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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) Peter, 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 foreign 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 Emirate. 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 ? Regards, Moonirah -------------- -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email firstname.lastname@example.org Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi