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2013 Saudi Arabia Friday night talk

This pdf is a high level summary of the talk on Youtube. It is not a complete transcription of the talk.
We will undertake a chronological analysis.
However, I will stop to highlight and give some details on certain important groupings, players, alliances etc.
In understanding this topic it is key that one recognises the importance of:
- Understanding geography;
- Competing political interests of different players.
Main historical players in this analysis
Ottoman Caliphate;
The house of Saud (Aal suud);
The family of Mohammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (Aal Ash Sheikh);
Foreign powers (chiefly Britain and France, and later USA);
Sharifs of Makkah;
Rasheedis of Najd (Aal Rasheed);
Egyptian governors1 of Ottoman Caliphate (mainly Muhammad Ali Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha).
Main themes
Ottoman control of Hijaz for hundreds of years and relationship with sharifs;
Status of the interior of Arabia (Najd) and ensuing wars;
Union of Aal Suud and Aal Ash Sheikh;
Rise, fall, rise, fall, and rise of Aal Suud;
Foreign interests in Saudi Arabia;
Internal tensions and the future.
Map of Saudi Arabia

^ Map of what is modern day Saudi Arabia from before the creation of the nation state.

Note: There was clear foreign influence acting on both, but that is beyond the remit of this talk, so we proceed on the basis
that at least officially the said persons were governors of the Ottoman Caliphate in Egypt.

Main areas to concentrate on: Hijaz, Najd, Asir, Al Ahsa.

Hijaz: Makkah, Madina, Taif, Jeddah. Cosmopolitan, most connected to the rest of the Muslim world throughout
history due to status of holy cities.
Najd: Central area mostly desert. Riyadh is in Najd
Al Ahsa: A town/area in what is today Sharqiyyah (Eastern) province. Commercially very important both
historically as a trade route port and also now as an area where the oil is found. Worlds largest oasis and
nominated as a world wonder.
Asir: Southern SA close to Yemen; not as important as the other three regions but figures in history.

Saudi Arabia during Ottoman times

In the early 1500s, the Mamluks (Mamaaleek) ruled Egypt. By this time the Ottomans had gained in strength and
only fifty years earlier had taken Istanbul. They took control of Egypt, defeating the Mamluk Sultanate.
Hijaz had been a Mamluk province since 1350.
The Ottomans thus acquired the area called Hijaz in the year 1517. How they managed it, given the existence of
the figure of the Sharif, is our next discussion.
They also acquired Al Ahsa in the year 1550 under Sulaiman I Sulaiman Al Qaynuni the great Ottoman Caliph.
Najd the Ottomans did not have full control at this early stage as such, but had control of surroundings and in
any case Najd was of itself politically irrelevant at the time.
Took the title of the Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques.

Hijaz: Shareefs of Makkah

Sharif = appellation given to a descendent of Rasool Allah (SAW) through his grandson Hasan.
First appointed as such by the Fatimiyyah when they conquered Egypt (Fatimids dominated Egypt for some
Afterwards the Ayyubids (Salahuddins dynasty) overthrew the Fatimids in the year 1170/71. Upon doing so, they
were recognised as the leaders of Makkah and kept the office of the Sharifs, whom they recognised in return
for their pledging allegiance to the Ayyubids.
Their control and influence also included at times Madina and other areas of the Hijaz.

They were seen as the leaders and given they were from the Prophets family, they had a sense of religious
legitimacy and were respected (anyone from the Prophetic family usually is through different parts of the
Muslim world).
Their power was also recognised by the Ottomans upon their coming to power and taking control of Hijaz in
Under the Ottomans, Hijaz became a province and in fact was called the Hejaz Vilayet.
Succession became subject to the Sublime Porte. The system of governance was such that the Sharif was
appointed by the Ottomans from the ashraf of Rasool Allah while there was also a wali appointed over Hijaz by
the Ottomans.

