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MONDAY, MARCH 11, 1991
Kuwait City

It's good to get a little different perspective other than the U.S. Marines. I hadn't really considered how removed I had been from the local culture until I was finally exposed to it.

Our assignment today was to meet the loyal opposition which has come together under the umbrella of the Kuwait Democratic Front. With the attention of the world upon their small country--for a very short amount of time remaining, it would seem--they must press hard for the restoration of their Parliament and Constitution, suspended by the emir in 1986. Wael, our local guide and translator, made the introductions, since he is closely associated (and evidently related) to members of this group.

Masthead, The Voice of the People
The Liberation Edition of "The Voice of the People"
It was midafternoon before we ever rolled tape. The morning was spent drinking tea and getting a history lesson on the Kuwaiti politics. We visited the home of the underground newspaper, a desktop newsletter distributed by Xerox and named "The Voice of the People." Mubarek, the editor, told us how they had used code words during the occupation; they called the paper "bread," and he proudly presented us the latest edition, fresh from the oven. Of course it was in Arabic, but we appreciated it nonetheless.

After lunch with our loyal opposition--a delicious stew with rice and an omelet with some sort of meat in it--we attended a formal press conference announcing the call for a restoration of democracy. "We do not wish to be liberated from a dictator," the spokesman said, "only to be handed over to the rule of one family." Though they insist they do not desire a carbon copy of the American system, what they want does strongly resemble the British constitutional monarchy with a figurehead king. No one spoke of any need for violence, but when pressed they admitted there were radical elements much more adamant than they. And of course everyone has access to weapons. Just a few days earlier one of their leaders was wounded in an assassination attempt.

Saddam, you have shaken America
The Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait would chant,"Saddam, you have shaken America!"
This cartoon from the underground Kuwaiti newspaper shows the result.
As interesting and informative as these meetings were, the most fascinating person we met was the wife of one of the opposition leaders. She too is an activist, and part of her cause is for women's rights. She spoke eloquently of the need for democracy not just for men but for all citizens, women included. Up until now women have not had the right to vote. Kuwait may be the most liberal of Arab nations, but it still has a long struggle ahead if it is to see true democracy.

This was a particularly significant interview in light of the fact that our camera operator is also a woman. Jane Evans is one of three women working as shooters for CNN here in Kuwait--a remarkable statistic in such a male-dominated profession. All indications are she is very good; indeed, she would have to be to get where she is.

As I learned about Kuwait, I learned of a saying among the Kuwaitis: who controls Kuwait controls Casablanca, or words to that effect. This tiny country is such an economic power that its influence spans the entire Arab, or Muslim, world. This predates the oil economy; before petroleum their chief export was pearls. And their location at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates made them into preeminent traders--"the Jews of the Arab world," one of our interviewees called his country. Their nationalistic pride was evident; they consider themselves the elite and look down on their neighbors--perhaps that contributed to their current troubles. As the flies buzzed about us during our visit, even those were blamed on the Iraqis--there were no flies in Kuwait before the invasion.

It occurred to me that I knew not a word of Arabic, so I asked Wael for a few handy phrases. I learned that the meeting hall where the press conference took place is a "de-WAN-iya," a gathering place for the men that goes far back in Arab culture. When the emir suspended the right to gather in public, the Dewaniya was the one untouchable exception. Other useful expressions:

    mah HA-bah -- hello
    mah sah-LA-mah -- good-bye
    kee FAH-lik -- how are you?
    shu-GRAN -- thank you
    AF-wan -- you're welcome

And perhaps the most important:

    za-HAH-fee -- journalist

Right now that's the magic word to get us anywhere we want. I hope that doesn't change anytime soon.


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© 2011 Chuck Afflerbach for The Hick Town Times