Democracy for Kuwait


KUWAIT'S ruling al Sabah family was notably generous with its political promises after it was driven into exile last August by Iraq's invasion. The assurances were virtually non-stop that the emir and other top leaders would assure that post-liberation Kuwait could look forward to a new political order based on more representative government.

Now, after the tremendously costly U.N.-led intervention to free Kuwait from the invading Iraqis, that pledge so far remains unredeemed.

Now the emir says merely that new parliamentary elections are indeed planned, but not for another 16 months. Why the long delay?

Opposition figures fear, with good reason, that it is to give the al Sabahs more time to intensify their control. That's exactly the kind of political process the leaders of Iraq prefer, no?

Kuwait for a brief period had the Persian Gulf's freest Parliament. But that experiment ended abruptly in 1986 when the emir began to fear that some legislators were becoming too independent. The current National Council is essentially a rubber-stamp for the al Sabahs. When it meets on July 19 for the first time since the invasion it's expected to set the conditions for the October 1992 voting, including a possible expansion of suffrage. That in itself is a good idea. Under current rules, only about 10 percent of Kuwait's population -- none women -- may vote.

Ideally, of course, the whole region ought to enjoy more representative government. But, for several reasons, Kuwait is a good place to begin: Its ruling family, when in distress and needing support from the democracies, solemnly indicated it was inclined toward greater power sharing.

But if Kuwait's al Sabah family is not capable of doing what's best for the country, Washington has an obligation to help it see the light. After all that was risked, and accomplished, in the Persian Gulf, the American public will want to know why the Kuwaitis can't create a significantly better political order than the one that was expelled by force of arms.

The issue is also one that should concern the United Nations. After all, it was collective military action that defeated the Iraqis. Would it now be inappropriate for collective moral action to take on the forces of political darkness in Kuwait?

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