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Christiane Amanpour: Kuwait not moving toward democracy

Christiane Amanpour
Christiane Amanpour

February 25, 2001
Web posted at: 6:38 p.m. EST (2338 GMT)

CNN Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, who covered the Persian Gulf War extensively during the conflict, has returned to Kuwait with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former President George Bush and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf to mark the 10th anniversary of their victory in driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.

Q: In the decade since the war how much have Kuwaitis used their freedom to improve social conditions such as moves toward democracy and equal rights for women?

AMANPOUR: Well, that's a very good question and to be very frank with you, many observers and many journalists and analysts who have studied Kuwait in the decade since the war have come away asking the question, "Have they become more democratic after democratic nations liberated them?" And many think that the answer is "no."

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    Look, there was the National Assembly -- a sort of parliament -- -that had been dissolved. That's been reinstated since the end of the war. However, it does serve largely at the pleasure of the ruling family here in Kuwait and most specifically, women's rights are still not where women want them to be. They still do not have the right to vote. Women have been agitating and been politically active, trying to gain support for the right to vote and they still haven't got it. Some people say it's because the ruling family is being pressured by many of the Islamic leaders here and the Islamic leaders are sort of keeping the women from being able to vote so far. But the fact of the matter is they don't have the vote.

    There also used to be a fairly lively press -- comparatively -- here in the region, but it's quite closely monitored. There's a good deal of censorship and so the strides toward democracy that the West hoped would happen after the end of the Gulf War have not all fully come to bear.

    Q: How does Kuwait's oil production today compare with levels before the Iraqi invasion? Are they back up to speed?

    AMANPOUR: Well, during the Gulf War the Iraqis, as you know, set fire to many of the oil wells. And it took an enormous amount of time for the damage to be fixed. And now Kuwait produces something like 2 million barrels a day and they're trying to get it up to 3 million barrels a day. So obviously, they've made great strides and they've repaired their oil industry considerably since the end of the Gulf War and they've rebuilt a huge amount of the physical infrastructure that had been destroyed during the Iraqi occupation. But they are trying to increase their output. Of course, all of this is dependent on OPEC quotas and all of the things that are regulated by OPEC in the situation at any given time.

    Q: With Saddam Hussein even today continuing to threaten Israel, are there renewed fears among Kuwaitis that Iraq may invade again?

    AMANPOUR: Even 10 years after the Gulf War, Kuwait sort of remains a little bit traumatized. It remembers very clearly the experience 10 years ago and it still has this neighbor to its north who periodically makes menacing noises.

    Now, for instance, in these celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait, Iraq has turned around and called these celebrations "provocative." And Iraq has also threatened to retaliate against places like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which were used as launching pads for bombing raids, particularly the last one that took place last week. So there's been a state of alert among some Kuwaiti military units.

    However, Gen. Colin Powell, who's now Secretary of State Colin Powell, came here today and was asked precisely about the size of the dangers posed to Kuwait by Iraq. Colin Powell told Kuwaitis that they had nothing to worry about, that as long as they had friends and allies like the United States, they were safe and that Iraq was engaged in rhetoric when it was saber-rattling.

    A decade after Gulf War, Iraq endures
    January 17, 2001
    Tenth anniversary of the Gulf War: A look back
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    Kuwait National Assembly
    The Gulf War

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