Bahrain's women vote for first time
By Adel Darwish in Manama
(Filed: 25/10/2002)

Bahrain staged the first democratic vote in the Gulf yesterday with women casting ballots and standing in a national election for the first time.

The vote will elect the kingdom's first parliament in nearly 30 years, as it entrenches a constitutional monarchy. Tens of thousands of women, most in traditional long black dress, queued in temperatures of 98F outside polling stations.

The eight women candidates - all educated middle-class professionals - made a pact not to stand against each other, hoping to split the male vote.

Just over half of the 243,400 electorate are women. At Rifa'a, where prime minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman al-Khalifa cast his vote, one woman, Hanady, 22, insisted that women were voting according to "the candidates' political programme, not according to their sex".

Bahrain's last parliament, a men-only institution, was dissolved by the father of the current king, Hamed bin Isa, because of continual impasses and threats from Marxists and Arab nationalists.

The threat this time comes from Islamists, many of whom call for a Taliban-style strict Islamic code in Bahrain, a relatively liberal country and home to 6,000 British expatriates.

Mullahs among the majority Shia population called for an election boycott.

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ęCopyrights Adel Darwish & Mideastnews 2002