The American Legion Magazine
Alan W. Dowd
SHAFEEQ GHABRA WAS on the campus of Kuwait University in August 1990 when Iraq invaded the tiny nation. After the invasion, the political science professor helped organize a passive resistance movement and went into hiding before being smuggled out of Kuwait through Iraq.
Upon arriving in the United States, Ghabra toured the country to raise awareness of what was happening in Occupied Kuwait. A long-time proponent of democratic reform in the Middle East, he has been a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary, a visiting scholar at George Mason and a visiting lecturer at a number of other universities.
Ghabra is currently director of the Kuwait Embassy's Information Office in Washington. With the 10th anniversary of Desert Shield as a backdrop, Associate Editor Alan Dowd had an opportunity to discuss Kuwait's past and future with Ghabra.
The American Legion Magazine: Where was your apartment?
Dr. Ghabra: At Kuwait University on the outskirts of Kuwait City. My wife woke me up at 6 a.m. She said, "Wake up - there are explosions." There was an exchange of gunfire very close to our apartment and the campus. That's when I went downstairs and found 50 or 60 people with pale faces, scared to hell. One of them led me outside to the main gate of the campus - about 600 feet away - and told me, "This is the Iraqi Army."
I saw tanks, soldiers and dozens of people lined up and on the ground being searched. My first thought was, "This is crazy."
Q: When were you able to escape?
A: By the end of September, things had become so bad that we decided to leave. Iraqi troops were harassing us at checkpoints, confiscating books, and even shooting people. Since one of my daughters was American -born, she qualified for evacuation. So we went to the American Embassy in Baghdad. I stayed with my family until they were evacuated out of Iraq.
But I couldn't get out until November. I met a well-connected Iraqi smuggler who took me to Jordan by car. He got me all the way to Amman, Jordan. But all of our money was worthless after the invasion, because it became equal to the Iraqi dinar. So I told the smuggler, "I will give you my car." He ended up taking my car and my wife's car.
Q: You were part of the Kuwaiti resistance movement during the Iraqi occupation. Could you describe what the resistance movement did?
A: : My wife and I and some faculty members from Kuwait University organized our own form of resistance. We resisted by cultural means, by political means and by passing on information to key people in Kuwait.
My wife and I typed about seven or eight hours a day, giving people instruction on civil disobedience and medical instruction. We used a little Macintosh computer, a printer and photocopy machine. Then we met as Kuwaiti faculty to resist the attempt by the Iraqis to reopen the university under occupation.
They started looking for us, and so we went into hiding. We opened cooperatives and supermarkets, distributed money and food, and organized boycotts of work and school. We boycotted everything. We shouted slogans from our roofs, calling for Kuwait's liberation. It brought our society together. And it went on through the months of the occupation.
There was also a militant aspect of the resistance movement. It started immediately after the invasion. Youth and former soldiers decided they could conduct a military resistance.
They knew where the Kuwaiti Army's weapons facilities were. And they were able to get those arms before the Iraqi Army got there.
Even though the Iraqis had control over the country, it took them several days to get to these weapons facilities, and by then, many Kuwaitis had weapons. The Iraqi security force focused a lot of its energies on breaking the back of the military resistance.
There were many clashes, attacks, public executions. But they were able to hold on. There were acts of resistance going on until just days before Kuwait's liberation.
Q: Could you describe your feelings when you learned that President Bush had ordered U.S. and coalition forces to begin Kuwait's liberation?
A: That particular moment I remember very well: "The liberation of Kuwait has begun." That announcement brought tears of joy and tears of fear and tears of sadness and tears of uncertainty.
Just remembering that brings those feelings back. By that time, I was teaching at the College of William and Mary. I had rejoined my wife and two daughters in November. But I still had my father and mother, sisters and brother, and many other relatives and friends in Kuwait. And I wasn't sure how this war would end. Yet I was totally for Kuwait's liberation. For the first time, I felt hope.
Q: When were you able to return to Kuwait?
A: My first trip back was in mid-March 1991 on the Freedom Flight. It had leading members of Congress, members of the U.S. cabinet and the Kuwaiti ambassador (Saud Al-Sabah).
It was a very sad scene. The smoke was like huge, fast-moving clouds above the whole country. Once we got beneath those black, dirty clouds, we started to see the fires. Hundreds of them. Huge fires. They seemed to cover the whole country. All we could see was smoke and blackness and fires.
It was a scene from hell. And that told us a lot of what went on. And it spoke a lot about the state of mind of Saddam Hussein.
Q: What would Kuwait be like today if the United States and those many other nations had not come to Kuwait's defense?
A: There would be no Kuwait. It would not be a country. It would be forgotten in history. It would be just a small Iraqi village, a place totally ruined. It would have no culture, no meaning, no history. It would be lost to a regime that values no civilization, no culture, no humanity.
Q: Do Kuwaitis today feel a closer bond to the United States because of the war?
A: They do. That bond was established in 1990. It continues to be there, and it is a bond that comes out of a mutual experience of facing a kind of regime that is against Kuwaitis, Saudis and Americans.