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Saudi Arabia: Running Out of Time

Will the Saudi rulers be able to maintain their country’s political stability?

March 14, 2002

Will the Saudi rulers be able to maintain their country's political stability?

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Saudi Arabia received more world attention than almost ever before. Much of what surfaced was not good news: religious extremism, economic decline, domestic dissatisfaction — and a royal family that is clinging to power more desperately than wisely. Our new Read My Lips feature examines Saudi Arabia’s problems.

What characterizes the Saudi-U.S. relationship?

“This has always been a government-to-government relationship. Not involved in that category are issues of women and minorities.”

(U.S. official, February 2002)

Any chances that the Saudi stance on women will change?

“It will dawn on us that we are wasting a powerful work force with many highly educated women unable to work.”

(Saudi government official, February 2002)

What are the effects of Saudi Arabia’s economic downturn?

“King Fahd has basically said, ‘Look, the party’s over, Saudis are going to have to drive cabs.”

(Kenneth Katzman, research specialist at the Congressional Research Service, June 1998)

Whom do the Saudi people blame?

“Saudi Arabia is a rich country whose economic deterioration started with the arrival of the Americans.”

(Abdulaziz, engineering student at the King Fahad Petroleum and Minerals University, October 2001)

How so?

“Before the Gulf War, you had the job offers when you graduated. Now you are lucky if you get one.”

(Saudi engineering student, October 2001)

What makes the Saudi leadership worry about Osama bin Laden?

“These guys are out to get us, not you. You Americans are the soft target.”

(Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign policy adviser, November 2001)

Why do they feel threatened?

“The only thing the admirers of Osama bin Laden hate more than the United States is the House of Saud itself.”

(Wall Street Journal editorial, October 2001)

How do some of the Saudis think of their royals?

“It’s sort of spontaneous. You hate the al-Saud, and you conclude that the U.S. is behind the al-Saud.”

(Saudi citizen, November 2001)

What has kept the Saudi royals in power for so long?

“If there is one thing the House of Saud has proven it understands over the past 50 years, it’s the art of survival.”

(David Ignatius, International Herald Tribune columnist, November 2001)

What does the Saudi government’s media strategy focus on?

“Given a choice, we’d rather look good in downtown Riyadh than downtown Washington.”

(Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign policy adviser, November 2001)

What about the media’s perspective?

“It’s all a Zionist plot to discredit Islam and an American ploy to gain control of Central Asia’s oil reserves so that the United States becomes less dependent on the Arabs.”

(U.S.-educated foreign editor of a Saudi newspaper, November 2001)

Do such opinions affect U.S.-Saudi relations?

“They are good friends of ours.”

(Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, September 2001)

Why is Saudi Arabia so concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict runs the risk of becoming a total war. Both parties need external assistance in order to stop the circle of violence.”

(Fawzi bin Abdul Majeed Shobokshi, Saudi U.N. Ambassador, February 2002)

Did Israel welcome Crown Prince Abdullah’s peace initiative?

“One coin in an empty tin jar makes a lot of noise.”

(Eran Lerman, director of the Jerusalem office of the American Jewish Committee, February 2002)

What was one U.S. reaction?

“The plan is an obvious Saudi ploy to blunt U.S. anger at the shockingly deep Saudi role in September 11 by posing as peacemakers.”

(Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post columnist, March 2002)

And finally, how open is Saudi Arabia to other religions?

“At least the Taliban permitted other religions to exist in their country. This is absolutely forbidden in Saudi Arabia.”

(U.S. official who completed a tour of duty in Riyadh, December 2001)

February 22, 2002

Prepared by Peter Schwarzer