Area of tribal factions and desert oases.
Was politically relatively irrelevant and economically irrelevant as well.
Never needed to be fully controlled by the Ottomans, though at times their influence extended well went into it
and they did for a time directly hold it, only to withdraw for various reasons, which is relevant to our present
The greatest influence exerted over this area was by the tribe of Bani Khalid who ruled over Al Ahsa.
Aal Suud: the rise
Named after Muhammad ibn Al Suud.
Founder of the First Saudi state.
Chief (Ameer) of an agricultural settlement (very small one) close to todays Riyadh, called Diriyyah.
Was not a tribal chief as such, and did not have strong tribal ties to any of the major tribes.
Belonged to offshoots of the Anizzah tribe of Najd, a tribe from which other people found their roots (eg todays
Al Khalifah rulers of Bahrain and Al Sabah of Kuwait, who are key in this historical analysis).
Diriyyah: small, relatively irrelevant agricultural settlement cant even really be called a town!
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab
Born in around 1702.
Born into the tribe of Banu Tamim (NOT nomadic, but sedentary) in Uyaynah, which is 40 kilometres from this
Went and studied in parts of Iraq, in Medina, and in Makkah.
Controversial figure with controversial teachings that are hotly debated even to this day. However, his Islamic
knowledge is recognised by many.
Views shaped by what he saw and wanted a return to tawhid.
Upon his return to Uyaynah, initially gained the favour of the ruler Uthman ibn Mu'ammar. Began to implement
some of his teachings, including for instance levelling grave of a companion, Zayd ibn al-Khattab, the brother of
Umar. The grave was located just north of modern day Riyadh.
Organised the stoning to death of those who committed adultery, including a woman who admitted to the same.
Caused consternation among people on account of the propriety of procedure and his authority to order such
Uthman ibn Mu'ammars power was only over his area he was by no means extremely powerful. His power
was rather guaranteed by Sulaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Ghurayr who ruled over Al Ahsa and Al Qateef. ibn
Ghurayr was not happy with what he heard, so he ordered ibn Abdul Wahhab be killed. Uthman ibn Mu'ammar
did not kill him, but expelled him.
1744: ibn Abdul Wahhab was accepted by Ibn Suud and they concluded a pact between essentially Aal Suud
and Aal Ash Sheikh the families of the two men whereby Ibn Abdul Wahhab became the religious authority
and Muhammad ibn Al Suud became the political authority of Diriyyah.
This is referred to sometimes as the first Saudi state.
First Saudi State: Diriyyah Emirate
Based in Diriyyah and effectively started in 1744. In the first ten years it was confined to that region and
according to some estimations was not greater than 30 square kilometres.
At this stage it was confined to dawah, and writing letters and sending people to various tribes in the area.
Even the leader of Uyaynah ibn Muammar did not challenge him.
Finally in 1757 the Uyaynah amir challenged him and there was a battle in which Aal Suud were victorious.

Relative lull for a few decades with skirmishes here and there, but not the major, aggressive expansion that was
to come.
Muhammad ibn Al Suud died and his son Abdul Aziz came to power, and in 1787 declared that the rule would
remain in the family. Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab allegedly witnessed this and acknowledged it (though
whether he did so is not, in the wider scheme, of itself determinative). While not necessarily officially, it also
seems as though religious leadership was vested in Aal Sheikh, the family of the sheikh (and has been passed
down almost hereditarily since 2).
In 1792, Ibn Abdul Wahhab died and his son Abdullah succeeded him as the leading scholarly figure.

