CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!
Return to Transcripts main page


Inside Saudi Arabia

Aired November 17, 2002 - 18:00   ET


DUAA HAMOJUDA, DIETITIAN: I'd like to be more creative and to be able to have critical thinking.

JAMES RYLANDS, SAUDI ARAMCO: As a family man, this is the place for me to be.

NADA AL-FAYEZ, BUSINESS WOMAN: I wish that I can have a high position in the future in the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They hate America because America helped Israelis against Arabs in Palestine.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christiane Amanpour and our focus for the next half-hour is Saudi Arabia, this massive and mysterious desert kingdom, America's ally and friend for more than half a century suddenly on September 11 became the enemy. Fifteen of the hijackers were Saudis and if that wasn't enough to embitter relations, now Saudi Arabia is being coy about whether it will let the U.S. use its military bases there if it decides to go to war with Iraq.

Yes, Americans get most of their oil from Saudi Arabia but what else does the world really know about the country? Well, for a start, everyone there from the Royal rulers on down seems to be on the defensive, angry at being considered the newest rogue state. Prince Saud, the foreign minister, told us that this was precisely Osama bin Laden's plan, to drive a massive wedge between Saudi Arabia and America.


PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: The drama of the act, the reaction of the American people I can sympathize with, that they see 15 Saudis they must question. Our reaction was the reaction of somebody who wakes up one day and finds his son a mass murderer. How shocking is that?


AMANPOUR: Prince Saud says he's convinced the relationship will survive. So many Saudi officials and professionals were educated in the United States and during our trip there they made a special effort to remind us of that and to tell us how hurt they are that America is now limiting student visas and considering fingerprinting all Saudis at immigration.

Saudi visitors who used to spend billions of dollars a year in America are instead going to Europe to shop, study, or get medical treatment, but what about Americans? Do Saudis feel their pain? Yes, they tell us. In fact, people say that for the first time ever Saudi Arabia is taking a good hard look at itself and slowly, very slowly, instituting some necessary changes.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): If Saudi schools are being criticized for teaching hatred and anti-Americanism, this school in Riyadh is trying to buck that trend. A pilot program at the prestigious King Faisal School, started before September 11, has taken on special urgency now beginning at grade school to teach language, math, computer science and technology in English.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it's fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It teaches you about the English language and that's very important.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of these kids' parents they're schooled in America, so they want to pass on that heritage, that tradition.

AMANPOUR: But since 15 of the September 11 hijackers were Saudis, the United States is handing out fewer visas and Saudis are afraid to send their children to a country they feel hates them. In addition, many Saudis who usually go to the U.S. for vacation or medical treatment are now going to Europe.

AMANPOUR (on camera): Here in Saudi Arabia, sympathy for America is giving way to indignation and defensiveness and a feeling of betrayal as deep as is in America itself.

(voice-over): You can come to a mall in the capitol and get a genuinely friendly welcome, and although Saudis now admit their countrymen were involved in September 11, those who have lived in and love America are still angry that all Saudis are being tarnished as terrorists, as the enemy.

PRINCE SULTAN BIN SALMAN, DIRECTOR, TOURISM COMMISSION: People here are not just shocked but appalled that this is also being tagged as the band of religion that is coming out of Saudi Arabia.

NOURA AL-YOUSEF, ECONOMIST: I'm still in the state of denial. I couldn't believe that those 15 people are from my country. I've been raised, I studied in this country, and we don't do this stuff.

AMANPOUR: And outside this mosque in the capitol, young men are eager to tell us that not all Saudis are guilty but they also tell us that they feel current American policy in the Middle East is the both threatening and humiliating. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The all Arabs you see here are Muslim from Kashmir, from (UNINTELLIGIBLE), from Sudan but stand from anywhere they hate America because America helped Israel against Arabs in Palestine.

