Reuters reports that "Around 500 Kuwaiti activists, mostly women, demonstrated outside parliament [Monday] to demand female suffrage amidst tensions in the Gulf Arab state over a government drive to grant women political rights."
The drive for Kuwaiti women's rights dates back to the 1990s; an effort to give Kuwaiti women the vote was defeated in 1999 by a conservative parliamentary majority. However, what's interesting here is the demonstration. When a similar suffrage measure was before the parliament six years ago, there were no such demonstrations. Rather, as the NYT reported in a 1999 account, "Until now, the most radical protest by Kuwaiti women was in 1996, when about 500 stopped working for an hour." In the wake of the defeat, some women activists said they were "considering different tactics."
Were Kuwaiti women and their liberal male supporters influenced by recent protests in Egypt and especially Lebanon? Lebanese journalist Hisham Melham observed last week that the coverage of the Beirut protests by such Arab satellite services as al-Arabiya were having a having a "tremendous effect on the Arab people." Melham believed that "There is a sense of growing empowerment" in the region. We cannot say how much influence events in Lebanon have had on the Kuwaitis, but at a minimum, you can chalk up another color-coded public demonstration (the Kuwaitis have chosen blue) demanding change in the Arab world.
The demonstration attracted both secular and religious women, many of whom carried English-language signs urging change "Now." Liberal Kuwaiti blogger Zaydoun (who had hoped for a bigger turnout) has posted numerous photos at his site, Kuwait Unplugged.