Major expansion of the Diriyyah Emirate

1780: Qateef taken. As a result of this, Qatar acknowledged the (first) Suudi sovereignty in 1797, as did Bahrain.
Both started paying Zakat (more like a poll tax) to Diriyyah that is, taking zakat instead of the actual amir of
the ummah, the Ottoman Caliph.
1792: Riyadh, Kharj, Qasim were taken.
Each town taken over received judges appointed by the Aal Sheikh (ie: Wahhabi sheikhs)
The inevitable advance in the western direction (towards Hijaz) came, and in spite of strong resistance by the
Hijazis, Taif was taken in the year 1802, Mecca in 1803 and Medina in 1804.
The Suudis did not at this stage proclaim themselves kings of Hijaz. Instead, they affirmed the Sharif of the time
(Sharif Ghalib) as a vassal.
Further expanded into Asir, but were not able to fully conquer it.
1801: Iraqi campaigns, with the sacking of Karbala. Campaign continued till 1812 but was not held because of the
tyranny of distance. In part driven by hatred of the Shia and in part by economic interests.
Ottoman response
Ottomans were naturally not pleased with these developments. It was the first challenge to their authority over
the Hejaz and the holy cities for 300 years.
Ordered their man Muhammad Ali Pasha (the wali of Egypt) into Hijaz to respond to the Suudi takeovers.
Campaigns were led by Ibrahim Pasha, his son.
1807: Ottoman Caliph ordered troops sent, with local tribes who had suffered due to the Suudi conquests
switching allegiance and assisting the Ottoman-Egyptian army.
1811: holy cities retaken.
Persuaded tribe after tribe to switch allegiance, took town after town, and penetrated deep into Najd. Eventually
in April 1818 came to the capital Diriyyah.
Besieged it until September, when the Suudis surrendered. Razed it to the ground. Ruler of the Suudis at that
point was: Abdullah ibn Suud ibn Abdul Aziz ibn Muhammad al Saud (ie: 4th ruler). He was arrested, taken to
Constantinople, and executed. His head was thrown in the Bosphorus River.
Sulayman ibn Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Abdul wahhab (ie grandson of Al Sheikh) was also executed.
Second Saudi State: Emirate of Najd
Suudi reconquest of Riyadh from Egyptian forces in 1824 (start of the second state).
End: 1891, when Rasheedis defeated the Suudis at Qaasim.
Expansion in this period was not aggressive, or fast.
Period saw a lot of internal conflict between the Suudis over leadership issues.
Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud was the last ruler, and once defeated at Qaasim he sought refuge in Kuwait with
the Al Sabah family after first having resided in the Empty Quarter and then in Bahrain with the Al Khalifahs.
Rashidi Emirate in Hail (1836-1921)
Established in 1836.
Coexisted with the Najdi Suudis to start with. Emirate was known as the Jabal Shammar Emirate.
Were to the north of the Suudis, and were based in Haail.
Unlike the Suudis, derived legitimacy and support from the powerful Shammar tribe, with the Aal Rashid clan
being the impetus for this particular emirate.
Sought favour and received it from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s; but with the Ottoman demise this
led to the weakening of the Aal Rashid and they were no match for the Suudis upon their third coming.

All the muftis and most prominent national sheikhs have been from the Aal Sheikh, barring one.

At one stage 1869-97 became quite large, extending from Aleppo and Damascus to Basrah, and down to
Oman and Asir.
Despite efforts to unite Arabian tribes against the Suud, they eventually started to lose ground to the Aal Suud,
especially after Suudis came under British patronage.

