Saudi Arabia: History


Figure 1.--.

The Arabian Peninsula is the homeland of the Arab peoples. The Arabs were nomadic people known to the early civilzations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The written history of the Arabs begins with Mohammed and the foundation of Islam. The two most important cities in Islam (Mecca and Medina) are located on the Arabian Peninsula. The written history of the Arabs begins with Mohammed's flight from Mecca--the hegira (622 AD). The outburtst of Arab warriors from the Arabuan Peninsula resulted in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history and the creation of the Islamic Caliphate. A succession of empires struggled for control of the peninsula, but the topography and climate made it difficult for any group to remain effective control. The Arabian Peninsula id extremely rugged and arid. It was not worth the effort in economic return for empires to exet the military effort required to control the Peninsula. The Ottomon Empire established nominal control over the Peninsula (1517). Effective Ottomon control was limited to the principl population centers. The Ottoman divided the Peninsula into principalitoies (18th century). The political divisions of the Peninsula largely relate to the Ottoman principalities. Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab laynched a campaign to purifiy Islam (1745). His reforms involved a fundamentalist, strict interpretation of the Koran and the resulting Wahhabi movement had a major impact on the practice of Islam on the Peninsula, introducing a intolerant outlook toward no only onther religions, but other Islamic sects as well. Wahhabi leaders launched a jihad—a holy war—against other forms of Islam on the peninsula and suceeded in gaining control over much of it (1811). The Ottomans and their Egyptian allies drove the Wahhabis from power, but the Wahhabi influence continued to be important throughout the Peninsula. King Ibn Saud (1882–1953) who descended from important Wahhabis founded the Kingdom of Saubi Arabia. He he seized Riyadh (1901). He set about creating an Arab nationalist movement. He had established Wahhabi dominance in Nejd (1906). He sought independence from the Ottoman Empire, but did not have the military strength to do so. This changed when the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in World War I (1914-18). The British provided military assistance including an idealistic academic who became known as Lawrence of Arabia. The irregular Arab Army drove the Ottomans out of most odf the Arabian Peninsula. A British Army with the Arab Army on the right drove the Ottomons out of Palestine and Syria. Saud after World War I conquered Hejaz (1924–25). Saud united the Hejaz and Nejd into the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1932). It was established as an absolute monarchy ruled by sharia law. King Saud then added Asir (1933). Saudi Arabiawas united, but very poor. Oil was discovered in the country (1936). Actual commercial extraction began during World War II. After the War, Saudi Arabia became the world's largest oil producer. The oil wealth allowed the Saudis to convert one of the world's poorest countries into one of the richest. The Government assesses no takes and provides free health care and education to all Saudi citizens. Saudi Arabia joined the Arab League (1945). It took part in the First Arab-Isreali War (1948–49). When Ibn Sauds died (1953), his eldest son, Saud, replaced him. A split in the Arab world developed between the Saudis and the Arab Socialism propounded by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser. An increasingly incapacitated King Saud was deposed by the prime minister, Crown Prince Faisal (1964). Faisal remained hostile to Israel, but did not participate in Egyptian led Six Days War (1967). Faisal was assainated by a deranged member of the royal family (1975). He was suceeded by his brother, Prince Khalid. King Khalid supported Egypt during the negotiations with Israel over the Sinai. King Khalid suffered a heart attack (1982). He was succeeded by his half-brother, Prince Fahd bin 'Abdulaziz, who had been the real power in the kingdom for many years. King Fahd selected his half-brother Abdullah as crown prince.

Pre-history


Ancient World

The Arabian Peninsula is the homeland of the Arab peoples. The Arabs were nomadic people known to the early civilzations of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Mohammed

