The road that led to September 11th began in Saudi Arabia. And there are many roads that lie ahead for the oil-rich kingdom as it seeks to move beyond 9-11.
There are highways in the capital city of Riyadh where women are taking the driver’s wheel in defiance of a ban which is enforced by the conservative religious establishment.
And there are beach roads in the coastal town of Jeddah where bored Saudi youth gather on weekend nights and drive in perilously fast cars, an expression of a surging youth population which is increasingly frustrated by this conservative society.
And there are roads that hold history. It was along Highway 15, which stretches from Mecca to the border of Yemen, that Osama bin Laden recruited 12 of the 15 Saudi hijackers who carried out the attacks of September 11th. The youth on this road today seem to have little interest in Al Qaeda and its apocalyptic ideology. They are much more interested in finding rewarding jobs, but they wonder if the kingdom can offer what they want.
Global Post correspondent Caryle Murphy and Executive Editor Charles M. Sennott set out on these roads to see how the kingdom is changing —and not changing —ten years after 9-11 and amid the tumultuous days of the ‘Arab Spring.’ With support from the Knight Luce Fellowship for Reporting on Global Religion, Murphy, who has been GlobalPost's correspondent in Riyadh for the last three years, brings her depth of knowledge of the conservative Wahhabi stream of Islam to look at how the House of Saud has confronted a culture of extremism and militancy that many analysts believe planted the seeds for bin Laden's Al Qaeda. Sennott, who has covered the Middle East for more than 20 years, returns to Highway 15 to understand where Saudi's surging youth population is today and why it has, so far at least, been reluctant to embrace the democratic reform movements that are sweeping the Middle East.