Third Saudi State: the return

Began with the 1902 recapture of Riyadh by the son of the last leader of the 2nd Suudi state, being the most
famous and important of all Suudi kings, Abdul Aziz, more famously known as ibn Suud.
Important point about status quo at this stage: The Eastern Coastal territories had begun signing protection
treaties with Britain, which was now having a massive influence on the region. Ottoman Caliphate was also on its
last legs.
Battle of Riyadh: Ibn Saud gathered 40 men, surprised the Rashidi garrison and killed the Aal Rasheed
representative in Riyadh. Then captured small city after small city, with Qasim becoming the battle ground
between the Suudis and the Rashidis.
The Ottomans actually acknowledged at one stage the control of ibn Suud over parts of Najd. This was even
after ibn Suud launched an attack on Hofuf where 1200 Ottoman troops were stationed. This eventually led to
the signing of the 1912 Ottoman-Saudi Pact, where they agreed that he would rule Najd, almost as an Ottoman
vassal of sorts, with rule going to his sons. However, importantly, the pact said that he was forbidden from
entering into treaties with any foreign powers.
However, by 1915, Britain had concluded a deal with Ibn Suud just like the deals it had struck with Kuwait and
Bahrain. This treaty was the Anglo-Suudi treaty of 1915. It implied that Britain acknowledged the sovereignty of
Ibn Suud over most of what is now Saudi Arabia (with the exception of Hijaz, at that stage), aggression towards
which would ensure British weapons to Ibn Suud. On signing the treaty, he received 1000 rifles and 20,000
Pounds, as well as an annual subsidy.
1921: Ibn Suud captured (finally) the Rashidi capital of Hail with the continual assistance of Britain and its aid.
He had 10,000 troops which was a big amount for that time.
In 1918/1919 ibn Suud had once again began looking towards Hijaz (Mecca/Medina). The sharif at the time was
Husayn ibn Ali (hence Sharif Husayn). The Hijazi army was comprehensively defeated by the Suudis initially.
Britain, however, at this time arbitrated as undermining Ottoman authority via the purchase of their Hijazi vassal
(ie the Sharif of Mecca) was an important thing it wanted to achieve. Hence it arbitrated a 4 year agreed peace
between the two.
But Britain also allowed for the two sons of Sharif Husayn Abdullah and Faysal to be appointed kings of the
newly formed entities (under the Sykes Picot agreement) of Transjordan and the so called Arab Kingdom of
Syria (later to become Jordan and Iraqs monarchs respectively).
This antagonised Ibn Suud who did not trust Britain completely. He responded by capturing Asir and being even
more expansionist. Eventually, he decided to attack Hijaz in spite of Britains wishes to the contrary (or so it
appeared on the apparent). The immediate trigger for this was the declaration on 5 March 1924 by Sharif Husayn
ibn Ali that he was the new Caliph of the Muslims, upon the dissolution of the Caliphate in Turkey earlier that
In September 1924 he captured Taif. In December Makkah was taken. In December 1925 Jeddah was taken after
a one year siege, and Madina had already fallen.
Ibn Suud declared himself King of Hijaz and Sultan of Najd. Britain totally abandoned the Sharif of Mecca and
gave their approval to the Suudis. Basically this whole time Britain had played off (effectively) the Sharif against
the Suudis.
But Britain also made sure the Suudis signed agreements with respect to borders in their north with Jordan and
Iraq, so as to safeguard King Faysal and King Abdullah of Greater Syria and Transjordan respectively.
Internal revolt: The Ikhwan rebellion
This annoyed the people on whose back the success of Aal Suud had so far been built in their early 20th century
rise to power: the ikhwan a mounted force that made for a fierce fighting unit. They had been responsible for
winning these territories for ibn Suud.
Muawwaa religious police had also been an important part of the whole matter. They were the religious
police brought up in the Wahhabi tradition that provided the legal justification and implementation of the
theology and jurisprudence of the Suudis. Further, they enjoined on people the importance of following the
walee al amr the leader (ameer).

