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Frank Gardner’s Return to Saudi Arabia

Frank Gardner’s Return to Saudi Arabia

Wed Apr 10, 9-10pm, BBC2

By Phil Harrison
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In June 2004, the BBC’s Security Correspondent Frank Gardner was shot in Riyadh by al-Qaeda sympathisers. This fascinating film sees him returning to the country for the first time since the attack to assess its progress. As it happens, the story of al-Qaeda is an emblematic one, with plenty to tell us about the workings of this bizarre place. Al-Qaeda is almost dead in Saudi now – some members were bought off, the rest killed. This extreme mixture of velvet glove and iron fist seems characteristic.

It’s facilitated, of course, by the country’s vast oil wealth – at the height of the Arab Spring, the government rained down £80 billion of welfare spending on its people – but can it possibly be sustainable? Gardner’s a charming but dogged presence, speaking to everyone from women’s rights activists to members of the governing family in search of Saudi Arabia’s essence. He returns with something genuinely illuminating.
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