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Frank Gardner’s Return to Saudi Arabia

Wed Apr 10, 9-10pm, BBC2

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.



The documentary does deserve praise for getting to activists in Saudi, including Shia activists, a women's activist and regional tribes people suffering discrimination and violnence. However, I felt the documentary failed to reveal the full extent of Al Saud repression, nor the support that the West provides in diplomacy and vast amounts of arms. In fact, Gardner seemed quite keen on excusing, to some extent, the royal family's repression and support for fundamentalist Islam with unsubstantiated claims that their modernist intent is restricted by religious leaders. No evidence is provided for this. Here is my full review of the documentary: http://novelfootsteps.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/review-frank-gardners-return-to-saudi.html