The written history of the Arabs begins with Mohammed and the foundation of Islam. The two most important cities in Islam (Mecca and Medina) are located on the Arabian Peninsula. The written history of the Arabs begins with Mohammed's flight from Mecca--the hegira (622 AD). Mohammed was born in some time around 570 AD. Mohammed grew up in a trading community and was influenced by the many religious traditions of the Middle East. He came to see himself as God's final prophet. The Arabian Peninsula at the time was racked by warring tribes. Mohammed's familt belonged to the Fihr or Quarish/Koreish tribe. This was the dominant tribe in the southern Hijas (Hedjaz) around Mecca. Even before the advent of Islam, Mecca was the both the major religious and commercial center in the Arabian peninsula. The Fihr acquired considerable prestige from their role as gardians of the Kaaba in Mecca. The Kaaba even before Islam was an object of reverance among the Arab tribes who visited Mecca in annual pilgrimages leaving offerings and tributes. Mohammed married Khadija who was a wealthy widow. Mohammed had religious vissions which were set down in theHoly Koran. He tried to convert his tribe in Mecca, but was rejected. Two exceptions were Ali, his son-in-law who married his daughter Fatima, and Abu Bakr. When the people in Mecca tried to kill him, he fled to Medina (622 AD), This is known as the Hegira. Islam bases its calendar on the Hegira. Safe in Medina, Mohammed created a theocraric state based on Islam. War with Mecca followed until Mohammed returned in triumph (630 AD). The prestige of the Fihr was important to Mohammed when he began his religious reform and political effort which led tp the conquest of the Arabian Pm=ninsula and the joining of the various tribes into a single Arab nation with a common religion and legal code a common sacred sanctuary. As an older man Mohammed acuired additional wives, including Ayesha.

Islam

Islam is one of the great monothestic religions. The religion is set forth in the Koran which teaches that there is but one God and Muhammad is his prophet. The word is also used to descibe th civilization and countries in which the Islamic religion dominates. Islam for several centuries while Christian Europe fell into the dark ages and intolerance prevailed, Islam developed a rich often tolerant society which developed science, mathematics, literture, and art. Much of this was based on mjor precepts of the Koran. One of those precepts was tolerance for other civilizations and religions, especially people of the Book. Today many of these basic precepts of Islam are questioned by Fundamentalist Islamic scholars.

Arab Militry Conquests

The Arabs swept through the Holy Land and Mesopotamia, driving back the Byzatines and defeating the Persians in 637 AD. At the time most in the pople in th region wre Christians and Zoroastrians. The Arabs set about spreading the Islamic faith, but allowed much more religious diversity than was the case of Christian Europe. Islam when the Arab conquet began developed approches for dealing with the "conquered peoples". The conquered peoples were "protected persons" only if they submitted to Islamic domination by a "Contract" (Dhimma), paid poll tax - jizya - and land tax - haraj - to their masters. Any failure to do so was the breach of contract, enabling the Muslims to kill or enslave them and confiscate their property. The cross could not be displayed in public and the people of the book had to wear special clothing or a belt. Their men were not allowed to marry Muslim women, their slaves had to be sold to a Muslim if they converted and they were not allowed to carry weapons. They had to take in Muslim travelers, especially soldiers on a campaign. This took place after a decade when Muhammad was dead and when his second successor and son-in-law Umar announced these terms to conquered Christians. The resulting inequality of rights in all domains between Muslims and dhimmis was geared to a steady erosion of the latter communities by attrition and conversion. While these provisions seem draconian, they were less rigorous at the time than the approaches taken when Christians conquered Islamic principalities.

The Caliphate

The outburtst of Arab warriors from the Arabian Peninsula resulted in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history and the creation of the Islamic Caliphate. A succession of empires struggled for control of the peninsula, but the topography and climate made it difficult for any group to remain effective control. The Arabian Peninsula id extremely rugged and arid. It was not worth the effort in economic return for empires to exet the military effort required to control the Peninsula.

The Ottomans (1517-1918)

The Ottomon Empire established nominal control over the Peninsula (1517). Effective Ottomon control was limited to the principl population centers. The Ottoman divided the Peninsula into principalitoies (18th century). The political divisions of the Peninsula largely relate to the Ottoman principalities.

Wahhabi Revolt

Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab laynched a campaign to purifiy Islam (1745). His reforms involved a fundamentalist, strict interpretation of the Koran and the resulting Wahhabi movement had a major impact on the practice of Islam on the Peninsula, introducing a intolerant outlook toward no only onther religions, but other Islamic sects as well. Wahhabi leaders launched a jihad—a holy war—against other forms of Islam on the peninsula and suceeded in gaining control over much of it (1811). The Ottomans and their Egyptian allies drove the Wahhabis from power, but the Wahhabi influence continued to be important throughout the Peninsula.

