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Members of the Al Saud royal family and Saudi officials, historians, activists and religious leaders >Foreign diplomats, journalists and oil executives >

Members of the Al Saud royal family and Saudi officials, historians, activists and religious leaders

king abdullah

In a rare interview, then-Crown Prince Abdullah, now the king of Saudi Arabia, answers questions about democracy in his kingdom, his 2002 visit with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, and how the struggle today with Al Qaeda and other fundamentalists compares to his father King Abd al-Aziz's confrontation in the 1920s with the fervent Wahhabi Islamists, the Ikhwan. This interview, translated from Arabic, was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 11, 2004 in Riyadh.

Bassim Alim

A Saudi attorney, Bassim Alim was among a prominent group of Saudis who in early 2004 petitioned the royal family for reforms, including constitutional changes and a larger role for women. He discusses why young Saudis today are attracted to extremism and why political change is the strongest weapon for combating radical Islamists. "Those extremists who would further confuse society, would be simply exposed for what they are." As for the prospects for change, he says, "… reform is yet being debated by the top people in the ruling family. I would say that some of them are perhaps pushing for some kind of reform; others are resisting it. But nothing concrete is going to be done until we have a consensus." This interview was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 6, 2004 in Jeddah.

Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi

A historian at Riyadh's King Saud Univerity and a crusader for women's rights, Dr. al-Fassi grew up in the '60s and '70s, a time of relative liberalization in the kingdom before the retrenchment in the 1980s. Dr. al-Fassi talks about what an ordinary woman growing up in Saudi Arabia can expect, how religious leaders preach women's inferiority to men, and why she is cautiously hopeful change is coming, but slowly. "It's not coming smoothly. Every time they are coming forward, they are going backward … some more steps." As an example, she cites the country's first elections on Feb. 10, 2005 for half of the municipal councils. So far only men can participate, but she is happy that women joined forces to protest being excluded. "We were very active in the media … This was, from our point of view, a big success, because we made a difference, we didn't stay still." This interview was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 10, 2004 in Riyadh.

Dr. Madawi al-Rasheed

A historian and currently a lecturer in social anthropology at King's College, London, Dr. al-Rasheed's books include A History of Saudi Arabia and Politics in an Arabian Oasis, an account of her ancestors' early tribal dynasty. Here, she offers a clear and concise overview of the history of Saudi Arabia - from its founding at the turn of the century and the '70s oil boom that transformed the kingdom, to the crisis that confronted the monarchy over whether to depose King Saud and the impact on Saudi society of the Afghan War in the 1980s and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. This interview was conducted by producer Jihan El-Tahri in April 2003 in London.

Prince Amr bin Mohammad al Faisal

A businessman and frequent commentator in the Arab media, Prince Amr is the grandson of King Faisal who ruled from 1964 to 1975. In much of this interview, Prince Amr discusses the Saudi rulers, from Abd al-Aziz to Crown Prince Abdullah, and their traits of personality, character and leadership during times of change and crisis. Emphasizing the West's need to understand Saudi society and its history and evolution, he says the West will "never understand" the place of religion in his society and needs to appreciate the traumatic impact modernization has had on a people who are deeply conservative. "You simply cannot understand the leap this country has gone through in the last fifty years," says Prince Amr. "…The people are exhausted from this change." Consequently, he says, the Saudi leadership should be cautious about the pace of reform. "After a while, the people simply say, 'Look, enough'." This interview was conducted partly in English and partly with a translator by producer Jihan El-Tahri on Sept. 2003 in Jeddah.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan

Prince Bandar has served as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. since 1983 and in this interview speaks candidly about the problems within his own country, about relations between the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Middle East governments, and about Saudi Arabia's role in the fight against terrorism. This interview was conducted by correspondent Lowell Bergman for two of FRONTLINE's post 9/11 reports: "Looking for Answers" (Oct. 2001) and "Saudi Time Bomb?" (Nov. 2001).

Prince Saud al-Faisal

The Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud discusses here the course the government needs to take in balancing the forces of tradition and modernity without damaging "social cohesion." He emphasizes that the nation has to change in its own way, "You cannot bring ready-made solutions to a country that's completely different. Saudi Arabia is not New Zealand." Responding to the question of whether a monarchy with absolute authority fits the 21st century, Prince Saud is confident. "When oil came in the '50s, they said this country cannot survive because the wealth will change the underpinnings of government. But it's here. In the '60s, when they were calling Nasser the wave of the future, Nasser went away. The government is still here. After the liberation of Kuwait, they were saying that hundreds of thousands of American troops in Saudi Arabia would surely mean the death knell of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is still here. For an anachronism, we have shown tremendous permanence, I think." This interview was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 15, 2004 in Riyadh.

Sheikh Nasser al-Omar

A Wahhabi fundamentalist, Sheikh al-Omar has opposed the rewriting of Saudi religious textbooks to eliminate anti-Western, anti-Jewish teachings and he recently was one of 26 prominent Saudi clerics who signed a fatwa saying that Iraqis should rise up and oppose the Americans in Iraq. He denies this fatwa could be interpreted as encouraging all Muslims to go fight the Americans. Sheikh al-Omar says all his statements and actions are about a fundamental opposition to the West's - specifically America's -- interference in Muslims' lives, culture, and beliefs. "I believe that America is interfering in the essentials of our religion and in the fundamentals of our relationships. … Did we ever interfere in the American curriculum, which includes direct hostility to Muslims and specifically to the kingdom? Did we ever interfere in American affairs knowing that the American social affairs are abundant with flaws and need to be altered?" This interview, translated from Arabic, was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 17, 2004 in Riyadh.

