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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
Kuwaitis in no mood to be labelled poodles

By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online, Kuwait

Kuwaitis protesting
Up to 2,000 Kuwaitis, summoned by text messages, turned up to protest
Supporting the US-led war on Iraq has seen Kuwaitis isolated in the Middle East. Having weathered the missiles thrown at them by Saddam Hussein, people here are in no mood to tolerate those in the Arab world who would demonise them as poodles of the United States.

Kuwaitis watch Arab satellite TV channels beamed in from across the Middle East. In recent weeks, most of the output has made for uncomfortable viewing in a nation which stands almost alone in the region in its active support for the US-led war in Iraq.

One Arab channel recently aired a film montage of air strikes on Baghdad, dead civilians, distraught survivors, and British soldiers storming Iraqi homes. Particularly gruesome sequences were run in slow motion and repeated. The film was accompanied by a doleful 'cello solo.

Kuwaitis speak out

Such coverage of the war a few miles to the north has enraged many Kuwaitis. Al-Arabiya, based in Dubai, has reportedly been told its operation in the emirate might be closed down by the authorities if it does not remedy alleged "bias" in its war reports.

"Some Arab channels are not showing the good, they do not show when the Americans bring help to the Iraqi people. They show just one side," says Balqis Aziz, who joined up to 2,000 other Kuwaitis at an open air meeting to reaffirm their support for the efforts to unseat Saddam Hussein.

The rally was organised by the Kuwait University Democratic Circle - which sent a text message invitation to mobile phones across Kuwait - but it was not just students milling around the dusty park near the city centre.

Families

Old men were shown to chairs nearest the speakers. Whole families came out on the first evening of the Muslim weekend. Young people in sportswear mingled with older attendees in smart designer labels.

Be fair to us Arabs. Condemn the Iraqi regime's missiles
Kuwaiti banner
Some women were in their long black aba gowns, their men folk in the traditional white dishdasha robe and gutra head cloth.

As people waved Kuwaiti flags and portraits of Kuwait's Emir and Crown Prince, two men unfurled a banner in English: "Be fair to us Arabs. Condemn the Iraqi regime's missiles."

Many Kuwaitis admit to being annoyed that little attention was given to the missiles lobbed at civilian targets in this country, further confirmation in their eyes that the war against Saddam Hussein is just.

"Since the missile landed at Souk Sharq mall, we have not said anything, but now we will not be quiet," says Dhari Al-Otaibi. "Our message to the Arab world is we will stand up and show we are with the Iraqi people."

Many in the Arab press would have it that the Kuwaitis are actually in the pockets of the Americans and British, rather than acting out of genuine concern for their neighbours to the north.

"We are hurt by what is said about us in the Arab media. And the Iraqis are also hurt by such statements," says Mr Al-Otaibi.

Bloody experience

Criticism from fellow Arabs is particularly hard to swallow, say some Kuwaitis, because of the aid this oil-rich emirate has given to its regional neighbours and its short, but bloody, experience of rule by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War.

Children
Families attended on the first evening of the Muslim weekend
"Many of our riches have gone to poor Arab countries and now they are stabbing us in the back for standing up for the Americans and British who stood up for us in 1991," says Ghaneema Al-Nassar.

But not all Kuwaitis are so happy to be a closely allied with the US. Local newspapers have quoted one Islamic charity worker who fears the real aim of the war is to "flood" the region with western values and culture. Already, affluent Kuwaiti teens appear to be drawn more to McDonald's than to Mecca.

However, leading Muslim cleric Mohammed Hagif Al-Mutairi - a fierce opponent of innovations such as female suffrage - says he is confident the American influence is "limited" and that Kuwait's social and religious traditions can be maintained.

In all discussions of Middle Eastern politics, the topic of Israel is never far from the surface. By allying with the US, Kuwait is also seen as an accomplice in the occupation of Palestinian lands by fellow American ally Israel.

"We are portrayed as traitors and as agents of America and Zionism, but this is not true," says banker Wa'el Al-Qatami, as others at the students' rally begin to sing patriotic songs.

"America's support for Israel is disturbing. How can America liberate Iraqi people on one side and support the denying Palestinians of freedom on the other? This contradiction needs to be resolved. But oppression in Palestine is no excuse for oppression in Iraq."



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