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'Kingdom on the Brink: The Battle for Saudi Arabia'
Aired November 7, 2004 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
CNN PRESENTS is next after a look at the stories right now in the news.
Iraqi commandos have taken their main hospital in Falluja. And U.S. Marines secured the area around the hospital, but left it to the Iraqi commandos to move inside.
Now, according to the Associated Press, U.S. forces also secured two key bridges over the Euphrates River. Pentagon officials won't say when the main assault on Falluja will actually begin.
But please join me tonight at 10:00 Eastern for a closer look at the mission in Falluja. I'm going to be joined by CNN military analyst, Major General Terry Murray, who fought in Desert Storm.
Also, conflicting reports tonight on Yasser Arafat's condition. The Palestinian Authority says he's in a coma. Well, yesterday, Arafat's media advisor denied that. Palestinian leaders travel to Paris to visit Arafat tomorrow.
More news in 30 minutes. CNN PRESENTS: "Kingdom on the Brink: The Battle for Saudi Arabia" starts right now.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: In Saudi Arabia, a new al Qaeda leader launches a vicious offensive. For the first time, many Muslims die.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul Marshall Johnson.
ROBERTSON: Westerners are targeted by the terrorists. The country that gave birth to Islam and Osama bin Laden now confronts the terror within.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Saudi Arabia has crossed the threshold into a new era of insecurity.
ROBERTSON: Oil prices rocket. Global markets recoil.
The Saudi royal family struggles, caught between reform and fundamentalism.
PRINCE ALWALEED BIN TALAL ALSAUD: What I want, I want things to change before things deteriorate.
ROBERTSON: Is it a kingdom on the brink?
I'm Nic Robertson in Saudi Arabia. In recent months, this country has been wracked by barbaric acts of terrorism. The ruling royal family is cracking down on the al Qaeda militants it says are responsible.
But how deeply rooted is al Qaeda? And can the royal family control it? Or is this country, the United States' principal Arab ally in the Middle East, slipping towards chaos?
In the past few months, I've traveled throughout this oil-rich and exceedingly conservative desert kingdom talking with Saudis, searching for answers.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal is one of the world's wealthiest men.
He is as comfortable cutting deals worth millions - sometimes billions - from his private jet as he is doing it at his desert retreat or from the skyscraper he built in the heart of the Saudi capital.
He is on a mission to bring his family - the royal family - and his country into the 21st century.
And today ...
PRINCE ALWALEED BIN TALAL ALSAUD: This is the real Islam, The majority of the people is practicing what I practice.
ROBERTSON: That means educating me about the biggest challenge facing Saudi Arabia.
ALWALEED: You know, Islam has been hijacked by the minority, and we're going to face them and confront them head-on. Because they are barking, these people.
Look at what Abdullah says.
ROBERTSON: He's keen to show me the day's headlines. Crown Prince Abdullah, his uncle, and the man who runs Saudi Arabia, is quoted warning a group of religious leaders, imams, that their teachings are inciting the likes of al Qaeda.
ALWALEED: What is the breakthrough is the content. We're watching imams, they warn. That's very important. They instigate. Some of them instigate.
ROBERTSON: Instigate the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...
ALWALEED: Yes, oh, yes, yes. They instigate. OK, let's go.
ROBERTSON: As Prince Alwaleed heads off to pray, I'm chasing in his wake to ask more about his uncle's remarks.
ALWALEED: He's saying, be religious all the way until doomsday.
ROBERTSON: But then, don't be extremist.
ALWALEED: But don't be ...
ROBERTSON: Don't (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this way.
ALWALEED: ... don't be extremist for tomorrow.
ROBERTSON: Because that's what al Qaeda's been doing. It's been essentially hijacking Islam.
ALWALEED: That's it. That's it. That's the message.
ROBERTSON: His message, he wants me to understand, this is a conservative society and faith comes first, business next.
ALWALEED: Do we sell now? Do we lease now? We wait to develop? I mean, what are the questions.
ROBERTSON: It's a philosophy that hasn't stopped him risking millions on companies in trouble.
ALWALEED: What do you have? How can we add maximum value?
We'll see you.
