About  |   Contact  |  Mongabay on Facebook  |  Mongabay on Twitter  |  Subscribe
Rainforests | Tropical fish | Environmental news | For kids | Madagascar | Photos

Saudi Arabia - HISTORY

Saudi Arabia - History

Saudi Arabia

ABD AL AZIZ ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud rose to prominence in the Arabian Peninsula in the early twentieth century. He belonged to the Saud family (the Al Saud), who had controlled most of Arabia during the nineteenth century. By the time of Abd al Aziz, however, the rival Al Rashid family forced the Al Saud into exile in Kuwait. Thus, it was from Kuwait that Abd al Aziz began the campaign to restore his family to political power. First, he recaptured Najd, a mostly desert region in the approximate center of the peninsula and the traditional homeland of the Al Saud. During the mid-1920s, Abd al Aziz's armies had captured the Islamic shrine cities of Mecca and Medina. In 1932, he declared that the area under his control would be known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

At first Abd al Aziz's realm was a very poor one. It was a desert kingdom with few known natural resources and a largely uneducated population. There were few cities and virtually no industry. Although the shrines at Mecca and Medina earned income from the Muslim pilgrims who visited them every year, this revenue was insufficient to lift the rest of the kingdom out of its near subsistence level.

All this changed, however, when United States geologists discovered oil in the kingdom during the 1930s. Saudi Arabia's exploitation of its oil resources transformed the country into a nation synonymous with great wealth. Wealth brought with it enormous material and social change--so much change that Saudi Arabia became an exaggerated paradigm of possibilities for development in the Third World. The transformation was staggering: in a few years the Saudis had gone from herding camels to moving billions of dollars around the world with electronic transfers.

Perhaps because of the great upheaval of the last half century, history and origins were very important to Saudi Arabia. Although the country owed its prominence to modern economic realities, Saudis tended to view life in more traditional terms. The state in 1992 remained organized largely along tribal lines. The Muslim religion continued to be a vital element in Saudi statecraft. Moreover, many Muslims considered the form of Islam practiced most widely in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabi Islam, to be reactionary because it sought its inspiration from the past.

The tendency to draw inspiration from the past was an essential part of the Saudi state. The historical parallels between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Arab and Islamic past were striking. In conquering Arabia, for instance, Abd al Aziz brought together the region's nomadic tribes in much the same way that his great-grandfather, Muhammad ibn Saud, had done a century earlier.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Setting of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

The title, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, uses the word kingdom, which is not an Islamic term. However, given the significance of religion in Saudi Arabia, it is clear that Saudis believe that ultimate authority rests with God (Allah). The Saudi ruler is Allah's secular representative and bases political legitimacy on his religious credentials.

Saudi refers to the Al Saud family, the royal house of Saudi Arabia, whose eponym is Saud ibn Muhammad ibn Mughrin. Saud himself was not a significant figure, but his son, Muhammad ibn Saud (literally, Muhammad, the son of Saud), conquered most of the Arabian Peninsula in the early eighteenth century. In almost two centuries since then, Muhammad ibn Saud's family has grown tremendously and, in 1992, the ruling house of Saudi Arabia had more than 4,000 male members.

Finally, Arabia--or the Arabian Peninsula--refers to a geographic region whose name is related to the language of the majority of its inhabitants. Before the era of the Muslim conquests in the mid-seventh century, some Arabic-speaking peoples also lived in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, and Christian Arab buffer states were established north of the peninsula between the Sassanid and Byzantine empires. As a result of the Muslim conquests, however, people of the peninsula spread out over the wider region that today is known as the "Arab world" and the Arabic language became the region's dominant language.

The desert is the most prominent feature of the Arabian Peninsula. Although vast, arid tracts dominate Saudi Arabia, the country also includes long stretches of arid coastline along the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and several major oases in the Eastern Province. Accordingly, the Saudi environment is not uniform, and the differences between coastal and desert life have played their part in Arabian history. Those living on the water have had more contact with other peoples and thus have developed more cosmopolitan outlooks than those living in the interior.

Saudi Arabia is the largest country on the Arabian Peninsula. It shares the Persian Gulf and Red Sea coasts with the Persian Gulf states, Yemen, Jordan, and Iraq, so there are cultural and historical overlaps with its neighbors. Many of these countries rely on the authority of a single family--whether the ruler calls himself a king, as in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, or an amir, as in the gulf states. Tribal loyalties also play an important role in these countries, and large portions of their populations have only recently stopped living as nomads.

Several important factors, however, distinguish Saudi Arabia from its neighbors. Unlike other states in the area, Saudi Arabia has never been under the direct control of a European power. Moreover, the Wahhabi movement that began in Saudi Arabia has had a greater impact on Saudi history than on any other country. Although the religious fervor of Wahhabism affected populations of such neighboring states as present-day Qatar, only in Saudi Arabia was it an essential element in the formation of the modern state.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

The bodies of water on either side of the Arabian Peninsula provided relatively easy access to the neighboring river-valley civilizations of the Nile and the Tigris-Euphrates. Once contact was made, trading could begin, and because these civilizations were quite rich, many goods passed between them.

The coastal people of Arabia were well-positioned to profit from this trade. Much of the trade centered around present-day Bahrain and Oman, but those living in the southwestern part of the peninsula, in present-day Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, also profited from such trade. The climate and topography of this area also permitted greater agricultural development than that on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

Generous rainfall in Yemen enabled the people to feed themselves, while the exports of frankincense and myrrh brought wealth to the area. As a result, civilization developed to a relatively high level in southern Arabia by about 1000 B.C. The peoples of the area lived in small kingdoms or city states of which the best known is probably Saba, which was called Sheba in the Old Testament. The prosperity of Yemen encouraged the Romans to refer to it as Arabia Felix (literally, "happy Arabia"). Outside of the coastal areas, however, and a few centers in the Hijaz associated with the caravan trade, the harsh climate of the peninsula, combined with a desert and mountain terrain, limited agriculture and rendered the interior regions difficult to access. The population most likely subsisted on a combination of oasis gardening and herding, with some portion of the population being nomadic or seminomadic.

The material conditions under which the Arabs lived began to improve around 1000 B.C. A method for saddling camels had been developed to transport large loads. The camel was the only animal that could cross large tracts of barren land with any reliability. The Arabs could now benefit from some of the trade that had previously circumvented Arabia.

The increased trans-Arabian trade produced two important results. One was the rise of cities that could service the trains of camels moving across the desert. The most prosperous of these- -Petra in Jordan and Palmyra in Syria, for example--were relatively close to markets in the Mediterranean region, but small caravan cities developed within the Arabian Peninsula as well. The most important of these was Mecca, which also owed its prosperity to certain shrines in the area visited by Arabs from all over the peninsula.

Some Arabs, particularly in the Hijaz, held some religious beliefs that recognized a number of gods as well as a number of rituals for worshiping them. The most important beliefs involved the sense that certain places and times of year were sacred and must be respected. At those times and in those places, warfare, in particular, was forbidden, and various rituals were required. Foremost of these was the pilgrimage, and the best known pilgrimage site was Mecca.

The second result of the Arabs' increased involvement in trade was the contact it gave them with the outside world. In the Near East, the Persians and the Romans were the great powers in centuries before the advent of Islam, and the Arab tribes that bordered these territories were drawn into their political affairs. After 400 A.D., both empires paid Arab tribes not only to protect their southern borders but also to harass the borders of their adversary.

In the long term, however, it was the ideas and people that traveled with the camel caravans that were the most important. By 500 A.D., the traditional ritual of Arab worship was but one of a number of religious options. The Sabaeans of southern Arabia followed their own system of beliefs, and these had some adherents in the interior. Followers of pagan beliefs, as well as Hanifs, mentioned in the Quran and believed to be followers of an indigenous monetheistic religion, were widespread in the peninsula. In addition, there were well-established communities of Christians and Jews. Along the gulf coast were Nestorians, while in Yemen Syrian Orthodox and smaller groups of Christians were to be found among beduin and in monasteries that dotted the northern Hijaz. In the sixth century, shortly before the birth of Muhammad, the city of Najran in what is now southwestern Saudi Arabia had a Christian church with a bishop, monks, priests, nuns, and lay clergy, and was ruled by a Jewish king. Jews were an important part not only of the Yemeni population, but also of the oases communities in the region of Medina.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Early Islamic Period

Saudi Arabia

The Saudis, and many other Arabs and Muslims as well, trace much of their heritage to the birth of the Prophet Muhammad in 570 A.D. The time before Islam is generally referred to as "the time of ignorance"; this probably reflects the fact that God had not yet sent the Arabs a prophet.

Muhammad was born in Mecca at a time when the city was establishing itself as a trading center. For the residents of Mecca, tribal connections were still the most important part of the social structure. Muhammad was born into the Quraysh, which had become the leading tribe in the city because of its involvement with water rights for the pilgrimage. By the time of Muhammad, the Quraysh had become active traders as well, having established alliances with tribes all over the peninsula. These alliances permitted the Quraysh to send their caravans to Yemen and Syria. Accordingly, the Quraysh represented in many ways the facilitators and power brokers for the new status quo in Arabian society.

Tribes consisted of clans that had various branches and families, and Muhammad came from a respectable clan, the sons of Hashim, but from a weak family situation. Muhammad's father Abd Allah had died before his son was born, leaving the Prophet without a close protector. The Prophet was fortunate, however, that his uncle Abu Talib was one of the leaders of the Hashimite clan. This gave Muhammad a certain amount of protection when he began to preach in 610 against the Meccan leadership.

