Avoiding democracy

April 09, 1991

In Arabic, bukra means tomorrow, inshallah means God willing. Both words are used to indicate that things may not happen as stated.

Kuwait was a pretty fair democracy by Arabic standards, with the only elected parliament in the gulf until it was dissolved in 1986. After pro-democracy forces pressed the point, elections were held last June, but only for an "interim parliament" with no legislative powers. Of Kuwait's population of about 2 million, only 65,000 (about 3 percent) were eligible to vote (males over age 21 whose families had lived in Kuwait before 1920).

Some two-thirds of the people who live in Kuwait are not citizens and, the way things now are, never can be. They are relatives by marriage or members of the hired class, foreigners who help keep the prosperous country running.

During the occupation, Kuwaiti groups called for more democracy after liberation. The ruling Al-Sabah family made sounds in that direction. But the dissidents feared that once the country was freed, it would be back to government as usual.

Sunday's speech by the emir was not reassuring. He talked not of elections soon but bukra, sometime within the next 9 to 21 months, depending on what he meant by "during the coming year, inshallah." On the positive side, he held out the prospect of giving the vote to women and some who arrived after 1920.

The emir may be hoping the fervor will abate and the old order can retain its feudal control. But the war has taken us beyond bukra and inshallah. There is too much blood in the sand.

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