They were trained by the najdi ulema who had a very different tradition from that of the Hijazi ulema (who
were madhabi and thus very different, often inclined to sufism) they were very strict, and their teachings
impressed on the mutawwaa the importance of enjoining good and forbidding evil. They thus ordered the
destruction of shrines, debated whether the telegraph was haram, etc.
The ikhwan were the mounted fighting force and were led by Faysal al Duwaysh, a notable and brave fighter, and
Ibn Bijad and Ibn Hithlayn. Al Duwaysh was very popular, used to be accompanied by a massive entourage of 150
armed men, and saw himself as somewhat an equal to ibn Suud. He had also been a tribal chief in his own right,
and wanted to be the amir of Madina.
In early 1927, Ikhwan held a conference in Artawiyyah, criticising ibn Suud for: relationship with Britain, taxes,
serial marriages and luxurious lifestyle.
Ibn Suud responded: held a conference where the najdi ulema confirmed that leadership over jihad was in his
hands and he should call the shots. The ikhwan rejected the result of this conference and the verdicts of the
Riyadh ulema.
Ibn Suud, in grand theatre, abdicated his leadership, with notables from all around coming to Riyadh. He gave an
impassioned speech asking people and ulema for clarification on all issues and to decide the issue once and for
all. His leadership was confirmed by the ulema, who also said that the ikhwan were usurpers and their
elimination was legitimate.
This was the start of the role of the najdi ulema as apologists for Aal Suud, which has continued since.
The ikhwan rebellion became a reality as the three mentioned figures aspired to split ibn Suuds territory among
themselves. With the backing of the Najdi ulema, including the descendants of ibn Abdul Wahhab, ibn Suud
assembled a fighting force consisting of men from various areas of Najd. At the battle of Sabila, in March 1929,
ikhwan leadership were massacred by guns while they fought on camelback. 500 were killed in 2 days. Britain
once again actively supported Al Suud, with the Royal Air Force bombing some of the positions of the Ikhwan.
Eventually the leaders of the rebellion surrendered to Kuwait in 1930.
Interesting point to note: the Najdi ulema, earlier the mentors of the Ikhwan, who gave them their zeal, their
vigour, were the ones who justified their oppression and killing.
In 1932, Ibn Suud declared his realm: Al Mamlaka al-arabiyya al-suudiyya.

Arab revolt
Context: WW1, in which The Ottoman Empire had allied with the Germans, against both Britain and France.
So in 1916 Britain and France encouraged the Sharif of Mecca (Hussein) to lead a pan Arab revolt against the
Ottomans, and promised him that they would support a unitary state for him.
Aal Suud didnt participate because they had their eyes on the bigger prize of an Arabian peninsula united under
their rule. So ironically they didnt directly fight the Ottoman Caliphate directly before its downfall, but their
actions in the preceding two centuries obviously had much to do with weakening the Caliphate.
The British and French didnt honour their promises to Hussein to support his pan-Arab project, with Britain
shifting support to Aal Suud.
The Revolt was a blow to the Ottomans and contributed to their downfall.
America and oil
Post WW1 and with anti-colonialism ripe throughout the world, Britain was in decline. Meanwhile a new
superpower had emerged, though it would not be until WW2 that its true might would be on full display (USA).
Was a pioneer in science, technology and leading the world in various regards.
In 1932, ibn Suud signed a contract with the Standard Oil of California to look for oil. Commercial quantities
found in 1938.
In 1944: became ARAMCO. In 1974 Suudis gained a 20% share and then finally in 1980 full control.
One quarter of worlds oil. Post 1971 realised that it is not sufficient by itself.
What Suudi gets is security a powerful ally against enemies both home and abroad, with massive favourable
defence contracts.
Power of oil seen during the Oil Crisis in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War.
American interests: in keeping oil prices stable, and for this political stability is needed; this is the cornerstone of
their relationship with Suudiyyah. Further, Britian and America have since struggled against each other in proxy
politics by backing various elements of the royal family.
Post independence issues:
Anti Nasserism and a harbour for the Ikhwan.

Controversy of the Gulf War.

Afghanistan and the returning soldiers + the sahwah.

Leadership issues in the future

Nothing new: At the time of Suud, massive tensions led to the abdication of Suud in favour of Faysal.
Every king has been a first generation son of ibn Suud.
Why so many sons? 22 wives marriages were key and became THE way to consolidate his rule in the absence of
tribal loyalty in the traditional sense.
Most important are known as the Sudairi Seven born from Hassa bint Ahmad Al Sudairi. Included Fahd, but
also Nayef and Sultan, who have died in recent years and were crown princes.
The second generation are getting old, and who out of the third generation will get the kingship is a HUGE issue.
In the mid 2000s a council was formed called the Allegiance Council which is meant to solve this issue, but it is
not easy for it solve this pricky issue.
Three issues for Saudi Arabia which contribute ultimately to its stability internally: 1) internal union 2) Oil and its
relationship with foreign powers 3) Aal Sheikh scholars.