House of Saud (2005)
The house of Saud has controlled every aspect of Saudi life and politics since the Kingdom was established in 1932. But little is known about Saudi Arabia's secretive royal family. Through interviews with members of the family, government officials, and other experts from Saudi Arabia and the U.S., the documentary also traces America's relations with the Saudi royal family from their first alliance in the 1930s through September 11 and today.
HOUSE OF SAUD
Martin Smith and
Jihan El-Tahri and
PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY
ANNOUNCER: The deal was struck 60 years ago.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, Fmr. Mid. East Bureau Chief, NY Times: America struck a pact with Saudi Arabia. You give us oil at cheap prices, and we will give you protection.
ANNOUNCER: Every president since has reaffirmed the arrangement. Over the years, both sides have benefited. Billions of petro-dollars were recycled to buy expensive American military hardware. When necessary, America has intervened directly to keep the kingdom safe.
Prince BANDAR BIN SULTAN, Ambassador to the U.S., 1983-present: They found the oil for us, and they've been our friends ever since,
ANNOUNCER: But there's always been another Saudi Arabia, one of fervent Muslim warriors, tribesmen with an innate distrust of outsiders. For them, the monarchy is corrupt and the deal with America a bargain with the devil. Saudi preachers ascend their pulpits to rail against infidels and Jews. Saudi citizens have supplied millions of dollars to school and train jihadis around the world.
ADEL AL JUBEIR, Adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah: when it became clear that 15 of the 19 were Saudis, that was a disaster.
ANNOUNCER: Now Saudi militants have turned their sights on targets inside the kingdom and on Americans in Iraq. President Bush maintains that the Saudis are America's friends.
Tonight a special FRONTLINE history, House of Saud, the story of a troubled alliance.
NARRATOR: Every Tuesday at al Yamama Palace in Riyadh, Saudi officials gather for a royal Majlis. It's largely ceremonial but speaks volumes about how this country is governed. It is presided over by the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, a son of the kingdom's founder. To one side of the crown prince sit leading Wahhabi clerics, guardians of tradition, who habitually resist change. On the crown prince's other side are the royal family and its retainers. Presumably, the two groups are partners in power.
As male subjects come forward asking for favors — a new well for a village or money for a daughter's wedding — they are participating in the modern incarnation of an ancient tribal custom. They are also here to enhance the royal family's image, to present the ruler to outsiders like us as benevolent and wise. This is government by patronage. There is no Bill of Rights here. Whatever the prince says or does, the tribal chiefs express gratitude and pledge loyalty.
TRIBAL CHIEF: [subtitles] In my name and on behalf of my tribe, we thank you, Your Highness, for giving us the opportunity today to assure you and our government that we stand together in the face of liars, doubters and dissenters.
NARRATOR: Afterwards, they all gather to pray.
The al Saud family conquered the kingdom in the name of God and the Quran.
MARTIN SMITH, FRONTLINE Correspondent: Do you expect this to ever become a representative democracy?
Crown Prince ABDULLAH BIN ABDUL AZIZ: [through interpreter] I believe that Saudi Arabia, in a sense, is a democracy as it is.
NARRATOR: Resistance to change is a matter of survival here. This is a nation in shock, where tradition and modernity are in violent collision. Few places on earth have come so far so fast as Saudi Arabia in the 20th century.
NARRATOR: A hundred years ago, the Arabian peninsula was a place of warring tribes, nomads, sheiks, emirs. Among them was the family of al Saud.
Prince TALAL BIN ABDUL AZIZ, Son of King Abdul Aziz: [through interpreter] At that time, the Saudi Arabian kingdom consisted of tribes and small fiefdoms. There was no unity amongst these warring groups. The Saudi Arabian kingdom was never united the way it is today until the reign of King Abdul Aziz.
NARRATOR: In 1902, with just 60 men at his side, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud rode out to begin his quest for a Kingdom.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL, Great-Grandson of King Abdul Aziz: He certainly had a vision. He had a large, big vision of what he wanted this country to be. He wanted it to be a nation and to take its place among the nations, rather than to be a forgotten backwater where nobody cares what they live or die or what's happening there, but to be a player in the international scene.
NARRATOR: But to conquer the whole Arabian peninsula, he needed the fighting skills of the nomadic Bedouins known as the Ikhwan. The Ikhwan, or Muslim brothers, were renowned warriors, light and mobile and extremely courageous. They were also fervent Wahhabi Islamic puritans. To recruit them, Abdul Aziz had to commit the family to spreading their fundamentalist version of Islam.
Dr. MADAWI AL RASHEED, Historian: The Ikhwan were an important fighting force that supported the expansion of Ibn Saud. They had this vision that they propagated true Islam in its purest form. So anything they encountered that differed from that vision was regarded as objectionable.
Dr. SAMI ANGAWI, Architect: The nature of where they were coming from, the desert, was isolated really for almost 800 years. In the desert, you have either day or night, you have cold or hot. You don't have these shades. Even the music is only one string. And that has kind of polarized their way of thinking. It's either black or white. It's either you're with or against me.
ROBERT LACEY, Historian: The first Western reference we have to the Ikhwan, the Brotherhood, comes from Captain Shakespear, who was one of the early British explorers in Arabia. And he'd already heard that these people were fiercely anti-Western right. From the beginning, this cutting edge of Saudi power was mistrustful of the West, and lethally mistrustful. For them, to kill a foreigner might well guarantee their place in heaven.
NARRATOR: With the Ikhwan troops, Abdul Aziz captured province after province of the vast desert. By 1926, he and the Ikhwan had captured the jewels of Arabia, Mecca and Medina, making Abdul Aziz the ruler of Islam's holy shrines.
It brought prestige and substantial income from visiting pilgrims. It was also a great victory for the Wahhabis.
The Wahhabis took their name from an 18th century Islamic preacher, Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab. Wahhab was first to see the value in forging an alliance with the able tribesmen of the al Saud family in order to help spread his austere version of Islam. The Ikhwan were living out Wahhab's dream. And they wanted to keep going.
ROBERT LACEY: They wanted more. And they just wanted to go on and on and attack, particularly, the British settlements in the north, and trans-Jordan, and so on.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: They wanted to create an empire extending across all of the Muslim Umma. God knows where they would have stopped, maybe in France, given the chance.
MADAWI AL RASHEED: So when Ibn Saud tried to restrain them and asked them not to launch attacks into these territories, they rebelled.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: They revolted against him, and they accused him of being an infidel, of having abandoned the faith of Islam and becoming worldly, and all that kind of thing.
Dr. FAHD AL SEMMARI, King Abdul Aziz Foundation: They said, "Why ibn Saud sent his kids or children or sons abroad to London? This is against Islam. Why we have the new technology coming, wireless station, whatever? This is against Islam."
NARRATOR: If Abdul Aziz were to stay in power, he had to destroy the Ikhwan. But how could he, the defender of Islam, justify going to war against his Muslim fighters? His way out was to win over the religious establishment, the Ulema, who were regarded as the moral guardians of the realm.
Prince TALAL BIN ABDUL AZIZ: [through interpreter] He turned to the religious establishment in Riyadh. He said, "You judge this. Judge between me and the Ikhwan." So they looked into the Islamic laws. They scrutinized the holy Quran and the Hadith and found that King Abdul Aziz was right. So they gave the famous fatwa, which said that the Ikhwan were wrong. They had no right under Islamic law to rebel against the ruler.
MADAWI AL RASHEED: So from that moment, they actually changed their role, the Ulema, and they became almost like a force to be used to sanction politics. And that was the crucial moment in 1927.
NARRATOR: With the Ulema's consent, Abdul Aziz crushed the Ikhwan.
The path was now clear. In 1932, Abdul Aziz declared himself a king, and for good measure, gave his name to the country, Saudi Arabia. To unite the kingdom, King Abdul Aziz married a daughter of every tribal chief in his realm and produced 45 legitimate sons. Every Saudi king since has been a son of Abdul Aziz. How many daughters he produced is unknown. They are not counted.
NARRATOR: Abdul Aziz would not forget that religion and the Ulema remained central to his rise to power. He became the kingdom's chief defender of the faith.
King ABDUL AZIZ: [subtitles] If we want to achieve our unity, the unity of our voices, and to protect ourselves, there is only one thing we can rally 'round: the book of God and the traditions of the Prophet.
NARRATOR: But Saudi Arabia would have remained an insignificant backwater in world affairs if it were not for the discovery of oil. King Abdul Aziz was aware that neighboring states like Iraq and Bahrain had great natural resources, but most experts did not believe that the fields extended to Saudi Arabia. Then, in 1931, they were surprised.
Sheikh HISHAM NAZER, Minister of Petroleum, '86-'95: There was an American philanthropist called Mr. Crane. Mr. Crane actually came to Saudi Arabia, and he saw King Abdul Aziz. And King Abdul Aziz was complaining about the lack of availability of water in the country.
NARRATOR: Mr. Crane sponsored a geological survey.
Sheikh HISHAM NAZER: He wasn't looking for oil. So it is by chance that we discovered oil. We were looking for water. And this feat happens until today. Every time we look for water, we find oil. [laughs]
NARRATOR: But the only way to get it out of the ground was to invite foreign companies into the kingdom. And Abdul Aziz feared that inviting foreigners — or infidels — would be resisted by the religious establishment. He invited them anyway.
