History of Saudi Arabia

History of Saudi Arabia

The rise of Islam in the 620s AD, the subsequent religious importance of the Arabian cities of Makkah (Makkah al-Mukarramah, or Mecca), and Medina (the two holiest places in Islam), and the discovery of large oil reserves in the early twentieth century, have given the rulers of this territory significant influence beyond the peninsula.

Early history

People of various cultures have lived in the peninsula over a span of more than 5,000 years. The Dilmun culture, along the Persian Gulf coast, was contemporaneous with the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians, and most of the empires of the ancient world traded with the states of the peninsula. Except for a few major cities and oases, the harsh climate historically prevented much settlement of the Arabian Peninsula. The earliest known events in Arabian history are migrations from the peninsula into neighbouring areas [Philip Khuri Hitti (2002), History of the Arabs, Revised: 10th Edition] . About 3500 BC, semitic-speaking peoples of Arabian origin migrated into the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia and became the Assyro-Babylonians (see Babylonia and Assyria).Fact|date=August 2007 Some archeologists argue that another group of Semites left Arabia about 2500 BC and settled along the Levant, mixing in with the local populations there some of these migrants became the Amorites and Canaanites of later times.Fact|date=August 2007 Some archeologists argue that the migration instead came from the northern Levant.

Islamic conquest

The religion of Islam began with Muhammad began preaching at Mecca before migrating to Medina, from where he united the tribes of Arabia into a singular Arab Muslim religious polity. With Muhammad's death in 632, disagreement broke out over who would succeed him as leader of the Muslim community. Umar ibn al-Khattab, a prominent companion of Muhammad, nominated Abu Bakr, who was Muhammad's intimate friend and collaborator. Others added their support and Abu Bakr was made the first caliph. This choice was disputed by some of Muhammad's companions, who held that Ali ibn Abi Talib, his cousin and son-in-law, had been designated his successor. Abu Bakr's immediate task was to avenge a recent defeat by Byzantine (or Eastern Roman Empire) forces, although he first had to put down a rebellion by Arab tribes in an episode known as the Ridda wars, or "Wars of Apostasy". [See: Holt (1977a), p.57, Hourani (2003), p.22, Lapidus (2002), p.32, Madelung (1996), p.43, Tabatabaei (1979), p.30–50]

His death in 634 resulted in the succession of Umar as the caliph, followed by Uthman ibn al-Affan and Ali ibn Abi Talib. These four are known as "al-khulafā' ar-rāshidūn" ("Rightly Guided Caliphs"). Under them, the territory under Muslim rule expanded deeply into Persian and Byzantine territories. [See: Holt (1977a), p.74] [cite encyclopedia|title=Islam|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia of Islam Online|author=L. Gardet|coauthors=J. Jomier|accessdate=2007-05-02]

When Umar was assassinated in 644, the election of Uthman as successor was met with increasing opposition. In 656, Uthman was also killed, and Ali assumed the position of caliph. After fighting off opposition in the first civil war (the "First Fitna"), Ali was assassinated by Kharijites in 661. Following this, Mu'awiyah, who was governor of Levant, seized power and began the Umayyad dynasty. [Holt (1977a), pp.67–72]

These disputes over religious and political leadership would give rise to schism in the Muslim community. The majority accepted the legitimacy of the three rulers prior to Ali, and became known as Sunnis. A minority disagreed, and believed that Ali was the only rightful successor; they became known as the Shi'a. [Waines (2003) p.46] After Mu'awiyah's death in 680, conflict over succession broke out again in a civil war known as the "Second Fitna". Afterward, the Umayyad dynasty prevailed for seventy years, and was able to conquer the Maghrib and Al-Andalus (the Iberian Peninsula, former Visigothic Hispania) and the Narbonnese Gaul} as well as expand Muslim territory into the Indian subcontinent. [Donald Puchala, "Theory and History in International Relations", page 137. Routledge, 2003.] . While the Muslim-Arab elite engaged in conquest, some devout Muslims, Zahid, began to question the piety of indulgence in a worldly life, emphasizing rather poverty, humility and avoidance of sin based on renunciation of bodily desires. Devout Muslim ascetic exemplars such as Hasan al-Basri would inspire a movement that would evolve into Sufism. [See: Lapidus (2002), pp.90,91] [cite encyclopedia|title=Sufism|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica Online|accessdate=2007-05-13]

For the Umayyad aristocracy, Islam was viewed as a religion for Arabs only; [Hawting (2000), p.4] the economy of the Umayyad empire was based on the assumption that a majority of non-Muslims (Dhimmis) would pay taxes to the minority of Muslim Arabs. A non-Arab who wanted to convert to Islam was supposed to first become a client of an Arab tribe. Even after conversion, these new Muslims ("mawali") did not achieve social and economic equality with the Arabs. The descendants of Muhammad's uncle Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib rallied discontented "mawali", poor Arabs, and some Shi'a against the Umayyads and overthrew them with the help of their propagandist and general Abu Muslim, inaugurating the Abbasid dynasty in 750. [Lapidus (2002), p.56; Lewis (1993), pp. 71–83] Under the Abbasids, Islamic civilization flourished in the "Islamic Golden Age", with its capital at the cosmopolitan city of Baghdad. [See: Holt (1977a), pp.80,92,105, Holt (1977b), pp.661–663, Lapidus (2002), p.56, Lewis (1993), p.84] [cite encyclopedia|title=Islam|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia of Islam Online|author=L. Gardet|coauthors=J. Jomier|accessdate=2007-05-02] "'