Everything we know about Muhammad's life comes from Muslim historiography. The Prophet worked for Abu Talib in the caravan business, giving him the opportunity to travel beyond Arabia. Travel gave the Prophet contact with some of the Christian and Jewish communities that existed in Arabia; in this way he became familiar with the notion of scripture and the belief in one god. Despite this contact, tradition specifies that Muhammad never learned to read or write. As a child, however, he was sent to the desert for five years to learn the beduin ways that were slowly being forgotten in Mecca.

Muhammad married a rich widow when he was twenty-five years old; although he managed her affairs, he would occasionally go off by himself into the mountains that surrounded Mecca. On one of these occasions, Muslim belief holds that the angel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad and told him to recite aloud. When Muhammad asked what he should say, the angel recited for him verses that would later constitute part of the Quran, which means literally "the recitation." Muslims believe that Muhammad continued to receive revelations from God throughout his life, sometimes through the angel Gabriel and at other times in dreams and visions directly from God.

For a while, Muhammad told only his wife about his experiences, but in 613 he acknowledged them openly and began to promote a new social and spiritual order that would be based on them. Muhammad's message was disturbing to many of the Quraysh for several reasons. The Prophet attacked traditional Arab customs that permitted lax marriage arrangements and the killing of unwanted offspring. More significant, however, was the Prophet's claim that there was only one God, because in condemning the worship of idols he threatened the pilgrimage traffic from which the Quraysh profited.

By 618 Muhammad had gained enough followers to worry the city's leaders. The Quraysh hesitated to harm the Prophet because he was protected by his uncle, but they attacked those of his followers who did not have powerful family connections. To protect these supporters, Muhammad sent them to Ethiopia, where they were taken in by the Christian king who saw a connection between the Prophet's ideas and those of his own religion. Following his uncle's death in 619, however, Muhammad felt obliged to leave Mecca. In 622 he secretly left the city and traveled about 320 kilometers north to the town of Yathrib. In leaving Mecca, Muhammad chose to abandon the city where he had grown up to pursue his mission in another place; thus, the event often has been used to illustrate a genuine commitment to duty and sacrifice. This emigration or hijra marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muslims use a lunar calendar, which means that their twelve-month year is shorter than a solar one.

The Quraysh were unwilling to leave Muhammad in Yathrib, and various skirmishes and battles occurred, with each side trying to enlist the tribes of the peninsula in its campaigns. Muhammad eventually prevailed and in 630 he returned to Mecca, where he was accepted without resistance. Subsequently he moved south to strongholds in At Taif and Khaybar, which surrendered to him after lengthy sieges.

By his death in 632, Muhammad enjoyed the loyalty of almost all of Arabia. The peninsula's tribes had tied themselves to the Prophet with various treaties but had not necessarily become Muslim. The Prophet expected others, particularly pagans, to submit but allowed Christians and Jews to keep their faith provided they paid a special tax as penalty for not submitting to Islam.

After the Prophet's death, most Muslims acknowledged the authority of Abu Bakr (died in 634), an early convert and respected elder in the community. Abu Bakr maintained the loyalty of the Arab tribes by force, and in the battles that followed the Prophet's death--which came to be known as the apostasy wars--it became essentially impossible for an Arab tribesman to retain traditional religious practices. Arabs who had previously converted to Judaism or Christianity were allowed to keep their faith, but those who followed the old polytheistic practices were forced to become Muslims. In this way Islam became the religion of most Arabs.

The Prophet had no spiritual successor inasmuch as God's revelation (the Quran) was given only to Muhammad. There were, however, successors to the Prophet's temporal authority, and these were called caliphs (successors or vice regents). Caliphs ruled the Islamic world until 1258 when the last caliph and all his heirs were killed by the Mongols. For the first thirty years, caliphs managed the growing Islamic empire from Yathrib, which had been renamed Madinat an Nabi ("the city of the Prophet") or Al Madinah al Munawwarah ("the illuminated city"). This is usually shortened simply to Medina--"the city."

Within a short time, the caliphs had conquered a large empire. With the conclusion of the apostasy wars, the Arab tribes united behind Islam and channeled their energies against the Roman and Persian empires. Arab-led armies pushed quickly through both of these empires and established Arab control from what is now Spain to Pakistan.

The achievements of Islam were great and various, but after 656 these achievements ceased to be controlled from Arabia. After the third caliph, Uthman, was assassinated in 656, the Muslim world was split, and the fourth caliph, Ali (murdered in 660) spent much of his time in Iraq. After Ali, the Umayyads established a hereditary line of caliphs in Damascus. The Umayyads were overthrown in 750 by the Abbasids, who ruled from Baghdad. By the latter part of the seventh century the political importance of Arabia in the Islamic world had declined.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - THE MIDDLE AGES

Saudi Arabia

Until about 900, the centers of Islamic power remained in the Fertile Crescent, a semicircle of fertile land stretching from the southeastern Mediterranean coast around the Syrian Desert north of the Arabian Peninsula to the Persian Gulf and linked with the Arabian heartland. After the ninth century, however, the most significant political centers moved farther and farther away--to Egypt and India, as well as to what is now Turkey and the Central Asian republics. Intellectual vitality eventually followed political power, and as a result, Islamic civilization was no longer centered in Mecca and Medina in the Hijaz.

Mecca remained the spiritual focus of Islam because it was the destination for the pilgrimage that all Muslims were required, if feasible, to make once in their lives. The city, however, lacked political or administrative importance even in the early Islamic period. This devolved on Medina instead, which had been the main base for the Prophet's efforts to gain control of the shrines in Mecca and to bring together the tribes of the peninsula. After the Prophet's death, Medina continued to be an administrative center and developed into something of an intellectual and literary one as well. In the seventh and eighth centuries, for instance, Medina became an important center for the legal discussions that would lead to the codification of Islamic law. Orthodox (Sunni) Islam recognizes four systems--or schools--of law, and one of these, the school of Malik ibn Anas (died in 796), which is observed today in much of Africa and Indonesia, originated with the scholars of Medina. The three other Sunni law schools (Hanafi, Shafii, and Hanbali) developed at about the same time, but largely in Iraq.

Arabia was also the site for some of the conflicts on which the sectarian divisions of Islam are based. The major Islamic sect, the Shia (from Shiat Ali or "party of Ali"), is still represented in Saudi Arabia but forms a larger percentage of the populations in Iraq and Iran.

One Shia denomination, known as the Kharijite movement, began in events surrounding the assassination of Uthman, the third caliph, and the transfer of authority to Ali, the fourth caliph. Those who believed Ali should have been the legitimate successor to the Prophet refused to accept the authority of Uthman. Muawiyah in Syria challenged Ali's election as caliph, leading to a war between the two and their supporters. Muawiyah and Ali eventually agreed to an arbitrator, and the fighting stopped. Part of Ali's army, however, objected to the compromise, claiming Muawiyah's family were insincere Muslims. So strong was their protest against compromise that they left Ali's camp (the term khariji literally means "the ones who leave") and fought a battle with their former colleagues the next year.

The most prominent quality of the Kharijite movement was opposition to the caliph's representatives and particularly to Muawiyah, who became caliph after Ali. Although the Kharijites were known to some Muslims as bandits and assassins, they developed certain ideal notions of justice and piety. The Prophet Muhammad had been sent to bring righteousness to the world and to teach the Arabs to pray and to distribute their wealth and power fairly. According to the Kharijites, whoever was lax in following the Prophet's directives should be opposed, ostracized, or killed.

The Kharijite movement continued to be significant on the Persian Gulf coast in the ninth through the eleventh century and survived in the twentieth century in the more moderate form of Ibadi Islam. The uncompromising fanaticism of the original Kharijites was, however, indicative of the fervor with which the tribal Arabs had accepted the missionary ideology of Islam. It was this fervor that made it possible for Arab armies to conquer so much territory in the seventh century. This same spirit helped the Al Saud succeed at the end of the eighteenth century and again at the beginning of the twentieth.

The more orthodox Shia sect originated in circumstances similar to those of the Kharijite movement. Shia believed that Ali should have led the Muslim community immediately after the Prophet. They were frustrated three times, however, when the larger Muslim community selected first Abu Bakr, next Umar (died in 644), and then Uthman as caliph. When Ali finally became caliph in 656, the Shia refused to accept claims to the caliphate from other Muslim leaders such as Muawiyah.

The dispute between Ali and Muawiyah was never resolved. Muawiyah returned to Syria while Ali remained in Iraq, where he was assassinated by a Kharijite follower in 660. Muawiyah assumed the caliphate, and Ali's supporters transferred their loyalty to his two sons, Hasan and Husayn. Whereas Hasan more or less declined to challenge Muawiyah, Husayn was less definitive. When Muawiyah's son, Yazid, succeeded his father, Husayn refused to recognize his authority and set out for Iraq to raise support. He was intercepted by a force loyal to Yazid. When Husayn refused to surrender, his entire party, including women and children, was killed at Karbala in southeastern Iraq.

The killing of Husayn provided the central ethos for the emergence of the Shia as a distinct sect. Eventually, the Shia would split into several separate denominations based on disputes over who of Ali's direct male descendants should be the true spiritual leader. The majority came to recognize a line of twelve leaders, or Imams, beginning with Ali and ending with Muhammad al Muntazar (Muhammad, the awaited one). These Shia, who are often referred to as "Twelvers," claimed that the Twelfth Imam did not die but disappeared in 874. They believe that he will return as the "rightly guided leader," or Mahdi, and usher in a new, more perfect order.

