Most Saudis Oppose al Qaeda

Most Saudis Oppose al Qaeda A recent survey of Saudi Arabian adults finds a complicated view of America, terrorism, and freedom.

Most Saudi Arabia citizens interviewed in a poll oppose terrorism and want closer ties with the United States. But many Saudis remain opposed to making peace with Israel, according to what researchers call an unprecedented survey of the kingdom.

Ten percent of Saudis have a favorable view of the al Qaeda terrorist network, according to a survey by Terror Free Tomorrow, an international public opinion research group based in Washington. Fifteen percent said they have a favorable view of al Qaeda’s leader, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden, the poll found.


Saudis also have a better opinion of the United States than in other countries in the Muslim world, with 40 percent saying they view the U.S. favorably. That compares to 19 percent in Pakistan, according to a poll taken by the same group in August, and 21 percent of Egyptians, according to a May survey by the Pew Research Center.

CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said a spate of al Qaeda attacks on Saudi targets starting in 2003 appeared to have turned the Saudi public against the group. “The results, while a little surprising, seem fair enough considering the circumstances,” he said. But while the poll was encouraging, “It’s not all Kumbaya,” he added. Bergen said a “substantial minority” of Saudis — 30 percent — support fighting against U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq, and 52 percent would support Saudi Arabia’s development of nuclear weapons.


Thirty-three percent of Saudis viewed Hezbollah favorably, compared to 42 percent unfavorably. When asked about Hamas, 37 percent had a positive response, while 38 percent viewed the group unfavorably.


The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was seen as the most important step in improving U.S.-Saudi ties by 85 percent of those surveyed. Most Saudis said they opposed their countrymen fighting in Iraq and favored helping the United States reach an end to the nearly five-year-old war there.

Support was also strong for increasing visas for Saudis to come to the United States, with 74 percent calling that a step that would improve their opinion. And 71 percent favored a free-trade pact between Washington and Riyadh, while 52 percent said a U.S.-brokered peace treaty between the Israelis and Palestinians would be an improvement.


Saudis expressed support for a free press and free elections, though 79 percent also said they continued to support an absolute monarchy — and 15 percent supported the recent sentence of 200 lashes and six months imprisonment of a 19-year old Shiite woman for being with a male acquaintance before she was gang-raped by seven men. Abdullah announced Monday the woman would be pardoned.

Despite the kingdom’s somewhat forbidding reputation among Westerners, Ballen said those contacted were far more receptive to pollsters than most Americans. The poll’s response rate was 61 percent, compared to 10 to 15 percent for most U.S. surveys

The findings are interesting although one wonders how reliable they are. People living in a theocratic state with severe punishment for dissent tend to be reluctant to give their honest opinion to complete strangers.

UPDATE: As Anderson suggests in the comments, the fact the responses were overwhelmingly against the sharia punishment for the rape victim is not only encouraging but an indicator that the responses are likely legitimate. Certainly, the responses ring true to me. The caveat above, though, always needs to be added to surveys taken outside the free world.

Image Source: S as in Saudi

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    and 15 percent supported the recent sentence of 200 lashes and six months imprisonment of a 19-year old Shiite woman for being with a male acquaintance before she was gang-raped by seven men.

    Only 15%? That’s good news. And on that question at least, JJ’s caveat seems misplaced – I would think that fearful Saudis would be more likely to parrot the hard-Sharia line.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I would think that fearful Saudis would be more likely to parrot the hard-Sharia line.

    Agreed. The results ring true to me, really, but it’s always necessary to caveat these type polls.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Rats! You beat me to posting on this!

  4. John Burgess says:

    My take on this survey can be found at Crossroads Arabia. You can find a link to the full survey, including methodology there.

  5. legion says:

    Unfortunately, since Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, the opinions of the majority of the populace don’t really mean much. What royal family is Bin Laden related to again?

  6. John Burgess says:

    legion: Your comment assumes–incorrectly–that the Saudi monarchy is impervious to public opinion. The exact opposite is true. It is subject the the opinions of numerous publics–including the Ulema who are far more conservative that most royals. It also listens to the average Saudi, though their opinions may be weighted less than other power blocks’.

  7. legion says:

    Impervious is not the same as insensate. While it’s wise to listen to your subjects & keep them reasonably happy, their opinions are largely irrelevant. Like any monarchy, so long as it keeps the nation’s rich and powerful… rich and powerful, the average Saudi is of little importance.

  8. John Burgess says:

    legion: You’re working from the stereotype. Stop by Crossroads Arabia for a while and see what Saudis and the Saudi government are actually up to.