Hungry Kuwaitis pay scant notice to emir's return


KUWAIT CITY -- As the emir of Kuwait was making a grand return to his country yesterday, Abul Kareem was spending his third day in line to try to get a few cans of food.

"There is no organization here. I wait in line for hours, and by the time I reach my turn there is no more food," complained the 50-year-old credit manager. "In three days I have gotten no food and a little water."

The return of the emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, to Kuwait was greeted with a weak hurrah by a country standing in line for food and water and wondering when electricity will be restored.

The emir fled by helicopter to Saudi Arabia in the early hours of Aug. 2, just ahead of the invading Iraqi army.

His failure to return with the liberators who freed Kuwait City on Feb. 26 has added to the grumbling here about the emir and his al-Sabah ruling family. Dignitaries such as the U.S. secretary of state came to Kuwait before him.

He is scheduled to be followed today by a seven-hour visit by an entourage of U.S. celebrities, businessmen and politicians, including Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

They will find a country with a sky still blackened by day with the soot of oil fires and lighted with a weird orange glow from those fires at night.

They will find a country still paralyzed: The government is making gradual progress in restoring basic services, but there is little apparent initiative by the citizens to reopen stores or to resume the routine of life.

The emir seems unlikely to inspire his countrymen. There were perfunctory celebrations yesterday and a profusion of posters with his picture on the still-closed shutters of businesses. But most Kuwaitis wanted to know if his arrival would bring the electricity service faster.

"I have nothing against the emir, but they haven't organized this whole thing," said a Kuwaiti business manager who gave his name only as Mohammad. "They should have supported us with electricity and water. They should have brought some big

generators in here. They haven't done it right."

"We don't care if he comes back or not," said Iman al-Behad, 27, a communications engineer. "I don't think he had the guts to come back before."

Advisers to the emir were said to be worried about his safety, although the official explanation for his delay in returning was that his home, the Dasman Palace, was shot up and burned by Iraqis. He is now staying in a private residence.

But many Kuwaitis, including those who fought in the resistance and who still have their guns, have said that they do not want a return to the rule by the al-Sabah family and that they want democracy.

"It's OK that he's coming. But he's got to do something about democracy now," said Lafi al-Shammari, 35, a marketing

specialist. "That's what we were fighting for -- our rights."

"He's a dictator, but in a nice way," said a man, 32, who gave his name as Emad, watching the nightly celebration at the U.S. Embassy. "Why does it have to be the al-Sabah ruling the country? They talk about democracy but do nothing."

The emir arrived about 4:40 p.m. on a Kuwaiti Airline 727 jet. He knelt to the ground, greeted his ministers and a collection of ambassadors, and drove off in a black Mercedes sedan.

There were no public crowds allowed at the airport to greet him. The route from the airport was lined with soldiers, and there were only a few small groups of flag-waving families.

"Don't read too much into the fact that people are not coming out here today or are not on the street," said the minister of planning, Suleiman al-Mutawa. "This is a social occasion."

The arrival was planned "in such a way that we were trying to avoid overcrowding the streets," he said.

Mr. Mutawa acknowledged complaints by Kuwaitis who feel the government-in-exile had much time to plan the recovery but acted slowly.

"People have every right to feel frustrated," he said. "I am one of them. I have no electricity or water. [But] people have to realize that what happened here was beyond prediction."

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