Almost half of all Saudis said in a poll conducted last year that they have a favorable view of Osama bin Laden’s sermons and rhetoric, but fewer than 5 percent thought it was a good idea for bin Laden to rule the Arabian Peninsula.
The poll involved interviews with more than 15,000 Saudis and was overseen by Nawaf Obaid, a Saudi national security consultant.
It was conducted between August and November 2003, after simultaneous suicide attacks in May 2003 when 36 people were killed in Riyadh.
Obaid said he only recently decided to reveal the poll results because he felt the public needed to know about them.
“I was surprised [at the results], especially after the bombings,” Obaid told CNN. The question put to Saudi citizens was “What is your opinion of Osama bin Laden’s sermons and rhetoric?”
“They like what he said about what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or about America and the Zionist conspiracy. But what he does, that’s where you see the huge drop,” said Obaid, referring to the bombings that had already begun taking place inside Saudi Arabia at the time the poll was conducted.
He also said he would like to update the poll numbers in the wake of the recent series of terrorist attacks that have taken place in Saudi Arabia.
Forty-one percent said they favored strong and close relations with America, while only 39 percent said they had a favorable opinion of the Saudi armed forces, both results that Obaid also termed “surprising.”
“They don’t trust their army,” said Obaid, who noted that the security forces fared far better.
He noted that less than a third of Saudis polled had a positive opinion of militant clerics, although government-appointed religious figures did better.
The poll showed strong support for political reforms and allowing women to play a greater role in society. Almost two-thirds said they favored allowing women to drive, something they are currently banned from doing.
While support for political reforms, particularly elections, was high, few Saudis viewed liberal reformers with much favor.
Obaid said he shared the poll results — some of which were published today in The Washington Post — with members of the Interior and Foreign ministries, as well as the royal court.
Some were “a bit wary” about the questions, Obaid said, particularly the ones relating to bin Laden, but he received support from the government when he conducted the poll.
The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.