ROBERTSON: He now holds stakes in major banks, hotels and media companies, including the ones that own CNN, Fox and ABC.
But inside his luxurious offices, Prince Alwaleed is doing what few others dare.
ALWALEED: Just have him bring everything.
ROBERTSON: In a country where women cannot drive and are normally covered head to toe, he is hiring them to top jobs at his kingdom holding company, letting them mix with men.
Today, the prince invites us to videotape while he's hiring five Saudi air stewardesses.
ALWALEED: See you.
ROBERTSON: In Western terms, just how historic is this?
ALWALEED: This is historical, because the first time in Saudi Arabia, a place of 16.5 million people, you have five ladies who are flight attendants, with the approval of their fathers, their husbands and their brothers.
ROBERTSON: And it's never been done before.
ALWALEED: Never happened, but it will happen again.
ROBERTSON: And why do you want to do this?
ALWALEED: I want to do it, because I want to prove to Saudis, I want to prove to our region, I want to prove to the world, that Saudi ladies can make it.
ROBERTSON: But it's so cutting edge that later we'll told most of the footage is too sensitive to use, that it would be misunderstood by some in Saudi Arabia.
ALWALEED: I do not want to give any loophole for those extremists to say, oops, then out of Islam.
ROBERTSON: As I join Prince Alwaleed at his weekly gathering, known as a majlis, I'm reminded how centuries of tradition pull at his modern life.
Fealty is give to leaders who must repay it or risk breaking tribal bonds that bind this society together.
Three weeks ago, this young man and his brothers petitioned the prince to help. The prince gave the young man and his brothers a car. Now the young man has come to praise the prince.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ALWALEED: This majlis is a must, is a duty of members of the royal family. It's their duty to meet and interact with those people, and look at their needs first hand without any intermediary.
ROBERTSON: The pressures of the prince's modern business life seem to crowd out his responsibilities to the old world order.
But history here is replete with lessons for royals who get ahead of their people.
It's happened before, as oil wealth propelled this country from poor desert kingdom to modernity in barely two generations.
ALWALEED: Every time Saudi Arabia wanted to modernize and introduced a new element into this old-fashioned society.
There used to be some kind of rebellion from those so-called people on the right, or a bit on the extreme side.
ROBERTSON: After 9/11 and the discovery that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, the strongest pressure to reform Saudi Arabia has been from its oldest ally, the United States.
ALWALEED: The fact that some Saudis were involved in 9/11, this will imminently and inevitably create a rift between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
ROBERTSON: What the prince fears now is that no one in the West trusts the Saudi royals to deal with their terror threat and get it right.
ALWALEED: Look, we're a conservative society. We're a Muslim society. We are slow moving.
Our constituency is very unique. We are the custodian of the two holy mosques here. So, we have a big responsibility.
So our constituency is very wide. So, it has to be done at our own speed.
And, look, I'm a reformer. I like things to change.
ROBERTSON: Inside his business world, a handful of women can, for now at least, enjoy their days in the office.
But come down here 66 floors below Prince Alwaleed's office to the kingdom shopping mall, and life is completely different. Women wear the abaya.
And the religious police patrol the mall, enforcing traditional cultural values, making sure that all women are properly covered - a reminder for Prince Alwaleed, his domain is small, bounded by a reality that even he can't change.
When we come back, conservatives rein in the royals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Islamically, we should keep women segregated from men, for their sake.
ROBERTSON: A quick tug on his scarf, a last-minute mike check, and Sheik Hasim al Hakim (ph) begins.
SHEIK ASIM AL HAKIM (ph), SAUDI TELEVISION: In today's program, we're going to start the seventh chapter of this book.
ROBERTSON: At Saudi TV studios, he delivers the government's weekly guidance on how to be a good Muslim.
HASIM (ph): First ...
ROBERTSON: His message goes out to all in the kingdom, including millions of guest workers, many of whom speak English.
HASIM (ph): Women do not go out to work with men, mix with men, like a lot of people do. This is un-Islamic.
ROBERTSON: On the drive from his day job in the port city of Jeddah, Sheik Hasim explains the passion behind his preaching.
HASIM (ph): It's basically the Quran and the Sunda (ph). It's the way the prophet - Prophet Mohammed - it's the way that he taught his companions.
