"All of which brings us back to democracy and Kuwait’s year full of miracles. As political scientist Eleanor Doumato has observed, women’s rights in the Arab Gulf states are the gift of monarchs, not parliaments. This is certainly the case in Kuwait, where opinion polls taken before the electoral law was changed in May 2005 showed a discouraging lack of support for female candidates, although more for female voters. The role of democracy in the 2006 election should be considered in broader terms than that, however. That there was an election at all was even more indicative of expectations that a democratic process should -- and did -- exist in Kuwait. The demonstrations that helped bring down the government were non-violent, as was virtually all of the official response to them. The new emir may have acted precipitously in canceling the parliamentary session and calling a new election -- and the speaker of the parliament later excoriated this decision publicly as unnecessarily confrontational. Yet only 20 years ago, a Kuwaiti emir dissolved a parliament and did not call for a new election until invasion, war and liberation made it impossible for him to continue resisting demands for the restoration of constitutional life.
"These demands came from Kuwaitis, through a long and occasionally frightening period when street demonstrations were met with more than the possibly accidental injury of one person by a policeman’s baton. The pro-democracy movement of 1989-1990 saw more widespread beating of demonstrators, along with the desecration of a mosque by tear gas and police dogs, and the arrest of more than a dozen prominent dissidents. Demands for reform came from outside, too, not only from exiles abroad during the Iraqi occupation, but also from countries that, having sent troops to liberate Kuwait, expected its leaders to behave better than the ousted invader. Despite clerical and even popular criticism, after liberation foreign ambassadors and NGOs pressed for women’s rights, protection for stateless persons, better treatment of maids and other foreign workers, and structural changes to open Kuwait’s economy and political system. That each of these causes was also advocated by Kuwaitis does not diminish the usefulness of external support from those whose good opinion Kuwaiti leaders value. Such external advocacy is not only an additional check on backsliding toward a more authoritarian past, but is also evidence that other governments support democratization in the Middle East."
Bahrain is next up for Parliamentary elections, and external pressure there would definitely be useful.
(Crossposted to American Footprints.)