Iraq casts long shadow over Kuwaitis
Michael Sheridan, Diplomatic Editor, finds that five years after the start of the Gulf war the emirate's thoughts are dominated by oil prices and Baghdad
Wednesday 02 August 1995
Compared to the world as Kuwaitis knew it in 1990, the present is a very strange place. Gone is the fiction of non-aligned Arabism and the pretence that foreign powers exercised little sway over rulers in the Gulf. Today Kuwait is guaranteed by security pacts with Britain, the United States, France and Russia. Last autumn a border scare brought thousands of Western troops and planes rushing back to its aid.
Kuwait once prided itself on tolerance and, by Gulf standards, a measure of liberalism. Its tolerance did not survive the angry seven months of occupation. Today it is a less cosmopolitan place. Hordes of guest-workers from the Indian subcontinent fled after the invasion. Upon liberation, tens of thousands of Palestinians were evicted from the emirate with callous brutality, paying the price for popular Palestinian support for Saddam Hussein.
Yet, paradoxically, Kuwait now boasts by far the most liberal political climate in the Gulf, its busy parliament and contentious press a reproach both to the totalitarianism still practised in Baghdad and to the somnolent autocracies elsewhere in the Arabian peninsula.
It is not democracy, Western-style. The suffrage is restricted and there are constitutional limits on the powers of parliament. None the less, Kuwait's elected representatives criticise government policy and scrutinise the budget. Both "Islamist" and liberal tendencies have a voice. Members of the ruling al-Sabah family have come in for censure over allegations of corruption. A wide variety of newspapers serve Kuwait's population of 1.8 million, publishing in conditions of comparative freedom.
Much of this is the result of Western pressure on the al-Sabah family to demonstrate a measure of democratic reform in order to placate congressional and public opinion in the US.
The US and other Western countries also see Kuwait's modest political liberties as possible models for the modernisation of other monarchies in the Gulf, although that may prove to be a triumph of optimism over experience.
Two fundamental criteria - Iraq and oil prices - continue to dictate reality to the Kuwaitis, their conservative Arab neighbours and their Western allies.
The unresolved dilemma of Iraq looms over every aspect of the emirate's policy. Kuwait believes that its safest line is a hard one. This week the Prime Minister rejected Iraqi overtures, which were coupled to Saddam Hussein's campaign to lift United Nations sanctions. The Kuwaiti government wants proof of the fate of 605 prisoners of war and full restitution of wealth plundered or destroyed by the Iraqis. In truth these individual disputes serve to buttress Kuwait's real purpose: to persuade the West that Saddam must fall from power before Iraq can be considered safe.
Recent statistics from Baghdad show that the Iraqi armed forces have been rebuilt since their defeat in 1991, numbering 382,000 men and 650,000 reservists with 2,200 tanks and armoured vehicles backed up by more than 300 combat aircraft. These are still intimidatory figures to the Kuwaitis, even though Iraq claims to have dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.
Kuwait is aware that its own main weapon remains the imposition of UN sanctions on Baghdad. These measures are responsible for keeping Iraq off the world oil market, a factor in keeping prices unsettled.
Kuwait's oil wells are flowing again, providing 98 per cent of export revenue. More than 2 million barrels a day yielded more than $11bn (pounds 7bn) in 1994, the first time since the invasion that Kuwait surpassed its pre- war income of about $10.2bn. Massive investment to update oilfield technology will continue to drain cash reserves, while Kuwait still bears the financial burdens of the war. Yet with about 10 per cent of global crude reserves and 3 per cent of daily production, the emirate's economy looks secure in the long term.
Some analysts predict that oil prices, currently about $16 a barrel, could drop sharply if Iraq comes back on stream. But other oil industry experts think the effect would be temporary, because there is little elasticity between world supply and demand.
Robert Fisk, second section
- 1 Mystery of the Siberian holes at the end of the world 'solved': Scientists offer explanation
- 2 Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
- 3 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 Sean Hannity reacts to Russell Brand's Israel-Gaza criticism: 'You're a dumb actor known for your failed marriage to Katy Perry'
Lost portraits of the Somme: 100 images of Tommies posing before they went over the top. Now can you help to identify them?
Mystery of the Siberian holes at the end of the world 'solved': Scientists offer explanation
Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness
Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
Ashley Cole tweets unsettling meme of him stalking ex-wife Cheryl Cole and new husband Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
A new Russian revolution: The cracks are starting to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
- < Previous
- Next >
Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...
£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...
£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...
£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...