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The Formation of Saudi Arabia

posted on: Jul 20, 2021

By Arab America Contributing Author/ Christian Jimenez

Saudi Arabia is one of the most powerful countries in the Middle East today, containing large quantities of oil and involved with most numerous conflicts across the region as they are now in a regional cold war fighting proxy wars with Iran that is often characterized as a Sunni-Shia conflict.  However, where did Saudi Arabia come from and where did it get its founding dynasty, the Al-Saud royal family?

The First and Second Saudi States

The Formation of Saudi Arabia
The First Saudi State of the Emirate of Diriyah by

Before Saudi Arabia came into being the region was controlled by two main forces, the Ottoman Empire who controlled the region of the Hejaz where the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located, and the Bedouins who roamed the sparse and arid interior of the peninsula.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would have its start with an alliance between a member of the Al-Saud and the founder of the Islamic movement of Wahhabism.  They were Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud, who was the ruler of the town of Diriyah, and the nature of their alliance was that Al-Saud would protect and expand Wahhabism, which was a fundamentalist movement created by Wahhab who thought that Islam strayed from its roots and needed to be purified back to the times of the caliphs.  In exchange, Wahhab would give the Al-Saud religious legitimacy to rule the region.  They would form the first Saudi state by 1788 in a region of central Arabia known as the Najd, but Al-Saud also wanted to include the Hejaz with the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.  The Al-Saud would attempt this invasion of the Hejaz in 1803 under Muhammad Ibn Saud’s son, Abdullah Ibn Saud Al Saud.  However, the Ottomans in response to their growing power in Najd and not wanting them to take over the Hejaz invaded this first Saudi state in 1818.  Thanks to their artillery and more modern weaponry, the Ottomans were able to crush the Saudis and destroy Diriyah, ending the first Saudi state.  However, the Saudis would then try to regain the initiative and form the second Saudi state. 

The second Saudi state began in the year of 1824 when they regrouped and once again became a powerful entity in central Arabia.  The state was now ruled by Turki Ibn Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Al-Saud who moved his capital from Diriyah to the setting of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia today.  However, this state would also collapse as the grandson of Turki, Abdul Rahman Ibn Faisal Ibn Turki al-Saud, would suffer an invasion from the Ottomans once again.  Similar to the demise of the first state, they were able to beat the Saudis with more modern weaponry and artillery and this time, they gave the city of Riyadh to their Arabian allies of the Al-Rashid.  Abdul Rahman was forced to flee in 1891 and he would first spend time in the largest sand desert in the world located to the south of Najd, the Rub’ Al-Khali, and would then travel to Kuwait where the Al-Sauds would stay there until 1901.  Residing in Kuwait, it would be Abdulrahman’s son, Abdulaziz who would form the third and present Saudi state in Arabia.

The Final Saudi State and The Creation of Saudi Arabia

The Formation of Saudi Arabia
Image of Abdulaziz by

Abdulaziz would go on to take back the city of Riyadh from the Al-Rashid family in 1902.  This recapture of Riyadh then allowed him to take over the region of Najd, but he had to wait until the First World War until he was able to conquer Hejaz.  Once the First World War ended, the Ottomans were expelled from Arabia, allowing Abdul Aziz to conquer the eastern region of Al-Hasa and Asir before moving on to Hejaz in 1924-1925.  The Saudis would first conqueror the area of Taif first without much of a fight, and then marched onwards towards Mecca. Thanks to non-intervention by the British and their Hashemite kin ruling in Jordan, they would incorporate Hejaz with the battle of Mecca on October 13,1924.  The Saudi state would then be known as the kingdom of Hejaz and Najd with both regions still remaining separate kingdoms under the rule of the Al-Sauds.  The kingdom would not become the nation of Saudi Arabia until September 23, 1932 with a royal decree that united the two regions of Arabia into one, which was done in order to play down Hejazi separatism.  Soon after, Saudi Arabia would then join the League of Nations in September 1932, and would also go to war in the interwar years with Yemen over a border dispute in 1934.  They would then remain neutral during World War Two, but would later declare war against Germany in 1945 in order to join the UN.  With the discovery of oil, which began to be exploited around 1941, and with an alliance from the United States, the Saudis would become the nation that they are today.  The Sauds now are a superpower in the Middle East, and hopefully they can lead a more peaceful Middle East than the one we have today.

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