Saudi Perceptions of the United States since 9/11

  • F. Gregory GauseIII
Part of the The CERI Series in International Relations and Political Economy book series (CERI)


There is no bilateral relationship that was more affected by the 9/11 attacks than the Saudi-American relationship. On the American side, the reason is obvious: of the 19 hijackers of the 4 planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in central Pennsylvania, 15 were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden, the leader of the group behind the attacks, also is from Saudi Arabia. As Americans learned more about the hijackers, bin Laden, and the more general salafi movement, popular anger against Saudi Arabia grew. According to a poll by Zogby International, in January 2001, 56 percent of Americans polled viewed Saudi Arabia favorably and 28 percent unfavorably. In December 2001, those numbers had basically reversed, with only 24 percent viewing Saudi Arabia favorably and 58 percent unfavorably.1 Much of the American political and media elite, which had generally accepted the U.S.-Saudi relationship—an exchange of security for oil, to simplify—began to question the value for the United States of a close relationship with Riyadh. While the Bush administration has asserted since 9/11 that the relationship with Saudi Arabia remains solid, there is no question that the unprecedented public focus on Saudi Arabia (even greater than during the 1973–1974 oil embargo, I would argue) has shaken the foundations of the bilateral relationship.


Public Opinion Saudi Arabia Arab World Bush Administration Muslim World 
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  1. 20.
    On the phenomenon of salafi political activism and opposition in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, see F. Gregory Gause, III, Oil Monarchies: Domestic and Security Challenges in the Arab Gulf States (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1994), pp. 31–44, 94–98;Google Scholar
  2. Mamoun Fandy, Saudi Arabia and the Politics of Dissent (New York: Palgrave, 1999);Google Scholar
  3. Joshua Teitelbaum, Holier Than Thou: Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Opposition, Policy Paper No. 52 (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2000); Gwenn Okruhlik, “Networks of dissent: Islamism and Reformism in Saudi Arabia,” Current History, January 2002.Google Scholar
  4. 35.
    I examine these social changes in Saudi Arabia and their potential consequences for Saudi politics in earlier articles: F. Gregory Gause, III, “Political opposition in the Gulf monarchies,” European University Institute Working Papers, RSC No. 2000/61, 2000; and F. Gregory Gause, III, “Be careful what you wish for: the future of U.S.-Saudi relations,” World Policy Journal, vol. 49, no. 1 (spring 2002).Google Scholar

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© Tony Judt and Denis Lacorne 2005

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  • F. Gregory GauseIII

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