ROBERTSON: That was 1,400 years ago in the desert town of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, and the place 1.3 billion Muslims turn to face in prayer five times a day.
It's where Sheik Hasim (ph) records his show.
HASIM (ph): This is the checkpoint that leads to the restricted area where only Muslims can enter.
ROBERTSON: So revered, I can't go.
Likewise, I can't visit him at home where he has two wives and 11 daughters.
HASIM (ph): Islam tells you that women should stay away from men so that forbidden things may not happen, such as adultery, such as, well, fornication, for an example. ROBERTSON: Instead, we meet in his office where he's an oil pipe salesman.
There are efforts to - by the royal family - to reform the situation here and allow women more into the workplace. It's happening.
HASIM (ph): They would dare not do such a thing, because the royal family defends and protects Islamic law, as they know their existence depends on it.
ROBERTSON: It dates back to a bargain made at a desert oasis in 1747. Prince Mohammed bin Saud, looking to extend his barren lands, co-opted rising, radical cleric, Sheik Muhammad Ibn Wahab, in his quest to subjugate other tribes, a synergy still successful to this day.
HASIM (ph): Look at the flag. The sword is there. And on top of it, it's the testimony, that we bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and that the Prophet Mohammed is his messenger. This is an Islamic state.
ROBERTSON: The Sauds and Wahabis would find their fortunes wax and wane together.
But following 1979, when a group of fundamentalists temporarily took control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and called for the overthrow of the royal family, the Sauds allowed the Wahabs and their puritanical brand of Islam greater influence.
HASIM (ph): I am a Wahabi, in the sense that I call people. I'm a fundamentalist. I'm a Wahabi. In some cases, I'm an extremist.
SAMI ANGAWI, SAUDI ARCHITECT: From the sea, caught in every room.
ROBERTSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here.
ROBERTSON: Extremism is what architect Sami Angawi fears most.
ANGAWI: This stone is 350 years old.
ROBERTSON: He is house (ph) proud (ph), yes. Cosmopolitan, maybe. A product, he says, of the centuries of pilgrims passing en route to Mecca through his home town of Jeddah.
ANGAWI: This is the Hijazi dialect (ph).
ROBERTSON: Imbuing his ancestors with a greater tolerance than the Wahabis from the interior.
ANGAWI: From the very beginning, the God (ph) they wanted to have the concept of a man choosing. So, his - it says in the Quran, I have done this, I've done this, I've done this and that's God speaking. And if you want to believe all this, please, it's up to you.
ROBERTSON: Your choice.
ANGAWI: It's your choice.
ANGAWI: So this is freedom.
ROBERTSON: A principle he puts into practice, hosting weekly meetings, debating women's issues and the needs of the rapidly rising young unemployed.
ANGAWI: In the beginning we met as men to men. We didn't know how to talk to each other. But then when the women came, it became even more complicated.
ROBERTSON: In Saudi terms, he is a liberal. A devout Muslim, pushing for political and religious reform.
Meetings like this would have been unheard of a few years ago. But even now, some people are still afraid of speaking out publicly.
A newspaper editor was fired for criticizing a conservative cleric, and some forward-leaning liberals have been locked up for no specified charge.
Sami was warned not to talk with us. Quietly, though, he was reassured his weekly meetings - so far, at least - do have a royal seal of approval.
ROBERTSON: This is Mecca. How many years is ...
ANGAWI: Oh, this is Mecca 1904.
ROBERTSON: Where he is making less headway is with his other passion - the preservation of ancient buildings in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
What's happening here?
ANGAWI: Here's is - the place is being destroyed to allow for a parking lot.
ROBERTSON: For decades, he's been cataloguing the damage. Destruction, Sami says, rooted in the intolerance of Wahabi clerics, who believe such buildings could lead to idolatry.
ANGAWI: But the really moving force is the religious establishment. ROBERTSON: He ends his slideshow on these images. His message, the intolerance at the very heart of Islam is the lifeblood of Muslim extremism worldwide.
Is Osama bin Laden doing the right thing?
HASIM (ph): At the moment? No.
ROBERTSON: Sheikh Hasim (ph) says the Quran does not tolerate terrorist attacks like al Qaeda's.
