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Kuwait: Postwar Society
Country Study > Chapter 8 > Reconstruction After the Persian Gulf War > Postwar Society

POSTWAR SOCIETY


The invasion and occupation had a transformative effect on virtually every aspect of Kuwaiti life. Iraqi troops plundered and looted the city of Kuwait. Iraqi occupation forces, according to reports of human rights monitoring groups, tortured and summarily executed those suspected of involvement in the underground opposition movement that quickly emerged.

In the course of the occupation, more than half the population, foreigner and citizen alike, fled Kuwait. After the reestablishment of Kuwaiti sovereignty in February 1991, and the restoration of basic services soon afterward, the population began to return. In May 1991, the government opened the doors to all Kuwaiti citizens who wished to return. The government was far more reluctant to readmit nonnationals, whom it considered a security risk and whom it regarded as not needed in prewar numbers owing to the postwar constriction of the economy. Consequently, relatively fewer nonnationals were allowed to return. A National Bank of Kuwait report estimated the total population of Kuwait in March 1992 at 1,175,000 people, 53 percent of whom were Kuwaitis, compared with an estimated 27 percent Kuwaitis of the 2,155,000 population on the eve of the Iraqi invasion in 1990.

The postoccupation Kuwaiti population differs sharply from that before the invasion. The population is divided psychologically between those who experienced the direct horror of the Iraqi occupation and survived and those who spent the war abroad in what seemed a relatively comfortable exile to many of those who stayed in Kuwait. But the shared experience has unified the country in other ways. Because Kuwait is a small country with large family groups, almost every Kuwaiti lost family members to the Iraqi forces, and there is continuing uncertainty over the 600 or more Kuwaitis that remain prisoners in Iraq. The fate of those who disappeared is an issue of national concern. Regardless of personal losses and experiences during the occupation, the society as a whole has been traumatized by the memory of the invasion and by the uncertain future. A government led by a ruling family that fled in the face of the Iraqi danger can do little to dispel this ambient fear. One expression of the insecurity is a general concern about lawlessness, both a breakdown in some of the peaceable norms that had united prewar Kuwait and a breakdown in the government's ability to enforce those norms owing to the widespread possession of guns (a result of the war) and the reluctance of a still fearful population to return those guns to the state. After the initial lawless months following liberation, the government recovered control of internal security and reinstituted the rule of law.

The position of nonnationals in postwar Kuwait is very different from that of citizens. Perhaps two-thirds of the foreign population fled during the invasion and occupation. Most of those who fled have not been allowed to return, notably the large Palestinian population, who, owing to the public support of Iraq by many prominent Palestinians outside Kuwait, became the target of public and private animosity in the months after liberation. Before the war, Palestinians composed Kuwait's largest foreign population, numbering perhaps 400,000. By 1992 that number had fallen to fewer than 30,000. In the first postwar days, many Palestinians who remained became victims of private vigilante groups, of which some were apparently linked to members of the ruling family. Human rights monitoring organizations such as Amnesty International and Middle East Watch have reported the murder of dozens of Palestinians and the arrest and torture of hundreds more. The most dramatic transformation is the exodus of the bulk of the Palestinian population. The reaction against Palestinians and other members of groups or states whose leaders had supported Iraq expressed itself in 1991 in a series of show trials of alleged collaborators, carried out, according to international observers and human rights monitoring groups, with little regard for due process. In the face of international criticism, the amir commuted the many death sentences, some given for rather small offenses, that the court had handed down. Trials that took place in late 1992, however, were regarded by international human rights groups as being fair and respecting due process.

One of the first policy decisions the government made on returning to Kuwait was to reduce Kuwait's dependence on foreign labor in an effort to ensure that Kuwaitis would henceforth remain a majority in their country. Former foreign workers are unhappy with this policy, but there is little they can do. Divided between those who oppose Iraq and those who do not, they pose no unified threat. Their energy has been dissipated by individual efforts to arrange to stay. The government and population alike remain deeply suspicious of the nonnational population.

After the war, the government announced it planned to restrict the number of resident foreigners, to keep the nonnational population below 50 percent of the total population, and to ensure that no single non-Kuwaiti nationality would make up more than 10 percent of the total population. In December 1991, the government closed most domestic staff employment agencies and drew up new regulations covering the licensing of domestic staff. In early 1992, the Ministry of Interior announced new rules for issuing visas to dependents of expatriate workers, limiting them to higher wage earners. Looking further into the future, the government approved a resolution in March 1992 doubling to US$14,000 the sum given to young men at marriage in an effort to encourage local population growth. In June 1992, the government announced it had set aside US$842 million for end-of- service payments to foreigners.

The new policy of limiting the number of foreign workers has had serious economic consequences. Foreigners represent many of Kuwait's top technical and managerial workers. The exodus of most of the nonnational population has created special problems for an education system that in 1990 was still heavily dependent on foreign teachers. The direct damage inflicted on school property and looting by Iraqi forces aggravated the education problem. Nonetheless, in September 1991 the university and vocational schools reopened for the first time since the occupation.

The exodus of foreigners also has hampered the health care system, as did the systematic looting of some the country's modern health equipment by Iraqi forces. The invasion and war added some new health concerns, which include long-term deleterious health effects owing to the environmental damage and to the psychological impact of the war.

Nevertheless, the same forces that generated a prewar need for labor remain operative. A number of years are needed to train Kuwaitis for many of the positions held by foreigners. In the interim, indications are that the preinvasion shift away from Arab and toward Asian labor will continue. One small benefit of the new labor policy is that the government will save some money on services previously provided to the larger foreign population. The basic shortage of sufficient quantities of national manpower, coupled with a political and social reluctance to increase womanpower, limit the extent to which the government can do without imported labor.

Data as of January 1993




Last Updated: January 1993


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Kuwait was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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