Abd al Aziz/Ibn Saud

Abd al Aziz (1882–1953) who was descended from important Wahhabis founded the Kingdom of Saubi Arabia. The first step in that process was seizing Riyadh (1901). Aziz spent much of his life in exile in Kuwait. It was from Kuwait as a young man only in his 20s, Aziz gained the loyalty of a small force from the surrounding tribes and conducted raids targetting Rashidi control north of Riyadh. He personally led a small force in a surprise attack on the Rashidi garrison at Riyadh (1902). Aziz set about creating an Arab nationalist movement. Control of Riyadh provided Aziz a foothold in Najd. He established himself as the Al Saud leader and the Wahhabi imam. He succeeded in gaining the allegince of the religious establishment in Riyadh, a critical accomplishment in a society in Islam was of enormous importance. This provided Aziz Wahhabi lgitimacy. Aziz was very young, but he had the proper lineage and impressed others with his forecful leadership. From his base at Riyadh, Aziz seized control of much of Nejd (1905).

World War I (1914-18)

Ibn Saud sought independence from the Ottoman Empire, but did not have the military strength to bring tht about. While he controlle d Nejd (the interior of the rabian Peninsula), he did not have an army capable of dislodging the Ottomon from the more populated coasyal areas. This changed when the Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in World War I (1914-18). The British provided military assistance to Aziz who cointrolled Nejd--the rugged interior of the Arabian Peninsula. This had little impact on the Ottomons until they also asigned an idealistic academic who became known as Lawrence of Arabia. The irregular Arab Army drove the Ottomans out of most odf the Arabian Peninsula. A British Army with the Arab Army on the right drove the Ottomons out of Palestine and Syria.

Hejaz

Saud had gained control of Nejd (1905). This was the interior of the Arabian peninsula. It was an area that the Ottomons could not control because of its remoteness and rugged teriaine. After World War I and the defeat of the Ottomons, Saud could begin establishing control of the coastal areas with their important Islamic centers. He defeating the Rashidi clan at Hail (1921). This alloweed him to conquer the Hijaz (1924-25). Control of Mecca and Medina brought with it great prestige throughout the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia

Saud united the Hejaz and Nejd into the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1932). It was established as an absolute monarchy ruled by sharia law. King Saud then added Asir (1933). Saudi Arabi awas united, but very poor. Oil was discovered in the country (1936). Actual commercial extraction began during World War II.

World War II (1939-45)

Saudi Arabia in the years leading up to World War II established good relations with the European Axis powers (Italy and Germany). Axis propagand sought to exploit the anti-British and French feeling in the Arab world. NAZI anti-Semitism was another factor. The Saudis negotiated an arms agreement with NAZI Germany prior to the outbreak of the War. Abd al Aziz, the founder of the Saudi state, maintained relations with the NAZIs and neutrality through much of the War. Gradually as the War turned against the NAZIs, the Saudis began to favor the Allies. Aziz finally issued a oerfunctory declaration of war agains NAZI Germany (early 1945). This made the Saudis eligible to become one of the founding members of the United Nations. President Roosevelt met with Aziz on the way back from Yalta. Oil had been discovered in Saudi Arabia before the War. The outbreak of the war stopped oil sales because of shipping difficulties. The importance of oil in the War made Saudi Arabia a country of strageic importance. President Roosevelt declared the defense of Saudi Arabia as of vital interest to the United States (1943). This was a declaration needed to make the Kingdom eligible for Lend-Lease aid. After the War, British influence was declining and the United States begame the major force in developing the Saudi Oil industry. By the end of World War II, British power and influence in Arab affairs had begun to wane, and during the late 1940s and early 1950s the United States emerged as the dominant Western power on the Arabian Peninsula. Aziz played a role in establishing the Arab League (1945).