But in his view, and that of the religious establishment, Islam is increasingly under attack from the West and needs to be defended. It's the same rationale that jihadis use to justify violence.
HASIM (ph): Every action has to have a reaction. And you cannot just tell everybody, turn the other cheek, because we're out of cheeks. We've been slapped, you know, right, left and center.
Someone has to do something.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, how terrorists use these fears to recruit jihadi fighters.
ABDULLAH AL-OTAIBI: OK, this is the town of Suweidi. This is the Suweidi street.
ROBERTSON: And this is Abdullah Al-Otaibi.
AL-OTAIBI: And this my house, the green house.
ROBERTSON: He's taking me and my cameramen to Suweidi, one of the capital's poorest districts.
They arrested you here?
AL-OTAIBI: Yes, yes.
ROBERTSON: That was more than 10 years ago. He was a radical jihadi, and went to jail for his beliefs. Today, he says, he's reformed, but not Suweidi.
It's become over the years a recruiting ground for al Qaeda. The government officials here say it's not safe for us to get out of the car.
AL-OTAIBI: You see McDonald's?
AL-OTAIBI: McDonald's in Suweidi.
ROBERTSON: The drive is a surreal and chilling experience.
AL-OTAIBI: The BBC killed here.
ROBERTSON: The month before, journalist Simon Cumbers, a close friend of mine, was shot dead while filming for the BBC.
Local jihadis were blamed.
AL-OTAIBI: They hate American and hate the British.
ROBERTSON: This simple understanding in Suweidi. Westerners are not welcome.
From an office across town, Abdullah is working to undermine the extremists, but it's not been easy. Government clerics got him banned from writing for months, for saying their religious teachings helped breed terrorism.
AL-OTAIBI (through translator): It is one of the first articles that directly say that we have flaws in the locally-preached religious message.
ROBERTSON: A message that in Suweidi spawned the now dead al Qaeda leader, Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin.
Muqrin rose to prominence through a spate of violent attacks, beginning with the Muhaya compound in November 2003.
He is best known in the West for his brutal beheading of U.S. engineer Paul Johnson.
To Abdullah, Muqrin was an angry man, propelled towards terrorism by the same radical interpretation of the Quran that religious teachers used to ensnare him.
It was a message that was everywhere in Suweidi, not just the mosque.
AL-OTAIBI (through translator): In school they convinced me that being religious was better from me. So I became religious in al Suweidi. I was attending many lectures and took a lot of notes and read many lessons.
I befriended a group of young people who were more on the extremist side. We left our homes, of course, and we lived to together. We started to examine those extremist ideas.
ROBERTSON: As we're in his office, government helicopters fly by towards Suweidi.
It is normal.
AL-OTAIBI: It's normal.
AL-OTAIBI: Suweidi is Falluja, you see.
ROBERTSON: He jokes, like Falluja, the flashpoint town in Iraq.
A few nights before when we drove into Riyadh, it wasn't so funny.
Hundreds of police were pouring onto the streets. A shootout with al Qaeda was underway - an increasingly common occurrence in the capital.
Police won't let us go down and film at the checkpoint. They're very tense, very nervous at the moment. They've just sealed off the area.
It was a raid to capture the man who replaced al-Muqrin as leader of al Qaeda. But in the firefight, that man, Salih al-Oufi (ph), escaped.
As raid turned to recovery, Paul Johnson's head was discovered in the house. Pock marks attested to the intensity of the battle, he drab, middle-class street to the anonymity al Qaeda has assumed.
MOHSEN AL-AWAJI, SAUDI LAWYER: This is the film for al-Muhaya compound, you know.
ROBERTSON: Lawyer Mohsen al-Awaji was once an extremist who spent time in jail.
And that was the bombing in November of last year, ...
AL-AWAJI: Yes, yes, last year.
ROBERTSON: ... 2003.
AL-AWAJI: Yes, yes.
ROBERTSON: Now, he's an intermediary between the royal family and the jihadis, trying to convince those on the government's most-wanted list to take up Crown Prince Abdullah's offer of amnesty.
Even as we're talking, he gets a call.
