FOR Kuwait, the liberation of the country on Feb. 26 didn't close the books on the Iraqi invasion and occupation. As in the aftermath of all occupations, a political, economic, and social accounting will go on for a long while. The elation that followed liberation has become more subdued as Kuwaitis take stock of the manifold challenges they face in rebuilding their country.
The most immediate problem is to restore basic amenities to the deprived populace - water, electricity, and most critical, food. Kuwaitis are having to stand hours on end in long lines for distribution of a few staples. Kuwait's government in exile appears to have been ill-prepared to resume functions once the Iraqis were pushed out. The government should investigate the reasons that the restoration of order and services was, for days after liberation, left to the allied forces and local resistance grou ps.
Can such an investigation, however, be conducted by the emir's nepotistic regime? That raises the next set of issues related to Kuwait's future. The ruling Sabah family shouldn't imagine that it can simply resume its monopoly on power. After the Iraqi occupation, a more tough-minded and self-sufficient populace will less deferentially accept the old ways. The regime's slow and ineffectual reaction to liberation will only intensify the desire of many Kuwaitis for a more open, participatory government.
While it is not the place of the US to impose democracy on Kuwait, Washington should encourage the emir to keep recent pledges to democratize the country. For starters, the US should object to any extension of the government's martial law beyond the time needed to restore order.
It is not surprising that Kuwaitis are bitter toward the Palestinians in their midst. The PLO sided with Saddam Hussein, and many Palestinians in Kuwait collaborated with the occupiers in identifying resistance fighters. Other Palestinians, though at risk to themselves, shielded and fed Kuwaitis.
Reports of harsh retribution against Palestinians and summary deportations are troubling. Such human-rights violations will only further water the bitter seeds strewn through the region.