Twelver Shia reverence for the Imams has encouraged distinctive rituals. The most important is Ashura, the commemoration of the death of Husayn. Other practices include pilgrimages to shrines of Ali and his relatives. According to strict Wahhabi Sunni interpretations of Islam, these practices resemble the pagan rituals that the Prophet attacked. Therefore, observance of Ashura and pilgrimages to shrines have constituted flash points for sectarian problems between the Saudi Wahhabis and the Shia minority in the Eastern Province.

The Shia minority in Saudi Arabia, like the Shia in southern Iraq, traces its origin to the days of Ali. A second Shia group, the Ismailis, or the Seveners, follow a line of Imams that originally challenged the Seventh Iman and supported a younger brother, Ismail. The Ismaili line of leaders has been continuous down to the present day. The current Imam, Sadr ad Din Agha Khan, who is active in international humanitarian efforts, is a direct descendant of Ali.

Although present-day Saudi Arabia has no indigenous Ismaili communities, an important Ismaili center existed between the ninth and eleventh centuries in Al Hufuf, in eastern Arabia. The Ismailis of Al Hufuf were strong enough in 930 to sack the major cities of Iraq, and they were fanatical enough to attack Mecca and remove the sacred stone of the Kaaba, the central shrine of the Islamic pilgrimage. The pilgrimage was suspended for several years and resumed only after the stone was replaced, following the caliph's agreement to pay the Ismailis a ransom.

Under normal circumstances, Muslims visited Mecca every year to perform the pilgrimage, and they expected the caliph to keep the pilgrimage routes safe and to maintain control over Mecca and Medina as well as the Red Sea ports providing access to them. When the caliph was strong, he controlled the Hijaz, but after the ninth century the caliph's power weakened and the Hijaz became a target for any ruler who sought to establish his authority in the Islamic world. In 1000, for instance, an Ismaili dynasty controlled the Hijaz from Cairo.

External control of the Hijaz gave the region extensive contact with other parts of the Muslim world. In this regard, the Hijaz differed greatly from the region immediately to the east, Najd.

Najd was relatively isolated. It was more arid and barren than the Hijaz and was surrounded on three sides by deserts and separated from the Hijaz by mountains. All overland routes to the Hijaz passed through Najd, but it was easier to go around Najd. As the caliphs in Baghdad became less powerful, the road between Baghdad and Mecca that led across Najd, declined in importance. After the thirteenth century, pilgrimage traffic was more likely to move up the Red Sea toward Egypt and so bypass Najd.

So there were two faces of Arabia. To the west was the Hijaz, which derived a cosmopolitan quality from the foreign traffic that moved continually through it. In the east was Najd, which remained relatively isolated. During the eighteenth century, Wahhabi ideas, vital to the rise of the Al Saud, would originate in Najd.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

The Al Saud originated in Ad Diriyah, in the center of Najd, close to the modern capital of Riyadh. Around 1500 ancestors of Saud ibn Muhammad took over some date groves, one of the few forms of agriculture the region could support, and settled there. Over time the area developed into a small town, and the clan that would become the Al Saud came to be recognized as its leaders.

The rise of Al Saud is closely linked with Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (died 1792), a Muslim scholar whose ideas form the basis of the Wahhabi movement. He grew up in Uyaynah, an oasis in southern Najd, where he studied with his grandfather Hanbali Islamic law, one of the strictest Muslim legal schools. While still a young man, he left Uyaynah to study with other teachers, the usual way to pursue higher education in the Islamic world. He studied in Medina and then went to Iraq and to Iran.

To understand the significance of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab's ideas, they must be considered in the context of Islamic practice. There was a difference between the established rituals clearly defined in religious texts that all Muslims perform and popular Islam. The latter refers to local practice that is not universal.

The Shia practice of visiting shrines is an example of a popular practice. The Shia continued to revere the Imams even after their death and so visited their graves to ask favors of the Imams buried there. Over time, Shia scholars rationalized the practice and it became established.

Some of the Arabian tribes came to attribute the same sort of power that the Shia recognized in the tomb of an Imam to natural objects such as trees and rocks. Such beliefs were particularly disturbing to Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab. In the late 1730s he returned to the Najdi town of Huraymila and began to write and preach against both Shia and local popular practices. He focused on the Muslim principle that there is only one God, and that God does not share his power with anyone--not Imams, and certainly not trees or rocks. From this unitarian principle, his students began to refer to themselves as muwahhidun (unitarians). Their detractors referred to them as "Wahhabis"--or "followers of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab," which had a pejorative connotation.

The idea of a unitary god was not new. Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, however, attached political importance to it. He directed his attack against the Shia. He also sought out local leaders, trying to convince them that this was an Islamic issue. He expanded his message to include strict adherence to the principles of Islamic law. He referred to himself as a "reformer" and looked for a political figure who might give his ideas a wider audience.

Lacking political support in Huraymila, Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab returned to Uyaynah where he won over some local leaders. Uyaynah, however, was close to Al Hufuf, one of the Twelver Shia centers in eastern Arabia, and its leaders were understandably alarmed at the anti-Shia tone of the Wahhabi message. Partly as a result of their influence, Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab was obliged to leave Uyaynah, and headed for Ad Diriyah. He had earlier made contact with Muhammad ibn Saud, the leader in Ad Diriyah at the time, and two of Muhammad's brothers had accompanied him when he destroyed tomb shrines around Uyaynah.

Accordingly, when Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab arrived in Ad Diriyah, the Al Saud was ready to support him. In 1744 Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab swore a traditional Muslim oath in which they promised to work together to establish a state run according to Islamic principles. Until that time the Al Saud had been accepted as conventional tribal leaders whose rule was based on longstanding but vaguely defined authority.

Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab offered the Al Saud a clearly defined religious mission to which to contribute their leadership and upon which they might base their political authority. This sense of religious purpose remained evident in the political ideology of Saudi Arabia in the 1990s.

Muhammad ibn Saud began by leading armies into Najdi towns and villages to eradicate various popular and Shia practices. The movement helped to rally the towns and tribes of Najd to the Al Saud-Wahhabi standard. By 1765 Muhammad ibn Saud's forces had established Wahhabism--and with it the Al Saud political authority--over most of Najd.

After Muhammad ibn Saud died in 1765, his son, Abd al Aziz, continued the Wahhabi advance. In 1801 the Al Saud-Wahhabi armies attacked and sacked Karbala, the Shia shrine in eastern Iraq that commemorates the death of Husayn. In 1803 they moved to take control of Sunni towns in the Hijaz. Although the Wahhabis spared Mecca and Medina the destruction they visited upon Karbala, they destroyed monuments and grave markers that were being used for prayer to Muslim saints and for votive rituals, which the Wahhabis consider acts of polytheism. In destroying the objects that were the focus of these rituals, the Wahhabis sought to imitate Muhammad's destruction of pagan idols when he reentered Mecca in 628.

If the Al Saud had remained in Najd, the world would have paid them scant attention. But capturing the Hijaz brought the Al Saud empire into conflict with the rest of the Islamic world. The popular and Shia practices to which the Wahhabis objected were important to other Muslims, the majority of whom were alarmed that shrines were destroyed and access to the holy cities restricted.

Moreover, rule over the Hijaz was an important symbol. The Ottoman Turks, the most important political force in the Islamic world at the time, refused to concede rule over the Hijaz to local leaders. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Ottomans were not in a position to recover the Hijaz, because the empire had been in decline for more than two centuries, and its forces were weak and overextended. Accordingly, the Ottomans delegated the recapture of the Hijaz to their most ambitious client, Muhammad Ali, the semi-independent commander of their garrison in Egypt. Muhammad Ali, in turn, handed the job to his son Tursun, who led a force to the Hijaz in 1816; Muhammad Ali later joined his son to command the force in person.

Meanwhile, Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab had died in 1792, and Abd al Aziz died shortly before the capture of Mecca. The movement had continued, however, to recognize the leadership of the Al Saud and so followed Abd al Aziz's son, Saud, until 1814; after Saud died in 1814, his son, Abd Allah, ruled. Accordingly, it was Abd Allah ibn Saud ibn Abd al Aziz who faced the invading Egyptian army.

Tursun's forces took Mecca and Medina almost immediately. Abd Allah chose this time to retreat to the family's strongholds in Najd. Muhammad Ali decided to pursue him there, sending out another army under the command of his other son, Ibrahim. The Wahhabis made their stand at the traditional Al Saud capital of Ad Diriyah, where they managed to hold out for two years against superior Egyptian forces and weaponry. In the end, however, the Wahhabis proved no match for a modern army, and Ad Diriyah--and Abd Allah with it--fell in 1818.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

The modern history of Arabia is often broken into three periods that follow the fortunes of the Al Saud. The first begins with the alliance between Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab and ends with the capture of Abd Allah. The second period extends from this point to the rise of the second Abd al Aziz ibn Saud, the founder of the modern state; the third consists of the establishment and present history of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In the Egyptians' attempt to establish control over the peninsula, Muhammad Ali removed members of the Al Saud from the area. Following orders from the Ottoman sultan, he sent Abd Allah to Istanbul--where he was publicly beheaded--and forced other members of the family to leave the country. A few prominent members of the Al Saud found their way to Egypt.

The Egyptians turned next to the material monument of the Al Saud rule, the city of Ad Diriyah. They razed its walls and buildings and destroyed its palm groves so that the area could not support any agricultural settlement for some time. The Egyptians then sent troops to strategic parts of the peninsula to tighten their grip on it. They garrisoned Al Qatif, a port on the Persian Gulf that supplied some of the important centers in eastern Arabia and maintained various forces along the Red Sea coast in the west.