First Saudi State (1744-1818)

The "First Saudi State" was established in 1744 when Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab settled in Diriyah and Prince Muhammed Ibn Saud agreed to support and espouse his cause in the hope of cleansing Islamic practices of heresy. The House of Saud and its allies rose to become the dominant state in Arabia controlling most of the Nejd, but neither coast. This Saudi state lasted for about seventy-five years.

Concerned at the growing power of the Saudis, the Ottoman Sultan instructed Mohammed Ali Pasha to reconquer the area. Ali sent his sons Tusun Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha who were successful in routing the Saudi forces in 1818. Rulers of the first Saudi state include Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud 1726–1765 (1139–1179 H), Imam Abdul Aziz Ibn Mohammed Ibn Saud 1765–1803 (1179–1218 H), Imam Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz Ibn Mohammed Ibn Saud (Saud Al Kabeer) 1803–1814 (1218–1233 H), and Imam Abdullah bin Saud 1814–1818. It would only be a few years before the Sauds would return to power, forming the Second Saudi State.

econd Saudi State (1824-1891)

After a rebuilding period following the ending of the First Saudi State, the House of Saud returned to power in the "Second Saudi State" in 1824. The state lasted until 1891 when it succumbed to the Al Rashid dynasty of Ha'il. In 1902 Ibn Saud reconquered Riyadh, the first of a series of conquests leading to the creation of the modern nation state of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

The rulers of the second state:
*Amir Mushari ibn Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz 1819 - 1819
*Amir Turki ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad (first time) 1819 - 1820
*Amir Turki ibn Abdallah ibn Muhammad (second time) 1824 - 1834
*Amir Mushari ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Mushari 1834 - 1834
*Amir Faisal ibn Turki ibn Abdallah (first time) 1834 - 1838
*Amir Khalid ibn Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz 1838 - 1841
*Amir Abdallah ibn Thunayyan ibn Ibrahim 1841 - 1843
*Amir Faisal ibn Turki (second time) 1843 - 1865
*Amir Abdallah ibn Faisal ibn Turki (first time) 1865 - 1871
*Amir Saud ibn Faisal ibn Turki 1871 - 1871 (first time)
*Amir Abdallah ibn Faisal ibn Turki (second time) 1871 - 1873
*Amir Saud ibn Faisal ibn Turki (second time) 1873 - 1875
*Amir Abd al-Rahman ibn Faisal ibn Turki (first time) 1875 - 1876
*Amir Abdallah ibn Faisal ibn Turki (third time) 1876 - 1889
*Amir Abd al-Rahman ibn Faisal ibn Turki (second time) 1889 - 1891

1900s to 1940s

The Third Saudi state was founded by the late King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. In 1902 Ibn Saud captured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, the rest of Nejd, and the Hejaz between 1913 and 1926.

Boundaries with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait were established by a series of treaties negotiated in the 1920s, with two "neutral zones" created, one with Iraq and the other with Kuwait. On January 8, 1926 Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud became the King of Hejaz. On January 29, 1927 he took the title King of Nejd (his previous Nejdi title was Sultan). By the Treaty of Jeddah, signed on May 20, 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz's realm (then known as the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd). In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The discovery of oil on March 3, 1938 transformed the country. The country's southern boundary with Yemen was partially defined by the 1934 Treaty of Taif, which ended a brief border war between the two states.

1950s to 1960s

King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud, who reigned for 11 years. In 1964, Saud was forced to abdicate in favour of his half-brother, Faisal, who had served as Foreign Minister.

Because of fiscal difficulties, King Saud had been persuaded in 1958 to delegate direct conduct of Saudi Government affairs to Faisal as Prime Minister; Saud briefly regained control of the government in 1960-62. In October 1962, Faisal outlined a broad reform program, stressing economic development. Proclaimed King in 1964 by senior royal family members and religious leaders, Faisal also continued to serve as Prime Minister. This practice has been followed by subsequent kings.

The mid-1960s saw external pressures generated by Saudi-Egyptian differences over Yemen. When civil war broke out in 1962 between Yemeni royalists and republicans, Egyptian forces entered Yemen to support the new republican government, while Saudi Arabia backed the royalists. Tensions subsided only after 1967, when Egypt withdrew its troops from Yemen.

In 1965 there was an exchange of territories between Saudi Arabia and Jordan in which Jordan gave up a relatively large area of inland desert in return for a small piece of sea-shore near Aqaba. Saudi forces participated in the Six-Day (Arab-Israeli) War of June 1967 on the Jordanian side , the government later provided annual subsidies to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria to support their economies.