AL-AWAJI: This is the father of one of the 26 on the list.
ROBERTSON: Mohsen says, U.S. actions are making his job harder.
AL-AWAJI: Their, I would say, mobilizers, you know, their recruiters use the issue of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib prison, you see.
And those are very effective, very, I would say, fruitful, for them to mobilize, you know, those youngsters, without asking them why and how.
ROBERTSON: To mobilize and even a suicide mission.
ROBERTSON: He shows me how effective al Qaeda videos are becoming.
AL-AWAJI: But he is selecting his words in a way that is charming.
ROBERTSON: Particularly those using Osama bin Laden.
AL-AWAJI: What bin Laden under al Qaeda is doing now is shameful for us.
JAMAL KHALIFA, BROTHER-IN-LAW OF OSAMA BIN LADEN: I can see others, they start to adopt the idea and come and kill.
ROBERTSON: The idea of Osama.
KHALIFA: Osama, yes. The idea of his group, let's say ...
ROBERTSON: Jamal Khalifa is Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, and was once the al Qaeda leader's closest friend.
KHALIFA: And this is the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ROBERTSON: He now runs a fish restaurant near Jeddah. Jamal became so outraged following the Muhaya attack, he published an open letter to bin Laden in his local newspaper.
KHALIFA: Please, come out. Tell those people to stop. You are the one who can tell that, and you are the one who can stop it.
ROBERTSON: Did he listen to you?
KHALIFA: No, of course, not at all.
AL-OTAIBI: And this is in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
ROBERTSON: Abdullah, too, is trying to get people to listen. He spent his time in prison trying to undo the years of what he calls the brainwashing he received as a young man in Suweidi.
AL-OTAIBI: All of this I'm writing about.
ROBERTSON: His writing ban notwithstanding, his passion now is to publish his life story, a personal appeal to youngsters not to make his mistakes.
AL-OTAIBI (through translator): If the religious, educational, political, economic and other elements in the kingdom and outside it do not change, it may bring out another generation of al Qaeda.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, life among the disenfranchised.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): We now return to CNN PRESENTS: "Kingdom On The Brink."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, this is for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You see. The one we saw uncolored is being colored now.
ROBERTSON: The anti-smoking campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the anti-smoking campaign.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): I'm getting a tour of Jeddah's state-of- the-art three-points advertising agency...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here we're doing backscore.
ROBERTSON: ... and a rundown from Director Esa Baukeri (ph) on where the profits are to be made.
(on camera): I think you've made (UNINTELLIGIBLE) market of 16 to 24.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are, by default, 75 percent of the population.
ROBERTSON: Seventy-five percent of the population is between 16 and 24?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, 75 percent of the population is under 27.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): A staggering figure. And in this country, it means Esa (ph) is pitching his advertising wits against al Qaeda.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's using the tools that we're using, you know. It's mixing, you know, audiovisual. I mean, it's -- you're using all your visual to portray a message.
ROBERTSON: In brainstorming sessions with his teams, Esa (ph) pushing them to figure out how to reach out to the young with everything from public service ads to television programs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to create a visual that every time you like, it hits you.
ROBERTSON: It's a tough challenge for this Saudi yuppie. At 35, Esa (ph) believes much has changed since his youth, when all they had to watch was one channel of state TV. He feels a generation apart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're growing up with Internet, with 50 channels from all around the world, so they're overwhelmed by the amount of information, by the pressures that they're, you know, facing.
ROBERTSON: He calculates so few in his audience watch state- controlled TV that he puts his ads on more exciting programs, broadcasts from outside Saudi Arabia, but, he says, young people are confused by satellite TV. They love Hollywood movies, but get an entirely different message about America from Arab news channels.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're friendly, you know, kindly faces, and then they turn into another, you know, news channel, and they see their own brothers being killed, Muslims all around the world being oppressed, and they're saying, wait a minute, what is going on here.
Ready? Are you ready?
ROBERTSON: With a group of friends, Esa (ph) is fighting back, making programs designed to quell anger with understanding. They discuss a trip to Ground Zero in New York to show Saudis a different face of the United States, no the images from Iraq most see on their TVs every day.