Roosevelt and Saud (1945)

President Roosevelt met Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in a celebrated encounter aboard the cruiser USS Quincy as the President was returning from Yalta (1945). The encounter took place in Egypt's Bitter Lake along the Suez Canal which the Quincy passed through. A major agreement was achieved at the meeting whichbhas been referred to as the Quincy Compact. The King was assured of Ameican friendship in return fr access to Saudi oil. This was the foundation for stability in the Persian Gulf. Agreement was not reeched on another issue. King Saud proclaimed to President Roosevelt that the "Jews have no right to Palestine". and that the Arabs would fight to prevent the creation of a Jewish state. The President began talking about the horors of the NAZI holocaust. Saud asked why "innocent bystanders" (the Palestinian Arabs) had to pay for the NAZI crimes. Saud suggested that if the NAZIs murdered 3 million Jews in Poland that there now should be room for Jewish refugees. [Oren] There was some truth in what Saud told the President, but he also ignored some inconvenient facts. The chief Palestinian spokesman the Grand Mufti was a NAZI supporter and from Berlin encouraged the NAZIs to kill more Jews. There was also considerable support for the NAZIs in Muslim countries, especially Iraq and Iran. In addition, the Jewish refugees in British Palestine did not only come from Europe, but also were coming from Muslim (mostly Arab countries). The Orinental Jewish refugees (the Mizrahim) were fleeing varying levels of discrimination.

Oil Industry

After the War, Saudi Arabia became the world's largest oil producer. The oil wealth allowed the Saudis to convert one of the world's poorest countries into one of the richest. The Government assesses no takes and provides free health care and education to all Saudi citizens.

Arab League

Saudi Arabia joined the Arab League (1945).

First Arab-Isreli War (1948-49)

The Saudis took part in the First Arab-Isreali War (1948–49). The Saudis sent a token battalion of non-combatant troops to participate in the first Arab-Israeli war.

Saud (1953-64) )

When Ibn Sauds died (1953), his eldest son, Saud, replaced him.

Split in Arab World

A split in the Arab world developed between the Saudis and the Arab Socialism propounded by Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser led the coup that deposed King Faruk (1952). Nasser was a powerful speaker and became very influential throughout the Arab world. Along with Arab socialism, Nasser supported republicanism among the Arabs. This threatened the Saudis and other monarchies. Nasser made inflamatory radio broadcasts attacking the monarchial regimes. After seizing the Suez Canal and the failed Anglo-French invasion, Nasser became even more influential (1956). The Isreali victory in the Siani was generally dimissed as the result of the Angl-French invasion. Nasser's calls revolutions becme increasingly inflammatory. Saud ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud, who became king after Abd al Aziz's death was connected with a failed plot assassinate Nasser.

Yemen (1962-67)

The split in the Arab world played out most obviously in Yemen. Nasser intervened in the Yemeni civil (1962). This was a matter of concern because Yemen was on the Saudi southern border. The Saudis had at the time only a small military. An army coup was staged against Imam Muhammad al Badr, resulting in a civil war which was not resolved until 1967. Nasser supported the coup and commited a substantial expeditionary force. Imam Badr was forced to flee to the rugged north where he rallied support among loyal tribes and sought support from the Saudis. Imam Badr's royalist supporters fought the Egyptian supported insurgents who set up the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY--South Yemen). The Saudis deployed troops to the border supplied the royalist guerrillas and provided a safe haven. They did not, however, like the Egyptians enter Yemen and engage in combat. Nasser prepared to confront the Saudis militarily. Egyptian aircraft bpmbed border villages (November 1963). Itis unclear how far Nasser was prepared to persue a military confrontation. the United States at the request of the Saudis deployed a squadron of F-100 jet fighters. Nasser backed down. The Egyptian military intervention and threat to the Kingdom, convinced Faisal that he needed to moderize and expand the Saudi armed forces. He turned to the United Stats and Britain.

Feisal (1964- )

This embarrassing Nasser assasinatin plot as well as Saud's personal extravagance and poor leadership qualities undermined his reign. Crown Prince Faisal who was acting as prime minister seized control (1958). He became king (1964). Feisal began building a modern military. Faisal was assainated by a deranged member of the royal family (1975).

Six Days War (1967)

Faisal remained hostile to Israel, but did not participate in the Egyptian led Six Days War (1967). Faisal did commit a Saudi brigade to Jordan assist King Hussein. The Brigade was deployed in Jordan proper and not the West Bank and thus was not engaged in combat.

