Average Kuwaiti skeptical about rapid progress WAR IN THE GULF

March 21, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- The resignation of the Kuwaiti government convinced few here that democracy -- or electricity -- is any closer.

Pro-democracy leaders here dismissed Tuesday's resignation of the 22-member Cabinet as just another shuffle of ministers.

Kuwaitis on the street said they doubted that the move would hasten restoration of basic services to Kuwait City, which is still without power and water 22 days after liberation.

Some, however, cheered the action as a sign that the ruling al-Sabah family was worried about popular dissatisfaction with the regime.

The prime minister, Crown Prince Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, offered the resignation of the Cabinet to Kuwait's ruling emir and was instructed to form a new Cabinet.

News of the move dribbled out in Kuwait yesterday, though there was no announcement of a reason for the action.

Leaders in and out of government said it was an attempt to deflect mounting criticism of the slow pace of reconstruction and to try to stem growing demand for a Parliament and for democratic freedoms.

"Nothing will change," said Abdul Aziz al-Sultan, leader of a pro-democracy group. "We still have the same prime minister. This isn't really a change of people."

"It's just swapping chairs," said another opposition leader, Abdul Mushen al-Farhan. "We are accustomed to seeing the resignations of the government."

Although Kuwait was considered a progressive country by Mideast standards, the emir ended an experiment in democracy in 1986: Parliament was dissolved, the free press abolished and democratic freedoms suspended.

The Persian Gulf war and assistance given Kuwait by democratic Western nations have boosted demands here for reforms. Those demands have not been quieted by promises from the emir to hold elections at an unspecified date.

Just as troublesome to the government are widespread complaints that much-promised plans for reconstruction have produced little obvious result.

"Governments are there to provide services to their citizens," said Minister of Planning Sulayman Mutawa, whose resignation was among those tendered. "I wasn't surprised, because you get the feeling from the people the government was not providing the basic services. I feel the time has come to give a chance to another team."

"We do need some kind of change," agreed Hammud al-Albah, a counsel in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "A lot has happened in the last two months."

It is unclear how much change will occur. The crown prince may appoint some or all of the resigned ministers to the new Cabinet. Seven of the 22 are members of the al-Sabah family. They are unlikely to be removed from the government even though some, such as Defense Minister Nawwaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, are among those most criticized in public.

Opposition leaders say they expect the new Cabinet to include "insiders" -- Kuwaitis who stayed in the country during the seven-month occupation by Iraq -- to try to mend the rift between Kuwaitis who stayed and the government ministers, who all fled.

"They are afraid of the people here," said Mr. al-Farhan. "The people who stayed know that democracy is not a luxury. It is essential."

Khalid Shuaib, 33, a computer specialist, shrugged at the government resignation.

Without recalling Parliament and reinstituting the constitution, it will be meaningless, he said.

"We want a government for the people," he said. "This government, they just sit in their palaces and do nothing. When the Iraqis came, they escaped, and they didn't even warn anyone else."

"I think it's time for a change. We need a different government, a government that reacts quickly," said Hisham Ghalib, a physics researcher.

A newly formed government may benefit if power lines, now being strung, bring electricity to Kuwait City, permitting restoration of water and food services. If there are further delays, the public will react in anger, said Bader al-Sfur, a civil engineer.

"The people are hungry and thirsty," he said. "They are not looking for excuses."

In the Palestinian community of Hawalli, there was little optimism yesterday that a new government would curb the abuses being dealt to Palestinians after the war.

"For us, it means nothing," said Mohammad Saleh, 19, a student. "My only hope is to leave from here."

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