Esa (ph) argues with Ahmed (ph), one of the anchors of the show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is wrong to kill a woman whether it's in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, the U.S. I don't care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's fine. This is your opinion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it is...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what you were saying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not my opinion! This is human.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but we're talking about Iraqis. We must show them why we're actually going and breathing with...
ROBERTSON: What divides them is what fuels anger in Saudi Arabia, the morality of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is try to go and see why is the U.S. doing this, understand from them why do we have support, why do they -- what did they invade Iraq.
ROBERTSON: A month later, I join Esa (ph) and his team at Ground Zero. Once, he was a student in this country, and this is the first time he's been back since September the 11th.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's more than I expected. I expected to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) something, but this is even more than I expected. Yes, it's very sad.
ROBERTSON: What I want to know is can he and his team translate their feelings about American suffering to their audience. Even Ahmed (ph) has been touched by the journey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The regular Saudi is sitting in Saudi Arabia. What did you see? All he's seeing is that Iraqi war. He's not seeing the Jewish person who we met today, Jewish American, who is defending the Muslims in Guantanamo Bay.
ROBERTSON: Not the stereotype most Saudis talk about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people that really matter are the poor people like you, me and every other person that's walking this street.
ROBERTSON: Esa (ph) and his team are connecting across the cultural and religious divide opened up by Osama bin Laden on September the 11th, but no one on his team expects this program episode to be an easy sell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure a lot of people are watching us right now, who are going to watch us and going to say why didn't you go to Iraq to show all the Muslims that...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know exactly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you going to -- coming here, September 11, after three years of the incident, and you're not going to Iraq and children killing -- being killed until today.
ROBERTSON (on camera): With is marketing background, Esa (ph) certainly knows his audience. The question is: Can he really change the minds of those few hard-line jihadi youth back in Saudi Arabia.
(voice-over): And even if he can, are all Saudi Arabia's ills curable with understanding?
When we come back, the have-nots of Saudi society.
BROWN: We now return to CNN PRESENTS: KINGDOM ON THE BRINK.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): This is the moment Muhammad al Durawi (ph) waits for each day. Outside the factory is where his life begins. As I ride the bus home with him in Jeddah, I have no idea this young man is about to reveal a Saudi Arabia few outsiders get to see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We play billiards in that place.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Over here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, here.
(voice-over): At times, Muhammad (ph) seems pensive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometime I asking myself what the reason I live for. Until now, nothing. I just work and work. So there is something missing, but I don't know.
ROBERTSON: You're trying to explain (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe because nobody can understand me. Maybe. I don't know. ROBERTSON (voice-over): He says he feels different. His Western-style clothes signal defiance and changing identity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I see some girl, some, and I said she is nice, if I talk to her, there is another Mutawwa, you know?
ROBERTSON (on camera): Religious policeman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. So he will catch me and put me in jail maybe for six months to talk with that girl only. So do you think that's fair? I don't know. I see it very stupid.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): He doesn't hate his religion, just the way it's interpreted. When we get to this house, I want to know more.
(on camera): Do you think there are a lot of young people like you that are sort of frustrated with the situation?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, there is many, and they lost, too.
ROBERTSON: A lot of people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many. They don't -- they don't say it, but...
ROBERTSON: Why is that? Why don't they want to admit it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because they is afraid.
ROBERTSON: Afraid of what?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Afraid from himself, you know. The first time they angry, they hide everything. Then, you know, when you hide, hide everything, you're like a bomb, and he blow one time. So he go to kill this, kill that.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Bottling up anger is what he believes drives some his age towards terrorism. He's rejected that path, but knows al Qaeda recruiters are trying to snare one of his friends.
As promised, he meets his work mates in the billiard hall. The feel here is decidedly un-Saudi. Muhammad (ph) offers me a game.
(on camera): Nice one.
(voice-over): Somewhat one-sided in his favor. Relaxing, our conversation flows.
(on camera): What at your school friends doing these days? Your friends from school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking drugs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. ROBERTSON: Is that a big problem these days?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming usual.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): I've heard this from other young men who say drug use is becoming common.
A little earlier at work, Muhammad (ph) had shown no hint of the troubles that bring him down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first time I came here, I don't know about the machine.
