Thank you very much for the wonderful insight into the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia.
Having spent my growing years as a non muslim girl in Saudi Arabia and having experienced incidences at the hands of the religious police first hand,
it is right when one of the saudis said it is impossible for the westerners to understand how deep religion is in their DNA!
it was also nice to recapitulate my subject in high school in Jeddah called "saudi arabian culture" about the formation of the kingdom,the building of modern saudi arabia and the various kings who contributed to it!!
The House of Saud is one of the best pieces of programming I've seen on television in years. The interview with the Wahabbi cleric was horrifyingly effective at conveying a sense of their potential implacability.
The program was superbly communicated the delicate tightrope walk that the Sauds must perform in balancing the opposing forces within the Kingdom. Your interviews with Prince Turki and other Princes provided a measure of reassurance that Saud leadership is thoughtful, rational, and well educated. None of us wants to contemplate the world consequences of civil disorder in the Kingdom. The program should be mandatory viewing for all citizens of the West and the East.
I was pretty distressed to see that you neglected to mention that the justification for building US bases in Saudi Arabia was based on very questionable information. Your piece followed the official US position that Iraq was building up forces on the Saudi border and was poised for an imminent invasion.
The St. Petersburg Times and ABC News obtained Soviet satellite images that, upon analysis, revealed that there was no evidence of a massing of Iraqi troops. When asked to provide the intelligence to support their claim, the Bush administration refused to release their information and asked the world to "trust us."
Sounds eerily familiar...
Santa Rosa, CA
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Producer Jihan El-Tahri was aware of this story and she says it was an important element of her initial research when she began pre-production for this documentary two years ago. Here is a summary of her enquiry into the issue:
She specifically posed the question about the veracity of the satellite photos to both Adel Jubair (currently an adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah) and Prince Turki al-Faisal (head of Saudi intelligence at the time of the invasion of Iraq). Neither one said, either on or off the record, that the pictures were doctored. Both admit that the number of troops the U.S. claimed were massing on the border was probably exaggerated at the time. However, for the Saudis the threat was very real, with or without the satellite pictures.
As Prince Turki al Faisal recounted to Ms. El-Tahri, on Aug. 2, 1990, the day Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he was called to a conference room at the Pentagon or State Department where he found Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and Adel Jubair already present They were shown satellite pictures of troops, some moving south to Kuwait and a few columns going west towards the Saudi border. By the time U.S. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and his delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia on the 6th of
August to meet with King Fahd, they had another set of satellite pictures that showed a massive buildup on the border. Initially the information was that there were only 100.000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait. But by the 6th the U.S. was saying that
there were 250,000, and around 80,000 of these were mobilized on the Saudi border.
While it could be argued that the U.S. may have tricked the Saudis into moving very fast by exaggerating the size of the Iraqi force in place, there is no doubt that there were Iraqi troops on the Saudi border. There was an incident on the 3rd or 4th of August in which oil workers in the neutral zone called Hisham Nazer, the oil minister, and reported that their scouts had spotted Iraqi troops moving towards the neutral zone, which was north of Dhahran.
As for the controversy concerning the satellite pictures that were obtained from the Soviets, the claim was that the tracks in the sand on the Saudi border showed much less disturbance than what should have appeared if there was a massive buildup. However, the date of the satellite pictures was also an issue. Those used by the Cheney delegation were pictures taken on August 4th and 5th, whereas those obtained from the Russians were from August 8th or 13th.
I just tonight watched "The House of Saud." I had to record it because I was out when it originally aired.
I am a hardcore conservative Republican and I want you to know that in my 68 years I feel this is one of the best and most valuable documentaries I have ever seen.
And thank you.
League City, Texas
It was great to see Frank Jungers again. I was disappointed that there weren't more interviews with early ARAMCO ex-pats and men like Fouad Al Semmari.
Its a shame we broke promises to the Saudis.
I noted that when you were showing the early years of Ibn Saud you didn't mention that he had been in exile in Kuwait during his teen-age years orthat his mentor was his uncle, the Emir of Kuwait, who was profoundly anti-Wahabbi.
Television was available in the Eastern Province in the late 1950s with reruns of great American shows like Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Captain Kangaroo etc. The language broadcast was in Arabic and programming broke for prayer call, but the English transmission was on a local radio station and in sync with the broadcast.
Over all a fair and accurate portrayal of Saudi Arabia. You are to be commended.
As an avid viewer of Frontline and an educator, I use Frontline episodes to dovetail textbooks and articles into a course on contemporary political issues. Students after viewing these videos or reading articles go to an on-line class discussion and are posed with a question.