AMANPOUR: Indeed, a recent poll finds the majority of Saudis have a negative view of America but beneath the bitterness, hope too that bad feelings can be overcome and that they can travel and study again in United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not talking about the government's relations. I'm talking about the people's relations. America is a country of freedom. I'm talking about the people themselves. The people are nice.

AMANPOUR: And, back at the King Faisal School, that's Talal, one of Osama bin Laden's nephews among the ninth graders learning English.

TALAL BIN LADEN, STUDENT: It's exciting and it's the common Language in the world so we have to learn it so it helps us in our jobs.

AMANPOUR: Talal doesn't know yet what he wants to be when he grows up but like his classmates, his heart is filled not with hate just an eagerness to learn.


AMANPOUR: Just what young Saudis learn in the classroom is a source of high anxiety for those in the West who think they're being taught to hate, that story coming up. And also, the fight for equal rights.


HAMOUDA: With time, I think the old lady doctors they proved themselves very well here and they have forced the community to realize that they could be as efficient as their male counterparts.


AMANPOUR: A look at life for women in Saudi Arabia when we return.


ANNOUNCER: The average life expectancy in Saudi Arabia is 68 years. The Islamic calendar is eleven days shorter than the western calendar. Saudi Arabia is 95 percent desert.

AMANPOUR: Saudi Arabia is the heart of conservative Islam but does its education system raise children on a diet of anti-Western hostility? We thought we'd try to go to the top and ask the crown prince during a ceremony marking the Muslim holy month Ramadan, which is now underway. He wasn't taking any questions that day but ever since September 11, he's been sending out a clear message of tolerance. The rulers say they want changes in the classrooms which right now mostly teach students how to memorize and recite the Koran by heart.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): At this weekly audience known as the Majlis, Saudis meet, greet, and petition their country's de facto ruler Crown Prince Abdullah. And these days, he's developed a message for them. In speeches, gatherings, and in the press, he's telling them to stick to moderate Islam and shun provocative actions.

(on camera): Ever since September 11, the spotlight has been on Saudi Arabia's austere brand of Islam. Why did fifteen young Saudis take part in those attacks? What's being preached in the mosques or taught in the schools that might encourage hatred or anti-Americanism?

(voice-over): Saudis heatedly denied their system graduates terrorists. At the same time though, there is an unprecedented sensitivity to the need for new thinking.

BIN SALMAN: Of course there are certain aspects of our education system or our curricula that has to be examined and a self-examination is going on and it's going on even faster now maybe after the focus of September 11.

AMANPOUR: Five to ten percent of what's in Saudi textbooks was found to be objectionable, what Saudis call anti-Zionist material is now being removed, and an urgent review of the national education system is calling for language, computer science, and technology to be taught in English from grade school.

HAMOUDA: I'd like to be more creative and to be able to have critical thinking rather than the spoon feeding education.

AMANPOUR: For the first time in Saudi Arabia, the public is demanding educational reform to prepare students to integrate into the modern world and its job market.

DR. FAHAD ABDEL JABBER, KING ASDEL AZIZ MEDICAL CITY: I think the curriculum has to be changed, has to be developed. It has to be contemporary that curriculum. This is, I think, very important. They are actually getting more and more enlightened people that are having influence and they are overcoming the extremists.

AMANPOUR: Religious classes still form about quarter of the curriculum and some people now admit that some of those do foster hatred of non-Muslims, but the head of Islamic studies at this school says that shouldn't happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Islam is not a religion that fosters (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or ignorance or hatred towards others. On the contrary, it's a religion that teaches students to like others and to think well about them.

AMANPOUR: Saudi Arabia has developed a shiny modern infrastructure and modern messages are beamed in by the Internet and satellite television. Now faced with a delicate balancing act, even Saudi rulers say they need to develop a more modern way of thinking to match.


AMANPOUR: Indeed, many Saudis told us it would be suicide not to. About two-thirds of all Saudis are under 18 years old. They need an education that enables them to get real jobs; otherwise, there'll be an army of bored, angry youths out on the streets.