ROBERTSON: He explains to me he is happy to have a job. Unemployment is 30 percent and rising, despite government efforts to put more Saudis to work and cut dependence on foreign labor. After five years of college and two years unemployed, Muhammad (ph) offered to work for free just to get a start. He blames education.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't remember I learn something in the school, I can use it in the company. Nothing.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Nothing you learned at school...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing. Nothing, no.
ROBERTSON: What do they come -- what do they focus on at school?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They focus on, you know, religion and stuff.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Muhammad (ph) taught himself English from watching movies. Because theaters are illegal, he watched satellite TV and picked up more than just a new language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After you see it, you open your mind outside. You can see everything. You know, after that, you ask yourself how I am living. See the people outside, how they live. Why I'm living like that? So you try -- after that, you try to change yourself for better.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's one of my projects on the front.
ROBERTSON (on camera): That's beautiful.
(voice-over): Nadia al Bakhurji is also someone who stands apart in Saudi society, as a young woman taking up the challenge to make it professionally as an interior designer.
NADIA AL BAKHURJI, SAUDI ARABIAN BUSINESSWOMAN: There were very few females in this field. So I found that I had to -- if I wanted to work, I'd have to do it myself.
So how many drawings have we got all together now?
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Nadia did make it her own way, ran a successful company with 40 employees, and has now downsized into her living room so she can spend more time with her new baby.
BAKHURJI: This is my bambina.
ROBERTSON: She's giving us the rare opportunity to see a Saudi woman in her house because she wants us to understand her country, a country whose future, she fears, is becoming more dangerous.
BAKHURJI: They will tell their children of bombs and terrorism and war.
ROBERTSON: She reads me a poem she wrote following the terrorist bombing of the Mahia compound last year.
BAKHURJI: Saudi Arabia has crossed the threshold into a new era of insecurity and trouble. The sirens should be sounding in the heads of all officials.
ROBERTSON: For all her fears, she insists she does see hope, including a national dialogue about women sponsored by the Crown Prince.
BAKHURJI: A lot of women are very impatient. They want the change now, and they want it tomorrow, and I tell them don't expect it to happen overnight.
ROBERTSON: But Nadia is trying to force the face of reform. She asks for permission to run in Saudi Arabia's first ever municipal election...
BAKHURJI: Can't go out without this.
ROBERTSON: ... but was turned down. Women won't even be allowed to vote.
BAKHURJI: How can you move to be a productive society if half of your society is handcuffed to the sink?
ROBERTSON: It's a frustration Muhammad (ph) shares at his factory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, the work we do, like labeling, it's for women, not for men. But here, the women cannot work with men.
ROBERTSON: Like Nadia, he wants evolution, not revolution, but sees the groundswell coming.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like now, the women -- they said we must put the cover. Now, if you see the younger women, they don't put it anymore. So we will change it, but if they want it or not, we will change it. We will change it. But, you know, everything you must take it step by step, not jumping one time.
ROBERTSON: When we come back, can the royal family manage this change?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pace is happening as fast as we can and as much as we can through a process of consensus.
BROWN: We now return to CNN PRESENTS: KINGDOM ON THE BRINK.
ROBERTSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Crown Prince Abdullah, most people we talked to here seem to think if anyone's going to lead the country towards reform, it's going to be him. We'd like to ask him some questions, but we don't know if we'll get the chance.
(voice-over): As we enter his palace, security is tight. Recent attacks have the royal family fearing for their lives.
I watched as the country's most powerful man meets his subjects. This man pleads for money to fund a hospital for the handicapped. Others pledge support. The Crown Prince takes the opportunity to push his new mantra: There is no place for terrorists.
But the Crown Prince's rule is not as firm as it seems. Privately, I've been told that while he sits in place of his terminally ill brother, King Fahd, some of the king's other brothers scheme, effectively blocking any real chance of reform.
Suddenly, it's my turn...
(on camera): Your Highness, thank you very much for inviting me to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
(voice-over): ... a chance to ask him about the jihadists.
(on camera): May I take this opportunity to ask you a few questions?
(voice-over): Through his translator, he cordially declines. It's time for him to pray, and I learned the first lesson of the royal court. Everything is at the prince's discretion.
