O.C. Arabs Anxiously Await News From Home


A frantic Michael Marwan Sbaita waited anxiously by the telephone Thursday, hoping for word that relatives stranded in Kuwait were safe from invading Iraqi forces, and he spoke angrily of the U.S. government's and other Arab countries' failure to intervene militarily.

"I am just devastated," said Sbaita, a 30-year-old international marketing representative for a Tustin computer firm. "I cannot get over the fact that the United States of America is doing nothing and other Arab nations are doing nothing to help Kuwait."

Sbaita said he has been unable to contact his two brothers and a sister in the suburbs of Kuwait City.

Relatives in Jordan, including Sbaita's parents who were on vacation from their homeland, have gotten word from a cousin who has been stranded in her bank office in downtown Kuwait because of the invading troops.

"Why is there American silence?" Sbaita asked in anguish. "I have no clue where my family is right now. . . . I can't begin to explain what sort of agony I am going through."

Sbaita, who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, was one of a number of Arabs living in Orange County who nervously watched developments in the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation.

At a meeting Thursday night of the Arab-American Republican Party of Orange County, members expressed concern and alarm about the volatile situation in the Middle East.

"Something has got to be done to stop the killing," said George Hanna, 61, of Santa Ana, whose parents are from Syria.

Most members of the Arab-American organization, a political action committee, generally indicated they did not favor American intervention in the conflict unless U.S. interests become threatened.

Elias Bordcosh, 43, of Fountain Valley, a Palestinian who grew up in Lebanon, said he believes "not one American life" should be expended in trying to quell the Iraqi invasion.

Another club member, Kamal Shublak, 43, of Westminster, also a Palestinian, said he also opposes American intervention "for any political reasons," but he said the United States may have to act in the conflict for economic reasons.

"I am very worried about another oil shortage like we had in 1973," said Shublak. He added that if an oil shortage threatens the American economy, the United States should become involved to protect its interests.

"I think this is something that the Arab League should deal with in a peaceful manner," said Mounzer Chaarani, 48, of North Tustin. Chaarani, a native of Lebanon, said he did not think the United States should become embroiled in the conflict. "Non-Arab countries should be very careful about this situation," he said.

Many of the several hundred Iraqis in Orange County expressed dismay that Iraq's president, military strongman Saddam Hussein, decided to unleash tanks, military aircraft and ground troops on its smaller neighbor.

"I'm very saddened by it, it's terrible," said one Iraqi living in Orange County who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals against relatives in Iraq and Kuwait. "I thought they would settle the dispute through negotiation instead of using force."

He predicted that Kuwait would be only the first step in the Iraqi president's march to bolster his own troubled economy after the eight-year Iran-Iraq war.

"First you go to Kuwait, then you go to Bahrain," he said of another oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdom without a strong military force to defend itself against invaders. "If Hussein takes Kuwait, it means millions (of dollars) a day in oil revenue that would be Iraqi money. . . . It's the money, the oil and the dollar, that's why Iraq and Iran went to war. And that's why Iraq invaded Kuwait. It's the same story."

Tareef Nashashibi, 32, of Anaheim said he managed to get a telephone line at 1:30 a.m. Thursday to his brother-in-law, who lives near the Sha'ab Palace, ministry building in the Kuwaiti capital that was reported in flames later in the day.

"They have heard gunshots and planes, and my brother-in-law had to evacuate his apartment at one point," said Nashashibi, a general contractor who has been living in Orange County since 1988.

He said he also got a telephone call through to a cousin in Salwa, a suburb of the capital, who said there were reports of fighting in the streets and the sound of planes overhead.

"It's very sketchy right now, we're not sure what is going on," Nashashibi said. "They can hear shooting, and they can hear some bombs, but nobody knows exactly what the situation is.

"A lot of people in Kuwait didn't know about (the invasion) until they got telephone calls from the U.S."

For now, Nashashibi said he was relieved that relatives appear to be unharmed but was warily monitoring news reports and keeping in touch with a network of friends and relatives throughout the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

"Since everybody's OK, it has calmed us down a little bit. But you get worried. . . . It's a very volatile situation. Kuwait does not have a lot of guns and ammunition," he said.

Several natives of Kuwait described Hussein as a madman, yet they said they bear no ill will toward the Iraqi people.

"We cannot stereotype (the people) because of some political maneuvers on the part of the government," Sbaita said.

But Nashashibi echoed the weariness of many Arabs at the relentless conflicts in the Middle East.

"We have had enough bloodshed in the region," he said. "Enough of brother shooting brother."

Times correspondent Tom McQueeney contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World