Muhammad al-Saqr has been editor-in-chief of the Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas since 1983. Although he has a business background, the paper’s reputation for balance and accuracy has grown under al-Saqr’s leadership. Al-Saqr was detained and interrogated a week before he received a Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists on October 21, 1992 in New York. Avner Gidron, CPJ’s Research Associate for the Middle and North Africa, interviewed him the next day.
How do people in the Arab world get news they can trust?
Friday, May 24
Early reports of casualties in Iraq provided only a scattershot picture of damage to residential areas and loss of civilian life, not a clear sense of scope or scale. Only on February 11, after four weeks of intense bombing, did Iraqi officials acknowledge that civilian deaths were in the range of 5,000-7,000. Then, on February 13, two US “smart bombs” smashed into a Baghdad bomb shelter, incinerating hundreds of women and children gathered there.
House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Lee Hamilton (D-IN) offered the first criticism by a Washington insider of the Bush administration’s handling of the Gulf crisis when, on September 18, 1990, he blamed Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs John Kelly for not sending a firm signal to Iraq that the United States would come to the defense of Kuwait if it were attacked. Kelly had told the committee two days before the Iraqi invasion that the US had no formal commitment to protect Kuwait from outside threats.
Ahmad al-Khatib has been active for many years in the Kuwaiti opposition movement and was a member of Kuwait’s parliament until its dissolution in 1986. Al-Khatib attended the assembly of Kuwaitis in Jidda, called by the ruling Al Sabah, in October 1990. Fred Halliday spoke with him in London upon his return from that meeting.
How did the Kuwaiti opposition see the situation within the country before the invasion on August 2? The parliament had been dissolved in 1986, but in early 1990 widespread mobilization for a return to democracy occurred. How did the Sabah family respond to your demands?
Since August 5, 1990, we have seen the most extensive and rapid US military mobilization since the end of World War II. As of early October, more than 200,000 US troops in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf region are drawing combat pay. President Bush declares this deployment was necessary to defend Saudi Arabia, but the size and composition of the US forces clearly pose a threat of offensive military action against Iraq.
Over the past five years, Kuwait’s rulers have confronted a variety of crises. Declining oil revenues have forced the regime to engage in deficit spending, which may jeopardize both the state’s extensive system of social welfare programs and its efforts to encourage diverse industrial development projects. The war between Iran and Iraq poses a continuing threat to the country’s foreign commerce as well as to its position as one of the primary financial and service centers of the Gulf region. Attempts by groups associated with Iran to undermine the Sabah regime have led to heightened internal security. Two signs of this are the broader scope of police involvement in domestic affairs and the doubling of defense spending between 1979-1980 and 1983-1984.
The traveler landing at Kuwait does not have to wait long for signs that the small city-state is in some kind of crisis. While citizens of the six countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) proceed swiftly through immigration, the rest of us stand in long, slow-moving lines before submitting to the detailed check of visas, work permits and residences introduced to maintain a tight control over new arrivals. In the city itself, the low walls of concrete blocks around the American Embassy — just like the ones surrounding the White House in Washington — are an ugly reminder of the truck bomb attack by partisans of Iraq’s outlawed Da‘wa Party in December 1983.