Refugees Wait, and Hostages Return to US
Kuwaiti Exiles Back Resistance Movement
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — AS refugee camps go, the four-star International Hotel in downtown Abu Dhabi is a cut above average. Bright, clean, and air-conditioned, it has served as a shelter from the grueling heat of the Arabian desert since Iraqi troops stormed into Kuwait six weeks ago. Its lobby and patisserie have become a kind of living room, dining room, parlor, and playground for more than 200 Kuwaitis who now reluctantly call it home.
``I'm bored to death,'' grumbles Haider Ahmed, an oil company executive who arrived at the hotel three weeks ago from a European vacation from which he may never return home.
Like most of the 35,000 Kuwaitis who have poured into the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since the Aug. 2 invasion, Mr. Ahmed is growing impatient as he waits for the world community to bring Iraq to its knees. To fill in the time, he sleeps late, watches television, and talks endlessly of politics with friends. He can't get a job, he says, since employers know he will leave for Kuwait as soon as it is liberated.
With few other distractions, Ahmed's moods are largely pegged to the news from Kuwait that dribbles in from television and newspaper reports, visitors, and new refugees who are flooding into the emirates at the rate of more than a thousand a day.
``The thing that worries me most is that we don't get a clear picture of what's going on in Kuwait,'' he says. ``I don't know if my parents are getting enough to eat.''
Just as gnawing is a concern that, in time, the world may forget about Kuwait, leaving Ahmed and tens of thousands of other Kuwaitis with no alternative but to make a new life in another country.
``Right now the national interests of the US and Kuwait coincide,'' says Ahmed. ``Maybe tomorrow they won't. The world's priority may change and then the status quo will go on indefinitely. The issue of Kuwait will become marginalized and the occupation will become a de facto reality.''
``If there is no war, it is a gloomy picture,'' Ahmed adds. ``Other than through violent means [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein will never pull out.''
Like Ahmed, most Kuwaiti refugees were on vacation in Europe when the Iraqi invasion occurred. Most have returned to the Middle East. The exile community of 250,000 - nearly one-third of all Kuwaitis - is concentrated in Egypt and the Gulf states, including Bahrain and Qatar. The vast majority - 170,000 - live in Saudi Arabia.
Wherever they have settled, they have received a warm welcome and the financial support that most refugee populations could only dream of. In addition to $500 in pocket money to get started, the UAE government, for example, has provided refugees with free housing, free schooling, and free health care.
``They can work if they wish,'' says a UAE official in Egypt, which has far less money with which to provide such hospitality. Kuwaitis are freely taken into private homes, while doctors and teachers have offered their services free of charge.
Meanwhile, Kuwait's Saudi-based government-in-exile, which has assets which are said to total more than $100 billion at its disposal, announced yesterday that it would provide monthly allowances of up to $320 for its citizens living in exile.
Host governments have found other creative ways to provide financial support. Last week Sheikha Fatma, wife of UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, paid $2.5 million for a dozen cookies at an exhibition and bake sale sponsored by local merchants to raise money for the Kuwaiti community.
``We know they will be our guests for only a short time and we want to help, to show that they are our family,'' says Hessa al-Ossaify, of the UAE Information Ministry.
Whether they will be guests only for a short time will depend partly on the effectiveness of the growing resistance movement in Kuwait, which has become a matter of almost obsessive interest to the exile community.
Exile sources describe a small but growing resistance which is sabotaging cars and trucks, killing soldiers and civilian occupation authorities, and stealing weapons.
The resistance is abetted by Kuwaitis operating across the Saudi border who are reportedly recruiting thousands of volunteers and smuggling ammunition and communications equipment into Kuwait. The United States Central Intelligence Agency and US Army special forces are said to be providing training and logistical support.
``We're even hoping to train Kuwaitis here on how to use firearms'' as part of the local recruiting effort, says a Kuwaiti student leader in Cairo. He sits under a poster that proclaims: ``The heart of Kuwait will not bleed from the wounds of the traitor.''
Kuwaitis inside are also resisting efforts of the occupation authorities to establish a normal routine by sleeping during the day and staying up nights, says Abdul-Reda Assiri, a Kuwait University political scientist now living in Abu Dhabi.
Iraq is reportedly fighting back by arresting and deporting to Iraq young Kuwaiti men who are judged to be raw material for the resistance.
To keep up the pressure, Kuwaitis are publishing three newspapers in exile, in Cairo, London, and Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-based radio station, meanwhile, beams news, patriotic songs, and reports of the resistance to Kuwaitis under occupation - ``to show them that what's happening is not accepted,'' in the words of a Kuwaiti in Abu Dhabi.
The effect of the resistance is beginning to show, exile sources insist. They report that isolated attacks by members of the resistance have made Iraqi soldiers fearful to patrol the streets after dark.
``We're making the occupiers uncomfortable,'' says Abdel Rahman al-Awadi, minister of state for Cabinet affairs in the Kuwait government, who now lives in Cairo. ``The morale of the Iraqi soldiers is extremely poor. They are looters, not soldiers coming to fight. Gradually, they're becoming afraid of the resistance. ...
``We're a small, peaceful country,'' adds Mr. Awadi. ``It's hard to think of resistance as a way of life. But now we have no alternative.''