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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

Saudi Arabia


Armed Struggle of the House of Saud

The kingdom was founded in 1932, about thirty years after Abd al Aziz had begun the reconquest of the Arabian Peninsula for the House of Saud. During the eighteenth century, the Al Saud established hegemony over many of the tribes of the peninsula but lost it during the nineteenth century. The Islam of the forces led by Abd al Aziz was based on Wahhabism (see Glossary), the creed of the Al Saud since the eighteenth century. Inspired by the stern reformer, Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, the armies of the Al Saud gradually forced the other tribes of Najd to accept their dominance and slowly extended their rule to the shores of the Persian Gulf. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, they seized Mecca and Medina, destroying shrines and images they considered sacrilegious. Learning the fate of the two holy cities and of the Wahhabi action of turning back Islamic pilgrims as idolaters, the Ottoman sultan-caliph in Constantinople sent his viceroy in Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to mount a campaign to destroy the Al Saud. In 1816 Mecca and Medina were recaptured and, after a bloody campaign, the Ottoman army conducted a savage invasion of the Al Saud homeland in Najd (see The Saud Family and Wahhabi Islam, 1500-1818 , ch. 1).

During the course of the nineteenth century, the Al Saud gradually resumed their dominance of the central Najd region only to be superseded in the 1890s by the Al Rashid, who originated in Hail, northwest of Riyadh. After the dramatic capture of Riyadh in a dawn raid in 1902, Abd al Aziz and his allies defeated the Rashidi forces in a series of battles, gradually winning control of the remaining settled areas of Najd. Although Ottoman forces equipped with artillery combined with the Rashidi armies, they could not prevent Abd al Aziz from consolidating his mastery over all central Arabia in the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century.

Taking advantage of the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire and the weakening of Turkish garrisons on the peninsula, Abd al Aziz invaded the Eastern Province (also seen as Al Ahsa) in 1913 and then the entire gulf coast between Kuwait and Qatar after overcoming the Turkish garrison at Al Hufuf. Although it had remained part of the Ottoman Empire, most of the peninsula had been almost a world unto itself until the tribes were drawn into larger outside conflicts during World War I. Relying on the Ottomans to maintain stability in the Middle East before the war, Britain had earlier disdained a pact with Abd al Aziz, but after Britain's declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire in October 1914, the British sought an alliance with the House of Saud. By a treaty signed in December 1914, the British recognized Saudi independence from the Ottoman Empire and provided Abd al Aziz with financial subsidies and small arms. As his part of the agreement, Abd al Aziz promised to keep 4,000 men in the field against the House of Rashid, which was associated with the Ottomans. Bolstered by Ikhwan (brotherhood--see Glossary) forces, Saudi control was extended to the outskirts of Hail, the Rashidi capital, by 1917.

Data as of December 1992