Slow Going in Kuwait


Some children are disappointments to parents, as are some supplicants to donors and students to mentors. Kuwait's regime is embarrassing the United States, by its indecisive delays in reconstruction, its refusal to restore the participation of Kuwaitis in national life, its reclusive paranoia and its kangaroo trials of alleged collaborators following reported beatings and torture.

No one said that restoring the traditional city-state, after its rape by the villainous Saddam Hussein and Iraqi thugs, would be easy. The resistance to occupation by ordinary Kuwaitis was an inspiration to the world. The degree of democracy was never a legitimate issue of Iraq's occupation or United Nations repeal of that occupation, which hinged on sovereignty and aggression.

But having sent a huge military machine, lost the lives of American young men and women and spent much treasure, Americans are entitled to opinions. More is going to be asked by Kuwait of the United States and when it is, Kuwaiti official behavior will be an issue.

Too many rich Kuwaitis have not returned, too many refuse to work, too many are more concerned with enforcing their privilege than reconstructing the country. Kuwait's royal government should expedite reconstruction and involve more Kuwaitis, especially those who endured the occupation. Kuwait had more democracy for a quarter century than most of the Arab world, and the parliamentary responsibility that was abolished in 1986 should be restored this year. The announcement that the emir, Sheik Jabar Al-Ahmed al-Sabah, has postponed parliamentary elections until October of next year is a provocation.

The trials of alleged collaborators, mostly Palestinians and Iraqis, are troubling. In the early rounds, the judges ruled based on information provided to the chief judge; defense attorneys were appointed on the spot and not shown evidence. Most spectacular was the 15-year sentence meted to an Iraqi national for wearing a Saddam Hussein T-shirt in his home. Later, government spokesmen said he had actually been convicted of working for Iraqi intelligence. No attorney had been able to defend him on that charge. We may never know if this was justice, but it was not a trial. Small wonder the proceedings brought a mild rebuke even from President Bush. The improvement in procedure since then is mainly cosmetic.

The sad fact is that the Kuwaiti government-in-exile on its return has been unworthy of the Kuwaitis who withstood Iraqi atrocities for seven months. A 30-day extension of martial law is not reassuring. Most of the oil wells are still burning. Too many fires of all kinds are still burning, and the future of the country demands the vigor of all Kuwaitis in putting them out.

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