In the Hijaz, Muhammad Ali restored the authority of the Sharifs, who had ruled the area from Mecca since the tenth century. However, Turki ibn Abd Allah, the uncle of the next-to- last ruler (Saud), upset Egyptian efforts to exercise authority in the area. Turki had fought at Ad Diriyah, but managed to escape the Egyptians when the town fell in 1818. He hid for two years among loyal forces to the south, and after a few unsuccessful attempts, recaptured Ad Diriyah in 1821. From the ruins of Ad Diriyah, Turki proceeded to Riyadh, another Najdi city. This eventually became the new Al Saud base. Forces under Turki's control reclaimed the rest of Najd in 1824.

Turki's relatively swift retaking of Najd showed the extent to which the Al Saud-Wahhabi authority had been established in the area over the previous fifty years. The successes of the Wahhabi forces had done much to promote tribal loyalty to the Al Saud. But the Wahhabi principles of the Al Saud rule were equally compelling. After Muhammad ibn al Wahhab's death in 1792, the leader of Al Saud assumed the title of imam. Thus, Al Saud leaders were recognized not just as shaykhs or leaders, but as Wahhabi imams, political and religious figures whose rule had an element of religious authority.

Turki and his successors ruled from Riyadh over a wide area. They controlled the region to the north and south of Najd and exerted considerable influence along the western coast of the Persian Gulf. This was no state but a large sphere of influence that the Al Saud held together with a combination of treaties and delegated authority. In the Shammar Mountains to the north, for instance, the Al Saud supported the rule of Abd Allah ibn Rashid with whom Turki maintained a close alliance. Later, Turki's son Faisal cemented this alliance by marrying his son, Talal, to Abd Allah's daughter, Nurah. Although this family-to-family connection worked well, the Al Saud preferred to rely in the east on appointed leaders to rule on their behalf. In other areas, they were content to establish treaties under the terms of which tribes agreed to defend the family's interests or to refrain from attacking the Al Saud when the opportunity arose.

Within their sphere of influence, the Al Saud could levy troops for military campaigns from the towns and tribes under their control. Although these campaigns were mostly police actions against recalcitrant tribes, the rulers described them as holy wars (jihad), which they conducted according to religious principles. The tribute that the Al Saud demanded from those under their control was also based on Islamic principles. Towns, for instance, paid taxes at a rate established by Muslim law, and the troops that accompanied the Al Saud on raiding expeditions returned one-fifth of their booty to the Al Saud treasury according to sharia (Muslim Law) requirements.

The collection of tribute was another indication of the extensive influence the Al Saud derived because of their Wahhabi connections. Wahhabi religious ideas had spread through the central part of the Arabian Peninsula; as a result, the Al Saud influenced decisions even in areas not under their control, such as succession battles and questions of tribute. Their influence in the Hijaz, however, remained restricted. Not only were the Egyptians and Ottomans careful that the region not slip away again, but Wahhabi ideas had not found a receptive audience in western Arabia. Accordingly, the family was unable to gain a foothold in the Hijaz during the nineteenth century.

The Al Saud maintained authority in Arabia by controlling several factors. First, they could resist, or at least accommodate, Egyptian interference. After 1824 when the Egyptians could no longer maintain outright military control over Arabia, they turned to political intrigues. Turki, for instance, was assassinated in 1834 by a member of the Al Saud who had recently returned from Cairo. When Turki's son, Faisal, succeeded his father, the Egyptians supported a rival member of the family, Khalid ibn Saud, and with Egyptian assistance Khalid controlled Najd for the next four years.

Muhammad Ali and the Egyptians were severely weakened after the British and French defeated their fleet off the coast of Greece in 1827. This prevented the Egyptians from exerting much influence in Arabia, but it left the Al Saud with the problem of the Ottomans, whose ultimate authority Turki eventually acknowledged. The challenge to the sultan had helped end the first Al Saud empire in 1818, so later rulers chose to accommodate the Ottomans as much as they could. The Al Saud eventually became of considerable financial importance to the Ottomans because they collected tribute from the rich trading state of Oman and forwarded much of this to the Sharifs in Mecca, who relayed it to the sultan. In return the Ottomans recognized the Al Saud authority and left them alone for the most part.

The Ottomans, however, sometimes tried to expand their influence by supporting renegade members of the Al Saud. When Faisal's two sons, Abd Allah and Saud, vied to take over the empire from their father, Abd Allah enlisted the aid of the Ottoman governor in Iraq, who used the opportunity to take Al Qatif and Al Hufuf in eastern Arabia. The Ottomans were eventually driven out, but until the time of Abd al Aziz they continued to look for a relationship with the Al Saud that they could exploit.

One of the reasons the Ottomans were unsuccessful was the growing British interest in Arabia. The British government in India considered the Persian Gulf to be its western flank and so became increasingly involved with the piracy of the Arab tribes on the eastern coast. The British were also anxious about potentially hostile Ottoman influence in an area so close to India and the Suez Canal. As a result, the British came into increasing contact with the Al Saud. As Wahhabi leaders, the Al Saud could exert some control over the tribes on the gulf coast, and they were simultaneously involved with the Ottomans. During this period, the Al Saud leaders began to play off the Ottomans and British against each other.

Whereas the Al Saud were largely successful in handling the two great powers in the Persian Gulf, they did not do so well in managing their family affairs. The killing of Turki in 1834 touched off a long period of fighting. Turki's son, Faisal, held power until he was expelled from Riyadh by Khalid and his Egyptian supporters. Then, Abd Allah ibn Thunayan (from yet another branch of the Al Saud) seized Riyadh. He could maintain power only briefly, however, because Faisal, who had been taken to Cairo and then escaped, retook the city in 1845.

Faisal ruled until 1865, lending some stability to Arabia. Upon his death, however, fighting started again, and his three sons, Abd Allah, Abd ar Rahman, and Saud--as well as some of Saud's sons--each held Riyadh on separate occasions. The political structure of Arabia was such that each leader had to win the support of various tribes and towns to conduct a campaign. In this way, alliances were constantly formed and reformed, and the more often this occurred, the more unstable the situation became.

This instability accelerated the decline of the Al Saud after the death of Faisal. While the Al Saud was bickering, however, the family of Muhammad ibn Rashid, who controlled the area around the Shammar Mountains, had been gaining strength and expanding its influence in northern Najd. In 1890 Muhammad ibn Rashid, the grandson of the leader with whom Turki had first made an alliance, was in a position to enhance his own power. He removed the sons of Saud ibn Faisal from Riyadh and returned it to the nominal control of their uncle, Abd ar Rahman. Muhammad put effective control of the city, however, into the hands of his own garrison commander, Salim ibn Subhan. When Abd ar Rahman attempted to exert real authority, he was driven out of Riyadh. Thus, the Al Saud, along with the young Abd al Aziz, were obliged to take refuge with the amir of Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

The founder of the modern state of Saudi Arabia lived much of his early life in exile. In the end, however, he not only recovered the territory of the first Al Saud empire, but made a state out of it. Abd al Aziz did this by maneuvering among a number of forces. The first was the religious fervor that Wahhabi Islam continued to inspire. His Wahhabi army, the Ikhwan (brotherhood), for instance, represented a powerful tool, but one that proved so difficult to control that the ruler ultimately had to destroy it. At the same time, Abd al Aziz had to anticipate the manner in which events in Arabia would be viewed abroad and allow foreign powers, particularly the British, to have their way.

Abd al Aziz established the Saudi state in three stages, namely, by retaking Najd in 1905, defeating the Rashidi clan at Hail in 1921, and conquering the Hijaz in 1924. In the first phase, Abd al Aziz acted as tribal leaders had acted for centuries: while still in Kuwait, and only in his twenties, Abd al Aziz rallied a small force from the surrounding tribes and began to raid areas under Rashidi control north of Riyadh. Then in early 1902, he led a small party in a surprise attack on the Rashidi garrison in Riyadh.

The successful attack gave Abd al Aziz a foothold in Najd. One of his first tasks was to establish himself in Riyadh as the Al Saud leader and the Wahhabi imam. Abd al Aziz obtained the support of the religious establishment in Riyadh, and this relatively swift recognition revealed the political force of Wahhabi authority. Leadership in this tradition did not necessarily follow age, but it respected lineage and, particularly, action. Despite his relative youth, by taking Riyadh Abd al Aziz had showed he possessed the qualities the tribes valued in a leader.

From his seat in Riyadh, Abd al Aziz continued to make agreements with some tribes and to do battle with others. He eventually strengthened his position so that the Rashidi were unable to evict him. By 1905 the Ottoman governor in Iraq recognized Abd al Aziz as an Ottoman client in Najd. The Al Saud ruler accepted Ottoman suzerainty because it improved his political position. Nevertheless he made concurrent overtures to the British to rid Arabia of Ottoman influence. Finally, in 1913, and without British assistance, Abd al Aziz's armies drove the Ottomans out of Al Hufuf in eastern Arabia and thereby strengthened his position in Najd as well.