FAHD AL SEMMARI: The king asked the companies to come. One of the scholars challenged that. He said that King Saud is doing something against Islam. So the king knew about this, and he asked these scholars to come to his court. When they came, he said, "I want you to give me an example why I shall not do that. You say this is against Islam," he said. "Prove it to me. Prophet Mohammed Saleem used Jews, used Christians. He did not say 'These are not Muslim, I cannot be in touch with them, I cannot utilize them.' Didn't the Prophet use them?" And the scholars said, "Yes." He said, "I'm doing that the same."
NARRATOR: In 1933, the first foreign oil prospectors started arriving in the kingdom. King Abdul Aziz did not care who got the concession, as long as they paid the money up front. The British showed interest, but it was the Americans who paid $170,000 in gold for a concession that would turn out to contain the biggest oil fields on earth.
FRANK JUNGERS, ARAMCO President, '73-'77: The first number of holes were dry, and the question was, "Why should we continue with this?" They had been ordered to stop, and they'd failed to read their mail or whatever, and so they did strike the oil, and that well is today— is operating.
NARRATOR: The Arabian American Oil Company, or ARAMCO, was created to prospect for oil and market it. America's four largest oil corporations became the sole shareholders.
HASSAN YUSIF YASSIN, Diplomat: When King Abdul Aziz went to open the first oil field and he smelt the sulfur, and he was repugnantly surprised by the smell, and they told him, "Your Majesty, this is what oil, what the sulfur of oil smells like." "So, oh, oh, oh! Let me smell more of it!"
NARRATOR: The king still had little idea what riches Saudi oil would soon bring. But by 1945, the U.S. urgently needed oil facilities to help supply its forces fighting around the globe. For President Franklin Roosevelt, oil was an American national security priority. From Yalta, FDR sent a message to the Saudi monarch.
Prince TALAL BIN ABDUL AZIZ: [through interpreter] The contacts were made, but the decision was kept secret until after he left. The minister of finance, Abdullah Suleiman, came to the king's wives and said, "Abdul Aziz sends his greetings: 'I am at sea, on my way to meet Roosevelt and will be back in two or three days.' "
FAHD AL SEMMARI: Any royal trip like this has to be big. And it's not just for a show. No. It's like, you know, unifying all portions of a society with you together. So he had his own advisers. He has some of his own sons, princes. He had some of his tribal chieftains at the time. So it's like a small state moving outside its own state to meet Roosevelt, and it has to be, you know, from portions— all portions of society.
MIKE AMEEN, ARAMCO Vice President, '72-'75: It was a very interesting meeting. Here is Roosevelt in his wheelchair. And as you know, he's not a big man and he's in a wheelchair. And he's on the deck of the Quincy. And King Abdul Aziz, who's about 6 foot 3, 6 foot 4 — big — stricken with trachoma, not seeing too good, but walking with a cane. And these two hit it off right away. King Abdul Aziz started kidding Roosevelt about, "You're lucky you're in that wheelchair. You can wheel yourself anywhere." And Roosevelt said to him, "If you like this wheelchair so good, I have an extra one. Here, I'll give it to you."
NARRATOR: After exchanging gifts, they got down to business. America needed to lease an airport and navy refueling station for its war against Japan. But it was the security of the Saudi Kingdom that was at the forefront of King Abdul Aziz's concerns. He requested U.S. military assistance and training, and they agreed to construct the Dhahran military base. In return, the king guaranteed that the U.S. would always have secure access to Saudi oil.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, Fmr. Mid. East Bureau Chief, NY Times: America struck a pact with Saudi Arabia. You give us oil at cheap prices, and we will give you protection. This protection eventually evolved into an American hegemony over the entire Gulf region, and the deal extended to the Gulf region, that this was an American area of influence, and in return for this, it shall be protected from all enemies.
NARRATOR: And then there was the issue of Palestine.
MIKE AMEEN: Roosevelt said to him, "Your Majesty, you know, I'd like to get your opinion on a problem that I'm facing back home." He said, "You know, a lot of my constituents are pressuring me to recognize a Jewish homeland in Palestine." And he said, "I'd like to get your thoughts on this." And King Abdul Aziz said, "Mr. President, what Hitler did to the Jews was a terrible thing. It really was the worst thing that man can do to man." But he said, "I don't understand why you're talking about taking land away from us, the Arabs, and giving it to the Jews. We didn't do anything to the Jews. If you want to do something for the Jews, why don't you give them the best part of Germany?"
FAHD AL SEMMARI: When he heard the position of King Abdul Aziz about this issue, he said, "I can promise you one thing. The promise that I could make is that I will not do or make any decision if I don't consult with your side and with the Jewish side. Both sides has to be consulted in order to reach one decision."
NARRATOR: Later, FDR sent the king a letter confirming their understanding. In it he further stated, "I will take no action which might prove hostile to the Arab People." Roosevelt died a week after sending the letter.
By the time World War II ended, Harry Truman was president of the United States. Two years later, the U.N. met to vote on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. Prince Faisal, the king's second son, arrived in New York, confident the U.S. would vote against partition. He had been told that by General George Marshall, former commander of the American army and one of President Truman's top aides.
Amb. HERMANN EILTS, Saudi Arabia, '65-'70: Faisal felt that Marshall had given him an assurance at the United Nations that we would not vote for it, that we would take some other action, and that Marshall had promised him that and that we had failed to do so.
UNITED NATIONS VOTING: United Kingdom, abstain. Saudi Arabia, no. The United States, yes.
NARRATOR: When Truman decided otherwise and the U.S. supported the partition of Palestine, Faisal took it as a personal affront.
Prince FAISAL BIN ABDUL AZIZ: [through interpreter] We feel great disappointment that the great powers have pressured members of this assembly to vote for partition.
NARRATOR: Saudi Arabia joined a failed effort to destroy the nascent Jewish state. It has since never officially recognized Israel and is technically still at war with it.
But the king still knew he needed American protection.
HERMANN EILTS: The king made his views very clear, including his sense of disappointment. But his main concern at that time was encirclement. He felt that with the Hashemites in Iraq and in Jordan, that he was encircled. So the sense that there were hostile elements around the country, coveting its riches and counting upon its internal weakness, its limited ability to defend itself, hence, it needed an outside protector.
NARRATOR: Just before his death in 1953, the ailing founder of the kingdom started delegating his power to his sons. His eldest, Prince Saud, who had accompanied him in battles, was designated the next king. His second, Prince Faisal was to mind foreign affairs.
Prince TALAL BIN ABDUL AZIZ, Son of King Abdul Aziz: [through interpreter] He prepared for his succession with the help of Prince Saud and Prince Faisal, the eldest. He told them, "Your unity will continue my reign and preserve the family and the unity and prosperity of the country. Avoid differences. Beware if you separate." He told them, "Your unity will continue my reign and will preserve the family and the unity and prosperity of the country. Avoid differences. Beware if you separate."
Prince SULTAN BIN SALMAN: When King Abdul Aziz died, people were afraid. He was the force, he was the symbol. He was almost the bureaucracy himself. Everything had to come through his desk because it was a nation that he— it's a start-up, like a corporation today. You found an entrepreneur who starts a corporation, they've got their hands on things.
MIKE AMEEN: King Abdul Aziz was a power, and he was strong and he was— he brought strength to the room. And you could see what he did, bringing the country together. Saud, on the other hand, people that dealt with him never considered him bright.
HERMANN EILTS: I don't recall anything substantive that Saud ever said on whatever the issues might be. Very pleasant, very nice, but inconsequential.
WILLIAM STOLTZFUS, Jr., U.S. Embassy, Saudi Arabia, '56-'60: He loved the desert, in the sense that he had these huge, tents with every amenity possible— I mean, air conditioning and all the latest food from Paris and the States and everything else. He loved the trappings of being king, the palaces and the adulation of the crowds. The foreign dignitaries would come and talk to him. And all of his retainers, of course, acting with due respect and so— I mean, he loved being king. The only thing is, he wasn't king in any substantive way.
ROBERT LACEY: He was soft, and if you're going to be a ruler in Arabia, you've got to be tough. You've got to be like a hawk. You've got to be like a falcon. That's what gets respect. And at the end of the day, Saud's generosity went so far, but he wasn't tough enough.
NARRATOR: The king also enjoyed American hospitality. He became a regular visitor to the Saudi Arabia's oil rich eastern province, where the Americans lived very differently than the Saudis.
Dr. FAHD AL SEMMARI, King Abdul Aziz Foundation: When the Americans came to the eastern province with the ARAMCO Company, they had to live in a compound area. Inside, they have their own conditions, situation like in the United States. Outside, they have to live with the Saudis, as the tradition exists.
HASSAN YUSIF YASSIN: They started building these camps. It was new to us. Air-conditioning was new to us— all these things. And then what was good about ARAMCO is they shared it. They used to get canned food. We had never seen canned food at the time, and we used to fight over who takes the empty cans because these are toys for us, for us kids. So we were always glad to see the Americans come in, and especially the chewing gum. I mean, the chewing gum was a big contributing factor of liking.
