Royal family returns to new Kuwait to face political crises in wake of war WAR IN THE GULF

March 05, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- The crown prince of Kuwait returned in flowing gold-trimmed robes yesterday to a city still dark and staggered by the war, and to a forbidding political task.

The ruling family of Kuwait must stitch together a new government, and in many ways a new society. They must satisfy insistent demands for democracy while also lessening the dependence on minorities who now are suspect from the war.

Sheik Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah fell to his knees in prayer on his arrival in a C-130 from Saudi Arabia yesterday. The U.S. ambassador and representatives of other Western countries greeted him.

His arrival set off another daylong round of celebration marked by the wholesale crackle of automatic weapons, an exuberance that masked the misgivings of many Kuwaitis about the royal family.

Night brought a reminder of the continuing paralysis of Kuwait City: Electric service is still days or weeks away; water is available only in some areas, for a few hours; stores stripped by the departing Iraqis are still bare of food and of nearly any other necessity. Many areas are still littered with mines.

The Kuwaiti government signed contracts yesterday with two U.S. companies to string power lines from the remaining two working power plants in the north and south of the country.

One Western diplomat acknowledged that progress in restoring basic services "is moving in the right direction, but it is slower than most people would like to have seen."

The government is moving quickly to impose tighter martial order. Roadblocks have sprung up throughout the city, manned by Kuwaiti and Saudi soldiers.

The roundup of Palestinians suspected of having bee sympathetic to the Iraqis during the seven-month occupation continued yesterday. Driving about the city, one could see suspects thrown roughly to the ground, rifles pointed at their heads.

But the government is anxious to avoid a full-scale explosion o passions against the Palestinians. The 180,000 Palestinians were the underpinning of the Kuwaiti economy before the war, doing many of the manual-labor jobs but denied equal rights. Persecution of the minority also is likely to draw the ire of Western members of the multinational force.

Equally tricky will be satisfying the upwelling of demands fo democracy fueled by the war. The returning rulers face demands by Kuwaitis who stayed and joined the underground resistance, who now will not accept a return to the autocratic rule of the royal family.

"We are going to fight for democracy, but peacefully," said resistance member who calls himself Abu Abdullah. "We were in Iraqi chains for seven months, and now we need democracy to live. It is a necessity."

Collapse of the Iraqi occupation left many young, striden resistance members well-armed. All may not have such allegiance to peaceful means, some here worry.

There also is dissatisfaction among many Kuwaitis at the ruling al-Sabah family's flight ahead of the invading Iraqis, and their slow return to the country. The ruling emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, still has not returned, and no date has been set for his arrival.

"Al-Sabah has talked about a constitution, about a parliament, about elections," said a senior Western diplomat. "I believe the emir knows if they don't maintain those positions, there will be some trouble."

"The fight is going to be over the fine print: How much power would a representative body have? Who will vote? How big is suffrage? Will it include women?" he said.

The potential for unrest in Kuwait is fueled by a continued lack of services, some believe. Many homes still have food staples, but fresh products are not available.

With no electricity, stores are closed, but they are empty anyhow.

Telephone lines are still down. But American Telephone & Telegraph Co. International hauled a satellite communications station to Kuwait from the Saudi desert, where it had been used to allow soldiers to call home.

The station was set up Sunday in a suburb of the city, and in the first 26 hours it logged 12,000 phone calls by Kuwaitis, said Gary Gearhart, manager of the station.

Most of the calls were routed through New York back to family members who had fled to other gulf countries. For most callers, it was the first chance since the Iraqis arrived that they could tell family they were safe.

Waits for the 52 phone lines stretched for five and six hours yesterday. The five-minute calls, provided free by the Kuwaiti government, often brought more emotion than conversation.

Miriam Ali Hassan, 41, dressed in the traditional black dress, fidgeted nervously as an operator dialed her daughter in Saudi Arabia. She had last seen Fatel Ahmed Abdu when the daughter took her two children and fled before the invasion.

"I don't know what I'm going to say," the older woman admitted. When the call rang through, she wailed into the phone, "My dear Fatel, your brothers and father are all OK," and then began sobbing.

"Hello, hello. Talk to me," she pleaded for most of the five minutes, between tears, as her daughter joined her sobs. "I just want to hear your voice."

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