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The Most Pivotal Issue

A look at the force of religion in Saudi Arabia, its dominant faith, Wahhabism, and the power of the religious establishment, the ulama. Drawn from FRONTLINE's interviews with former U.S. ambassadors to Saudi Arabia Hermann Eilts and Robert Jordan; Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Saleh al-Asheikh; journalist Robert Lacey; and Dr. Khalil al-Khalil, from the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University. These excerpts are from their extended interviews.

Can Saudi Arabia Reform Itself

A July 2004 report (pdf file, 548k) by International Crisis Group that summarizes the challenges facing the Saudi ruling family and assesses the regime's openness to change. Outlining the cautious steps the regime has taken so far, the report advises the U.S. and the West to avoid, for now, emphasizing sensitive social and cultural reforms such as in education and the role of women and religion. The report also points out that while Islamist Saudis are making some in the ruling family disinclined to change, the new extremism is also helping reformers' cause.

What is Saudi Arabia's Future?

In a dangerously shifting society, can the House of Saud adjust to change without jeopardizing its own survival? Here are views from journalist Robert Lacey, former U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan, attorney and reform activist Bassim Alim, and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. These excerpts are from their extended interviews.

The U.S.-Saudi Relationship

The 9/11 terror attack (15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis), the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Iraq war, the U.S.'s call for greater reform in the kingdom -- all have strained the sixty-year-old U.S.-Saudi alliance. Here discussing the tensions, and offering some larger thoughts on how the two countries can go forward, are former U.S. ambassador Robert Jordan, journalist Robert Lacey, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, and Saudi attorney and reform activist Bassim Alim. These excerpts are from their extended interviews.

What Are the Prospects for Reform?

Reformers in Saudi Arabia are pressing for civil rights, political freedoms and transparency in government expenditures. But a divided monarchy is cautious about what to undertake, and how fast. Here discussing whether economic and political change will come and the risks such change could bring, are Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal; historian Dr. Hatoon al-Fassi; attorney and activist Bassim Alim; journalist Robert Lacey; and liberal columnist Dr. Sulaiman al-Hattlan. These excerpts are from their extended interviews.

Who are the Islamists?

A Sept. 2004 briefing (pdf file, 540k) by International Crisis Group that examines the genealogy of Saudi Arabia's various Islamist groupings, the "new Islamists" pressing for change, and the growing rift between violent and non-violent activists. This report includes a chronology of the most recent violence and a summary of Al Qaeda's organizational structure on the Arabian Peninsula. The authors point out that "…victory over Al Qaeda would not mean the defeat of violent Islamism, which feeds on political, social and economic dissatisfaction that preceded the rise of that group and will undoubtedly outlive it," and they recommend steps that the government must take to guarantee against violence and for long-term stability.

Related Report: Saudi Time Bomb?

A Nov. 2001 FRONTLINE report that outlines the Islamic fundamentalist movement threatening Saudi Arabia's stability and the Saudi funded Islamic religious schools or "madrassas" throughout the world which propagate a rigid, extreme form of Islam, Wahhabism. One section of this report offers extracts from Saudi middle school religious textbooks published in 2000; one extract is entited "The Victory of Muslims Over Jews." Another part of this report offers background on the madrassas.

Also view the video story of a young Al Qaeda terrorist named Haroun Fazul and the religious school that he attended in the Comoros Islands off East Africa. Fazul is still on the FBI's list of "Most Wanted" Terrorists."

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posted feb. 8, 2005

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