As for women, while their education and employment opportunities are still heavily restricted. Since September the 11, the treatment of Saudi women has become emblematic for everything the West thinks is wrong about the country. But in fact, things have changed rather dramatically for women since we last took a look during the Gulf War 12 years ago.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): A baby at the Riyadh Military Hospital is undergoing emergency surgery to correct a congenital breathing defect. Ably assisted by a team of male nurses and anesthetists, three female Saudi surgeons save the child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he says he was not happy because he's very blocked and we have to save his air, otherwise we'll lose him in a second. So we did it immediately. It was an emergency tracheotomy when you came in.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but what about being a woman working alongside men in Saudi Arabia?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually trained many doctors (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the moment.

AMANPOUR: Actually, these women head their departments. And in another wing, little Odnon (ph) is getting a checkup from Dr. Wafa Al- Suwairi.

AL-SUWAIRI: Twelve years ago at the time when I started, it wasn't easy but with time I think the old lady doctors, they proved themselves very well here.

AMANPOUR: Saudi girls got the right to education only 42 years ago. Government scholarships and higher salaries than men put them on the fast-track. Still Saudi women only make up about seven percent of the work force and mainly in the medical, banking, and teaching professions. Outside work, women are still heavily restricted and segregated by the country's conservative brand of Islam. There are separate lines in restaurants and banks. But in a recent change, the government urged the Mutawa, which monitors morality in public places, to go easy and respect people's freedoms.

(on camera): Last spring, the Saudi press heavily criticized the morals police for allegedly preventing schoolgirls from fleeing their burning building for fear of exposing them to male rescue workers. Fifteen girls were killed in that fire. Now, Saudi women are able to air more of their grievances because a slight opening up of the press here is making it a forum for public debate.

(voice-over): Nada al-Fayez is a newspaper columnist and a private businesswoman. She calls herself a new generation woman and has high ambitions.

AL-FAYEZ: And I wish that I can have a high position in the future in the government. I dream that one day I'm going to be a minister.

AMANPOUR: Right now, women can't even drive but they were recently granted their own ID cards. Before that, their names were simply attached to those of their husbands or male relatives.

AL-SUWAIRI: I am basically an independent woman. I'm taking more serious decisions in my life and looking after patients and taking more to serious decisions, so I have the right to be looked at as an independent human being.

AMANPOUR: While Saudi women admit many frustrations, they remind us how long it took American women to win their rights and they warn us not to expect them to be liberated overnight.

AL-FAYEZ: The right, the law to our religion and mentality and lifestyle in the kingdom is totally different than the women's rights belonging to the religion and the mentality and the lifestyle in the states as if you are comparing between apple and banana.

AMANPOUR: But an economy that's beginning to demand two salary families is already bringing pressure for change and many Saudi women, and men, tell us that it will come sooner or later.


AMANPOUR: Change comes to Saudi Arabia at a snail's pace but it is coming. And, when we come back the sound of Saudi rock-and-roll. And up next, Americans and Saudis living and working side-by-side, is it business as usual?


KATHY OWEN: The events of 9/11 have put a tension there that I don't think they feel good about, we don't feel good about it, and it's just very sad.



ANNOUNCER: All Saudi newspapers are created by royal decree. The unemployment rate was an estimated 15 percent in 2001. Saudi Arabia holds 26 percent of the world's proven oil reserves. The country is also the main outside supplier of oil to the U.S., Europe, and Japan. AMANPOUR: When the oil economy was booming and Saudis were pampered, millions of foreign workers were imported for everything from menial labor to running hotels and big businesses. All along, the most respected and well liked foreigners were the Americans who went to work for the oil companies. There are about 40,000 U.S. citizens living and working in the Kingdom. Many love it and end up staying there forever. But Americans there have gone through a very rocky path since September 11, reevaluating the country and the people they thought they knew so well.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): On weekends, the Owen family likes to go horseback riding in the desert. Tom Owen is a second generation American raised in Saudi Arabia. Now he's raising his own children here.