I remember the first time when we had a refrigerator that was supplied by ARAMCO to a number of people, and my father was one of them. We, as kids, were sitting there must be 16 hours to see how ice is going to be formulated within this refrigerator. Of course, it took 16 hours because every time we opened the refrigerator, it loses its freezing impact. So we— absolutely it was magic when we saw a cube of ice. We didn't really know the world of technology. We just thought that it was different and it is America.
[www.pbs.org: More stories and anecdotes]
WILLIAM STOLTZFUS: The Saudis were interested in one thing, and that is that their oil industry was preserved and being handled in a way where they could negotiate and they could increase the oil prices, and so on. And they had extremely good relations with the ARAMCO.
MIKE AMEEN, ARAMCO Vice President, '72-'75: They were making a lot of money, but they were spending it foolishly. The country was broke. They had to borrow money. They borrowed money from ARAMCO.
NARRATOR: King Saud was much criticized for his handling of finances, but little was known about his other weakness, a safely guarded secret, which contributed to his downfall.
MIKE AMEEN: We had a vice president for ARAMCO whose name was Floyd Ohlinger. He was with the king one time, and the king was tired. He was sick. And so Ohlinger said to him, "Your Majesty, why don't you go out into the desert, do a little hunting and relax. And we have a wonderful guesthouse." So he thought that was a good idea.
When the king landed, one of the things they were unloading from the plane was liqueur and hard whisky. Well, we took a look at this and— where did they put the stuff? They put the stuff under the king's bed in the guesthouse. So we— of course, we were kind of shocked. And during the stay, we could see that they would drink this stuff straight. But it was kept very quiet.
NARRATOR: King Saud's drinking was kept quiet in part because the king was an important asset for the Americans. Since Gamal Abdel Nasser's overthrow of the king of Egypt in 1952, the balance of power in the region had changed. Nasser aligned himself with the Soviet Union and proclaimed himself a socialist and pan-Arabist. For both Saudi Arabia and America, this was a threat.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL, Businessman: The cold war was at its peak, where we had two mighty empires battling out across the whole planet, destroying nations in their path. And you had the end of colonialism and these newly liberated countries coming out full of vitality, full of energy, and wanting to prove themselves. And the theme was "Out with the old, in with the new." Who cares whether the old was good or bad. It doesn't matter. We want to change. We want to change and get everything new. So in this kind of environment, we are who are quintessentially old — you know what I mean? — we were the odd ones out. We were going against the trend.
Prince SULTAN BIN SALMAN: We did not want to be part of that new thinking in terms of socialism, communism. We've already had our "ism." We've already had Islam. We were happy, and we united around Islam. And anything that would have come to Saudi Arabia would have unraveled the country.
NARRATOR: Nasser wanted Saudi oil under his control, saying it belonged to all Arab peoples. The Americans moved to shore up support for King Saud.
WILLIAM STOLTZFUS: Saudi Arabia is absolutely a linchpin, a key to our to our relationship in the whole area. So oil is at the very center of that. And Russian power coming down there and having control of those oil fields would have been a major, major blow to us.
Amb. HERMANN EILTS, Saudi Arabia, '65-'70: The Eisenhower administration had the idea that perhaps King Saud could be built up in a political fashion that might make him a contender with Nasser in terms of leadership in the Arab world.
WILLIAM STOLTZFUS: The White House said, "We are inviting His Majesty and eight of his retinue." And we took that to the king, and particularly to his advisers. They looked at us and we looked at them, and there was going to be no way it would only be eight. Well, one thing led to another, and by the time they got on the ship, there were about 80.
NARRATOR: After arriving in New York, King Saud and his entourage flew to Washington. Saud became the first Saudi monarch invited to America on a state visit.
WILLIAM STOLTZFUS: Eisenhower met him at the airport, which was very, very unusual, and he just determined that he was going to treat Saud as his great good friend.
NARRATOR: Eisenhower wanted a renewal of the lease on the Dhahran airbase, a useful strategic asset in the cold war. King Saud wanted the money that the U.S. would pay to extend the lease.
HASSAN YUSIF YASSIN, Diplomat: My father at the time, you know, was negotiating the agreement. He was very sensitive to not calling it a base. It was a transit place for the Americans to take fuel, period.
NARRATOR: The exact details of the Dhahran agreement are revealed in this original copy of the accord. This agreement constitutes, until today, the basis of U.S.-Saudi military cooperation.
WILLIAM STOLTZFUS: In exchange for our free use of the Dhahran airfield, they wanted all kinds material. They wanted tanks, for one thing. And they wanted training and they wanted planes. They wanted anything we would give them.
NARRATOR: The agreement was celebrated with great pomp. King Saud was given full honors.
HERMANN EILTS: The official visit was glittering and fine. But when it was all over, one sort of felt, you know, "What is this all about" because he's clearly not the man for this.
NARRATOR: Eisenhower's plan to build up Saud as the alternative Arab leader seemed doomed to fail. King Saud spent much of the money from the Dhahran lease on luxury trips to Europe. A rift was fast developing in the family.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: His extravagance wasn't the big issue. Kings can be extravagant and still remain king. The big issue was the running of the government. That was the biggest problem. It was all personal.
MIKE AMEEN: We were really worried about Saudi Arabia, and I'm not talking just ARAMCO, I'm talking about the people in the U.S. government and everybody were worried about Saudi Arabia. And we realized that if anybody was going to save Saudi Arabia, it was going to be Faisal. A lot of people worried, as we did, living in Riyadh, that there'd be a kind of a civil war.
NARRATOR: The al Saud brothers realized that something had to be done.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: The step of removing a monarch is something that is not lightly taken by anyone. It is a very serious, very dangerous step. Removing one monarch means that you can always remove another.
MIKE AMEEN: So the brothers all got together, all of them. It was their own best interest. They had to make a move. And they decided in November of '64 to go to the religious leaders, and they decided this is the way they could do it.
HERMANN EILTS: And they got a fatwa from the religious leaders sanctioning the abdication and sanctioning Faisal's taking over the throne.
NARRATOR: Once more, the Saudi monarchy was saved from the brink of disaster by the Ulema.
ROBERT LACEY: The family decision to depose Saud in the 1960s was really more of a turning point than the death of Abdul Aziz in 1953 because it was finally coming into the modern world, but also proving that the desert democracy of sitting around the camp fire and the family picking the toughest man for the job could work in the 20th century, and the speed with which the change was actually accomplished and the new direction that the country took. That, I think, was a decisive turning point in the history of Saudi Arabia in the middle of the 20th century.
NARRATOR: King Saud and his entourage were quietly asked to leave the country. The ailing Saudi monarch spent his last years exiled in Athens, Greece.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL, Son of King Faisal: It was my first year at Georgetown, 1964. I was called in by the dean of the university, and when I went into the office, I thought I had done something wrong or something. And he said, "Well, now Turki, your situation has changed, and are you thinking that we could perhaps provide you with some bodyguards?" In those days, there was no Internet, there was no instant news service. I had absolutely no idea that on that day, Monday, that my father had become King.
NARRATOR: King Faisal had a lot to do. But almost every aspect of bringing the kingdom up to date was bound to bring him into conflict with the Ulema. In their view, every innovation threatened Islam.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL, Businessman: Essentially, modernity means Westernization. This is a fact. It's a like a buzzword, OK? Modern means Westernized. This is where we have problems because people who want to run their lives better, but not necessarily sacrificing their own culture and their own history in order to become copies of Frenchmen or copies of the English or false Americans. They don't want that.
[www.pbs.org: Read the extended interview]
Sir JAMES CRAIG, U.K. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, '79-84: He decided that there should be girls' schools in Saudi Arabia, and there was an uproar about it. All the old fathers came along and said this was awful. Who knew what would happen when the girls got education? And Faisal said, "In that case, don't send your daughters to the schools. And if you don't want it, if the majority of people in your village or town don't want a girls' school, you won't have one. But those who do want to have a school must have one."
Dr. MADAWI AL RASHEED, Author, A History of Saudi Arabia: I would have been illiterate if they didn't have schools at the time. And in fact, I was lucky to go to one of the early private schools that were established in the '60s. Female education was put under the directory of a separate body that would control the curriculum, and make sure that what the girls are taught in schools is actually suitable for them as girls and as woman. So in that way, he managed to reconcile the need for female education and also the requirements of the Ulema.
Sir JAMES CRAIG: Gradually, indeed, the number of girls' schools was increased, and then girls were admitted to universities, and so on. All this was done by keeping just a little way ahead of public opinion and always being willing to stop and wait for public opinion to catch up.
NARRATOR: But reaching compromise with the Ulema was a constant battle. Leading Wahhabi clerics were ever vigilant.
MIKE AMEEN, ARAMCO Vice President, '72-'75: One day, I get a telephone call from our people in Dhahran that says, "Mike, they're banning vanilla. The vanilla extract is being banned." I said, "Why?" He said, "Well, it's got a little alcohol in it." And you know, they're going crazy. Anything with anything, any alcohol in it, anything. And they're saying to me, "Look, we can't make ice cream. We can't make bread. We can't make cakes. We can't— it's a big problem. We've got to do something about it."
So I happened to be on one of my visits to the king, and I was telling him about this. And he was amazing. He was amazing, really. He picks up the phone, and the vanilla was allowed in.