A few days later, another opportunity to talk to a leading member of the royal family. Foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal agrees to a short interview. I ask about the jihadis.
PRINCE SAUD AL FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: It is not true that they represent any action to economic ills in the government. What they are saying with their own governments in the Islamic world are illegal
ROBERTSON: When I talked to businessmen Prince Mohammad Al Faisal, a younger generation royal, I hear a different emphasis. He tells me the key to stability is a healthy economically.
PRINCE MOHAMMAD AL FAISAL, BUSINESSMAN: A third of the Saudi population was born after the first Gulf War. All you need to do is to look at your youth population and see their age group, and you know when they're going to move into the market -- to the job market.
ROBERTSON: And he says the time to fix the problem is now. Not all members of the government are in the royal family. Ghazi Al Gosaibi has just been appointed minister of labor. I find him even more outspoken.
GHAZI AL GOSAIBI, SAUDI LABOR MINISTER: We have problems about youth employment. We have a problem about our bureaucracy. We have problems about reform.
ROBERTSON: Problems that date back to the 1980s, to an economy bloated on oil, when many thousands of Saudi royals grew richer quicker than anyone else in the kingdom.
AL GOSAIBI: Every aspect of the system, whether you consider it corrupt or not corrupt, has a lot of beneficiaries, and you start to touch their vested interests, and you touch a hornet's nest.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a number of reasons for this myth and the survival of this regime.
ROBERTSON: To hear the most open criticism of the royals, I have to go to London.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And does it have means to stop us from sending our messages?
ROBERTSON: To Radio Isla, which means Radio Reform in Arabic, broadcasts from this suburban home of former Saudi surgeon, Dr. Saad al Fagih. The most vocal critic in exile of the royal family, he believes they are corrupt and are stealing the country's wealth.
DR. SAAD AL FAGIH, CRITIC OF SAUDI ROYAL FAMILY: The regime has not done a single move to reduce the reasons which push people for violence. It's actually done the opposites.
ROBERTSON: Sent to Saudi jail in the 1990s for calling for reform, he fled to England when he was released and began spreading his anti-royal message by fax. He recently upgraded to satellite radio, reaching directly into the homes inside Saudi Arabia where he is widely known.
AL FAGIH: For them, this is much more dangerous than missiles and bombs.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Were any demonstrators injured?
AL FAGIH: Yes.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Dr. Fagih says anti-government activities are not picked up by the mainstream Saudi press, but that he covers them on his Web site. He wants the royal family gone and tells me he wants the United States to drop its old ally.
(on camera): But why do you think that they keep backing them?
Al FAGIH: Because -- because, for them, an absolute dictatorship is the best regime which guarantees their interests.
ROBERTSON: And their interests are?
AL FAGIH: Their interest is to keep full hegemony in the region and complete control of the oil.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Continued U.S. support for the Al Saud dynasty, he says, will exacerbate discontent and ultimately strengthen the likes of bin Laden.
AL FAGIH: So it's left for the world to choose between the so- called moderate Islam and extremist or terrorist Muslims.
ROBERTSON: As I listen to Saad al Fagih, I reflect the royal family has been here before, written off when their iron grip appeared to weaken.
AL GOSAIBI: For the last 60 years, I've been hearing this, what do you call it, refrain. Nothing happened. The regime is still stable, and the succession has never seemed to be a problem.
ROBERTSON: But more than one year after the crackdown on terrorism began, the killings continue. The question is: Will Saudi society implode before it can reform?
(on camera): You think they have enough time?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, I told you in the beginning that this -- we are not at the point of no return. Far from it. Far from it. But what I want -- I want things to change before things deteriorate.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Every intense discussion has provided revelation, yet I'm reminded that no one we talked to on camera here was fully able to speak their mind.
I feel as if we've only been able to get part of the picture, but it is enough to say that this is not a country teetering on the verge of chaos, more a country lingering at a critical crossroads, certainly having had an unnerving taste of what instability could be like.
The challenge of choosing the right path at the right pace should not be underestimated, particularly as those making the decision, the royal family, have the most to lose.
(GRAPHIC: IN MEMORY OF SIMON CUMBERS 1968-2004)
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