What I found most compelling, as I normally do with the Frontline episodes, was what wasn't stated.
If you were to go to the Frontline website, one may discover that the royal family of Saudi Arabia is not well known, their history/past, the inside stories as revealed by the royal family members, the connections to the U.S. and other neighboring countries and the world is unprecedented in its coverage.
In the end, it begs the question, “Why?” Why after all these years, during all this time of internal and external trouble and turmoil, has the royal family chosen now to come out and speak, to open its doors to interviews and to speculation, especially to Westerners and a Western group of journalists (i.e., Frontline)?
Great work! I thank you and believe it or not, so do my students.
Thank you Frontline for once again providing PBS viewers with an informative and balanced documentary. While I was watching the film, I heard the narrator say that many of the religious institutions that the Saudi Wahabbists built are inside the United States. Indeed, even here in Utah, several mosques are funded by money from Saudi Arabia. I would like to learn more about this issue - the spread of Wahabbism in America. What ramifications may these U.S.-based Wahabbist organizations have on the Bush administration's war on terror?
As a follow up on your film, please turn your attention to within the United States and produce a documentary on the influence of Wahabbism in America. Many of your viewers will certainly be interested in such a sequel.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
The Saudi government in recent years has come increasingly under pressure for its support of Islamic extremism in the US. In late 2003, for example, the Saudi Institute, a DC-based group calling for democracy in Saudi Arabia, spearheaded a campaign to stop the spread of Islamic extremism under the umbrella of the Saudi Embassy in Washington. As a result, the Embassy ceased sponsoring an extremist organization, the Institute for Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America (IIASA), which was a US offshoot of the leading Islamic university in Saudi Arabia. The Embassy also revoked the diplomatic passports of 16 clerics and instructors at IIASA.
This is an important issue and it's definitely on FRONTLINE's radar, though not one that we have reported on to date.
Thank you for an outstanding documentary on Saudi Arabia and its leaders. I literally stumbled upon it by flipping through the channels and was transfixed far past my bedtime (it ran until midnight here in EST.)
This was particularly timely for me, as I am currently taking a graduate level course in terrorism at Michigan State University’s new Homeland Security studies program, and right at this moment we are studying the history and roots of terrorism, including in the Middle East. This program was a perfect complement to everything else I am learning now.
What particularly struck me (and a classmate as well) was the disbelief that the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis, and the realization of the true scope of the problem when the civilian contractors were attacked in their compound. The comment “It is like finding out that one of your children is a mass murderer,” (I don’t know if that is verbatim, struck us with particular force.
Like many Americans, I did feel suspicious towards the Saudis after the attacks of 9/11. Now I understand how they are facing their own internal problems that could be similarly disastrous for them.
I think they have the power to be a strong ally in the war on terrorism (not just for our benefit, but for theirs also) if they handle the situation within their country carefully.
This was exciting and fascinating to watch, and as a result I will be paying much close attention to terrorist attacks that occur within Saudi Arabia. I would echo Ms. Jones’s request below to please offer it in DVD format so that I can rent it on Netflix and my husband can get to watch it. Thank you!
East Lansing, MI
What a wonderful presentation! I have told everybody I know to watch re-broadcasts if possible.
Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, as the child of an expatriate university professor (1975-2004), I witnessed first hand the changes the country we came to love and also loved to hate, experienced. It is often hard to explain the unique position the Arabs (Saudis in particular) have towards western ideology, the Saudi royal family and the influence of the United States. Frontline did a very good job of addressing each of these.
I would have liked to have seen more on the influence of the expatriates and their absorption and subsequent dissemination of Wahabi ideology around the world - but I suppose that has little to do with the Saud family... perhaps a topic for another Frontline.
Frontline has,again, proffered much needed insight to a world very few, including many from that part of the world, truly understand.
As a lay watcher/analyst of Saudi culture and politics over the last 25 years, it is apparent that the royals being interviewed by Frontline and other western media, represent a particular wing of thought and have ignored(?), possibly to some significant detriment, other equally legitimate (and possible less reasonable from the POV of the West) centers of power in the Saudi Royal Family & government.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Yes, there are other voices from within the leadership of the royal family and the religious community we would like to hear from. Repeatedly, we have tried to get conservative senior royals and clerics of the ulama to sit down for interviews. Prince Nayef, the Interior Minister, and Prince Sultan, the Defense Minister, are cases in point. So far, they continue to elude the world's media, including FRONTLINE. Also, we will continue to try to get Crown Prince Abdullah and Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Asheikh to sit down for extended interviews. We have, however, managed on two occasions, in 2002 and in 2004 to get leading independent (not government funded) Wahhabi clerics to agree to interviews: Salman al-Owda (2002) and
Nasser al Omar (2004) whose interview is published on this web site.