NARRATOR: But to keep the peace with conservatives, King Faisal made Saudi Arabia a sanctuary for extremist Muslims from abroad. When governments in Egypt and Syria cracked down on fundamentalist religious scholars, King Faisal invited them to teach Saudi Arabian youth. Faisal's decision had far-reaching consequences.
Prince SAUD AL FAISAL, Son of King Faisal: There was an influx of them. And where did they work? They worked in the education and in other professional works. And that's when the problem started here.
NARRATOR: Many of today's Saudi radicals studied under Egyptian and Syrian fundamentalists.
Prince SAUD AL FAISAL: They misused their hospitality. They dealt with— we dealt with them honestly, and they dealt with us underhandedly. And that is a mistake that's not going to be repeated.
[www.pbs.org: Prince Saud's extended interview]
NARRATOR: Religious conservatives staged one of their biggest protests in 1965, when Faisal approved TV broadcasts in the kingdom.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: They considered that broadcasting television is a sin and against— because they considered it them to be images, and we're not supposed to show images. And they considered that this was rank heresy and that the government had become in league with the devil.
Prince SULTAN BIN SALMAN, Grandson of King Abdul Aziz: So what he did is, he had somebody recite the Quran and broadcast it and told people, "You see this? It's like a sword. You can use a sword for good, or you can use a sword to assassinate. So it's a tool, really." It's like the Internet today. The same debate goes on.
NARRATOR: A nephew of the king sided with religious conservatives. It would eventually have drastic personal consequences.
MADAWI AL RASHEED: One of Faisal's brother's sons staged a demonstration, Prince Khaled Ibn Musaid, in 1965. And this demonstration was objecting to the introduction of television on the basis that it was un-Islamic.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL:: A group of people got together, not numbering more than a hundred. They headed towards the television tower in Riyadh and tried to break in, to bring down the television tower.
Amb. JAMES AKINS, Saudi Arabia, '73-'75: They fired at the guards. The guards fired back, and the prince was killed. The father then went to Faisal and said, "You've got to punish the soldier who killed my son." And Faisal said, "No. I'm sorry your son was killed, but he was breaking the law. He fired on the police. They fired back at him. And the policeman is guiltless. I am responsible."
NARRATOR: In the spring of 1967, war was brewing. Nasser was moving troops to Israel's border and ordered the U.N. out. Uniting against Israel, Faisal reconciled with Nasser.
BBC REPORTER: Could I ask His Majesty what sequence of events he would like to see now in the Middle East?
KING FAISAL: [through interpreter] The first thing is the extermination of Israel.
NARRATOR: Fearing an attack was imminent, Israel launched a massive preemptive war. In just six days, the bulk of Arab armies were destroyed.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL:: It was a devastating effect that the defeat in '67 had on all of us. For King Faisal, to see that the rest of Palestine, including the jewel of Jerusalem, had been taken over by the Israelis, he felt a personal loss and a personal affront.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: After 1967 and the fall of Jerusalem to the Israelis, that was a turning point in his life. He never smiled again.
NARRATOR: Arab leaders were humiliated. Nasser had falsely accused the U.S. of helping the Israelis. On ARAMCO's compounds, hundreds of Saudis rioted against America.
Amb. HERMANN EILTS, Saudi Arabia, '65-'70: I got orders almost immediately from Washington to move out the American community. And I went to see Faisal right away. Faisal said, "It's very important that we retain close diplomatic relations, that the American community remain." And his concern then was that the United States press Israel— do something to press Israel to get out of the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai and east Jerusalem, which we promised to do.
MIKE AMEEN: Being friends with the U.S. was difficult, was difficult because of this Palestinian problem. So after '67, it got real tough. So the Arab League got together and said to the Saudis, "You people are nothing but a bunch of American stooges. You don't even control your own oil."
NARRATOR: The Arab League pressured Faisal to use oil as a weapon.
Sheikh HISHAM NAZER, Minister of Petroleum, '86-'95: Between 1960 and 1970 — this is a period of 10 years — the price of oil on the market did not go up one cent, not one single cent. The value of an equivalent barrel of Pepsi Cola was more expensive than an oil barrel at the time.
NARRATOR: By the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had become increasingly aware of the strategic importance of its natural resource. It started to negotiate for the ownership of ARAMCO. At the same time, the Arab-Israeli conflict was brewing without resolution.
JAMES SCHLESINGER, Secretary of Defense, '73-'75: The tension in the Middle East was brewing, indeed. However the— I don't think that we fully recognized how much it was brewing. We tended to downplay the statements that came out of the Middle East, and most notably, the letter that was received from King Faisal. And that letter said, "You must do something about the Palestinian problem, or there will be a deterioration." And we tended to think that that was just some more hot air on the part of the king.
NARRATOR: In October, 1973, another Arab-Israeli war broke out. Despite the tension, the Arab attack on Israel was a total surprise. In the first day, the Egyptian and Syrian armies had gained considerable ground.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: The Israelis pressed us with regard to the running down of their supplies, and the administration did not wish to be seen to be responsible for the collapse of Israel. The Arab states, Syria and Egypt, were armed with Soviet weapons. The president took the view that we do not want to see a triumph of Soviet weaponry over American weaponry. And ultimately, we began to ship supplies to Israel.
NARRATOR: In the midst of the war, the U.S. began airlifting supplies to Israel. Under pressure from the Arab League, King Faisal acted.
FRANK JUNGERS, ARAMCO President, '73-'77: I got the phone call the morning after the airlift, and I was asked to come to Riyadh to see the king as soon as I could, which meant now. And the king was furious about this. He saw no way to do anything but to boycott. I said to him, "I just really don't see how you're going to do it." And the king just simply said, "You are going to do it."
NARRATOR: Faisal ordered ARAMCO to stop pumping. Oil became scarce. Prices quadrupled, and the shock sent world economies reeling. President Nixon sent his secretary of state, Kissinger, on an urgent mission to Saudi Arabia.
HENRY KISSINGER, Secretary of State, '73-'77: Some people thought because of my Jewish background, that would be a handicap in conducting Middle East diplomacy.
HERMANN EILTS: Kissinger raised with me the question whether the fact that he was Jewish might affect Faisal. And I had to tell him that it might. But I said, "You have to remember also that he feels we have in the past on a good many occasions, after having made commitments to him, let him down. So you'd better be sure that what you say to him that we may do, we intend to do."
HENRY KISSINGER: He was very austere-looking, with very sharp features. And it was a very long room, and I had to walk that whole room towards him, with his black-robed advisers standing there. It was a beautiful scene. But I must say, he treated me with extraordinary courtesy.
Amb. JAMES AKINS, Saudi Arabia, '73-'75: There was no light conversation. There were no jokes. There was no humor. And all in all, it was fairly tense. But the meeting went, I think, probably as well as could be expected. Both of them saw that the other wasn't wearing horns.
HENRY KISSINGER: President Nixon was eager for me to raise the embargo. King Faisal really wanted to talk more about the peace process in the Middle East. He made it pretty clear that he couldn't lift the embargo until there was some progress towards peace.
NARRATOR: Kissinger began working on a peace plan, but progress was slow. The oil embargo remained. The Pentagon started to consider military options.
HERMANN EILTS: Kissinger gave an interview in which he said the United States cannot stand having its oil supplies disrupted. This will hurt the entire economy. And if it should become necessary, the United States would be prepared to invade, to intervene in Saudi Arabia to take over the oil fields.
[www.pbs.org: Read this interview]
NARRATOR: Kissinger's statement was taken as a verbal warning. But a recently declassified secret British intelligence memorandum reveals that five months into the embargo, the military option was a reality.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Dr. Kissinger said, "No great power will allow itself to be strangulated." And he called me up and said, "Jump in behind me," and I did. I was asked at a press conference whether we had the military capacity to move in the Middle East, and I said, "We indeed have that military capability."
HENRY KISSINGER: Both Schlesinger and I used hard language. We tried to make clear that there was a point at which we would have to look after the requirements of national security. And so we implied that if we were pushed absolutely against the wall, we might secure the oil by our own means.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: Oh, yes, we were— we were quite capable, and we were thinking about a possible move into the Persian Gulf on a contingency basis. But if we were ordered to move, we would have moved.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL, Great-Grandson of King Abdul Aziz: King Faisal answered back that, you know, "We come from the desert. We have been living on camel milk and dates. And we can easily go back and live in the desert again." He was not impressed.
HENRY KISSINGER: We did not get a telegram from King Faisal congratulating us on those statements.
NARRATOR: The oil embargo was having a major impact on the war in Vietnam. Fuel supplies were running dangerously low. Behind the scenes, a solution was concocted.
JAMES SCHLESINGER: The announcement, from my standpoint over at the Pentagon, came in the form of a cable from Exxon, which said that ARAMCO members were cutting off deliveries to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, as well as our forces in Europe.
MIKE AMEEN: I wasn't aware of how bad it was until one night, I got a telephone call from the deputy secretary of defense under Jim Schlesinger. And he said, "Mike, we have a problem. We need to talk to you." I met with Secretary Schlesinger and Bill Clements. And that's when they told me that they were fighting communists and this boycott was killing them. And it was just impossible for us to keep our navy and our kids in Vietnam supplied. And I talked with our top people, like Jungers, and I remember the two of us went out to see the king.
