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9/11 was accomplished primarily by 16 nationals of Saudi Arabia, counting bin Laden himself as an active participant. They were not sponsored by the Kingdom; rather they were radicalized, at least in part, by the feudal regime.

Saudi Arabia is trying to modernize, even as it is pulled backwards. Materially, it has come a long way as any visitor to Riyadh will instantly recognize. Central Riyadh is replete with modern buildings, shops and busy thoroughfares. However, half the inhabitants of Riyadh cannot be seen beneath their abayas, Wahhabi Islam mandated dress, and veils. The dress code and social order is enforced by the mutawaeen -- the religious police. Otherwise, Riyadh is much like many other western cities.

As a state, Saudi Arabia is less than a century old, having been founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud who promptly became king. The Saud dynasty still rules. The alliance between Saudi Arabia and the US dates back to Franklin Roosevelt who made friends with Ibn Saud. That alliance was tested by the Gulf war. The Iraq war was another matter; the US abandoned its military base in Saudi Arabia.

In one way, Saudi Arabia is now a paradise -- for the king and his clan of some 5,000 princes at last count. All Saudis benefit significantly from oil exports and good educations can be had by the aspiring. Except for the religious police and its strict theocratic social governance, one might mistake Saudi Arabia for a democracy.

In another way, Saudi Arabia is still caught in the vise of conservative Wahhabi Islam, one of the most extreme varieties. See House of Saud for more on that.

As a result, Saudi Arabia is now caught between the seventh and twenty-first centuries. A vast economic-and-privilege gulf exists btween the House of Saud and the common Saudi. Many think, and we concur, that that very feature contributed to the radicalization of Osama bin Laden and his 16 cohorts.

While the average Saudi never had it so good, their society is two tier in that guest workers, who have no political rights, hold nearly half of all jobs available. Those jobs too are two tier: the educated physicians, engineers, managers on the one hand and the menial workers on the other. The former are favored with high salaries, liberal fringe benefits and opulent accommodations. The latter do jobs "beneath" the average salary.

This may sound like paradise to some, but Saudi society suffers. For example 20-30% of young Saudis are out of work. Many actually lose whatever work ethics they had. In short, the generation now reaching maturity was pampered. One Saudi official is quoted as saying: "We allowed them to grow up in pampered emptiness, until they turned to the bin Laden extremists in an effort to find themsleves." (National Geographic, Oct 2003.)

This is on top of the restrictions Wahhabis place on society to make sure it stays loyal to seventh-century ideas and rules. Bin Laden noted the heavy hand of the house of Saud by beginning with an allegory in his 1996 Fatwa. And Saudi Arabia is now subjected to terror attacks by al Qa'ida.

Wahhabi Islam, God and every true believer are connected directly. Never mind if that sounds far out, it is the belief that counts; belief holds certain impressionable youth in thrall. Saudi officials think that al Qa'ida deliberately enlists the vulnerable young of Saudi society. That rings true.

Will the House of Saud survive the turmoil sure to come when the oil runs out?


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