Kuwait's strong response to internal subversion alters life in oil-rich state. Kuwait, under threat from Iran's missiles, has cracked down hard on pro-Iranian domestic subversives. Some see signs this has paid off. But others fear it may backfire by radicalizing more of Kuwait's Shiite population.
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The official, who asks that he not be identified by name, says that recent bombing attacks have shown a much lower level of sophistication than previous attacks. In some cases, the would-be bombers have blown themselves up, apparently by accident, he says.Skip to next paragraph
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``They are running out of the hard-core and well-trained people. When they start running out of the well-trained people, you start to wonder if they are running out of recruits,'' the Kuwaiti official says.
But diplomatic and other analysts assess more cautiously the longevity of Shiite extremism in Kuwait. There is concern that crackdowns focused primarily on the Shiite community may eventually boomerang against the Sunni government.
``Generally, we are not encouraging this [bombing],'' a young, bearded Shiite said in an interview. Yet, he stressed, the entire community is being made to suffer for the extremists' actions. ``What they have done is having bad effects on all of us,'' he said.
The concern is that by taking actions that hurt the entire Shiite community, the government will virtually guarantee the creation of the next generation of activists, subversives, and martyrs.
According to some Kuwaiti Shiites, there is a continuing debate within the Shiite community about the value of violent action as a means of opposing the Kuwaiti government's domestic policies and its support of Iraq against Iran in the Gulf war. Such debate suggests that the majority have not embraced violent tactics and that community forces may be helping prevent escalations in bombings.
The security issue in Kuwait has been complicated by the Shiite community's historical ties to Iran.
Though Kuwaiti officials have hinted that Iran is behind the bombings bombing and other plots in Kuwait, there has been no direct evidence of an Iranian supply line. But there is evidence that some Kuwaiti Shiites have been trained in subversive techniques in Iran.
The attacks are seen by Iran as a means of pressuring Kuwait to end its support for Iraq and tone down its criticism of Iran. Some analysts say ultimately Iran seeks to spread its revolution to Kuwait.
``What Iran is really after is to destabilize Kuwait to set an example for the other Gulf states,'' says a Western diplomat.
In encouraging the Shiite subversives, Iran is taking advantage of centuries of sectarian prejudice and mistreatment of Shiites by the traditionally more powerful Sunni Muslims on the Arabian side of the Gulf.
Following the Iranian revolution, Shiites in the Gulf states began to question why they should remain locked out of the system and politically inferior to Sunnis. They looked to Ayatollah Khomeini as the embodiment of a new Shiite activism. And they saw the emergence of the powerful Shiite community in Lebanon as an example for the future.
The ruling Al-Sabah dynasty has controlled the political landscape in and around what is now Kuwait for 200 years. In more recent times the Shiites have prospered from Kuwait's oil boom, and many of the leading merchant families of Kuwait are Shiite. But the Shiites have rarely been able to advance into powerful political offices, to gain a voice in making key national decisions, or hold sensitive jobs.
Kuwaiti Shiites complain that they receive no government funding to build new Shiite mosques, while Sunni mosques are 100 percent government funded. They complain that there are Shiite quotas at Kuwait University and that Shiites are rarely promoted to management positions in Kuwaiti firms. They say that Kuwaiti authorities will not permit the establishment of a newspaper for the Shiites or the opening of a community center.
``It is a pressure to eliminate the Shia, to keep the number small,'' says a Kuwaiti Shiite.