FRANK JUNGERS: And the king came in and was obviously irritated. He was picking hairs out of his bisht. That was a good sign, that he was irritated.
MIKE AMEEN: Well, we gave it to him exactly the way that Bill Clements and Jim Schlesinger had told us, that we were fighting communism, we knew how he felt about them, and that we needed his help.
FRANK JUNGERS: "OK," he said, "Well, God help you." You probably ought to do it, but don't get caught. Everyone knew that this was something extraordinary. And for years, it was a secret.
NARRATOR: By 1974, the boycott was over. But continued higher oil prices gave Faisal great wealth and status throughout the Arab world. Then in March, 1975, his past caught up with him.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL, Ambassador to U.K.: My father was receiving the then minister of petroleum of Kuwait. He was followed into the room by a nephew of the king,
NARRATOR: The king's nephew, Prince Faisal bin Musaid, came to take his revenge. It was his brother who had been killed by police during the 1965 TV tower demonstration.
MIKE AMEEN: You remember on the TV thing, and this guy was a little nuts anyway, booze and all kinds of stuff. And there's the guards and everybody, they don't know the kid. They think he's part of the entourage from Kuwait.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL:: When the minister bowed to say hello to the king, he took out a pistol and shot the king over the shoulder of the minister.
NARRATOR: King Faisal's assassination came as a violent shock, especially that the assassin was a family member. But the succession had already been decided.
NARRATOR: In 1975, Khaled bin Abdul Aziz became Saudi Arabia's fourth King.
Sir JAMES CRAIG, U.K. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, '79-'84: King Khaled was a delightful man. He was not so keenly interested in politics as King Faisal was, and as King Fahd was later on. He liked to talk about the desert. He liked to talk about hawking. When I took visitors to see him, he wanted to talk about his hawks. One didn't discuss politics with King Khaled, on the whole. He would say, "See my brother Fahd about that."
NARRATOR: Saudi Arabia was enjoying an embarrassment of riches. With a tiny population estimated at four million and only half a million literate male adults, it was hard to put to work an income of nearly a billion dollars a week. It was a lot of cash. Saudi Arabia embarked on a rapid course of buying and building. Foreign contractors rushed in.
JAMES BUCHAN, Financial Times, Saudi Arabia, '78-'80: Saudi Arabia was the only country that was booming. There wasn't any work for Western contractors anywhere else in the world, so everybody was converging on Saudi Arabia. Everybody was desperate for a piece of the action.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: You would go away for a summer holiday, and you would come back and you would get lost. You wouldn't recognize the city you had left just a couple of months before. Things that would normally have taken 20 years to do were done in a few months. And it made people a little bit crazy, a little bit crazy.
Sheikh HISHAM NAZER, Minister of Petroleum, '86-'95: We were building two schools every three days. We had to build seven universities. We were trying to do so much in a constrained period of time. So the debate was, "Do we import foreign labor, or do we wait until we train our labor and then carry the projects ourselves?" And I was of the opinion then that the decision that was taken at the time to import foreign labor was a great decision.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, Fmr. Bureau Chief, NY Times: So you began to have this skewered system, where the native population didn't do very much, and most of the people who did do work were expatriates. If you look at— even in Saudi Arabia today, the population is 16 million, but the expatriates are perhaps 6 to 7 million.
NARRATOR: Among those that accumulated massive wealth during the boom time was the bin Laden family, becoming the principal builders to the royals. Another consequence of the boom was massive amounts of official corruption. Much of the corruption concerned Saudi purchases of Western military equipment. Deals were riddled with influence peddling, bribes and oversized commissions. There was also real estate fraud.
Amb. JAMES AKINS, Saudi Arabia, '73-'75: The main device for getting money from the government into the pockets of the princes is through land sales. But only the princes can register land in the desert as theirs. The ordinary citizen, Abdullah Foulaan, cannot go out and say, "I'm going to take this piece of land," and put a marker. Only the princes can do that. So when the government then needs land to build a project, they have to buy the land from the princes, and at astronomical prices, of downtown New York, if not downtown Tokyo at that time — unbelievable prices.
Prince BANDAR BIN SULTAN, Ambassador to the U.S., 1983-present: The way I answer the corruption charges is this. In the last 30 years, we have made— we have implemented a development program that was approximately— close to $400 billion worth, OK? Now, look at the whole country, where it was, where it is now. And I— I am confident, you know, after you look at it, you could not have done all of that for less than, let's say, $350 billion. Now, if you tell me that building this whole country and spending $350 billion out of $400 billion that we had a— misused or get corrupted with $50 billion, I'll tell you, "Yes." But I'll take that any time. There are so many countries in the third world that have oil that are still 30 years behind.
But more important— more important, hey, who— who are you to tell me this? I mean, I see every time all these scandals here, or in England, or in Europe. What I'm trying to tell you is, So what?
[www.pbs.org: Read Bandar's extended interview]
NARRATOR: The Saudi elite became notorious big spenders in the casinos of Europe. The royals, with their huge monthly allowances, spent seemingly endless vacations there. Saudi leaders lost credibility and respect, especially among religious conservatives.
Dr. SAAD AL FAGIH, Wahhabi Dissident: They're so corrupt in every sense, in Islamic sense, in financial sense, in administrative sense, in every sense, that no way they can reform and go back and become faithful to the country, let alone faithful to Islam. So the only way to save the country, in every sense, even the basic human sense, is to change the whole royal family.
NARRATOR: In 1979, across the gulf in Iran, another corrupt absolute monarchy, also backed by the U.S., fell. It was overthrown in part by fervent Muslims.
Amb. CHARLES FREEMAN, Saudi Arabia, '89-'93: The royal family was scared of the same thing happening to them that happened to the shah, and— namely, that the royal family or the Saudi system would be overthrown.
NARRATOR: There was good reason. The pace of change in Saudi Arabia brought the contradictions between Islam and modernity into the open. Again, many in Saudi society wanted to put the brakes on Westernization.
JAMES BUCHAN, Financial Times: The problem was, these foreigners brought in nasty foreign habits with them, and that exposed the royal family to criticism from the religious right.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM: With the oil boom, it was natural that you are pumping a massive dose of Western culture in a country that is loaded with people— 70 percent of whom perhaps are extremely conservative and really extremely Muslim fundamentalist, almost radicals.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL, Businessman: One of the warning signals, where the society is saying "Look, look, look, enough. This is changing too fast for me. I can't keep up. Slow down," was in 1979 with the hijacking of the mosque in Mecca. I think this was a symptom of this trauma. You just can't drag people into the 21st century by the scruff of the neck. You just can't do that.
NARRATOR: On November 20th, 1979, several hundred Islamic radicals took over the holiest of the Islamic holy places, the mosque at Mecca.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL:: They took a microphone in the mosque and announced for the rest of the world that the Messiah was here and that people should come and pledge their allegiance to him.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR, Wahhabi Cleric: [through interpreter] When the incident at the mosque occurred, the government and society realized that the ship had come unmoored from its fundamentals. It was a warning bell. Society was awakened, came back to God and heeded the causes that might lead to a greater catastrophe.
ROBERT LACEY, Author, The Kingdom: I remember asking my Saudi friends, "What do these people want?" And they said, "Well, they want to basically go back. They want to go back in time to a purer world, to an Islam that wasn't threatened by the West and where the words of the Prophet, as they believe it today, ruled." And I said, "Well, how do they practically plan to achieve that in modern Saudi Arabia? They're going to tell everybody to get rid of their cars and stop watching the television?" He said, "Yes, so far as I know, that's what they want. And they have this hopeless attitude to the modern world."
Dr. KHALIL AL KHALIL, Imam Mohammed University: They were asking the nation and people to go back to the original Islam in primitive ways. So they were against television. They were against schools. They were against universities. They just want the country to be governed by mullahs, by religious scholars. They don't believe in governments. They think government is kafir, it's non-Muslim any longer. They believe that all the new methods and means of life is nothing. They want again like the— old Ikhwan, they wanted— what they wanted is jihad against the infidel.
NARRATOR: The royals went to the Ulema, and the clerics issued a fatwa based on the verses of the Quran. The fatwa allowed the government to use all necessary force to retake the mosque.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL, Director, Saudi Intelligence, '77-'01:: The meaning of it was that these people were apostates, who had taken over the Mosque, and therefore anything could be done to get them out of there.
NARRATOR: After an 18-day standoff, the Saudis, with fatwa in hand, routed the militants. One hundred and twenty soldiers died. The leader of the insurgents, Juhayman al Utayba, was a direct descendant of the Ikhwan, the Bedouin warriors who had fought for and then rebelled against King Abdul Aziz. Juhayman and 62 others were beheaded.
Dr. SULAIMAN AL HATTLAN, Columnist: We killed the extremists of 1979. But later on, like, few months after we killed them, we adopted their ideology. We gave them what they wanted when they were alive. So— in every level in our society. I'm talking about the educational system. I'm talking about the media discourse. I'm talking about the relationship between the government and the people. I'm talking about even the relationship between people and the people. We started competing— on how to appear more conservative just to protect our— our reputation and to protect sometimes our safety. We had to pretend we were something that we actually were not.
