Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Mid East Conflict Part III: The Creation of Saudi Arabia

The Rise and Fall of Al Saud

Hope everyone is finding this as interesting as I am. If I'm boring you, you might want to come back in a week or two, though I don't guarantee that I will be past the "as objective as I can" history lesson of how we ended up here. I noted that I was not providing maps as I spoke of certain areas so I am going to do so now as visual aids can help consolidate our understanding of the region.

When we left off, King Hussein of the Hijaz had been helping the British beat the Turks. In exchange, an independent Arab state was to be recognized. The areas of the state were under dispute as the conquering "Great Powers" of Europe had their own colonial, imperialistic ideas of how the region would be divided up. After much wrangling for several years after the Paris Peace Conference, Hussein had been handed TransJordan, which the British had broke off of their original "Palestinian Mandate" in an attempt to appease the Arabs, handle their problems with France and lessen the area over which they had direct control although they maintained an administrative role in TransJordan for years. Hussein's son Abdullah was made king of Jordan. In the meantime, he still held the title of the King of the Hijaz.

Looking at the following map of the area circa 1923, we can see that the Hijaz, as previously noted, controlled the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula:

Saudi Arabia and mid east 1923: Click on picture to enlarge Posted by Hello

Just as Hussein was bargaining over the disposition of Syria and surrounding areas, a new problem arose in the east. Go on to the inner sanctum to read about the rise of ibn Saud and the creation of Saudi Arabia.

The Rise of the House of Saud

Looking at this map of the Ottoman Empire, pre World War I (1914), you will note the wide spaces of white on the Arabian Peninsula that the Ottomans did not control:

Mid east map 1914: Ottoman Empire: Click on picture to enlarge Posted by Hello

Most of the areas they controlled were directly for support of the main areas of the empire. You will note the blue shaded areas on the main body of Turkey and the coastal areas of the region. They controlled import and export of goods and materials. They built railroads along these areas to transport these items to the main body of the empire. They also controlled the areas that are currently Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Kuwait, and a large swath of Saudi Arabia.

The large white area on the Arabian Peninsula was inhabited by mostly nomadic Bedouin tribes. At the time of the Empire, 1914, the Ottomans had not cared to expend capital or men on controlling that area as it did not appear to have any benefit besides an untamed swath of desert. Today, had the Ottomans realized the insane wealth of black gold waiting beneath the sands, I think they would have fought for the area tooth and nail. As it was, they left the tribes to fight amongst themselves.

A few of the main tribes should be familiar to us as their names are apparent in current day geography, politics and religion. The Al Saud were the nominal rulers of the region known as Najd (modern day Riyadh) from around 1500 to the late 19th century before their rule was expanded. The al Saud were basically tribal leaders until 1744 when Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab convinced Muhammad ibn Saud, the head of the Al Saud, to support him in spreading his "reformed" message of Islam: wahhabism. It is not completely clear if Al Saud actually believed in the message or found it to be an expedient tool by which to garner support and loyalty from the tribes in the area. Whichever the cause, by 1803, Al Saud and the Wahhabis had consolidated control of most of Najd.

Al Saud based his capitol in Riyadh along with an Islamic Law school headed by the Wahhabi. From there, they sent out missionaries and established schools of Islamic Law based on the Wahhabi ideology (to read more about the establishment of Wahhabism, go to Library of Congress: Saudi Arabia and scroll down to "Religion" or wait for our installment concerning it's creation and tenets). Saud also continued military expansion over the Peninsula. In 1803, they moved to take the cities of Mecca and Medina which had been controlled and operated by the Hijaz (the descendents of the Quraysh, the tribe of Mohammed the prophet) since the 10th century.

The Fall of the House of Saud

The Hijaz were clients of the Ottoman Empire and the Ottoman Empire dispatched an army from it's Egyptian garrison in 1816. The Egyptian army expelled the Sauds from Hijaz and then proceeded to raze the city of Ad Diriyah, the Al Saud capital near modern day Riyadh in 1818. In 1824, the Al Saud regained the capitol, but proceeded on a more cautious route when dealing with the Ottoman Empire, eventually becoming a client of the Empire with recognized independence.

From that point on, the Saud's were plagued with internal power struggles that weakened their rule. External influence and support of differing factions by the Ottomans, the Egyptians and the British continued to plague the successive leaders of the Al Saud. (to read more about the internal struggle to control the Najd and lead the Al Sauds go to Library of Congress: Saudi Arabia; scroll down to 19th Century Arabia). In 1890, a rival tribe, the Rashidi, led by Muhammad ibn Rashid, took the opportunity to throw the Sauds out of Riyadh and establish their own power.

Abd Al Aziz ibn Saud and a large number of his family went into exile in Kuwait. It is Al Aziz who will fuel the return of the Al Saud to the Najd and begin the final consolidation of the state currently known as Saudi Arabia.


Library of Congress: Saudi Arabia

Note: Next we will review the return of Al Aziz and the final establishment of Saudi Arabia. We will review the creation, establishment and the tenets of Wahhabi Islam in the future. After the establishment of Saudi Arabia, we will return to issue of Transjordan, Palestine and Israel.

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