Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kuwaitis Raise Hopes for Democratic Reform

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kuwaitis Raise Hopes for Democratic Reform

Article excerpt

THE return home on March 4 of Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, the first member of the ruling family to end a seven-month exile in Saudi Arabia, marks the beginning of what promises to be a complex political process.

Prince Saad, the emir's brother, is due to oversee a three-month period of martial law intended to stabilize Kuwait in the wake of occupation by Iraqi troops, before elections to a national assembly are held, officials have explained. His first task will be to speed up collection of thousands of weapons still in private hands and mountains of unguarded ammunition in Iraqi bunkers all over Kuwait City. Fears that these arms could be used to create political chaos are widespread.

"We are very weak now, and we are afraid of small groups that could make Kuwait like Lebanon," says Muhammad al-Muttawa, a resistance worker.

Many Kuwaitis suspect that the Iraqi forces left behind agents who will seek to sow confusion. A prominent member of the former national assembly, Hamad al-Johan, was gravely shot by a gunman who shouted that he was being punished for opposing the ruling family. Rumors that the ruling al-Sabah family have hired assassins to kill opposition figures were quick to fly.

The government will hold elections to the national assembly that it suspended in 1986 "as soon as this country is under normal life," Minister for Cabinet Affairs Abd al-Rahman Abdullah al-Awadi announced March 3. This pledge echoed an agreement reached at a conference of Kuwaiti government and opposition figures reached at Taif, Saudi Arabia, last October, and many Kuwaitis appear to believe in the ruling family's sincerity.

"I trust in my government....I do not believe the government will break its promise," says Saleh al-Fadala, vice president of the last national assembly.

Some Kuwaitis are confident that the elections will be held because of pressure from the countries that fought to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. "The United States, Britain, and France, they love democracy," suggests Moaz Khaled, a Kuwaiti who says he hopes for political reform. "They will oblige our rulers to be more open."

Others point to Kuwaitis' experience under occupation as encouraging demands for greater freedom. Neighborhood committees "took the role of the government by supporting people in various social ways, providing assistance the government used to offer," Mr. Fadala points out.

Complications are expected to arise, however, not least between Kuwaitis who remained in the country to resist the occupation and those who spent the last seven months in the relative comfort of exile around the Arab world. Although those who stayed insist in public that they understand why some of their compatriots did not, in private they are more scathing, according to foreigners familiar with their mood. …

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