Friday, November 19, 2004

Mid East Conflict Part IV: The Creation of Saudi Arabia

The Return of Al Saud

Ok, when we last left our intrepid Arab nationals, they were fighting over the area referred to as "Najd" which included the current Saudi capitol of Riyadh. The Al Sauds were deposed by the Rashidi in 1890 and were forced to flee to Kuwait, taking the young Al Aziz with them to live in exile.

Let's get our map handy:

Saudi Arabia and mid east 1923 Posted by Hello

Remember that his great, great, great grandfather had embraced Wahhabism and helped to spread it around the country side starting in 1744. Mohammed ib Saud then declared himself Imam Al Saud and and ibn Wahhab declared it to be true and enforced the idea based on the Qu'ran which admonished the believers to follow their leader with unwavering loyalty as long as he ruled by the laws of Islam. This had been embedded in the minds of the tribes for over 150 years. So, when Abd Al Aziz was ready to return to claim Riyadh and the Saudi lands from the Rashidi, he had a ready made guerilla force ready for the cause.

On to the inner sanctum for the return of Al Saud.

In 1905, Al Saud turned to the ikhwan (Muslim brotherhood) as his main force. The brotherhood or ikhwan were not just any believers in Islam or even Wahhabism. They were fanatical and applied the rules equally harshly to themselves as well as anyone that did not follow them. Any tribe in the nation that did not agree that Al Saud was the rightful ruler and Imam of the Wahhab, were slaughtered. Al Saud was approximately twenty to twenty one years old at that time. Young for a leader, but quite capable.

The support of the religious leaders in Riyadh quickly had him recognized as the rightful leader of the Al Saud and Najd and the indoctrination of wahhabism in the tribes quickly rallied additional support. The Ottoman Empire, more weakened than ever, quickly recognized him as the ruler of the Najd and gave him support. By 1921, he had defeated the Rashidi and claimed the entire center of the Arabian peninsula as his domain.

Yet, he was not done.

Remember that in 1921, the Paris Peace Conference was two years old and had resulted in the ME being broke into "spheres of influence" or mandates by the European parties. King Hussein was still the ruler of the Hijaz which held the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The Hijaz did not follow the strict tenets of Wahhabism. They practiced "popular" Islam which is described as including votive offerings to saints at their tombs, prayers to saints for intercession and pilgrimages to other shrines besides the Ka'aba in Mecca. Recall also that the Hijaz are the hereditary keepers of these holy sites passed down from their ancestors, the Quraysh (Mohammed the Prophets originating tribe).

The ikhwan, as fanatical purist wahhabi, did not like this kind of worshipping by the Hijaz or the Shi'a for that matter, who were wont to practice certain self flagellation and other ceremonies to commemorate the deaths of their saints. The ikhwan believed that this was "polytheism" because it placed these saints as "equal" or on footing with Allah and did not fit in with their belief of tawhid (unity) or one God or one power. They thought the worshipping at these sites was tantamount to idolatry which was expressly forbidden in the Qu'ran.

As for Al Saud, such considerations must be secondary to the political and geographical needs of expanding his control of the peninsula, but they served the purpose of whipping up support for attacking the Hijaz.

Recall at this time that Hussein had waning power as he was unable to rest the control of Syria and other areas from the Great Powers. In 1924, Al Saud and the ikhwan struck the Hijaz and defeated them, riding into the cities of Mecca and Medina, destroying any tombstones or shrines as "idolatry" and basically leaving only the Ka'aba and the tomb of the prophet Mohammed. The ikhwan for their part, believed they were reliving the charge of Mohammed into these cities in 622, when he entered the Ka'aba and destroyed the 598 idols/gods that had been worshiped there in pagan times. The only god left standing was Allah (see, Mohammed the High Jacker Part III: Islam and Paganism).

Al Aziz al Saud had consolidated his power and began setting up administrations and schools throughout the land. He was on nodding terms with the British, who took no action against him when he deposed their favorite Hussein and forced him to flee to Amman in TransJordan where his son Abdullah was king and being supported by the British.

In the meantime, the ikhwan were busy enforcing their version of pure Islam on the population. They also made forays into the area of TransJordan, controlled by the British. Al Saud did not want to anger the British as he was looking for their continued non-interference in his consolidation of power, so, he curbed the ikhwan for a time. He was not strong enough to stand against the British and he wanted to avoid confrontation. However, the ikhwan were more than a handful. They continued to enforce their beliefs and persecute (convert or kill) any non-Muslims, non-Wahhabi Muslims and even some of their own who they did not feel followed the religion appropriately.

They also began raiding into Iraq, another British mandate. Al Saud was finding it more difficult to control the ikhwan and while they might have been helpful in gaining his kingdom, their continued disobedience of his orders threatened his authority. At the same time, the ikhwan began working against Al Saud who was introducing modern machinery, like the telegraph and radio, into his country. He understood what was going to be necessary to turn his kingdom into a viable entity. Al Saud then raised a standing army of regulars and destroyed the ikhwan in 1929.

At this point, al Saud was broke. His only income was the dues and taxes paid by owning and operating the two sites of haji, Mecca and Medina. But all that was about to change. The British had discovered oil in several of the Gulf emirates. In 1933, the American company, Standard Oil of California (SoCal) won a concession from the Sauds to search for oil on the Peninsula. In the words of some forgotten movie flick, "they struck pay dirt". In 1936, the company transferred their agreement to a wholly owned subsidiary Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco).

And the rest, as they say, is history, which we'll review at a later date.

We were to review TransJordan, Palestine and Israel next, but we need to look at another important time before that: WWII and the middle east and the drive of the axis powers to establish a hold over the resources as well as export it's National Socialist Agenda and the extermination of the Jews to the ME. Then on to the trouble with Palestinians.


Library of Congress: Saudi Arabia

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