Your piece 'House of Saud' was the best Frontline I've seen, and that says a lot! First rate work - I was glad to get such a well rounded understanding of the oil soaked history of Saudia Arabia and America's part in it. I look forward to it's replaying and watching it on your streaming video.
The obvious next step would be a Frontline history of that detail and caliber on Palestine and Israel.
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Unfortunately, FRONTLINE cannot offer the program video streamed on our web site because internet rights were not available. VHS tapes and DVDs are available for this program. Please go to the "Tapes & Transcripts" section of this site.
As I Saudi, I would like to thank you for broadcasting this program. I think that it showed, more than any program that I have seen, what life in Saudi Arabia is really like in an unbiased format. It shows that the terrorists that attacked New York are also attacking Saudi Arabia and that Saudi Arabia and the United States are in this war on terrorism together.
I wish this program could be broadcast internationally so that everybody can understand that all Saudi Arabians are not terrorists.
"House of Saud" is definitely one of the most informative and balanced programs I have seen on Frontline. Kudos must be given to Martin Smith and his production team for their provocative exposition of Saudi Arabia and the family that governs the country to this day.
Rasha and Ralph's comments posted earlier are justified. I am
sure that Saudi political dynamics is more complex than Wahabbi vs Al-Saud vs USA. Great Britain also played a critical role in shaping the Middle East after WWI, and your program would have benefited from more attention here.
However, I do not agree with Ralph's assertion that industrialization is the answer for a stronger Saudi economy. Education, I believe, will create a highly skilled and versatile workforce that will reap greater benefits for the economy than building factories.
Nevertheless, "House of Saud" is an incredibly accurate and lucid introduction to modern Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the US. Frontline should produce more shows like this one!
Oliver W.S. Bordallo
Santa Clara , CA
Once again kudos on the production of another brilliant documentary.
I feel that the Saudi people will find a way to strike a balance, but it will be in good time and by their own rules. Unlike others in this post, I don't see the way the monarchy "walks the line" in terms of dealing with the US and with other Islamic countries as duplicitous in nature. I see them as looking out for their own best interests and I would expect nothing less from any country.
Likewise I do not view the way the US deals with countries like the Saudi Arabia as presumptuous and deplorable. I think it is far to easy to point fingers. If anything I would hope that viewers of this program walked away from the table with a better understanding of the delicate balance that exists in the world of diplomacy. My general feeling is that all parties involved responded to each situation in the best manner they could given all the opposing opinions they had to contend with.
Thank you again for the wonderful program.
I want to thank you for terrific show.I thought those interviewed were quite candid;their thoughts,recollections and views were well articulated and honest.
I can't help wondering why President Truman went against Roosevelt's promise and voted for the arbitrary and artifical assemblage of acreage: The State Of Israel. Orchestrated by the Brits whose knowledge and understanding of the issues and culture of the areas was underwhelming.
The United States has a history of not keeping promises , nor do we really go out of our way to learn and understand other people's
culture or history in many parts of the world -- yet we act like the Crusades when it suits our "needs".
Thank you for a highly informative presentation on the House of Saud, and the religious & political dynamics in Saudi arabia. I understand that not all important trends can be addressed in a 90 minute program, but in the end, I am troubled.
There remain glaring contradictions between apparent evidence of progress in political freedom in the kingdom, and hopeful assertions by former ambassador Jordan, and leading members of the Saud Royal Family.
Jordan agrees that Saudi's failure to arrest even one hate-mongering cleric is hard to reconcile with a newly pro-active Saudi government, and even today, no Saudi agency exists to monitor the flow of money of 'charitable institutions' promoting terrorist causes. Even the identities of prominent Saudi figures who contribute to these causes are still unknown to them, and are, somehow, beyond their reach.
This undermines even the most vehement arguments put forth by the Saudis, and are thinly veiled acknowledgments that they remain ambiguous about the true nature of the peril facing their country.
In the face bombings, kidnappings, and assasinations, significant portions of Saudi society remain convinced democracy poses a greater danger to their way of life than fanatical forms of Islam in their midst
One picture is worth a thousand words, from what I see, the Royal family is still playing both ends against the middle.
Los Angeles, Ca.