NARRATOR: As the Saudi royal family moved to increase its religious standing, millions of dollars were diverted to religious education under the Ulema. They taught Wahhabism as the only true form of Islam and holy war against infidels as the obligation of every believer. New theological schools and universities were built to produce more clerics to help spread the word. Saudi charities raised millions more for the cause.
[www.pbs.org: Explore a chronology]
Prince BANDAR BIN SULTAN: We don't have taxes in the kingdom. People don't pay taxes. However, we have a religious tax that's dictated by our religion, that is compulsory but not enforceable. Why? Because it's left to one's faith and belief, and so on. And it is supposed to go to the poor. If you cannot find anybody needy, you go to the next neighborhood or the next village or the next city or the next country. Well, in Saudi Arabia, God blessed us with a lot of wealth. We take care of almost all our people. So we send it to Afghanistan, to Bosnia, to Senegal, to anywhere in the world, to Africa, Asia, and of course, the Arab world, as charity.
MADAWI AL RASHEED, Historian: They were able to open up mosques in London, in Africa, in the United States, and in Southeast Asia. And that was seen as part of their responsibility as wealthy Muslims. They had to share that wealth with Muslims elsewhere. And they had to be seen as supporting Muslim causes.
NARRATOR: In 1979, the Wahhabis found a rallying cause like no other. The Soviet Union, a godless communist power, had invaded a Muslim nation, Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. made a secret deal to contribute an equal amount to finance the war. Thousands of young Saudis were sent to fight alongside the mujahedin.
MADAWI AL RASHEED: The Saudi religious education and also the institutions of higher learning began to produce masses of young graduates who are very well conversant in Islamic theology, but who could not really be absorbed easily in the economy. And the Afghan War in the '80s provided an opportunity to absorb some of those Saudi youth. And this was actually encouraged by the government, who probably saw it as a way to release some of the tension, but they didn't realize the potential for an exploding situation later on.
NARRATOR: For almost a decade, some 20,000 young Saudi volunteers made the trek to Afghanistan. There they would acquire military skills and come to believe that dedicated Islamic fighters could defeat a superpower.
NARRATOR: In 1982, Crown Prince Fahd became king after his brother, Khaled, died of a heart attack. The Iran-Iraq war was raging on his doorstep. Fahd befriended Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni, and gave him money and weapons to battle Shia Iran. Eight years later, the Saudis were not prepared for a sudden betrayal.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: I'm sitting at home, relaxing, when the phone rings. And my mother is calling. She was in Paris. Her voice is very disturbed. "How are you?" "I'm fine." "How are things with you?" "Fine." "What is happening with you?" "Nothing. What's happening? What's going on?" "Didn't you hear?" "No. What happened?" "Iraq has just invaded Kuwait."
It was like a bomb had been dropped on me. I had no idea! Because at the time, we didn't have satellite television, and there was a total blackout to the news, where if you turned on the television, nothing.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM: The Saudis had not decided whether to announce it to their own population or not. Of course, everybody knew it. So it was a— it was so strange, so weird, and it was such an insight into the kind of paralysis, incomprehension, that the regime found itself in the middle of.
ROBERT LACEY: In some ways, King Fahd, although a shrewd and to some degree quite ruthless man, had many of the faults of his brother, Saud— an eagerness to please everybody, a belief that everything could be sorted out with the money, which was pretty plentiful, that all would be for the best. And the bankruptcy of that, I think, was exposed, to start with, by the first Gulf war and Saudi Arabia's inability, after spending all this money, actually to cope with this threat themselves, this military threat from Iraq.
MADAWI AL RASHEED: How could you justify spending so much money on an army that can't be used for any combat, real combat situation? And this brought to the forefront this problem with the corruption, the commissions, the military contracts, and the inability of a sovereign state to defend itself in case of outside aggression.
NARRATOR: During these first days of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Usama bin Laden offered his services to the royals.
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL:: Bin Laden went to see some Saudi officials at the time. He told them he could bring his army from Afghanistan, his mujahedin army, to repel the Iraqi invaders from Kuwait.
Dr. KHALIL AL KHALIL, Imam Mohammed University: He was trying to meet with the king. That's why I met with him. So he had about 60 pages, typed, in his hands. And he started reading. He said, "We have some people who are ready to fight." I said, "How many?" He said, "About 15,000 to 20,000." As he mentioned this, he said, "I want to make it clear we need no weapons or equipments. We are very well equipped. We didn't need any support from anybody." And then he said, "We are not going to fight for Kuwait. What we are about is to protect the holy lands, Mecca and Medina. That's our goal."
Prince TURKI AL FAISAL:: He was told politely, "Thank you very much for your proposition. We will study it, and we'll get in touch with you. Don't call us, we'll call you."
NARRATOR: Dismissing bin Laden was easy. The real dilemma was how to allow hundreds of thousands of American non-Muslim troops into the kingdom. This was certain to rile Islamic conservatives.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: Everything in this country revolves somehow around religion. Now, this is something that a Westerner will never understand, and I'm not even going to try and make them understand because they simply won't. The religion is the law. It permeates the culture. It is rooted in the history. It is part of the DNA, if you like, of the Saudis. Therefore, any challenge has to go through the Islamic filter.
We needed to understand whether it was permissible for the government of Saudi Arabia to invite hundreds of thousands of Westerners to come on Saudi soil in order to fight another Muslim country, which is Iraq.
JAMES BAKER, Secretary of State, '89-'92: There were some questions about whether the Saudis would accept the U.S. forces. And the president asked Secretary Cheney to go down and meet with the Saudi officials to tell them that we felt it was important to put some forces in there to deter the possible action by the Iraqis to move down the peninsula.
NARRATOR: U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, General Colin Powell and General Schwarzkopf arrived in Saudi Arabia armed with satellite pictures showing the Iraqi army poised to move across the Saudi border.
CHARLES W. FREEMAN: I thought he was shaken by what he saw in those photos. After listening to General Schwarzkopf's briefing on the proposed American response, the king said, "Come." And then the crown prince said, "Don't you think there should be some consultation?" And Fahd said, "There's no time. If we delay, we may end up like Kuwait. There is no Kuwait anymore," he said. And Abdullah said, "Yes, there's a Kuwait. There is still a Kuwait." And Fahd said, "Yes, and its territory consists of hotel rooms in Cairo and Paris and London." And Abdullah said, "I take your point. I agree."
NARRATOR: King Fahd went back to the Ulema and asked for a ruling, or fatwa
ADEL AL JUBEIR, Adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah: King Fahd asked the senior Ulema, and they said that if you cannot work a peaceful settlement, then you must side with the victim to reverse the aggression. And if you have to avail yourself of support from non-Muslims, you do so.
NARRATOR: The deal was concluded. More than half a million U.S. troops started arriving in the kingdom and neighboring countries. But regardless of the fatwa, hard-line Saudi imams protested.
IMAM: [subtitles] We have allied ourselves to the enemies of God, loved them, and forgotten what separates faith and heresy. This is one of the causes of our defeat.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR, Wahhabi Cleric: [through interpreter] This was the biggest mistake committed by America. It caused all the hate and hostility. They came with their traditions, their army, and unfortunately, with their behaviors, and wanted to force it on Muslims.
NARRATOR: During these first months of Desert Shield, Saudi anxiety was amplified by an unexpected problem: money. The U.S. administration was bent on charging the Saudis for the war.
JAMES BAKER: We were pulling together the coalition. We were furnishing the military effort, and we were, in effect, saving the bacon of a lot of people in the region, including the Kuwaitis and the Saudis. They were very well-to-do countries, and it was our thought that they should contribute to their defense.
King Fahd was a very warm and engaging person to deal with. I remember when I first raised the issue of payment, he said, "Don't even talk to me about that." He said, "What is money between friends, and in a situation like this, I don't even"— he said, "You just go to the finance minister and you tell him what you think is appropriate or what you need." And that was the way he approached it.
Amb. CHARLES FREEMAN, Saudi Arabia, '89-'93: The costs were picked out of thin air. They were— because no one really knew. And in some cases, we asked for figures that were simply concocted on the back of an envelope. In the end, what we took in covered the expenses of the war, and probably a little more. Secretary Baker and I had a number of arguments about this because I felt that we were asking the Saudis for too much.
JAMES BAKER: Ambassador Freeman said that the pot is not quite as rich as it has been. But there's nothing that's more important— he didn't say this, I did — nothing more important than their security and their continued well-being. And it clearly was fair and reasonable for the Saudis to contribute substantially.
CHARLES W. FREEMAN: They spent some $50 billion, and the result was that they started the war with no national debt, they ended it financially lamed and continue to suffer from the debt that the war produced.
NARRATOR: The presence of Americans had other consequences. Some Saudi women were inspired to challenge longstanding social taboos, such as the ban on women driving.
Dr. FAWZIA AL BAKR, Assoc. Prof., King Saud University: American ladies were actually driving around Riyadh. So we thought, This is encouraging. Why don't we actually go and ask for that?' We just said, "OK, we will meet at the parking lot of the Safeway in Riyadh at 3:00 o'clock." We didn't want to tackle any other issues except the driving.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, Fmr. Mid. East Bureau Chief, NY Times: Suddenly, all these cars started arriving. There was about two dozen cars, and all these very elegant, albeit covered, Saudi women coming out of their cars to take the driver's seat with the Pakistani, the Indonesian drivers just sitting on the sidewalk in front of the supermarket.
