Kuwait after Liberation WAR IN THE GULF

March 11, 1991

Given the experience of Grenada and Panama after their liberation by American armed forces, Kuwait has no reason to expect that democracy and a better social system will spring forth like a well-watered rose garden. But unlike poor Grenada and Panama, which have never received the full measure of U.S. largess they expected, the emirate on the Persian Gulf is rich in oil resources once the fires ignited by Saddam Hussein's marauders are put out. Its ruling family has the wallet to make things better all by itself (to paraphrase President Bush). The question is whether it has the will.

Judged by the standards of other Persian Gulf states, Kuwait is relatively liberal. It is the only Arab state in the area with a constitutional provision for an elected parliament. Unfortunately, the parliament has not been allowed to assemble since 1986 and enfranchisement is extended only to males whose family roots in Kuwait go back decades. A small minority.

While the depredations of Iraqi occupiers have tended to unite all Kuwaitis, the very differing experiences of that half of the population that stayed and the other half that fled (including most members of the royal family) constitute the makings of a political divide of inestimable proportions.

American reporters in Kuwait, including The Sun's Doug Struck, are hearing grousing about Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah's failure to return to his stricken land immediately after liberation, about the imposition of martial law, about restrictions and intimidation of the democratic opposition and about delays in permitting the return of Kuwaitis in self-exile. Kuwaitis who were rounded up and frog-marched northward by fleeing Iraqi troops may feel they have the right to a greater say about their future than the elite who spent the war in luxury hotels in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.

One thing the al Sabah family should have learned from this war is that its people are intensely loyal to their little homeland and, indeed, largely loyal to the throne. They have proved their mettle in the face of unspeakable Iraqi atrocities and, as such, have a potential to play their part in making Kuwait the political paragon of the gulf region.

It is not for the United States to impose its system even on a sheikdom that owes its very existence to American intervention against a cruel aggression. But the very presence of U.S. forces in the region and the prestige now accruing to our country by its victory in the war against Iraq should have a leavening and democratic effect.

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