The Saudi economy and infrastructure was developed with help from abroad, particularly from the United States, creating strong links between the two dissimilar countries, and considerable and problematic American presence in the Kingdom. The Saudi petroleum industry under the company of ARAMCO was built by American petroleum companies, U.S. construction companies such as Bechtel built much of the country's infrastruture, Trans World Airlines, built the Saudi passenger air service; the Ford Foundation modernized Saudi government; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the country's television and broadcast facilities and oversaw the development of its defense industry. [Wright, Lawrence, "Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," by Lawrence Wright, NY, Knopf, 2006, p.152]


The Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone was administratively partitioned in 1971, with each state continuing to share the petroleum resources of the former zone equally. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Saudi Arabia participated in the Arab oil boycott of the United States and Netherlands. A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia had joined other member countries in moderate oil price increases beginning in 1971. After the 1973 war, the price of oil rose substantially, dramatically increasing Saudi Arabia's wealth and political influence. The location and status of Saudi Arabia's boundary with the United Arab Emirates is not final; a "de facto" boundary reflects a 1974 agreement.

In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by a nephew, who was executed after an extensive investigation concluded that he acted alone. Faisal was succeeded by his half-brother Khalid as King and Prime Minister; their half-brother Prince Fahd was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Khalid empowered Crown Prince Fahd to oversee many aspects of the government's international and domestic affairs. Economic development continued rapidly under King Khalid, and the kingdom assumed a more influential role in regional politics and international economic and financial matters.

During the 1970s and 1980s, more than 30,000 Saudi student per year went to the United States, while more than 200,000 Americans have lived and worked in the Kingdom since the discovery of oil. [Wright, Lawrence, "Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," by Lawrence Wright, NY, Knopf, 2006, p.152]


A tentative agreement on the partition of the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone was reached in 1981. The governments finalized the partition in 1983. King Khalid died in June 1982. Fahd became King and Prime Minister in a smooth transition. Another half-brother, Prince Abdullah, Commander of the Saudi National Guard, was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Fahd's brother, Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, became Second Deputy Prime Minister. Under King Fahd, the Saudi economy adjusted to sharply lower oil revenues resulting from declining global oil prices. Saudi Arabia supported neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf during periods of the Iran-Iraq war and aided Iraq's war-strained economy. King Fahd played a major part in bringing about the August 1988 cease-fire between Iraq and Iran and in organizing and strengthening the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six Persian Gulf states dedicated to fostering regional economic cooperation and peaceful development.


In August 1990, Saddam Hussein's forces invaded Kuwait. Iraqi troops began massing on the border of Kuwait and some feared that they were about to invade Saudi Arabia. King Fahd allowed American and Coalition soldiers to be stationed in Saudi Arabia to counter the Iraqi threat. Many Muslims were angered by this move, because it allowed foreign armies to be stationed in their holiest land.

King Fahd played a key role before and during the 1991 Persian Gulf War: Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. King Fahd's action also consolidated the coalition of forces against Iraq and helped define the tone of the operation as a multilateral effort to re-establish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait.

Acting as a rallying point and personal spokesman for the coalition, King Fahd helped bring together his nation's GCC allies, Western allies, and Arab allies, as well as non-aligned nations from Africa and the emerging democracies of eastern Europe. He used his influence as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to persuade other Arab and Islamic nations to join the coalition. During the Persian Gulf War, Iraq fired Scud missiles into Saudi Arabia and even penetrated its northern border. These attacks were repelled, and Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait. American forces as well as some multinational contingents continued to occupy bases in the kingdom. However, American or foreign forces no longer occupy bases in the kingdom.

King Fahd suffered a stroke in November 1995. The foreign military presence caused militants to orchestrate attacks inside Saudi Arabia. In November 1995, a Saudi National Guard base was bombed, killing seven people. In June 1996, a truck bomb killed 19 American servicemen at the Khobar towers in Al-Khobar. These bombings caused the monarchy to focus on militancy inside their own kingdom, yet they denied there was much of a problem.


A June 2000 treaty further delineated portions of the boundary with Yemen. The border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was resolved in March 2001. The border with Oman also is not demarcated. With the largest proven oil reserves in the world, structurally high oil prices due to increasing demand from the emerging Industrial giants such as China and India, and the destruction of the neighbouring Iraqi military (which was a threat to Saudi hegemony), Saudi Arabia has become one of the economic powers in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is increasing investments in infrastructure, science and technology which, it is hoped, will lead to further economic growth.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, it became known that 15 of the 19 suspected hijackers were Saudi. Saudi Arabia became the focus of worldwide attention once again, as it was questioned whether the government was indeed cracking down on radicals. The Saudi government pledged their support to the War on Terror, and vowed to try to eliminate militant elements. However, in May 2003, an insurgency in Saudi Arabia began, believed to be conducted by al-Qaeda affiliates. This consisted mainly of attacks on foreigners in an attempt to expel them from the country and hurt the Saudi government. While the number of attacks dropped significantly in 2005, they exposed the vulnerability of the country. Concern was also voiced over the large number of Saudis fighting American soldiers in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.

King Fahd died in July 2005. He was succeeded by his brother Crown Prince Abdullah, who had handled most of the day-to-day operations of the government.

ee also

*Saudi Arabia
*European exploration of Arabia


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