Purging Kuwait

Article excerpt

Amman 1970, Beirut 1982, Kuwait 1991: ominous words painted on a wall in Kuwait City, where an estimated 175,000 to 200,000 Palestinians await an uncertain future. Recent statements by Kuwait's government in exile have ignited fears about how Palestinians will be treated after the Iraqi ouster. "Some of the Palestinians did help and collaborated with Iraqi troops. Other nationalities did, too. When we go home, we shall check on the names of these people-Palestinians or not Palestinians-the Kuwaitis there know these people very well," said the Crown Prince, Sheik Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, in an interview last month with Robert Fisk of The Independent. As Prime Minister, the Crown Prince will serve as military governor during the three months of martial law imposed by royal decree on February 26, as allied forces closed in on Kuwait City.

Interior Minister Sheik Salem Sabah al-Sabah had already announced on February 14 the formulation of "a comprehensive security plan" for the first three months after liberation. He termed the plan "in the interest of citizens both inside and outside Kuwait" and said that "the cleansing of Kuwait from the effects of war and from the fifth columns which would be ready to create confusion among the citizens will require some time before Kuwait can become an oasis of security as it was before." Citing the need to reorganize services and facilitate the return of some 500,000 to 600,000 Kuwaiti exiles, he suggested that the security plan will bar Kuwaitis from automatic re-entry to their country. "While the speedy return to the homeland is something sought by all, we must not ignore security aspects," he warned. The sealing of the borders for twelve weeks will also keep out vocal members of Kuwait's pro-democracy movement, which rejects the imposition of martial law without the restoration of Kuwait's elected Parliament, dissolved by the Emir in 1986. They view martial law as an extension of the power of the Sabahs and their control over Kuwait's lucrative reconstruction process.

Palestinians are apprehensive about the prospect of arbitrary arrests, or worse, by the Interior Ministry's state security department. "On what basis will the Kuwaitis clean up?" asked a West Bank resident whose uncle has lived in Kuwait since 1961, working in the Education Ministry. "How will they differentiate between people? This could mean mass deportations or unfair trials." According to the U.S. State Department, any long-term resident of Kuwait "may be summarily expelled without charge or judicial recourse if the authorities deem him a 'troublemaker' or 'security risk.' " Kuwait's state security court tries internal security cases; the State Department this year bluntly said that the court "did not meet international standards for fair trial."

Palestinian fears are deeply rooted in their past. …