About this time, the Ikhwan movement began to emerge among the beduin. The Ikhwan movement spread Wahhabi Islam among the nomads. Stressing the same strict adherence to religious law that Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab had preached, Ikhwan beduin abandoned their traditional way of life in the desert and move to an agricultural settlement called a hijra (pl., hujar). The word hijra was related to the term for the Prophet's emigration from Mecca to Medina in 622, conveying the sense that one who settles in a hijra moves from a place of unbelief to a place of belief. By moving to the hijra the Ikhwan intended to take up a new way of life and dedicate themselves to enforcing a rigid Islamic orthodoxy. Once in the hijra the Ikhwan became extremely militant in enforcing upon themselves what they believed to be correct sunna (custom) of the Prophet, enjoining public prayer, mosque attendance, and gender segregation and condemning music, smoking, alcohol, and technology unknown at the time of the Prophet. They attacked those who refused to conform to Wahhabi interpretations of correct Islamic practice and tried to convert Muslims by force to their version of Wahhabism.

The Ikhwan looked eagerly for the opportunity to fight nonWahhabi Muslims--and non-Muslims as well--and they took Abd al Aziz as their leader in this. By 1915 there were more than 200 hujar in and around Najd and nearly 100,000 Ikhwan waiting for a chance to fight. This provided Abd al Aziz with a powerful weapon, but his situation demanded that he use it carefully. In 1915 Abd al Aziz had various goals: he wanted to take Hail from the Al Rashid, to extend his control into the northern deserts in present-day Syria and Jordan, and to take over the Hijaz and the Persian Gulf coast. The British, however, had become more and more involved in Arabia because of World War I, and Abd al Aziz had to adjust his ambitions to British interests.

The British prevented the Al Saud from taking over much of the gulf coast where they had established protectorates with several ruling dynasties. They also opposed Abd al Aziz's efforts to extend his influence beyond the Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi deserts because of their own imperial interests. To the west, the British were allied with the Sharif family who ruled the Hijaz from their base in Mecca. The British actually encouraged the Sharif family to revolt against the Ottomans and so open a second front against them in World War I.

In this situation, Abd al Aziz had no choice but to focus his attentions on Hail. This caused problems with the Ikhwan because, unlike Mecca and Medina, Hail had no religious significance and the Wahhabis had no particular quarrel with the Rashidi clan who controlled it. The Sharif family in Mecca, however, was another story. The Wahhabis had long borne a grudge against the Sharif because of their traditional opposition to Wahhabism. The ruler, Hussein, had made the situation worse by forbidding the Ikhwan to make the pilgrimage and then seeking non-Muslim, British help against the Muslim Ottomans.

In the end, Abd al Aziz was largely successful in balancing the Ikhwan's interests with his own limitations. In 1919 the Ikhwan completely destroyed an army that Hussein had sent against them near the town of Turabah, which lay on the border between the Hijaz and Najd. The Ikhwan so completely decimated the Sharif's troops that there were no forces left to defend the Hijaz, and the entire area cowered under the threat of a Wahhabi attack. In spite of this, Abd al Aziz restrained the Ikhwan and managed to direct them toward Hail, which they took easily in 1921. The Ikhwan went beyond Hail, however, and pushed into central Transjordan where they challenged Hussein's son, Abd Allah, whose rule the British were trying to establish after the war. At this point, Abd al Aziz again had to rein in his troops to avoid further problems with the British.

In the matter of the Hijaz, Abd al Aziz was rewarded for his patience. By 1924 Hussein had grown no stronger militarily and had been weakened politically. When the Ottoman sultan, who had held the title of caliph, was deposed at the end of World War I, the Sharif took the title for himself. He had hoped that the new honor would gain him greater Muslim support, but the opposite happened. Many Muslims were offended that Hussein should handle Muslim tradition in such cavalier fashion and began to object strongly to his rule. To make matters worse for Hussein, the British were no longer willing to prop him up after the war. Abd al Aziz's efforts to control the Ikhwan in Transjordan as well as his accommodation of British interests in the gulf had proved to them he could act responsibly.

The Al Saud conquest of the Hijaz had been possible since the battle at Turabah in 1919. Abd al Aziz had been waiting for the right moment and in 1924, he found it. The British did not encourage him to move into Mecca and Medina, but they also gave no indication that they would oppose him. So the Wahhabi armies took over the area with little opposition.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

The capture of the Hijaz complicated the basis of Abd al Aziz's authority. The Al Saud ruler was fundamentally a traditional Arab clan leader who held the loyalty of various tribes because of his spectacular successes. But Abd al Aziz was also a Wahhabi imam who held the intense loyalty of the Ikhwan. When he became the ruler of Mecca and Medina as well, Abd al Aziz took on the responsibilities of Khadim al Haramayn (servant of the two shrines) and so assumed an important position in the wider Muslim world. Finally, by maintaining his authority under pressure from the Western powers, Abd al Aziz had become the only truly independent Arab leader after World War I. Thus, he had a role to play in Arab politics as well.

In establishing his state, Abd al Aziz had to consider the various constituencies that he served. He made some effort to gain world Muslim approval before he moved into the Hijaz. Once the Hijaz was under his control, he submitted to the world Muslim community, even if only rhetorically, the question of how the area should be ruled. When he received no response, he held an informal referendum in which the notables of the Hijaz chose him as their king. In the Hijaz, Abd al Aziz restrained the more fanatical of his Wahhabi followers and eventually won the support of the local religious authorities, or ulama.

Other Muslim countries were not at the time in a position to challenge Abd al Aziz. Most of the states lived under foreign rule or mandate, and two of the countries that did not, Iran and Turkey, were in the midst of secular reforms.

Abd al Aziz had problems at home, however. The first and most serious of these was the Ikhwan. The Ikhwan had no tolerance for the concessions to life in the twentieth century that Abd al Aziz was forced to make. They objected to machines, particularly those used for communication, such as the telegraph, as well as to the increasing presence of non-Muslim foreigners in the country. They also continued to object to some of the practices of non-Wahhabi Muslims.

Most important, the Ikhwan remained eager to force their message on whomever did not accept it. This led them to attack non-Wahhabi Muslims, and sometimes Wahhabi Muslims as well, within Saudi Arabia and to push beyond its borders into Iraq. Whereas the first sort of attack challenged Abd al Aziz's authority, the second caused him problems with the British, who would not tolerate the violation of borders that they had set up after World War I. It was largely because of this second concern that Abd al Aziz found himself obliged to take on the Ikhwan militarily. When the Wahhabi forces continued to ignore his authority, he waged a pitched battle and defeated them in 1929.

The way that Abd al Aziz put down the Ikhwan demonstrated his ability to assemble a domestic constituency. Throughout their history, the Al Saud had no standing army; when the family had a military objective it had simply assembled coalitions of tribes and towns, or such groups as the Ikhwan. In facing the Ikhwan Abd al Aziz did the same thing. He went out into the country and made his case in what resembled large and small town meetings. He talked not only to the people who would be fighting with him, but also to the religious authorities, seeking their advice and approval. If the ruler wished to battle the Ikhwan, could this be sanctioned by Islam? Or might the Ikhwan's demand to continue their jihad have greater justification?

In the late 1920s the majority sided with Abd al Aziz, setting the foundation of the modern state. The ruler built on this foundation by taking into account the interests of various groups. He continued to consult the ulama and, if he disagreed with them, to work to change their opinion. The best example was the battle Abd al Aziz fought to set up radio communications. Like the Ikhwan, the ulama first opposed radio as a suspect modern innovation for which there was no basis in the time of the Prophet. Only when Abd al Aziz demonstrated that the radio could be used to broadcast the Quran did the ulama give it their approval.

Abd al Aziz was careful not to make more enemies than necessary--and he tried to make those enemies he had into friends. One can see this clearly in his handling of his two rivals from World War I, the Rashidi of Hail and the Sharif of Mecca. After conquering Hail, Abd al Aziz reestablished the marriage links that his ancestor, Turki, had first forged between the two families by marrying three of the Rashidi widows into his family. He made a similar effort to gain the favor of the Hashimites after taking the Hijaz. Rather than expelling the family as a future threat, Abd al Aziz gave some of its members large tracts of land, enabling them to stay in the area and prosper.

Abd al Aziz also assured himself the continued loyalty of those who had been allied with him by granting them what favors he could. This was difficult, however, because the new Saudi kingdom had little money in its first twenty years. Najd had never been prosperous, and during the previous century its leaders had become almost dependent on the British to help them through recurring periods of famine. The British had been helpful throughout World War I, but when the political situation in Arabia stabilized, they became less inclined to support Abd al Aziz.

The conquest of the Hijaz and the pilgrimage revenues that went with it made Abd al Aziz considerably better off. With the recession in the 1920s and 1930s, however, pilgrimage traffic dropped, and Saudi income from the pilgrimage was reduced by more than half. Accordingly, there was little that Abd al Aziz could do in the 1920s and 1930s except to dole out what money he had in the traditional tribal manner. As many as 2,000 people would eat daily at Abd al Aziz's table, but this was the extent of the services that his government could provide.

The event that was to change all this was the discovery of massive oil reserves in the kingdom. Oil was first found on the Persian side of the Gulf before World War I and then in Bahrain shortly afterward. Geologists suspected that they would find oil in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia as well; so in the early 1930s, British and United States companies competed for the rights to develop that oil. The firm, Standard Oil of California (Socal), won and struck small pockets of oil fairly quickly. By the end of the decade, Socal discovered enormous deposits that were close to the surface and thus inexpensive to extract.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

Upon Abd al Aziz's death in 1953 he was succeeded by his son, Saud. Saud had been designated crown prince some years before in a political act that went back to the days of Muhammad ibn Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab. The new King Saud did not prove to be a leader equal to the challenges of the next two decades. He was a spendthrift even before he became king, and this became a more crucial issue when he controlled the kingdom's purse strings. Saud paid huge sums to maintain tribal acquiescence to his rule in return for recruits for an immense palace guard, the White Army, so-called because they wore traditional Arab dress rather than military uniforms. Revenues could not match Saud's expenditures for the tribes, subsidies to various foreign groups, and his personal follies. By 1958 the riyal had to be devalued nearly 80 percent, despite annual oil revenues in excess of US$300 million.

