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The tragedy of Kuwait

In my piece on 'Jordan and the Gulf War', I mentioned the expulsion of
Jordanian and Yemeni workers from Kuwait at the end of the war. These had
very serious consequences for the respective economies of Jordan and the
Yemen and were widely interpreted as vengeance for those two countries'
efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. The expulsions were also
justified on the grounds that many of the immigrant workers had supported
the Iraqis. As I pointed out, this was despite the fact that, at the time of
the invasion, we were told no-one had supported it.

In reply, two members of the Kuwaiti 605 group (which supports the continued
imposition of sanctions on Iraq at least until the Kuwaiti citizens who
disappeared during the occupation have been accounted for) pointed out that
there had been no Kuwaiti support for the invasion. Some immigrant workers,
they argued, may have supported the Iraqis in the hopes that their period of
working in Kuwait would be extended; but in general the immigrants were only
required to leave when their visas expired. Moonirah Allen (apologies if I
have got the name wrong) compared this to her own situation as a visitor
whose visa only gave her the right to remain for a month (see the end of
this article).

The situation, however, is more dramatic than this would suggest and more
tragic, both for the immigrant workers and for the Kuwaitis themselves.

We are talking here about something in the region of one million people.
Prior to the war Kuwait had 2.1 million inhabitants, 72% of whom were
foreigners. By 1993 this had falled to 1.1 million, 600,000 of them
Kuwaitis. The Palestinian population in particular had fallen from 450,000
to some tens of thousands. I am quoting from an article in the French paper
Le Monde Diplomatique, February 1993 (Deux ans après, la démocratie reste
balbutiante au Koweït). My understanding is that, since then, the population
has again climbed dramatically and now stands at c2.3 million, the great
majority once again being non-Kuwaiti (this is what is stated in the article
of 2/8/00 ­ Iraqi invasion left mark on Kuwait ­ in the recent CASI News for
31 July ­ 6 August). My guess is that the great majority of the new entrants
are not Arabs.

So Kuwait finds itself in the strange position of a country in which only a
minority of the inhabitants are Kuwaitis. And of an Arab country which has
now become reluctant to employ Arab workers. How can this be?

It may seem strange to apply the word 'tragic' to a country that possesses
such enormous wealth, but I think the word is appropriate. Kuwait is in the
tragic situation of a desperately poor country which, almost overnight,
becomes wealhy beyond ­ well beyond ­ the dreams of avarice. This inordinate
wealth stems from the historical accident that Kuwait already existed as a
clearly defined territorial entity supporting a small population before oil
was discovered.

Essentially the al-Jabir family had played a dangerous but skilful
diplomatic game playing off Britain against the Ottoman Empire. At that
time, the western powers, mainly Britain, had an interest in maintaining
Kuwait's separate existence as a means of guaranteeing access to the Gulf.
Since the discovery of oil the Western powers have had an interest in
keeping it in existence as a means of keeping down the price of oil. Saudi
Arabia and Kuwait, with comparatively small populations, can be much more
flexible with regard to oil prices than countries such as Iraq, Libya or
Iran, which have large populations and therefore, generally, an interest in
higher prices. For this same reason, the position of Saudi Arabia and, more
especially, the smaller of the two, Kuwait, excites great hostility in the
rest of the Arab world.

Prior to the Gulf War, the Kuwaiti government, aware of the delicacy of
their situation, had tried to compensate by becoming something of a centre
for Arab and Muslim radicalism. My own copies of the writings of Sayyid
Qutb, the theorist of Islamic revolution, executed on charges of complicity
in the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt, were published in Kuwait.

The position of a very small population in possession of unlimited wealth,
however, creates temptations; and it is not I who would blame a people for
succumbing to them. In the case of the Kuwaitis the temptation seems to have
been simply to give up work ­ to pay other people to do their work for them
(though I admit, as a westerner, I find it difficult to understand how in a
strict Muslim country with no drugs or sex or rock'n'roll or, indeed,
alcohol, people manage to occupy their time without working). Hence the
enormous quantity of immigrant workers who, prior to the Gulf War, often
came from the poorest and most hopeless sectors of the Arab world, notably
Palestinians from the refugee camps. The horror of their situation, and the
lengths they would go to to get into Kuwait, are shown in the great but
harrowing Egyptian/Syrian film, Duped.

Although Kuwait was a beacon of hope, and paid wages well above what they
might expect to receive anywhere else, it is easy to understand the immense
mutual hatred that could spring up between the almost automatically wealthy
native population and the immigrant working population.

Even prior to the Gulf War, the Kuwaiti government was conscious that this
disparity between native and immigrant numbers was dangerous; and there had
already been proposals to reduce the immigrant population who, as I
understand it, had virtually no legal rights at all. After the war, the
problem became more urgent because of the perceived (and I would have
thought quite probable) complicity between Arab immigrants and Iraqis. Even
if the Western world can be deceived in this respect, the Kuwaitis can
hardly be unaware of the fact that, at the popular level, the sympathies of
the Arab and Muslim world lay with Iraq; that, however unjust the perception
may be, Kuwait is thought of as naturally a part of Iraq that has been
detached to serve the interests of the Western powers.

