Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Women's Rights in Bahrain

Middle East Online has a story about the struggle for women's rights in Bahrain. The key item on that country's feminist agenda is currently a movement supported by Queen Sheikha Sabika al-Khalifa in favor of a new personal status law, still based on shari'a, but more liberal than the traditional interpretations which are frequently issued by patriarchal Islamic courts. It seems clear that the writer of this article didn't quite know how to handle the concept of shari'a, treating it in some places as a fixed law code which governed Saudi Arabia while acknowledging the Bahraini feminists weren't planning to abandon it. As regular readers know, however, shari'a is better seen in this context as a field of inquiry - "Islamic jurisprudence" might be a better translation than "Islamic law."

In any case, if I recall correctly, Morocco passed a new personal status law including equality for women, and won even some consorvative support by tying it to religious principles. Bahrain, however, is divided along sectarian lines, and King Hamad doesn't have the same religious credentials as Muhammad VI, whose family claims descent from the Prophet and has with some success won acceptance within the country as a source of baraka, or divine blessing. Another point is that King Muhammad VI, though initiatives like the commission investigating human rights abuses under his father, has co-opted some of the liberal set, whereas King Hamad has become famous for stuff like this. His initiatives, such as the e-government proposal from a couple of years ago, have seemed to unambiguously update the power of the monarchy rather than the structure of government. Also, as noted below, I suspect one reason monarchs - or in this case their wives - support social liberalization is for the chance to co-opt the social liberals while putting off the demands of political reformers. Still, a reform is a reform, and if this passes it will be good for Bahrain.


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