Dissatisfaction grew over wasteful expenditures, the lack of development of public projects and educational institutions, and the low wages of the growing labor force. Citizens were becoming aware of the dual culture emerging in Saudi Arabia. Privileged classes had been unknown in the early days of Abd al Aziz's reign; his first palace was made of the same sun-dried mud bricks that the peasants used, shaykhs and beduin herdsmen called each other by their first names, and the clothing of rich and poor was quite similar.

Dissatisfaction came from many sources, chief of which were a few of the more liberal princes and the sons of the rising middle class educated abroad. In an effort to discourage the formation of critical attitudes, college students abroad were forbidden to major in law, political science, or related areas. In 1956 Aramco Saudi workers called a second strike, the first having occurred in 1953. Saud issued a royal decree in June 1956 forbidding further strikes under penalty of dismissal.

In foreign relations Saud followed the inclinations of his father and promoted Arab unity by demanding, in cooperation with Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, the liberation of Palestine. Saudi Arabia's ties with Egypt had been strengthened by a mutual defense pact in October 1955. Together Nasser and Saud assisted in financing an effort to discourage Jordan from joining the Western-sponsored Baghdad Pact. When French, British, and Israeli forces invaded Egypt in 1956 as a result of Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal, Saud granted the equivalent of US$10 million to Egypt, severed diplomatic relations with Britain and France, and placed an embargo on oil shipments to both countries.

United States-Saudi relations also declined during the early years of Saud's reign. Nationalists criticized the leasing of the Dhahran air base to the United States, calling it a concession to American imperialism. In 1954 the United States Point Four mission was dismissed.

A major reorientation of Saudi policy was initiated in 1957 after Saud's successful visit to the United States. In a conference with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Saud gave support to the Eisenhower Doctrine and agreed to a five-year renewal of the lease of the Dhahran air base.

But as Western relations improved, those with Egypt worsened. Egypt and Saudi Arabia had been drawn together because of their mutual interest in obtaining Arab independence from non-Arab foreign intervention. Beyond that point all similarity of objectives vanished. Nasser had deposed a king in Egypt and was encouraging revolutionary attitudes in other Arab countries. His notions of Arab unity and economic socialism were abhorrent to Saud and to many Saudis who wished to preserve an independent and capitalistically oriented kingdom. Furthermore, the Egyptians trafficked with the Soviet Union, from whom the Saudis had declined an arms offer and to whom they denied diplomatic recognition because of their fear of communism. The presence of large numbers of Egyptian military attachés and teachers in Saudi Arabia caused concern among the Saudis that, at the very least, unacceptable views would circulate. Saudi officials were aghast when Syria and Egypt merged in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. Yet the shock generated by news of the union paled before the subsequent disclosures of an alleged conspiracy by Saud to subvert the venture and to assassinate Nasser.

The embarrassed senior members of the royal family had also become increasingly unhappy over Saud's tendency to appoint his inexperienced young sons to major government positions rather than older, more seasoned family members. They feared that such appointments indicated a plan to transfer the succession to his offspring as opposed to the traditional practice of selecting the most senior and experienced family member as leader. These fears, combined with their concern over Saud's profligate spending and the alleged assassination plot, increased family dissatisfaction to the point that senior members of Al Saud urged Saud to relinquish power to Faisal.

On March 24, 1958, Saud issued a royal decree giving Faisal executive powers in foreign and internal affairs, including fiscal planning. As a result of Faisal's initiation of an austerity program in 1959 that included a reduction of subsidies to the royal family, the budget had been balanced, currency stabilized, and embarrassing national debts resolved.

The reductions in the royal household budget incensed Saud and his circle, and a dispute arising out of Saud's desire to give full control of a Hijaz oil refinery to one of his sons made Faisal's position increasingly precarious. In January 1961, Faisal and his Council of Ministers tendered their resignations.

Saud assumed the post of prime minister and made another brother, the progressive Talal, minister of finance and national economy. A new cabinet was formed composed of many Western- educated commoners. There was much talk of innovative governmental moves, but none materialized. Talal, concluding that Saud had misrepresented his intentions to engage his support, departed for Cairo, taking several air force officers and their airplanes with him. Civil war broke out in Yemen in September 1962, and Egyptian forces arrived to support the revolutionaries against the Saudis, who supported the overthrown royalist government. At that time the destruction of the Saudi monarchy seemed a distinct possibility.

Faisal had been restored as deputy prime minister and foreign minister in March 1962, to substitute for Saud, who was in the United States for medical treatment. In October 1962, Faisal was urged by the ulama and many princes to accept the kingship, but he declined, citing his promise to his father to support Saud. Instead Faisal again became prime minister, named Khalid deputy prime minister, and formed a government. He took command of the armed forces and quickly restored their loyalty and morale.

The following month he announced a ten-point plan for reform. Projected changes in the government included promises to issue a constitution, establish local government, and form an independent judiciary with a supreme judicial council composed of secular and religious members. He pledged to strengthen Islam and to reform the Committee for Encouragement of Virtue and Discouragement of Vice (also known as the Committee for Public Morality). Progress was to be ensured by the regulation of economic and commercial activities, and there was to be a sustained effort to develop the country's resources. Social reforms would include provisions for social security, unemployment compensation, educational scholarships, and the abolition of slavery. Consultations between Faisal and President John F. Kennedy led to promises of United States support of Faisal's plans for reform and of Saudi Arabia's territorial integrity. Diplomatic relations were reestablished with Britain and France, and debts to them were repaid.

Faisal's projects and the budgetary allowance necessary to modernize the armed forces for their engagement in Yemen meant that the king's personal income had to be cut. In March 1964, a royal decree endorsed by the royal family and the ulama reduced Saud's powers and his personal budget. The response from Saud, who had been on an extended and expensive tour of Europe with a large entourage, was outrage. Saud tried to garner support for a return to power, but the royal family and ulama held firm. On November 2, 1964, the ulama issued a final fatwa, or religious decree on the matter. Saud was deposed, and Faisal was declared king. This decision terminated almost a decade of external and internal pressure to depose Saud and to assert the power and integrity of conservative forces within the Al Saudi.

During his reign, Saud had largely cut himself off from the citizenry, relying heavily on his advisers, many of whom were primarily concerned with acquiring personal wealth and power. Faisal, in contrast, despite working long hours on affairs of state, made himself available to the public daily in the traditional majlis, followed by a meal open to anyone. During the times he had acted as prime minister for Saud, Faisal had strengthened the power of the Council of Ministers and in 1954 had been primarily responsible for the creation of the ministries of commerce and industry and of health.

When Faisal became king (1964-75), he set himself the task of modernizing the kingdom. His first two official acts were protective, directed toward safeguarding the nation from potential internal and external threats that could thwart development. In the first month of Faisal's reign, Khalid, a half brother, was designated crown prince, thus ensuring that the succession would not be disturbed by the kind of family power politics that had nearly destroyed Saudi hegemony in the past. Sultan, another half brother serving as the minister of defense and aviation, was charged with modernizing the army and establishing an air defense system to protect the nation and its petroleum reserves from potential external and internal threats.

Funds to the King Abd al Aziz University in Jiddah were substantially increased, and the University of Petroleum and Minerals was opened in Dhahran. Faisal felt that, although undesirable, foreign influence was unavoidable as long as the population remained undereducated and unable to assume the country's many demanding positions. Faisal reorganized the Central Planning Organization to develop priorities for economic development. The result was that oil revenues were spent on investments designed to stimulate growth.

Troubled by the spread of republicanism in the Arab world that challenged the legitimacy of the Al Saud, Faisal called an Islamic summit conference in 1965 to reaffirm Islamic principles against the rising tide of modern ideologies. Faisal dedicated to Islamic ideals that he had learned in the house of his maternal grandfather, a direct descendant of Abd al Wahhab, the eighteenth-century initiator of the revival of religious orthodoxy in Arabia. Faisal was raised in a spartan atmosphere, unlike that of most of his half brothers, and was encouraged by his mother to develop values consonant with tribal leadership. Faisal's religious idealism did not diminish his secular effectiveness. For him, political functioning was a religious act that demanded thoughtfulness, dignity, and integrity. Respect for Faisal increased in the Arab world based on the remarkable changes within Saudi Arabia, Faisal's excellent management of the holy cities, his reputation as a stalwart enemy of Zionism, and his rapidly increasing financial power.

Faisal proceeded cautiously but emphatically to introduce Western technology. He was continually forced to deal with the insistent demands of his Westernized associates to move faster and the equally vociferous urgings of the ulama to move not at all. He chose the middle ground not merely in a spirit of compromise to assuage the two forces but because he earnestly believed that the correct religious orientation would mitigate the adverse effects of modernization. For example, in 1965 the first Saudi television broadcasts offended some Saudis. One of Faisal's nephews went so far as to lead an assault on one of the new studios and was later killed in a shoot-out with the police. Such a family tragedy did not, however, cause Faisal to withdraw his support for the television project.

Under Faisal's reign a massive educational program was initiated. Expenditures for education increased to an annual level of approximately 10 percent of the budget. Vocational training centers and institutes of higher education were built in addition to the more than 125 elementary and secondary schools built annually. Women's demands, increasingly vocalized, led to the establishment of elementary schools for girls. These were placed under religious control to pacify the many who were opposed to education for women. Health centers also multiplied.