The Kuwaiti leadership may well feel that they had done as much as they
could prior to the Gulf War to conciliate Arab nationalist and Islamist
feeling and that this policy failed; but it still seems to me that their
present policy of total dependence on the US and Britain, however
understandable it may be, is shortsighted. The support of the US and Britain
is not based on any affection or respect. No one living here can be under
any illusion about that. It could be abandoned in the flick of an eye.

It is therefore difficult to understand why Kuwait should insist on a
British and American presence at discussions with Iraq on an issue as
intimate as the fate of the 605 missing Kuwaiti citizens; or how Kuwait can
expect to be reintegrated into the affections of the Arab world when it
allows its territory to be used for the continued bombing raids against
Iraq. I do not know if the Kuwaiti government officially supports the
campaign to indict President Hussein, but its supporters in Britain do; and
this is a demand that can only be realised through a full invasion of Iraq;
and the only force capable of achieving that is the US. Is that what the
Kuwaiti government wants?

By contrast, if Kuwait were to refuse to allow its territory to be used for
attacks on Iraq, to renounce a large part of its compensation claims on Iraq
(on the rather obvious grounds that Iraq will never be in a position to pay
them); and take the lead in calling for the normalisation of relations with
Iraq, it would excite a wave of sympathy among fellow Arabs and Muslims that
would transform its position overnight, defuse the dangers of a 'triumph for
Saddam' should sanctions be ended, and strengthen it immeasurably in
relation to what it wants most importantly from Iraq: news of its missing
citizens and peace of mind with regard to the frontier.

The present situation ­ economic reliance on an overwhelmingly large
immigrant workforce, and political and military reliance on the traditional
enemies of the Arab world ­ just feels like another bomb waiting to go off.

(Moonirah Allen's letter, which prompted the above piece, follows. I have
not addressed the question of the Egyptian workers expelled from Iraq
because I know nothing about it. If they were expelled in the way described
then this was, in addition to being outrageous, a piece of political idiocy
on the part of the Iraqi leadership since there was widespread popular
opposition within Egypt, probably shared by Egyptian workers in Iraq, to the
Egyptian government's policy)


As I visited Kuwait last year, meeting their people and National Assembly,
I have been asked to respond with an explanation on 'foreigners' in Kuwait,
of whom, you can count me, being Welsh as you are - not far away.

It is certainly neither my wish, nor right, to speak for any official or
government regarding their policies and laws, however, with due respect to
you and your knowledge, plus genuine concerns, such matters relate to
international labour movements around the world and the fact remains that
Kuwait operates on a signed contractual basis with each non-Kuwaiti who
enters their country - before and since the brutal illegal invasion of the

Sometimes workers are even on contract via their own Governments to work
in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain.

Prior to entry and residing in Kuwait for work, individuals are fully aware
of the serious laws, rules and principles - yet, they sign their contracts.

Despite the set length of time included in each contract, individuals try
to evade leaving Kuwait and Saudi Arabia etc when their contract ends.

Surely contracted labour means, you work ... then you go home.
If you would like details on these facts my son would be pleased to explain.

On February 22nd 1999 I entered Kuwait with a one month Visa,
having the intent to 'visit' for two weeks, seeking evidence on the
Kuwait 605 detainees transferred to Iraq, so I would not have
sought to evade departure - and when I had a contract to work in
Rome, Italy years ago, I prepared to leave when that term ended,
returning home to Wales .. this is expected of labourers in Kuwait.

When I enter Kuwait in February 2001 for the 10th Anniversary of
Liberation, I shall know beforehand the date of departure too.
On campaign visits to any Gulf country for the Kuwait 605 and/or
INDICT SADDAM, possibly travelling with Iraqi representatives of
the INC, I shall also adhere to lawful entry and exit conditions.
When I enter Iraq which in time will be governed by a coalition of
the INC, I shall adhere to the set time limits of Visa and/or contract.

Any foreign nationals in Kuwait when invaded might have thought
that Saddam would allow them to work and reside there permanently,
with paid employment, therefore perhaps showed support for him.
After the liberation, such individuals would have been asked to leave,
as their contracts of employment would have been expired by then.

May I ask, as you have a keen interest in humanitarian matters, that
you inform yourself about the plight of Egyptian workers in Iraq, 2,000
of whom were tortured and shot along with Egyptians brought in from
the illegally occupied Kuwait, as well as the 40,000 forced exodus
through the Iraqi desert to Jordan purely because their Head of State
had diplomatically supported Kuwait and asked of Saddam that he
withdraw his forces from the Emirate. Egyptian Embassy can confirm,
Saddam's forces dragged out Egyptians from their workplaces in Iraq,
pulled them around streets with barbed wire leading to trigger guards
connected to rifles placed in their mouths then blew off their heads.

Please, I ask of you, as you seem to have knowledge of these issues -
Is it fair that over 2,000 people may be physically and psychologically
abused, tortured and massacred whilst in custody of the Iraqi Ministry
of Interior, and a further 40,000 of their co-patriots forced to walk across
hundreds of miles through the Iraqi desert, due to being expelled by
Saddam and his Republican Guard purely because their President
supports the liberation of an illegally occupied country and used his
country's vote within the U.N. Security Council for said purpose.

Would you care to fully evaluate this, in the light of what you wrote ?


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