Sheikh Nasser al-Omar

Sheikh Saleh al-Sheikh has been Saudi Arabia's Minister of Islamic Affairs, Endowment and Dawa since 1999. The Saudi government, he says, "believes in progress" and he explains how it recently disciplined imams who preach hatred against Jews, Christians and the West. But anti-American sentiment still exists he says because of the Palestinian conflict, Iraq, and the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and he offers his views on the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish programs that air on Saudi television. This interview, translated from Arabic, was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 13, 2004 in Riyadh.

Dr. Sulaiman al-Hattlan

He is an American-educated Saudi journalist and columnist for the Saudi daily newspaper, Al Watan. Here, he talks about why intolerance and extremism took root in Saudi society following the relatively liberal decades of the '50, '60s and '70s, and he explains the difficult situation facing people like himself who want to challenge the conventional wisdom that "Saudia Arabia is perfect, the West is bad." Near the end of his interview he talks about some of the positive things that are slowly happening despite the obstacles: "My father's generation was happy with whatever the government was saying. My generation is critical of almost everything the government is doing, which is a positive thing to have." This interview was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Dec. 10, 2004 in Riyadh.

Foreign diplomats, journalists and oil executives

Hermann F. Eilts

Hermann Eilts was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1965 to 1970 and later served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt. In this interview, he talks about the personalities and leadership of King Faisal and King Fahd and offers an overview of U.S.-Saudi relations over the years, including the Suez crisis, Faisal's reaction to the Kennedy administration's demand for internal reforms, the '67 Arab-Israeli Six Day War and the '73 oil boycott. As for the impact of political reforms on the society, Eilts has reservations. "I don't see any way the ulama can be just pushed aside." This interview was conducted by producer Jihan El-Tahri on June 23, 2003 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Frank Jungers

Frank Jungers first came to Saudi Arabia in the late 1940s to help in restarting oil facilities following the end of World War II. He later became president of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) in the 1970s. Here he reminisces about King Faisal, the kind of man he was and their conversations, many of which concerned the King's strong feelings on the Palestinian issue. In one instance Faisal pressured Aramco to try to influence the U.S. government and public opinion in support of the Palestinians. Jungers also shares a story or two about the dramatic days of the Saudi oil boycott against the U.S. following the '73 Yom Kippur War and one of the big secrets during that boycott - the U.S. Saudi agreement to covertly supply Saudi oil to the U.S. Navy. This interview was conducted by producer Jihan El-Tahri on June 11, 2003 in Portland, Oregon.

Robert W. Jordan

Robert Jordan was U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 2001 to 2003. In this interview, he talks about the difficulty the Saudi leadership is having in coming to grips with the competing interests in the society, the efforts to date to reform what is taught in the schools and preached in the mosques, and he tells a story of his own personal intervention with the government in a religious freedom issue. "I have been reminded of that incident by senior members of the royal family from time to time and they say: 'We really respect what you did in this case. You didn't have to do this. But we respect what you did.' And so I knew I had pushed about as hard as I could push in that case." Jordan also talks about why the outcome in Iraq will greatly affect how the Saudi government views political reform, and he assesses the uneasy U.S.-Saudi relationship."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.... " This interview was conducted by producer Martin Smith on Nov. 23, 2004 in Dallas, Texas.

Robert Lacey

A British journalist, Robert Lacey lived in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970s and wrote about the country and its rulers in his 1982 best-seller, The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Saud, which was banned in the kingdom. Here, he offers a lively chronicle of the Al Saud dynasty from 1900 to the present, highlighting the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of its various kings, their continuing adjustments to the religious establishment, and the internal politics of the Saudi royal family. While he discusses the growth of fanaticism and other forces that threaten to tear the kingdom apart, Lacey says he is an optimist about the House of Saud's future: "I see [them] morphing and reinventing themselves as a constitutional figurehead. … They're realists … survivors; they know how to reinvent themselves. The ones I've spoken to know that the old days of authority, owning the country as if it's a personal possession, are long gone. "This interview was conducted by producer Chris Durrance on Dec. 21, 2004 in London.

Youssef M. Ibrahim

Youssef Ibrahim was the New York Times' regional Middle East correspondent and bureau chief from 1986 to 1996. In this interview, he discusses the impact of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on Saudi-U.S. relations over the decades -- from the '67 Six Day War and the '73 War that triggered Saudi Arabia's oil boycott, to Crown Prince Abdullah's letter to George W. Bush in August 2001 protesting a U.S. double standard in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He also talks about the pivotal consequences of the Saudi '75-'79 oil boom which he says "began the whole trend of Islamic radical fundamentalism in the Arab world." This interview was conducted in New York City on June 26, 2003 by producer Jihan El-Tahri.

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updated aug. 1, 2005

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