TOM OWEN, SAUDI ARAMCO: The major trade-off is being so far away from your family. Of course in our family, we've taken care of that. We've brought them all over here.

AMANPOUR: Saudi Aramco is the world's biggest oil company. Aramcons, as they call themselves, live in a company compound similar to any U.S. military compound overseas with their own leisure activities, medical services, and commissaries. Other nationals, including Saudis, live here too.

K. OWEN: The events of 9/11 have put a tension there that I don't think they feel good about, we don't feel good about, and it's just very sad.

AMANPOUR: But things are getting back to normal. All together, some 40,000 Americans live and work across Saudi Arabia.

(on camera): Americans are on high alert. There are frequent warnings telling them not to look conspicuous in public, not to leave their cars unattended, to check under the hoods. But apart from one incident last year in which one American was killed, U.S. officials here say there has been no violence specifically targeted at the American community.

(voice-over): Indeed, many say they feel safer here than on the mean streets of urban America.

J. RYLANDS: It's a safe place. It gives me a good environment for my family. They're safe here. We have a good school system. As a family man, this is the place for me to be.

AMANPOUR: Well paid jobs brought them here but they say the lifestyle keeps them here.

CATHY RYLANDS: Their sense of community that's missing in the states as well. You know, your neighbor become your aunts and uncles and grandmothers and grandfathers and so it's hard to find that. That's why it's so hard to leave here.

AMANPOUR: Inside the compound, women are not restricted.

C. RYLANDS: I'm able to drive on the camp. I'm able to jog, go to the beach, go to the pool, but once I'm off camp, I respect the customs here.

AMANPOUR: The Americans we talked to say they regret what they call a post-September 11 campaign against Saudi Arabia by some in the U.S. government and the media.

MICHELLE ALI-REZA: Most of the people in the United States don't know anything about Saudi Arabia. They don't know anything about the people and the people here are not, I mean they're not terrorists. They're not you know fundamentalists for the most part.

AMANPOUR: Michelle's husband Shihab is Saudi.

SHIHAB ALI-REZA, SAUDI ARAMCO: You know, we don't have a democracy so we don't really have a say in what happens, and in a way we perceive that about Americans. It's George Bush that's causing trouble, you know. Were not thinking she's at fault or anything like that so there's not a lot of animosity between Americans and Saudis.

AMANPOUR: In fact, many say they learn a lot living in this multi-cultural environment. They say they're more sensitive to how their government's policies affect the people of this region. And after an alliance that has lasted 70 years, Americans say they still have most favored ex-pat status.


AMANPOUR: As we've just seen, American and Western culture and culture from all over the world is beamed into Saudi Arabia by all the tools of the technology age. In fact, 80 percent of all Saudis watch satellite television. But what do the young people do for fun? A glimpse into the unusual when we come back.


AMANPOUR: Because so many in the West see Saudi Arabia as little more than sand and oil, mosques and beards, we thought we'd show you another side, young Saudis who like to do the same things as many young people anywhere in the world.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This local rock band is practicing for its next gig. Because this is Saudi Arabia, there are no public concerts but they can perform at private parties, weddings, or university functions, and they do sometimes travel across the causeway to neighboring, more liberal, Bahrain where they can play in bars and other public places.


AMANPOUR: This isn't the whole story of Saudi Arabia but it is a story. There are still troubling questions about how to get to the root of fanaticism and terrorism, how to balance religion, culture and tradition with the need to live in the modern world. The sleek city skylines belie the image of a repressed nation united against outside influence because everywhere you see Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and of course, McDonald's.

For the most part, the country is peaceful and people preoccupied with everyday concerns like how to educate their children, how to get a job. We have tried to show you that there is a little more to Saudi Arabia than meets the eye. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and that's all for INSIDE SAUDI ARABIA.


© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.