Regional affairs within the peninsula, with the exception of Yemen, primarily concerned boundary disputes. Faisal made much progress, but at his death Saudi Arabia still possessed more unsettled than settled frontiers. In August 1965, a final determination of boundaries was reached between Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In 1965 Saudi Arabia also agreed on border delineations with Qatar. The Continental Shelf Agreement with Iran in October 1968 established the separate rights of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, and an agreement was reached to discourage foreign intervention there. The formation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971 did not receive official recognition until the settlement of the long-standing Al Buraymi Oasis dispute.

Saudi Arabia's largest problem within the peninsula remained the settlement of the Yemen crisis. In August 1965, Faisal and Nasser agreed at Jiddah to an immediate cease-fire, the termination of Saudi aid to the royalists, and the withdrawal of Egyptian forces. In 1965 at Harad in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt sponsored a meeting of Yemeni representatives from the opposing sides. The conference became deadlocked, and hostilities resumed after the promised Egyptian troop withdrawals. The royalists claimed extensive victories. The Egyptians announced that they would not withdraw their remaining troops and were incensed at what they believed was renewed Saudi intervention. Egyptian aircraft bombed royalist installations and towns in southern Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia responded by closing its two Egyptian banks, an action countered by Egypt's sequestration of all Saudi Arabian property holdings in Egypt.

Saud, then residing in Egypt, made a personal gift of US$1 million to the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) and made broadcasts from its capital and from Cairo, stating his intention to return to rule "to save the people and land of Saudi Arabia." A series of terrorist bomb attacks against residences of the royal family and United States and British personnel led to the arrests of a group, including seventeen Yemenis, accused of the sabotage. They were found guilty and were publicly beheaded in accordance with the law. Egyptian and Saudi disagreements over the area were not resolved until the Khartoum Conference of August 1967.

In the aftermath of the June 1967 War between Israel and various Arab states, the disputes between Arab states had to take a secondary position to what the Arabs called the "alien threat" of Israel. Faisal's influence at Arab conferences continued to increase, his position strengthened by the enormous revenues with which he could make good his commitments, and by his irreproachable reputation as a pious Muslim. Faisal's pan-Islamic pronouncement took concrete form after the June 1967 War when an Islamic nation, Jordan, received a direct threat to its existence and that same "infidel power," Israel, seized and retained Jerusalem, the third holiest city of Islam.

At the Khartoum Conference Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Kuwait agreed to set up a fund equivalent to US$378 million to be distributed among countries that had suffered from the June 1967 War. The Saudi contribution would be US$140 million. Jordan and Egypt were both in desperate financial positions. The monies were intended not only to ease this situation but also to buttress their political bargaining power. Egypt could no longer continue expensive commitments to the war in Yemen, and Nasser and Faisal agreed to a compromise proposed by Sudan for financial and economic pullouts in Yemen. Military aggression against Israel was not mentioned, but the conferees agreed neither to recognize nor to make peace with Israel and to continue to work for the rights of Palestinians.

A fire in the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on August 21, 1969, prompted the Islamic Summit Conference of September 1969 in Rabat, Morocco. Representatives agreed to intensify their efforts to ensure the prompt withdrawal of Israeli military forces in the occupied lands and to pursue an honorable peace.

Having increased Saudi economic power, in July 1973 threatened to reduce oil deliveries if the United States did not seek to equalize its treatment of Egypt and Israel. The threat was realized during the October 1973 War between Israel and two Arab states when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries imposed a general rise in oil prices and an oil embargo on major oil consumers that were either supporters of Israel or allies of its supporters. The embargo was a political protest aimed at obtaining Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory and recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people.

At an Arab conference held in Algiers in November 1973, Saudi Arabia agreed with all the participants except the representative of Jordan to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Jordan's King Hussein refused to participate but was encouraged by Faisal to attend the follow-up conference in October 1974 in Rabat. At this meeting Hussein gave his reluctant agreement to the proposal that the PLO should be the negotiators with Israel over the establishment of a Palestinian entity in the territory newly occupied by Israel. In return Saudi Arabia promised Hussein US$300 million a year for the next four years.

As a result of the 1973 agreements that tripled the price of crude oil in response to the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Saudi Arabia acquired vastly increased revenues to devote to domestic programs. However, Faisal's failing health, overwork, and age prevented him from formulating a coherent development plan before he was assassinated on March 25, 1975. He was shot by his nephew, a disgruntled brother of the nephew killed in the 1965 television station incident.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

Following the assassination, Crown Prince Khalid immediately succeeded to the throne and received the oaths, formal pledges of support from the family and tribal leaders, within the traditional three days. Fahd, the minister of interior, was named crown prince, as expected.

Khalid's preparation for ruling a modern state included his accompanying Faisal on foreign missions and representing Saudi Arabia at the United Nations. He was a quiet but influential figure within the royal family. He was known, for instance, to have rallied the family to support Faisal in the ouster of Saud in 1964. The calm strength and consistency that he displayed during this delicate and potentially dangerous crisis in many ways typified his reign. Although he ruled quietly, he ruled effectively and was considerably more than the figurehead many had expected him to be.

Khalid's leadership style was remarkably different from Faisal's. He was more liberal in terms of informing the press of the rationale behind foreign policy decisions. And although he largely used the same policymaking team as Faisal did, he allowed them greater latitude in decisionmaking within their separate portfolios. In regional affairs he permitted the governors considerably more autonomy and even authorized their use of discretionary funds. Above all, he valued consensus and the team approach to problem solving.

The new king's first diplomatic coup was the conclusion in April 1975 of a demarcation agreement concerning the Al Buraymi Oasis, where the frontiers of Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Saudi Arabia meet. Claims and counterclaims over this frontier area had exacerbated relations among the three states for years. The successful conclusion of negotiations under Khalid's aegis added to his stature as a statesman among knowledgeable observers of the peninsula political scene.

In April 1976, Khalid made state visits to all the gulf states in the hope of promoting closer relations with his peninsular neighbors. These early visits, in retrospect, probably laid the foundation for the later establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Coinciding with Khalid's visits to neighboring states, Iran called for a formal, collective security arrangement of the shaykhdoms of the Persian Gulf. This proposal, although not summarily rejected, was received with great coolness by the Saudi government, as wary of Iran's hegemonistic pretensions as they were of Iraq's.

Probably the most sensitive areas of Saudi Arabia's relations with its neighbors during Khalid's reign were its relations with the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR--North Yemen) and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY--South Yemen). Despite the establishment of relations with the YAR after the conclusion of its civil war in 1967 and massive Saudi aid, relations remained strained and marked by mutual distrust. The YAR government felt that Saudi Arabia wished to maintain it only as a convenient buffer state for protection of the kingdom against the PDRY, a major recipient of Soviet arms.

In a reorganization of the Council of Ministers in late 1975, Khalid named Crown Prince Fahd deputy prime minister and designated Abd Allah (another half brother and the commander of the Saudi Arabian National Guard) as second deputy prime minister.

Fahd, who had already participated in major decisions, became chief spokesman for the kingdom and a major architect of Saudi modernization, foreign affairs, and oil policy. In 1976 a major concern of the Saudi government was the year-old civil war in Lebanon. Although strongly committed to the official Saudi position that opposed outside intervention or interference in Lebanese affairs, Fahd nevertheless was instrumental in setting up a League of Arab States (Arab League) peacekeeping force. Despite this increasing reliance on Fahd, the strains of office began to tell on Khalid, forcing him to return to the United States for successful open-heart surgery in Cleveland, Ohio.

Much of the kingdom's attention in the late 1970s and early 1980s was focused on the construction of the Yanbu and Jubayl industrial complexes, to diversify the kingdom's industrial base. In addition to expanding industrial and petroleum facilities one of Khalid's major domestic accomplishments was his emphasis on agricultural development.

In the field of foreign affairs, United States-Saudi relations continued to be cordial under Khalid, although Saudi Arabia remained frustrated by perceived United States intransigence in the settlement of the Palestinian problem. In a January 1978 meeting with President Jimmy Carter in Riyadh, the king insisted that peace in the area could be achieved only by the complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, as well as self-determination and resettlement rights for the Palestinians.

Another topic reportedly discussed in Riyadh during this meeting was Soviet penetration and growing influence through arms sales and treaties of friendship with the two Yemens. Five months after the Riyadh meeting Khalid asked Carter to sell advanced fighter planes to Saudi Arabia to assist in countering communist aggression in the area. The first delivery of the sixty F-15s under the agreement approved by Carter arrived in the kingdom in January 1982. The sale and delivery of the F-15s, the subsequent United States release of sophisticated equipment to enhance the capabilities of the aircraft, and the negotiations resulting in the approval of the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft owed much to Khalid's insistence on Saudi Arabia's being treated as a full partner in all United States-Saudi areas of joint concern.

In 1979 many of the kingdom's ideas about its own stability and its relations concerning its neighbors and allies were shattered. On March 26, 1979, as a result of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, Khalid broke relations with Egypt and led in seeking Arab economic sanctions against Egypt.

