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Nightline: Inside the Kingdom

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Nightline Wednesday looks at Saudi Arabia. It will be followed on Upclose by the second part of an interview with Chief Charles Moose. Frontline examined Saudi Arabia last year and returns in Thursday’s In Search of Al Qaeda (which I’ll write more about tonight).

From the Nightline newsletter:

    Tonight’s subject: It’s very much a closed society, tradition-bound,
    conservative and oil-rich. Saudi Arabia. It’s one of America’s closest
    allies in the region, but there are tensions, especially in the wake of
    the attacks on 9/11. A Nightline team will take you inside Saudi Arabia tonight.


    It has been widely reported that the majority of the hijackers were Saudi. But what remains a mystery is why those young men left their country to come here to die attacking New York and Washington. No one knows when or how they were recruited. Some of them never went to the al Qaeda camps in
    Afghanistan for training. They just left one day and ended up on board those airplanes.

    Saudi Arabia is a difficult place for journalists to work. You can’t just
    go out on the street and start filming and interviewing people like you
    can here. Everything else takes longer. Many people do not want to be filmed, or to be interviewed. The religious police, the Mutawa, will still swoop down on people to make sure that no rules are being broken. I remember once eleven years ago, while in Saudi Arabia waiting for the war to start, the Mutawa came into the hotel and tore off most of the covers of the paperback books in the lobby store because the images were inappropriate. But it may be surprising to realize that the ruling royal family is the force for reform in that country. Much of the population, a huge percentage of which is under 25, is far more conservative than the government. Changes designed to modernize the kingdom are met with disapproval, and it’s possible that disapproval could grow to the point that it could threaten the stability of the monarchy.

    So the reforms that outsiders are clamoring for may, in fact, just be too dangerous for the government to implement. So they are really caught in the middle, between their own people and their allies, and in fact the royal family itself, that is arguing for change. And the stakes are obvious. Saudi Arabia remains the single largest producer of oil in the world. As long as that is the case, its internal politics are an issue that many people are worried about.

    Nightline correspondent Deborah Amos and a Nightline team went to Saudi Arabia recently, and tonight you’ll see her report. In some ways, the country has adopted much of American culture, shopping malls and fast food. At the same time, women cannot drive, and very few can hold jobs. Unemployment among young people is rampant, and the oil revenues don’t go as far as they used to. At a crucial time, with war looming in the Gulf, we thought it was a good time to go inside the Kingdom. I hope you’ll come along.

    Wednesday, November 20, 2002

    Leroy Sievers and the Nightline Staff
    Nightline Offices
    Washington, D.C.

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