should follow. “Kuwaitis today need legislators who honor the constitution and understand the importance of intellectual pluralism and responsible freedoms,” she said.

People also took on social media to voice their frustration with the proposed document, saying that future MPs should instead focus on other pressing matters such as improving the state’s public services and infrastructure.

Public freedoms in Kuwait – the first country in the Gulf region to have an elected parliament and draft a constitution that stipulates separation of authorities and protects civil rights – is often a hot topic of discussion in the political scene; often pushed to the front during election campaigns, and also frequently debated in parliament. Earlier this year, Kuwait police canceled a concert after backlash from islamist MPs who threatened political escalation if authorities did not take action against public events where gender segregation isn’t enforced.

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