Some foreign observers thought in 1979 that traditionalism was no longer a strong force in Saudi Arabia. This idea was disproved when at least 500 dissidents invaded and seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca on November 20, 1979. The leader of the dissidents, Juhaiman ibn Muhammad ibn Saif al Utaiba, a Sunni, was from one of the foremost families of Najd. His grandfather had ridden with Abd al Aziz in the early decades of the century, and other family members were among the foremost of the Ikhwan. Juhaiman said that his justification was that the Al Saud had lost its legitimacy through corruption, ostentation, and mindless imitation of the West--virtually an echo of his grandfather's charge in 1921 against Abd al Aziz. Juhaiman's accusations against the Saudi monarchy closely resembled Ayatollah Ruhollah Musaui, Khomeini's diatribes against the shah.

The Saudi leadership was stunned and initially paralyzed by the takeover. The Grand Mosque surrounds the Kaaba, symbol of the oneness of God and believed by Muslims to have been built by the Prophet Abraham. The courtyard is one of the sites where the hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, is enacted. Because of the holiness of the place, no non-Muslims may enter the city of Mecca. Furthermore, all holy places come under a special injunction in Islam. It is forbidden to shed blood there or to deface or to pollute them in any way. Despite careful planning on Juhaiman's part, a guard was shot dead by one of the nervous dissidents. Such a desecration is a major violation under Islamic law and merits crucifixion for the convicted offender.

Juhaiman's party included women as well as men, other peninsular Arabs, and a few Egyptians. A score of the dissidents were unemployed graduates of the kingdom's seminary in Medina. They had provisions for the siege they expected as well as extensive supplies of arms.

The government's initial attempts to rout the dissidents were stymied. Before any military move could be authorized, the ulama had to issue a dispensation to allow the bearing of arms in a holy place. When the religious problems were solved by announcement of the ulama's ruling, logistical problems bogged down the efforts of the military and the national guard for several days. Finally, two weeks later the military effort succeeded, and the dissidents were dislodged. All the surviving males were eventually beheaded in the squares of four Saudi cities.

Far from discounting the efforts of the rebels, the leaders examined themselves and their policies more closely. Khalid, particularly, was sensitive to their complaints. Many of the dissidents had come from two of the tribes that traditionally have been recruited for the national guard. Khalid had spent much time with these people in the desert.

Compounding the nightmare for the regime were Shia riots in Al Qatif in the Eastern Province two weeks after the siege of the Grand Mosque. Many of the rioters bore posters with Khomenini's picture. Although these were not the first Shia protests in the kingdom (others had occurred in 1970 and 1978), the December rioters had become emboldened by Khomeini's triumphal return to Iran in early 1979. Up to 20,000 national guard troops were immediately moved into the Eastern Province. Several demonstrators were killed and hundreds reportedly arrested.

Almost visibly shaken by the takeover of the mosque and the Shia disturbances, the Saudi leadership announced in the aftermath of these events that a consultative assembly (majlis ash shura) would soon be formed. The Shia disturbances in the Eastern Province encouraged the government to take a closer look at conditions there. Although it was clear that the Shia had been radicalized by Khomeini, it was also obvious that repression and imprisonment were stop-gap solutions and as likely to promote further resistance as to quell it. Further, the Shia lived in the area of the kingdom most vulnerable to sabotage, where numerous oil and gas pipelines crisscross the terrain. Aramco had adamantly refused to discriminate against the Shia in their hiring practices, as had Saudi governmental agencies. Aramco had a preponderance of Shia employees--not only because of Aramco's location but also because Aramco employment offered a Shia the best chance for mobility.

Compared with other towns in the Eastern Province, the Shia towns of Al Qatif and Al Hufuf were depressed areas. The Shia lacked decent schools, hospitals, roads, and sewerage and had inadequate electrification and water supplies. Violent Shia demonstrations occurred once against in February 1980, and, although they were as harshly repressed as the previous ones, the deputy minister of interior, Amir Ahmad ibn Abd al Aziz, was directed to draw up a comprehensive plan to improve the standard of living in Shia areas. His recommendations, which were immediately accepted and implemented, included an electrification project, swamp drainage, the construction of schools and a hospital, street lighting, and loans for home construction.

In early November, a week before Ashura--the most important Shia religious observance, which commemorates the death of Husayn--the government announced a new US$240 million project for Al Qatif. Shortly before Ashura, Fahd ordered the release of 100 Shia arrested in the November 1979 and February 1980 disturbances. Five days after Ashura, which was peaceful, Khalid toured the area--a first for a Saudi monarch. Co-optation, which served the Saudi leadership so well with the general populace, also seemed the palliative for the Shia problem.

After the troubles of 1979 and 1980, the Saudi leadership began to take a more assertive role in world leadership. Saudi Arabia obtained agreement on the kingdom as the site of the meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in January 1981. Hosting the conference of thirty-eight Muslim heads of state was seen as a vehicle for refurbishing the Saudi image of "guardian of the Holy Places." Also, the kingdom wished to present an alternative to the Islamic radicalism of Libya's Muammar al Qadhafi and Iran's Khomeini, both of whom had plagued Saudi Arabia in the previous two years.

Shortly after the conference the Saudi leadership announced the formation of the GCC project long favored by Khalid. Khalid and Fahd had been campaigning actively for such an organization for some time. The GCC included the six states of the peninsula that have similar political institutions, social conditions, and economic resources: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The aim of the GCC, as it was formally announced at its first summit in May 1981, was to coordinate and unify economic, industrial, and defense policies.

In the late 1970s Saudi Arabia faced a host of regional problems. In addition to the legacy of the Palestinian problem, early in Khalid's reign the civil war in Lebanon occurred. In December 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and in September 1980 Iraq attacked Iran over suzerainty of the Shatt al Arab waterway. In the latter connection, Saudi Arabia feared the war might spread down the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, because Iraq and Iran were so engaged, a unique opportunity existed of forming an alliance that excluded them both. The two Yemens, who registered their outrage at exclusion from the GCC, continued to be one of the many Saudi headaches. The Soviet Union appeared to be increasing its influence in both Yemens.

One month after the GCC second summit meeting in Riyadh, Iranian-trained Shia attempted a coup d'état in Bahrain in December 1981. The insurgents, most of whom were captured, included Shia from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, reminding the Saudis of one of their worst-case scenarios. Work was speeded up on a causeway to connect Bahrain to the Saudi mainland, completed in 1986. The Saudis believed that given an emergency that the Bahrainis could not contain, the Saudi national guard could use the causeway to provide support.

In another regional development, the Saudis were angry at the Syrians for having signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. The Saudis, however, remained conciliatory in the hope of maintaining the facade of Arab unity and also so that they could function as mediators. In December 1980, when Jordanian and Syrian troops were massed for confrontation, Amir Abd Allah was sent to avert a crisis. Abd Allah, whose mother hailed from a Syrian tribe and who maintained excellent personal relations there, was successful.

Fahd was especially active in advancing Saudi foreign policy objectives. He is credited with averting an escalation of tensions between Algeria and Morocco in May 1981. His major effort in 1980 and 1981 was in devising some alternative to the divisive Camp David Accords, which had isolated Egypt, virtually the only major state in the region on which the Saudis could depend. However, before there could be a Saudi-Egyptian rapprochement, a face-saving resolution to Egypt's agreement with Israel was necessary to preserve Saudi Arabia's legitimacy as an Arab mediator.

In August 1981, prior to Sadat's departure for the United States to discuss the resumption of the peace process, Fahd proposed his own peace plan to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Fahd peace plan, as it became known, stressed the necessity for a comprehensive settlement that included the creation of a Palestinian state and Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Although the plan was endorsed by the PLO, dissident Palestinians, Libya, and Syria rejected it, leading to an early close of the Arab Summit in November 1988.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - THE REIGN OF FAHD

Saudi Arabia

Fahd, already the major spokesman for the Saudi regime, became even more active as Khalid's health steadily deteriorated. This visibility and experience stood him in good stead when Khalid died after a short illness on June 14, 1982; Fahd immediately assumed power and Abd Allah, head of the national guard, became crown prince. One of the first problems that the new king faced was a 20 percent drop in oil revenues, as a result of a world oil surplus that developed by 1982. Despite the fall in revenues, until the oil price crash of 1986 Saudi Arabia did not make significant changes in the oil policies it followed beginning in the oil boom years from 1974 onward. Saudi Arabia also reduced the number of foreign workers employed in the country during the 1980s. Whereas a reduction in the number of foreigners had long been an objective, the drop in oil revenues facilitated its achievement.

The reduction in Saudi Arabia's wealth has not decreased its influence in the Arab world. The kingdom, and Fahd in particular, have come to play a mediating role in inter-Arab conflicts. They continued, for instance, their efforts to stop the fighting in Lebanon. In 1989 King Fahd brought the entire Lebanese National Assembly, both Christian and Muslim deputies, to the Saudi resort city of At Taif. At the time, the assembly had been unable to meet in Lebanon because of military clashes and political violence. Once in At Taif, however, the Lebanese deputies voted on a plan for reform and were eventually able to elect a new president. Fahd's actions did not solve the problems in Lebanon, but they helped to end a particular stage of the conflict.

Saudi Arabia has not been so fortunate in its relations with Iran since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979. In November 1987, Saudi Arabia reestablished diplomatic relations with Egypt. King Fahd visited Egypt in March 1989 and received an enthusiastic welcome on the streets of Cairo. His visit signified the end of Egypt's temporary isolation within the Arab world, but it demonstrated at the same time the important position that Saudi Arabia had achieved. Although Egypt was the country of Nasser, one of the most charismatic figures of the modern Arab world, it was the visit of a Saudi king that provided the ritual event to symbolize Egypt's return to the Arab family.

Saudi Arabia

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

TRY USING CTRL-F on your keyboard to find the appropriate section of text


what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright 2013 Mongabay.com