The belated return of Kuwait's ruler was greeted with sighs of disappointment in this ravaged land of burning oil wells, blacked-out offices, mountains of fly-infested garbage and stores armed by toughs.

Instead of greeting Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah at the airport, Ghada al-Mansour, a 29-year-old mother of three, was waiting in a bread line in the Ardiya district, a middle-class suburb of Kuwait City."In my house, we have 12 mouths to feed," she said. "Now we have enough food, but where is the electricity? Where is the water?"

"The future of Kuwait is very dim," said another Kuwaiti, Adnan Fahed. The 32-year-old supervisor of a food distribution center spoke as hundreds of Kuwaitis lined up for food behind him. "What we need is good management and leadership. We have neither."

Government officials have purchased 17,000 gas cylinders for cooking but did not realize the knobs would not fit Kuwaiti stoves. They also brought in 750 115-volt generators, apparently not realizing that Kuwait runs on 240 volts.

Tons of food have rotted because officials did not know there were no pick-up trucks or forklifts left in the city.

Two lines - one for men, and one for women - snaked from the center of the food distribution center, a dark, dank one-story concrete building in the Qadissiya section of town. Armed security men in robes stood by the doorway.

From the center emerged Kuwaitis, Palestinians, Egyptians and other nationalities. They carried the handout - one frozen chicken, a bag of onions, two cabbages, and a small plastic bag of green peppers.

"Is this a life?" asked Jaffer Jasim Adbel-aal, a 60-year-old businessmen, squatting in the line near a foul-smelling pile of garbage. "When will Kuwait stand on her feet? When will the government make it work again?"

No one appears to be starving. But for the people of this oil-rich land, previously accustomed to prosperity, the first two weeks of freedom have been arduous.

Perhaps the most visible sign of this country's ordeal are the hundreds of burning oil wells torched by Iraqis before U.S.-led allied forces drove them away.

In addition to the physical reconstruction of Kuwait, the emir must deal with an increasingly restless and dissatisfied population. Opposition activists are demanding democratic reform and a return of the parliament the emir suspended in 1986.

On the Arabian Gulf Road that runs along the coast, cars, trucks, jeeps and vans packed the roadway. At one intersection, some Kuwaiti men practiced break-dance steps they said they had almost forgotten during the seven-month Iraqi occupation.

"Of course, we're glad the emir is back," said Ahmed al-Shakri, an engineer with Kuwait Oil Co., as he sat behind the wheel of a lime-green Porsche on the boulevard watching the men twist and jerk. "Now maybe he will hear our complaints."