How rich are Kuwaitis? So rich that when the emir offers free money, some of them just shrug.
Kuwait's ruler, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, is giving 500 dinars ($1,700) to all Kuwaitis who stayed in the oil-rich emirate during the seven-month Iraqi occupation.Some say they don't need it. Others say it's not enough. A few think the emir should keep his cash and offer democracy instead.
The longest lines Tuesday in recently reopened banks were people buying U.S. dollars, not Kuwaitis waiting for free money.
"I came to get some dollars so I can go on vacation outside Kuwait," Abdul Hameed Jasem said at the Commercial Bank of Kuwait. "I don't need the (emir's) money."
Dahril Ali, who runs a school bookstore, said he collected his 500 dinars and was giving it to Egyptians, Sudanese and other foreigners living in his neighborhood who had assisted Kuwaitis during the occupation.
"The money is of no importance to me," Ali said. "I want to use it to thank the people who helped give us our country back."
With tremendous oil wealth and fewer than 600,000 citizens, Kuwait was one of the world's richest countries before Iraq invaded on Aug. 2. Its annual per capita income was nearly $20,000, though the devastation inflicted by the Iraqis will reduce living standards for years to come.
The government has enough money left to provide free gasoline, water and other necessities.
The emir's offer took effect on Saturday and applies to all Kuwaitis who stayed put - an estimated 250,000.
Foreigners, who accounted for 73 percent of Kuwait's population and 86 percent of its work force before the invasion, are excluded.
Many eligible Kuwaitis went to banks Saturday, saying they needed the money after being without work and salaries for eight months. The cash is particularly welcome during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, when the devout fast during the day but often hold large feasts and entertain friends at night.
A sizable number of Kuwaitis said the cash was merely a nice gesture on the part of the emir, one of the world's richest men.
"I'm not in need, but I'm thankful to the emir," said Majeed al-Ahmed, a 23-year-old student. "Maybe I can use it sometime later."
Others were less grateful.
Ibrahim al-Bahr, an engineer, said, "It's the emir's way of saying he's sorry. I think he should have given at least a thousand."
Hajjaj Sulayman, who was waiting at a bank with a 3-inch-thick stack of Kuwaiti notes, said money was not the most valuable thing the emir had to offer.
"He should give us democracy instead," said Sulayman, a shoe store owner. "Does it look like I need money? I wish I could buy some democracy from the emir with this."