Yom Kipur War (1973)

The Saudi brigade deployed to Jordan (1967) was still there at the time of the Yom Kipur War. Jordan this time did not particpate in the War. It was an Egyptian-Syrian attack on Israel. King Faisal deployed a second brigade to Syria to support the Syrian army. Neither of the two Saudi brigades saw any combat.

Khalid (1975-82)

Feisal was suceeded by his brother, Prince Khalid. King Khalid supported Egypt during the negotiations with Israel over the Sinai. King Khalid suffered a heart attack (1982).

Iran-Iraq War

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah and set up an Islamic theocratic regime in Iran (1979). The Iranian revolutionaries broke relatins with America, seixing the embassy staff in Tehran. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein took advantage of the rupture of the Iranian-American alliance to invade Iran. Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf Arab states fearing the Iranian regime, provided finamcial support for the Iraqi war effort which bigged down after initial successes. The war continued becoming enormously expensive.

Oil Income

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) had helped raise oil prices during the 1970s. This brough huge earmings, especially to the Saudis, the largest single exporter. Saudi Arabia at the time had about one-third of known world oil reserves. Gradually competition from non-OPEC countries, cheating by OPEC embers, and conservation efforts in consuming nations depressed oil prices. The decline had a huge impact on the Saudis. Oil revenues declined from $120 billion (1980) to less than $25 billion (1985). This huge decline threaten civil unrest. The country's oil income fell by 40 percent (1998). The result was another recession. Saudi Arabia, along with other OPEC members decided to reduce production to raise oil prices. OPEC cut oil production three additional times (2001).

Fahd bin 'Abdulaziz (1982-2005)

He was succeeded by his half-brother, Prince Fahd bin 'Abdulaziz, who had been the real power in the kingdom for many years. King Fahd selected his half-brother Abdullah as crown prince.

DesertShield/Desert Storm (1990-91)

Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait toobtain needed oil income (1990). Saudi Arabia offered refuge to thev Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees. Fearing that Saddam might also invade them, they allowed Western and other Arab countries to deploy military forces along its borderc with Kuwaut to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait. Although the Western troops were there to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait, Islamicists made an issue of foreign troops on Saudi soil.

Islami Militancy (2001)

Saudi Arabia's relations with the United States were affected by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most of the attackers, 15 of the 19 suicide bombers were Saudis. The attack brought to light a seeming contradiction in the Saudi state. The Saudis rely heavily on the United States for its external security. The Saudi rely on Whabbi legitimacy as a foundation for its domestic legitimacy. Yet Whabbi clerics teach anti-Americanism and Islamic militancy. Whabbi and other Islamic militants suspect America's Christian origins, its open society, and its support of Israel. Whabbis were also critical of the American military presesence in the country which was very substantial because of Dessert Shiled/Dessert Storm. Osama bin Laden justified the 9-11 attacks in part because of the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the center of Islam and the home of its holiest sites, Medina and Mecca. The United States invaded Iraq (March-April 2003). Suspected Al-Qaeda suicide bombers attacked housing compounds for Westerners in Riyadh (May 12, 2003). They killed 34 people, including 8 Americans. Following the Iraqi invasion the United States withdrew its troops from Saudi Arabia (August 2003). Americans complained about the Saudi commitment to the struggle against terrorism. The U.S. Congress criticized the financing of terrorist organizations by Saudi citizens (July 2003). Saudi authorities have arrested a considerable number of suspected terrorists, but the Saudis have taken very limited measures to stem Islamic militancy in the kingdom, lagely because this would bring into question Whabbi fundamentalism upon which the Kingsom is founded. Several attacks against Westerners occurred in 2003 and 2004. >

Crown Prince Abdullah (1996- )

King Fahd passed executive suffered an incapacitating stroke (1996). He transferred executive authority to Crown Prince Abdullah, his half brother. King Fahd bin 'Abdulaziz died (August 2005). Abdullah, who had been the de facto ruler of the country for the past decade, assumed the throne.

Reforms

The Saudi Government is studying a range of reforms. The Government held its first elections (February 2005). They were municipal council elections for half of the new council members in Riyadh. The other half continued to be appointed by the Government. Only men were allowed to vote in the elections. Less than a third of eligible men registered to vote.






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Created: 8:07 PM 10/4/2007
Last updated: 12:57 AM 7/13/2013