FAWZIA AL BAKR: We were six doctors from the university who had Ph.D.s. Also we were, like, you know, teachers from the public schools. Some of the ladies who were shopping in the Safeway, they saw all these ladies actually getting into the car, and they asked, "What are you doing?" And we said, "We're going for a demonstration." They said, "We'll just participate. That's wonderful." So they just get their drivers and get into the car with their things, and they drove with us. I mean, I remember one guy, he said— a Saudi, he said, "Good for you!" He was really happy.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM: Now, within 10 minutes, these religious police, who are the guys with the beard and the short dresses, started swooping in on the demonstration.
FAWZIA AL BAKR: You know, Muttawas, of course, in our, you know, minds are very scary. And I have to tell you that. I mean, I remember that guy. He was really very fat. And he came and he asked me, "You, stop your car!" And I said, "OK."
NARRATOR: Forty-seven women were arrested. The Ulema called the driving a source of depravity.
NEWSCASTER: Good evening. The news from Channel 2, Saudi Arabian television. The Ministry of the Interior would like to announce to all citizens and residents that all women are absolutely prohibited from driving cars in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It added, "Any woman who violates this regulation will be penalized."
FAWZIA AL BAKR: In every city within the kingdom, in all the mosques, millions of papers were distributed with our names and telephone numbers, and that we are Westerners and we are against the will of the societies, and we have to be, you know, prosecuted or whatever.
NARRATOR: The notice called upon clerics to punish the women as they saw fit.
NARRATOR: With the swift coalition victory in Kuwait, the security of the kingdom seemed assured. But the continued presence of American soldiers in the land of the two holy mosques was a major irritant.
Sheikh HISHAM NAZER, Minister of Petroleum, '86-'95: The fear was, of course, those people come and never leave. This is the experience of the Middle East historically.
CHARLES W. FREEMAN: And constantly, we reassured the Saudis that we planned, after the liberation of Kuwait, to leave, until it became apparent that Saddam Hussein was not going to fall from power. We didn't withdraw. So we stayed in Saudi Arabia with no agreement, no understanding between us and the Saudis. The U.S. military clearly understood that their presence in Saudi Arabia was politically irritating and, in many respects, dangerous to the good health of the relationship.
NARRATOR: Usama bin Laden would seize upon the issue, and his followers would go on the offensive. On the morning of November 13, 1995, a massive bomb shook Riyadh. Four American military contractors and one American soldier died. Those arrested said they were inspired by bin Laden.
ADEL AL JUBEIR, Adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah: When the explosion in Riyadh happened — we were tracking bin Laden since the early '90s — we stripped him of his citizenship. We knew that he was a danger, and we knew that he was planning mischief against Saudi Arabia.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, Fmr. Mid. East Bureau Chief, NY Times: Usama bin Laden began his whole quest as directed against the Saudi royal family. I mean, his main enemy was the regime and his main goal was to overthrow this regime. And then he moved philosophically to the natural conclusion that the people who are supporting this regime are the American military, and, "I will get much more resonance for my message if I were to attack the American military." And I detected for the first time in Saudi Arabia a certain amount of sympathy with this act.
NARRATOR: In 1996, another bombing in Dhahran killed 19 American soldiers. U.S.-Saudi relations were coming under increasing strain. At this critical juncture, King Fahd was incapacitated by a stroke.
Prince AMR AL FAISAL: Crown Prince Abdullah comes into the picture at this point in time. And the country is a different country, again, because things have happened in this country. And most importantly, it is the introduction of Arabic-language satellite programs.
NARRATOR: Beamed-in TV programs were the beyond the control of the royals. For the first time, Saudi citizens began to see for themselves what others saw as the shortcomings of their country. The people were exposed to reports about lack of civil rights and political freedoms and royal corruption.
YOUSSEF IBRAHIM: There is no more control of the news. This is a new paradigm. And the crown prince himself is part of that. The crown prince spends his time watching Al Jazeera. And while CNN would be showing the American audience an American reporter riding in an Israeli tank, Al Jazeera would be showing an Arab audience Palestinian kids being chased or beaten up by Israeli soldier. And this phenomenon cannot be divorced from the way the Saudi leadership is now reacting to the United States.
NARRATOR: Gruesome images of the Arab-Israeli conflict became part of Saudis' daily viewing. Throughout the '90s, U.S. efforts to forge a lasting peace foundered. The Saudis remained on the sidelines while continuing to support Arafat and militant groups like Hamas. But when they sensed President Bush might abandon the peace process, they took a more active role.
ADEL AL JUBEIR: As soon as the Bush administration came into office, we had discussions with them about the American policy in the region. We were urging the United States to get engaged in the peace process. And when there was an escalation of violence and the president was asked about Sharon's actions, his response was perceived in the region as a signal to Sharon that he could do whatever he wanted.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: The Israelis will not negotiate under terrorist threats! It's as simple as that. And if the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue, then I strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put 100 percent effort into solving the terrorist activity, into stopping the terrorist activity. And I believe he can do a better job of doing that.
ADEL AL JUBEIR: And at that point, the crown prince sent a very powerful message to the president, "It is obvious that you have decided to support Sharon, irrespective of what the consequences are to American policy or to your interests or to the interests of your friends. You're a sovereign country. You can do whatever you want. We are now in a position where we have to take actions that serve our interests without any regard to how they may affect your interests."
Prince AMR AL FAISAL, Great-Grandson of King Abdul Aziz: And the letter to President Bush merely is a reflection of his character, of his willingness to challenge the United States. "We can't take this anymore. We have had it up to here. Either you be more fair, more equitable in your dealings with the Arab world, or we will simply find a different arrangement than the one we are having with the United States. We can no longer have the same kind of relationship that we have had for the last sixty years."
ADEL AL JUBEIR: And within 24 hours, we had a response from the president to the crown prince, in which the president laid out his vision for the Middle East: two states, shared Jerusalem, just settlement of the refugee issue, in very clear terms. And he said, "But we can only do that if we can stop the violence." The crown prince responded to the president and said, "This is a positive step, and you need to articulate this publicly." And the president agreed to do so two or three days before September 11th.
NARRATOR: The peace talks collapsed in the rubble of 9/11. Some Saudis say the attacks were welcome.
Dr. SAAD AL FAGIH, Wahhabi dissident: People received a message in their mobile phones, "Congratulations." And then the next message in the mobile phone was, "Our prayers to bin Laden." They were very jubilant and happy and looking at bin Laden as a hero. People started killing sheep and killing camels and making big feasts and inviting their relatives and friends to celebrate the big event in America.
Dr. HATOON AL FASSI, Assoc. Prof., King Saud University: There was a general shock, of course, disbelief. But there was a group of people who said, "OK, let them suffer now. Let the Americans suffer."
BASSIM ALIM, Attorney: Let me put it this way. You know, I might hate someone's guts, OK, but I would not condone his murder. If by chance he was, you know, hit by a bus and— you know, and passed away, I wouldn't cry for him. You see? And this is the kind of feeling that took place in a segment of the society.
Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.
NARRATOR: Attention was quickly focused on Saudi Arabia as the heart of the problem.
ADEL AL JUBEIR: When it became clear that 15 of the 19 were Saudis, that was a disaster, a total disaster, because bin Laden, at that moment, had made in the minds of Americans Saudi Arabia into an enemy.
NARRATOR: A new U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan, arrived in Riyadh in October, 2001.
Amb. ROBERT JORDAN, Saudi Arabia, '01-'03: At the official level, they were appalled. They were embarrassed. Some of them, frankly, were in denial. I remember meeting with one of the very most senior royals, a very well respected individual. But he clearly was in denial. He said, "This had to have been a Zionist plot. Saudis are not like this. And Saudis by themselves, frankly, are not capable of launching a plot this sophisticated."
Prince SAUD AL FAISAL, Foreign Minister, '75-present: People refused to accept that this was Saudis doing this. Imagine if you wake up one day, you have children, and find that one of your sons is a mass murderer. How gut-wrenching a discovery is that?
NARRATOR: America's war on terror would deeply divide Saudis. When Americans invaded Afghanistan, the government quietly allowed the U.S. to use Saudi air bases for command and control operations. But Saudi militants captured in Afghanistan would make up the biggest segment of the prison population shipped to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The war in Iraq posed an even bigger challenge. Americans used Saudi airbases for bombing missions, but the government worried about the reactions of its people.
ROBERT JORDAN: I'll never forget being told by some members of the royal family, "Mr. Ambassador, please don't win Iraq and lose Saudi Arabia." And they were that concerned. I think they meant that there was a great possibility that if they supported us in the way we needed, it would further alienate the archconservatives and the Islamist extremists from the royal family and from the government, that it could destabilize the regime.
BASSIM ALIM: And people were extremely worried that after Iraq was finished and done with, the United States would turn its head and start targeting countries like Saudi Arabia, like Syria, like Egypt, Iran.
NARRATOR: Baghdad fell in a matter of weeks. Just days later, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Riyadh to announce U.S. troops were finally pulling out of Saudi Arabia.
