Saudi Arabia occupies a special place within the Muslim world. Home to Islam's most holy sites and the actual place where Gabriel appeared to Muhammad, Saudi Arabia is a conservative Muslim country through and through. Modern Saudi Arabia was founded by the Wahhabis, a group of austere desert warriors renown for their strict Islamic piety and strict application of Shari'a law. Ever since then, Saudi Arabia has been a kingdom of vast deserts and very orthodox religion. The discovery and exploitation of vast oil fields has brought wealth and foreigners to Saudi Arabia, but the laws regarding religion have changed very little and it is illegal to smoke, drink alcohol, for women to drive, etc. Yet Saudi Arabia with so much money and oil plays a central role in the Muslim world. It can bankroll or isolate friends or enemies with the supply or withholding of funding, and in being the guarantor of the Mecca and Medina Saudi Arabia holds a special trust. But for all the Islamic influence in government and society, Saudi Arabia cooperates with the United States in security agreements. In 1991, for example, Saudi Arabia fought against Iraq with the Western powers arranged against Saddam Hussein. Many hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers were stationed in the country, and some of them are still there today.
This has brought some stresses to the desert kingdom, as fundamentalist Saudi Muslims like Osama bin-Laden declared a "jihad" against foreigners like Americans being brought into the holy lands. There have been terrorist attacks against Americans in Saudi Arabia, and many others have called for the overthrow of the Saudi government due to its corruption and capitulation to outside forces. King Fahd has been strongly criticized by some Muslims for his failure to sufficiently attack Israel and expel foreigners from his kingdom.
Questions to keep in mind: Why is Islam so important in Saudi Arabia? What is Wahhabism? King Abdul Aziz so important? How did he try to form a country out of the scattered tribes of the Arabian deserts? What ideology did he use to unite the nation? What is the nature of Saudi Arabian society and government? What role does Saudi Arabia play in the Muslim world? In the larger world? Do Saudis stand up for Arabs, or do they stand up only for themselves with their money? How is Saudi Arabia different geographically and topographically from the other Arab countries of the Levant? What are the criticisms of Saudi Arabia by some other Arabs? How do Saudi Arabians view their fellow Arabs? What did they think of Nasser and his Arab nationalism? What role did Saudi Arabia play in the 1973 war with Israel? How did the Saudis react to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran? What do they think of the Iranian brand of Islamic fundamentalism? How did the Saudis react to the Iran-Iraq war? What did Saudi Arabia's response when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990? How did this change life inside Saudi Arabia? Terrorist attacks inside Saudi Arabia at Western targets? What are the reasons why some Saudis oppose their government and resort to terrorism after the Gulf War?
Start here and read everything at: Saudi Arabia at Yahoo! Also check out all the links at Open Directory's Saudi Arabian section. Get good basic Saudi information at the CIA World Factbook. The official Saudi site for Islamic Affairs is amazing! Range far and wide in search of information over the World Wide Web!
This is also a good general link about Saudi Arabia, as is this one.
Check out this excellent summation of the Gulf War that involved almost all the countries in the area. And check out The Arab Perspective on Saddam Hussein and how he and the conflict are viewed be neighboring countries.
Osama Bin Laden -- Robert talks with Mary Anne Weaver, a writer for the "New Yorker" magazine about Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden, who tops the US government's most-wanted fugitive list. Weaver wrote an article called "The Real Bin Laden" for the January 24th issue of "New Yorker." She paints a portrait of bin Laden, which is more complex, and in many ways, more dangerous than the government's portrayal. (7:30) Pay special attention to bin Laden's opposition to the present Saudi government and the role American troops in Saudi Arabia plays in that anger.
Check out all these Jim Lehr Newshour reports carefully:
July 31, 1997 -- Taking The Fall? Moves against an Air Force general for what happened in a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia may have caused more than just his downfall.
September 16, 1996 -- Hindsight An independent report commissioned by the Pentagon on the terrorist bombing of a U.S. military barracks in Saudi Arabia last June, has just been released. In it, Army General Wayne Downing, author of the report, suggested lack of guidance, and poor communications at all levels, contributed greatly to the attack's success. He joins Deputy Secretary of Defense John White in a Newsmaker interview with Jim Lehrer.
July 17, 1996 -- William J. Perry After 19 airmen were killed by a truck bomb in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, last month, critics questioned if the Defense Department was doing enough to protect American troops overseas.
June 27, 1996 -- Why We Are There Two bomb attacks in the last seven months have killed twenty-four American military personnel in Saudi Arabia.
June 26, 1996 -- Searching For Clues Suspected terrorists exploded a fuel truck outside an apartment building in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 and leaving 80 seriously wounded. The Wednesday evening blast destroyed the building that housed American Air Force personnel. Following a background piece by Charles Krause, three middle east experts examine the possible reasons for the attack
PBS broadcasts: Why We Are There, Searching for Clues, The Saudi Connection.