Attacks will change business methods in Saudi Arabia

Sunday, May 18, 2003

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- Fearful of new bombings, foreigners kept off the streets in this western Saudi Arabian city Saturday, and the kingdom's ruler vowed that terrorists would not be tolerated.

Saudi Arabia will "will never allow any faction of deviated terrorists to harm the country and undermine the safety of its citizens and residents," King Fahd said in his first public comments on the Riyadh attacks that killed 34 people, including eight Americans, Monday.

U.S. officials had warned of possible strikes in Jiddah and a coordinated effort by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network to strike lightly defended targets worldwide.

Within hours of the warning, terrorists struck in Morocco, killing about 31 bystanders and about 10 attackers, and injuring about 100 others, officials said.

Businessmen also said they were worried the Riyadh attacks will change the way companies do business in the kingdom.

"Of course we are worried and we are very concerned, especially from a business point of view. Saudis are very good to do business with, but they will have to get rid of this terrorism," said Swiss businessman Henry Gugsell, 54.

Attacks linked to reform

King Fahd linked the attacks to government efforts to institute reform in the conservative kingdom. Muslim extremists believe America is imposing attempts at social reform following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in those attacks came from Saudi Arabia.

In Saudi Arabia, however, there are no elections, women do not enjoy the same rights as men, speech is muzzled and minorities face discrimination.

More than 60 FBI and other U.S. investigators are assisting Saudi authorities with the probe into Monday's attacks in Riyadh, the U.S. Embassy said.

The Monday attacks hit three compounds housing Saudi expatriates, who make up the backbone of the oil-rich Gulf state's trained work force. The country has 6 million expatriate workers in a population of more than 20 million.

Diplomats said no big companies investing in Saudi Arabia were leaving, but their employees were.

"Employees and families of large firms are leaving in very significant numbers, including many Americans," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said "there will definitely be many changes" in the way companies do their business in Saudi Arabia, from increasing security for Western employees to recruiting unmarried people or those prepared to leave their families behind.

Companies could also seek trained employees from other regions of the world, such as Asia, he said.

Edmund O'Sullivan, editor of the London-based Middle Economic Digest, said Saudi Arabia was perceived abroad as a safe place for foreign investors and such attacks hurt its reputation. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil producer.

"I think if there are any major investment proposals on the board, people will say that the kingdom's economics are good but then after such attacks they will raise questions about the security," O'Sullivan said by telephone from London.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: