Sept. 11 Aftermath Strains U.S.-Saudi Ties

Relationships between the United States and Arab Gulf monarchies are being strained by the fallout from the Sept. 11 terror attacks — including surveillance and detention of Arab nationals in the United States and an exodus of investments from the Gulf.

Prince Nayef, the Saudi Arabian interior minister who previously denounced U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, has warned that the kingdom will bring home its thousands of nationals in the United States unless their "harassment" ceases, the Saudi Press Agency reported Tuesday.

"The kingdom is working to end this harassment, and we hope it will stop. But if it continues, we would certainly tell our citizens to come home, or search for another place to live and work," Nayef said.

Saudi radio and television report that many Saudi students, professionals, blue-collar workers and hospital patients returning home since the Sept. 11 terror attacks claim they have been harassed, badly treated and humiliated, both by FBI and immigration authorities, and by the general public.

"We were under tremendous pressure," Abdallah Qattan, a student, told the SPA. "We had close searches, especially on U.S. interstate flights. They used police dogs to search our baggage and for body searches."

Qattan said people of other nationalities were not as closely examined.

"We felt extremely humiliated," he said.

Suspected Bin Laden Sympathizers Detained

Prince Nayef's Interior Ministry set up a hotline in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to answer queries from families of Saudis detained in the United States. More than 100 Saudis were detained for questioning after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. officials said only 12 of these remained in custody, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Some of the 19 suspected hijackers in the suicide bombings in New York and Washington carried Saudi or Egyptian passports. Saudi authorities contend that some were using stolen passports and had assumed false Saudi identities.

Prince Nayef said Saudi authorities "have neither arrested nor detained any person [in the kingdom] who is proven to have taken part in the terror attacks. If we get any proof, we will arrest them and they will be subjected to the kingdom's law."

Last week, Nayef said a few Saudis suspected of sympathizing with Osama bin Laden had been detained. He warned that others like them could be "amputated, like a sick organ in a body." Saudi opposition sources in Europe say hundreds of young men had been rounded up in the kingdom for questioning since Sept. 11, but that most were eventually released.

Money Gripes

Meanwhile, Gulf states also said they were being hurt by reduced investment in the region.

Another Saudi royal and senior official complained "not a single investor had come" to Saudi Arabia since the attacks on New York and Washington occurred.

Prince Abdallah bin Faisal bin Turki-al-Saud, chairman of the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority, whose job it is to supervise new economic development projects, said this contrasted starkly with the 18 months prior to September. Then the kingdom attracted $9 billion dollars in investment, 16 percent of which had come from abroad.

Other officials and businessmen at the conference said the suicide hijackings had stopped cash that all of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman — need to develop their economies and keep pace with their rapid population growth.

Financial advisers who deal with the Middle East estimate that the GCC's wealthy citizens have moved at least $500 billion out of the Gulf states because of the feelings of insecurity.

One Western banker in Dubai said that Gulf money is also leaving the United States and seems to be heading mainly for Swiss banks, rather than going home.

Internal Dissatisfaction Grows

The increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and the United States comes as the ruling House of Saud faces a reckoning of its own.

For years, the country's leadership has faced charges that it is a corrupt crony of American interests.

The charges are gaining weight now, amid a decline in the economy, arising from massive defense spending, stagnant oil revenue and crushing debt.

Increasingly, critics are blaming the country's economic woes on corruption in the House of Saud.

Complicating the situation is the presence of thousands of American troops in the area, a legacy of the Persian Gulf War.

Saudi Arabia is the holiest country in the Muslim world, and the royal family's decision to allow a foreign and non-Muslim military presence on its soil gives the impression that it is relying on such a presence to stay in power.

Add to this situation the country's expanding population of college graduates, many of them unemployed, and therefore potential dissidents, and Saudi Arabia's leaders may be facing a revolution.