Kuwait defence minister faces no-confidence vote over women’s military enlistment

Several members of parliament debated the policy that will allow women in combat roles

Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al Ali Al Sabah, Kuwait's Minister of Defence, swears in at the Kuwait National Assembly in Kuwait City. EPA

Kuwait's Defence Minister Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al Ali Al Sabah will face a vote of no confidence in parliament on Wednesday over a number of decisions, including one to allow women to enlist in the country’s military.

Women were formally allowed to join Kuwait’s police forces in 2007. In October, the country approved a new decision allowing them to join the military.

It will allow Kuwaiti women to enlist in combat roles for the first time after years of being restricted to civilian positions, the army said in October.

Sheikh Hamad said the door had been opened for women to join various combat ranks, including as officers.

“The time has come for Kuwaiti women to be given the opportunity to enter the Kuwaiti military side by side with their brothers,” the minister said in remarks carried by state news agency Kuna at the time.

However, women who have applied to enlist in the armed forces will not be able to start their basic training until an official fatwa, or religious edict, is issued.

Following his decision to allow women to join the military in October, several members of parliament debated the policy, forcing the defence minister to submit himself to questioning.

Grilling from MPs

Last week, a group of 10 MPs led by Hamdan Al Azmi formally submitted a motion of no-confidence, which Sheikh Hamad will face on Wednesday. The motion needs 24 votes to pass in parliament.

He was grilled by MPs last week on a number of issues, including women enlisting in the army as well as him ignoring the recommendations of the State Audit Bureau regarding the Eurofighter deal and his failure to address violations in the suspicious deal in which two senior military officers were charged with corruption this week.

Women register to join the Kuwaiti army at the Defence Ministry in Kuwait City on December 22. AFP

To appease conservative voices within parliament and from the public, Sheikh Hamad met with a group of religious scholars and sheikhs at the defence ministry on January 15.

Defending his decision in front of parliament, Sheikh Hamad said his decision “did not bring anything new,” as women joining the army “will be limited to working in the medical, administrative and support services units, which are the specialities that women currently work in the Ministry of Defence.”

The minister said he “never said that woman will take up arms”.

“There are currently 34 Islamic countries were women are allowed to join and serve in their military, including countries in which women worked are out on the field, including some countries from within the Gulf Cooperation Council,” Sheikh Hamad told parliament.

“At the forefront of countries that allow women to join the honour of military service is the great Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the country where Muslims pray toward every day. So is it reasonable that all these countries are in violation of the Sharia?" he asked parliament.

Kuwaiti woman in Iraqi War

Female Kuwaiti activists were quick to react in defence of the minister, reminding opposition MPs that Kuwaiti women had served and protected the country during Iraq’s invasion in 1990.

“It is worth noting that the Kuwaiti woman participated in the Iraqi War on Kuwait in 1990, as she played a considerable military role, where she took part in the Kuwaiti resistance and she was either a prisoner or a martyr,” Kuwaiti lawyer Areej Hamadah told The National.

Kuwait police woman 1st Lt. Doaa Bandar, right, leaves the Police HQ in South Surra, Kuwait to go on patroll duty on Wednesday, September 2nd 2010.(Photo:Gustavo Ferrari/The National)

“There are military women officers who also serve at the National Assembly, whose job is to maintain the safety and protection of MPs," Ms Hamadah said.

"Therefore, it does not make sense that the MP Hamdan Al Azmi accepts to have military female officers who serve in the National Guard at the National Assembly to protect him, while depriving other females who aspire to work in the army to defend the homeland."

Some Kuwaitis described last week’s parliament session and this Wednesday’s no-confidence vote as a symbolic show of democracy, especially since the questioning of a sitting defence minister who also happens to be a member of the ruling Al Sabah family.

The General Federation of Kuwait Workers weighed in, saying members of parliament were delaying discussion on key issues that need to be prioritised over the armed forces debate.

“Representatives should reconsider their priorities, because the draft vote of confidence in Minister of Defence Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al Ali Al Sabah constitutes a deviation from national priorities and current entitlements, which require purifying the political atmosphere and following up on the needs of citizens,” Ahmad Al Anezi, chairman of the General Federation of Kuwait Workers, wrote on Twitter.

Kuwaiti women earned the right to vote in 2005 and have been active both in Cabinet and parliament, although they did not gain any seats in the current parliament.

Unlike other Gulf countries, Kuwait's parliament enjoys legislative power and lawmakers have been known to challenge the government and royals.

Updated: January 26, 2022, 8:39 AM