Thursday, June 30, 2005

As American begins to celebrate the memory of its independence on July 4th, many of us in other parts of the world also join in observing this important occasion. Indeed, advocates of freedom and liberty worldwide recognize the sacrifices America has made for the good of others over the past 200 years. This great day also reminds us of America’s historic efforts to work with the world community to ensure that the rights of the individual are respected and guaranteed.

As someone with three degrees from American universities, I have grown to love the American people. I have also come to realize that Americans and Kuwaitis are really more alike than different. Although we may practice a different religion and dress somewhat differently, we both adhere to norms and principles that emphasize the importance of individual contribution to the betterment of all.

In 1990, when I was a student at Arkansas State University, I like many Americans heeded the call when my home country of Kuwait was invaded. I joined the military and fought alongside American soldiers as we liberated Kuwait City from the hands of invaders. Like American soldiers today, we fought in the name of precious freedoms that are important to both our peoples — the freedom to practice one’s religion, the right to speak out when wrongs are committed, the right to education, and, on a more practical level, the freedom of commerce and international trade, both of which hold the key to the creation of jobs and opportunities for all people.

Since its liberation in 1991, Kuwait has made great progress in protecting and nurturing these freedoms. As it confronted the challenges of globalization, Kuwait has promoted individual rights and adopted a number of reforms, including the re-launching of its parliament. Freedom of speech and of the press rights in Kuwait are on a constant rise. Today, it is not uncommon for international agencies to rank Kuwait as one of the most open of all Arab societies.

On the economic front, Kuwait has opened its financial markets and advanced reforms in the marketplace. One has only to visit Kuwait City and look at the faces, visit the stores and shops and listen to the many languages to realize that Kuwaiti people are not strangers to globalization and are certainly welcoming to new ideas. Today, the people of Kuwait are talking about integration into the world economy and how we must work with other countries to address global problems and concerns.

Perhaps the most significant reforms in Kuwait have been attained in the areas of women’s rights. Recently, the women of Kuwait have been empowered by the parliament by gaining their right to vote and run for office. The government has also appointed the country’s first female cabinet minister.

Like all people, we too cherish our freedoms and closely guard our culture; we also cherish our relationship with the United States. And like any society, we find it difficult to overcome the legacy of the past. Our people recognize that America and Kuwait are joined together by a common bond. Although we may not always agree, we reserve the right to disagree like in any healthy friendship. The important thing is to do what we have always done in the past, namely to maintain dialogue, discuss issues openly and ultimately accommodate each others’ needs.

America has helped Kuwait through tough times, and we greatly appreciate that. In turn, Kuwait has played an important role in opening up opportunities for American interests. Kuwait also played an imporatnt role in supporting US troops in Iraq. Kuwait has also been a strong advocate in moderating the price of oil; it has also been a strong ally in the war on terrorism.

On July 1, the Kuwaiti prime minister will meet with President Bush to discuss our strategic partnership, our trade and our shared views on the most pressing issues of the Middle East today: peace and Reform. As the women’s vote makes clear, we are moving full speed ahead on reforming our society, economy and polity.

As we work together to benefit our peoples, we can share and learn a great deal from each others’ experiences and successes. As a state in the modern sense Kuwait is only 44 years old, but as a civilization it brings centuries of knowledge and wisdom to the world’s humanity.

Friends celebrate each other’s joys and accomplishments and this is what Kuwait does on the 4th of July of every year. Our friendship is strong, not just because of the interdependence of our interests, but because of the values and principles we share together as compassionate human beings. America and Kuwait are now working together to strengthen a historic relationship between two progressive societies.

On behalf of Kuwait and the Kuwaiti poeple, it does me great pleasure to wish the generous people of America a wonderful and prosperous 229th birthday. We hope the coming birthdays will be celebrated in a world of peace and harmony.

Anas al-Rasheed is Kuwait’s minister of information.

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