Many Saudis feel betrayed by AmericaBy Donna Abu-Nasr
RIYADH, 23 August — On a blistering 120-degree morning in August, a Saudi Arabian Airlines pilot named Sultan Al-Duweihi took his place in line for a visa outside the US Embassy.
Being made to stand outside and wait was a new experience for many of the two dozen Saudis in line. Since Sept. 11 the rules are stricter. No longer can Saudis leave the paperwork to their travel agent; everyone between ages 12 and 70 has to be interviewed by a consular officer, and approval can take more than five weeks.
"This is too much — over and beyond disgusting," said Al-Duweihi. "Saudis are being collectively punished for the actions of a few." He was referring to Sept. 11.
Americans would argue that new precautions are only natural. But Saudis feel betrayed by a country where many studied, vacationed and did business, and which they looked to as a bastion of the freedoms and human rights.
"People see the visa line as a sign that says, ‘Hey we hate you, we regard you with suspicion, we don’t want you,’" said Khaled M. Batarfi, a managing editor of the Saudi newspaper Al-Madinah and a journalism graduate of the University of Oregon. Saudi and US officials insist that government-to-government ties remain solid, that the basis of the relationship has not changed.
"The relations are there. They have existed for 70 years," Prince Saud, the foreign minister, told The Associated Press recently, and added that he saw nothing to indicate a change.
But at the non-governmental level the new frostiness has been evident in one incident after another: Rudy Giuliani, as New York mayor, spurning a donation to the city from Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal; relatives of Sept. 11 victims suing Saudi officials, banks and charities, claiming they helped finance Osama Bin Laden’s network and the terror attacks; a US defense think-tank analyst suggests the United States target Saudi oil fields and financial assets unless the kingdom does more to fight terrorism.
Without offering any specifics, US officials say the Saudis are giving exceptional help in law enforcement and intelligence since Sept. 11, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this month he was happy with the relationship.
Saud has said his country is sharing with US officials information obtained from 16 alleged members of Bin Laden’s network, Al-Qaeda, who had fled Afghanistan into Iran and were recently turned over to Saudi Arabia. But another division looms, over how to deal with the Iraq question.
Saud told the AP the Kingdom will not allow the United States to use Saudi soil for an attack on Iraq.
The United States would most likely use the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which it quietly has been setting up, for an attack on Iraq.
Then there’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Senior Saudis, accuse the United States of tilting further toward Israel, and ordinary Saudis have expressed their anger by raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Palestinians.
Dawood Al-Shirian, regional director of the daily Al Hayat newspaper, said the crisis has had an impact on Saudi-US relations. Saudi nerves are also jangled by stories in the Saudi press as well as unsubstantiated hearsay about Saudis being held in US jails, US landlords not renting to Saudis and Saudis being singled out for humiliating searches at US airports.
Nowadays Al-Riyadh daily has been carrying ads for universities in Romania, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, China and Arab countries as alternatives to US colleges.
Outside the embassy, 42-year-old Ali Hassan was full of understanding when he arrived to apply for a visa to travel to Orlando, Fla.
"I don’t mind waiting. I don’t like it, but you have to understand the global situation," said Hassan as he settled into line.
But after waiting more than eight hours for a two-minute interview with a consular officer, he said he had changed his mind.
"I thought the whole thing would take maximum three hours," he said. "But nine hours? That’s not only humiliating. It also doesn’t make any sense." (AP)