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. Secretary of Defense: And they'll leave with us grateful for the support and cooperation that the kingdom provided.
AL QAEDA VIDEO: [subtitles] The infidels have invaded our homes. The crusaders are here, betraying us again. But this time, we are determined to fight.
NARRATOR: Since the Gulf war, the American troop presence in Saudi Arabia had been a rallying cry for al Qaeda. Now the American air base stands empty, but it didn't seem to matter to bin Laden. Two weeks later, on May 12, 2003, al Qaeda militants attacked three compounds in Riyadh housing hundreds of foreign workers. Thirty-five people were killed, including nine Americans. Over a hundred were wounded. This was something new. The attack grabbed Saudis' attention in a way that 9/11 did not.
ROBERT JORDAN: The next day, May 13th, 2003, Colin Powell and I visited the crown prince. And he was white as a ghost and absolutely shaken to his core by what had happened. And to the extent they had been in denial about the terrorist threat in the kingdom, that denial ended on the morning of May the 13th.
Dr. HATOON AL FASSI, Assoc. Prof., King Saud University: We have to face the fact that these people who attacked and bombed in Riyadh are Saudis, are our youth, our sons and brothers. They are not expatriates. They are not CIA here. They are not Zionists. They are our own people.
Dr. KHALIL AL KHALIL, Imam Mohammed Univ.: The bombing was really the major event that changed people, no doubt, cleared the air. We can't trust al Qaeda. We can't trust the radicals. We can't trust those extremists.
NARRATOR: Some members of the Saudi elite looked inward. They began to reevaluate the long-time deal under which the religious schools and universities were controlled by Wahhabi fundamentalists.
Dr. SULAIMAN AL HATTLAN, Columnist: I think the whole culture of education in Saudi Arabia gave people dangerous tools, tools to teach people how to hate, tools of hatred, tools of anger, and not tools understanding the reality of the world.
NARRATOR: In an unprecedented act of self-examination, "Tash Ma Tash" — Saudi Arabia's most popular TV comedy show — was allowed to air a bold sketch about extremist teachers instructing students how to hate non-Wahhabis.
1st TEACHER: [subtitles] God allows us to shed their blood and take their wealth and honor and to make them our slaves.
2nd TEACHER: [subtitles] We have to instill in our hearts the fact that they are infidels. They are loathsome. They are infidels. Infidels!
NARRATOR: A moderate teacher decides to complain to the authorities at the Ministry of Education.
3rd TEACHER: [subtitles] Hello. I've come to inform you about the ideas of some of the teachers in our schools.
NARRATOR: When he gets there, he finds the teachers he's come to complain about in charge.
The government has even moved against some of the most radical preachers. At the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which overseas the country's government-owned mosques, they have begun firing some imams.
Sheikh SALEH AL ASHEIKH, Minister of Islamic Affairs: [through interpreter] There was a small group of imams that too far, and they would not compromise. And that's why they've been dismissed from their duties. The total number of imams and preachers dismissed was about 1,300. Some hold extremist ideas against others, against the interests of the country and of Islamic work.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR, Wahhabi Cleric: [subtitles] I have no doubt that America will be defeated!
NARRATOR: But independent Wahhabi fundamentalists have fought back. A new, privately owned Saudi TV channel, Al Majd, is dedicated to propagating their views.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR: [subtitles] America will be destroyed gradually. America will be destroyed.
NARRATOR: Even on a daytime kids show, the message is often harsh and unambiguous.
CHILD: [subtitles] What happened with the promises they made? The wolf would keep his promise before the Jews would. Father, send my greetings to the land of Jerusalem and tell them that a martyr does not die when he is killed. Tell them about a people whose limbs, even when blown apart, will leap up and defend their honor!
EMCEE: [subtitles] Great! Great! Wonderful! Give him a cheer!
NARRATOR: Clerics also want to roll back curriculum reform.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR: [through interpreter] Allow me to be direct. Did we ever interfere in the American curriculum, which unfortunately includes clear hostility to Muslims, Muslim nations, and specifically to the kingdom? Did we ever interfere their social affairs, even though American social affairs have major flaws and need to be corrected? We opposed the change in the curriculum because America is interfering in our religion, in our faith and in our unique character. America is aiming to make Muslims fall in love with and embrace American culture.
NARRATOR: America culture, conservative clerics believe, continues to raise expectations for women. This book, called Defending Virtue, was written by a cleric on the council of the Ulema. "Man is physically perfect and has natural power," it reads. "The female is inferior physically, mentally and emotionally."
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR: [through interpreter] This is a book written by one of the greatest scholars. It was written to protect women. We consider the book in general as wonderful and deep.
HATOON AL FASSI: I just couldn't believe that this is something that is being taught at university. I felt it very humiliating. I was angry at the university, as well. Yeah, the university, how could they allow such a book, such a way of competition to be run at the university? What type of university is this? And this is the biggest university in the country.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR: [through interpreter] Who are these women? What is their educational level? Probably, they have been influenced by Western theories or by a culture far removed from Islam. Their judgment does not count.
HATOON AL FASSI: I have this theory that these type of interpretations usually emerge and get fortified in a society where men are very weak, very backward, and don't have any kind of power over anything.
Sheikh NASSER AL OMAR: [through interpreter] I am surprised that the majority of people discussing the issue of women are non-Muslims from the West. This is not an issue here. Not only do women in Muslim countries not complain about their situation, but more importantly, nor do Muslim men who correctly follow Islam. We don't have a problem. I do not know of any religion that has honored women as Islam does.
NARRATOR: The royal family continues to resist any real efforts at structural change. In early 2004, a prominent group of citizens petitioned the family for constitutional reform. The minister of interior summoned them in.
BASSIM ALIM: The Minister of interior was very upset and said, you know— you know, "You should not have meetings and you should not have congregations. And we are not going to, I think, condone the whole concept of reformation the way you think it should be. We are doing it the way we think it should be done. And it's not really reformation, as in fixing things, it's reformation as in natural evolution. There's nothing wrong to be fixed."
[www.pbs.org: Can Saudi Arabia reform itself?]
NARRATOR: Shortly afterwards, a dozen reformers were arrested. Three are still in jail today.
The continuing war in Iraq has only helped strengthen anti-American radicals in Saudi Arabia.
IMAM: [subtitles] God, destroy the infidels.
NARRATOR: During the holy month of Ramadan, as the U.S. advanced into Falluja, senior Saudi clerics issued renewed calls for jihad against America.
SHEIKH [subtitles] God, make victorious the fighters of Falluja over the infidels and their allies.
SHEIKH: [subtitles] The jihad in Falluja is a source of pride. I praise the jihad against the occupiers in Iraq. We curse the Americans every night and pray that Allah will annihilate them.
NARRATOR: An unknown number of Saudis have traveled to Iraq to join the fight. The suicide bomber who killed 22 U.S. soldiers in Mosul last December was a young Saudi medical student.
Back inside Saudi Arabia, the chronology of violence is relentless, and for Saudi Arabia, unprecedented. Since the Riyadh bombing in May of 2003, over 100 people have been killed by al Qaeda in attacks on compounds and oil companies across the country.
Westerners remain the prime target. Most recently, a BBC cameraman was gunned down while filming in a Riyadh street last summer. Two days later, a U.S. defense contractor was shot to death in his garage, and a week after that, another U.S. defense contractor was killed outside his home in Riyadh. And U.S. engineer Paul Johnson was abducted by terrorists manning a fake security checkpoint. A video of his beheading was put on the Internet. In December, an all-out assault on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah left five foreign staff dead. The Saudi Ministry of the Interior in Riyadh was car-bombed two weeks later.
Today, thousands of Americans are pulling out of the kingdom. British Airways has announced it is suspending all its flights into Saudi Arabia.
The royal family is facing the most severe challenge in its history, straining its 60-year-old oil-for-security deal with America.
Amb. ROBERT JORDAN, Saudi Arabia, '01-'03: We have enormous disagreements with them, but we have a fundamental common interest in going forward, even though our cultures are diametrically opposed, in many ways, to each other. And we're learning more about each other, and in many cases, neither side likes what they see. And so we've got to find ways to work on the common interests and to help the Saudis through a period of coming into the 21st century.
They're dealing with this in fits and starts, and it's not always going to be pretty. One of the challenges for America is, we're so unpopular over there right now with the people, that the more we publicly praise or encourage what goes on, the more that could be the kiss of death.
NARRATOR: Ultimately, the Saudis believe an oil-dependent America cannot afford Saudi Arabia's demise. The house of Saud believes it will survive.
Prince SAUD AL FAISAL, Foreign Minister, 1975-present: This government has shown versatility and permanence. We have faced many problems. When oil came in the '50s, they said this country cannot survive because the wealth will change the underpinnings of the government. But it's here. In the '60s, when they were calling Nasser the wave of the future, Nasser went away and the government is still here. After the liberation of Kuwait, saying that hundreds of thousands of American troops existing in Saudi Arabia would surely mean the death knell of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia— it is still here.
ROBERT LACEY, Author, The Kingdom: They are a successful ruling family. They are very, very good at hanging onto power and should not be underrated in their cleverness, in their ruthlessness, and in their sheer ability to hang on.