|WESTERNERS IN THE KINGDOM|
May 13, 2003
|The May 12 Riyadh bombings were widely seen as a deliberate attack on U.S. civilians and other Westerners in Saudi Arabia. Upon his arrival in Saudi Arabia hours after the explosions, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the attacks have the "earmarks" of an al-Qaida terrorist operation.|
| The bombing targets were all either residences
of Western workers or facilities affiliated with foreign corporations.
Western workers in the kingdom often reside in guarded compounds, separated from the general Saudi population. The complexes are designed to provide security and more freedom from cultural and behavioral rules stipulated by the country's official religion, a strict brand of Islam known as Wahabbism.
Two of the targets, the Al Hambra and Jadawel housing complexes, are luxury-style compounds complete with pools, clubhouses, and recreation facilities.
Another target was a residential facility run by the Vinell Corporation, a subsidiary of U.S. defense contractor Northrup Grumman, that provides training for the Saudi National Guard.
A fourth target was the Saudi Maintenance Company also known as Siyanco. The Associated Press reports the company is a joint venture between Frank E. Basil Inc. of Washington, D.C. and Saudi partners.
The population of the targeted residential areas was "about 40 percent Saudis and other Arabs, and about 60 percent other foreigners, including Americans and Britons working in Saudi Arabia," the Washington Post reported, citing a senior Saudi official.
An estimated 60,000 Westerners reside in Saudi Arabia, a small portion of the 6.4 million resident foreigners that make up about 28 percent of the total population.
Americans residing in Saudi Arabia "are split in small numbers among a large range of employers - some working in Saudi-owned businesses and others in companies such as Saudi American Bank where the element of U.S. ownership is much more conspicuous," according to the BBC.
Westerners on Saudi soil have been a sensitive issue within the kingdom for over 50 years. U.S. military personnel arrived in conjunction with a mutual defense agreement in the early 1950's and were followed in ensuing decades by Western and other foreign workers recruited by the monarchy to help with modernization within many sectors of the economy, especially the oil industry.
During the 1990-1991 Gulf War, 600,000 allied forces streamed into
the kingdom with the royal family's blessing in order to defend it from
Saddam Hussein whose army had invaded Kuwait.
The increase of foreigners angered some radical Wahabbi clerics who opposed the presence of "infidels" on Saudi soil.
In 1991, one of those adherents, Osama bin Laden, was expelled from the kingdom and accused of working to overthrow the monarchy. Bin Laden was reportedly angry over the kingdom's alliance with the United States during the Gulf War and had offered instead to defend the country from Saddam Hussein with former mujahadeen troops from Afghanistan.
While concerted widespread violence against Westerners has never developed, militant Saudi dissidents have launched attacks on specific targets who they accuse of corrupting Islam's holiest territory.
One of the bloodiest of these attacks occurred in 1996, when the American troop residences in Khobar were bombed. The attack killed 19 U.S. soldiers and strained U.S.-Saudi relations due to disagreements over the ensuing investigation.
Hostility towards Westerners has long been a drawback for Americans considering work in the kingdom.
The Vinell Corporation lists a "harsh physical and cultural environment, no alcohol and few Western cultural amenities" as downsides to working in Saudi Arabia.
According to the U.S. State Department, consumption of alcohol within the kingdom is illegal, homosexual activity is considered a criminal offense, criticism of Islam or the monarchy is not allowed, the government may censor imported media materials, public non-Muslim religious worship is illegal, social contact between men and women who are not related is forbidden, and women are not allowed to drive cars.
Dancing, watching movies, and listening to music in public are also forbidden.
The State Department's Web site gives the following advice to women planning to visit the kingdom:
"The Saudi Embassy in Washington advises women traveling to Saudi Arabia to dress in a conservative fashion, wearing ankle-length dresses with long sleeves, and not to wear trousers in public. In many areas of Saudi Arabia, particularly Riyadh and the central part of the Kingdom, Mutawwa [religious police] pressure women to wear a full-length black covering known as an Abaya and to cover their heads. Most women in these areas therefore wear an Abaya and carry a head-scarf to avoid being accosted. Women who appear to be of Arab or Asian origin, especially those presumed to be Muslims, face a greater risk of being confronted."