Democracy in Kuwait

March 12, 1991|By The Financial Times, London

THE BIGGEST question mark in Kuwait hangs over the conduct of the ruling Al-Sabah family. Restored monarchs throughout history have needed to work hard to claw back their full legitimacy; it is by no means certain that Kuwait's ruling family will achieve this.

Any return to the democratic path will be viewed with suspicion by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. And at home, talk of a more democratic society touches the ever-sensitive issue of Kuwaiti citizenship. The restricted nature of citizenship, combined with rapid economic development, has meant that there are six foreign nationals for every four Kuwaitis.

Today's circumstances must be judged as an opportunity for Kuwaitis to come to terms with the foreigners who provide the vital services that make the state work; long-term foreign residents must be given the opportunity to acquire citizenship. The only alternative for Kuwait is a model of economic development and society which strives to manage without substantial numbers of foreign workers and that is not likely.

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