At Kuwait University, students warily await a possible war with Iraq

KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait _ The Kuwait University senior is a few months away from graduation. A few months more from starting a job. And his object of affection has agreed to the whole deal. So what could possibly go wrong?


The 21-year-old political science major has only one thing to say about the possibility of a conflict with Iraq delaying his nuptials: “We believe in God’s will.”

At Kuwait University, unlike at universities in the United States, there are no student-led anti-war demonstrations and no widespread clamoring for America to get off the path to war. Not that there’s any desire for bloodshed _ unless it’s the blood of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. What is not lacking is uncertainty.

So being a Kuwaiti college student today means dealing with special annoyances. Will classes get canceled? Will graduation be delayed? Will the jobs still be there? Can I get on with my life, please?

“Everybody’s wondering, when will war happen?” said 20-year-old Fatma Abul, who’s studying business administration.

The tension increases thanks to measures taken here on the university’s campuses: signs _ small ones, posted in corners here and there _ that warn students and staff not to leave essential items at the university in case war makes the campus inaccessible; an evacuation drill featuring men with ketchup, as in blood, on them; the rooms designated as shelters in case the conflict reaches Kuwaiti soil.

The discussion of war has seeped into classrooms. Students have seized upon a real-life example of an international debate with numerous dimensions. Economics and business professors are discussing the effect of a war on the monetary system, and political science professors have been especially in demand, not only by students but also by media and foreign ministries.

The classroom talk is of democracy, Arab nationalism, the role of Islam, Kuwait’s security and more.

“In my advanced classes, we talk about the international order,” said Abdullah Y.S. Mohammed, a professor in the political science department whose specialty is international relations and organizations. “They ask about the prospect of the future, have concerns about American domination. There are different opinions. It is the same as in the U.S. We can say anything we want.”

Kuwait University, established in 1966, is this country’s main institution of higher education. It has several campuses and enrolls nearly 18,000 students, according to the Kuwait Cultural Office in Washington, D.C. University administrators could not be reached for comment.

The younger university students seem less anxious about a potential conflict with Iraq than their older peers; for first-year students especially, war, like graduation, seems so far away.

“We’re not worried,” said Awj Al-Khashram, 18, a first-year student in business administration.

Upperclassmen, however, were more concerned about unforeseen events in a conflict delaying their post-college plans and affecting their families.

Mohammad Al-Qimlas, 30, a senior majoring in finance, said younger students are less likely to feel passionate about the situation because they don’t remember as much about the brutal seven-month occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990-`91. He remembers being beaten by Iraqi soldiers, and said he’d be honored to kill Hussein himself.

“I refuse to listen to Iraqi music still,” Al-Qimlas said of his bitterness.

His friend, Ahmed Al-Saleh, 23, a senior majoring in accounting, agreed and grew emotional when mentioning how one of his uncles was killed and another tortured by the Iraqis.

Al-Saleh and Al-Qimlas said most students were nowhere near panicking yet and that many are focusing on schoolwork. Right now, “the situation is cool,” Al-Saleh said.

And if things stay cool, war is quick or non-existent, and God is willing, maybe Al-Khalifa will have his wedding on time after all.

As of now, it’s set for Oct. 4.