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History of Saudi Arabia



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    History of Saudi Arabia

    The First Saudi State 1745-1818

    Origins of the Wahhabi Movement

                The growth in population of oasis towns such as Uyaynah led to the increase in the number of ulama or religious scholars and the sophistication of religious practice. It was in this town that Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was born and grew to establish the Wahhabi movement that advocated conservative religious reforms enshrined in a moral code. The Wahhabi teachings were largely influenced by the 14th century religious scholar Ibn Taymiyyah who advocated the purification if Islam through divergence from certain practices seen as debasing the Islamic way of life. (“History,” n.d.)

    Expansion of the Wahhabi Movement

                The expansion of the Wahhabi Movement went through strong opposition. While the ruler of Uyaynah welcomed Wahhabi teachings, the head of the Al-Hasa region opposed these teachings and withheld gifts as well as threatening war with the ruler unless al-Wahhab is executed. Al-Wahhab was banished from Uyaynah so he sought refuge at Al-Diriyyah, the territory governed by Prince Muhammad ibn Saud. By 1745, al-Wahhab has increased his followers. The alliance between the al-Wahhab and the prince led to the expansion of the Wahhabi teachings as the prince expanded his territory. Eventually, parts of Uyaynah including the Al-Hasa region were conquered by the prince except for Riyadh. Even when the price died, the territories still adhered to Wahhabi teachings. The prince’s son and successor Abd al-Aziz continued the alliance with al-Wahhab with the latter in charge of managing civil affairs and the former focused on military expansion. Al-Wahhab died in 1792 and during this time, the spread of the Wahhabi teachings caught the interest of the officials of the Ottoman Empire. (“History,” n.d.)

    Struggle with the Ottomans

                The capture of Karbala, a Shiite holy city, and Mecca under the Ottoman Empire by Wahhabis followed by the assassination of al-Aziz for destroying the Shiite holy city fuelled the war with the Ottoman Empire. Muhammad ibn Sa-ud continued military expansion and captured Medina. The sultan of the Ottoman Empire took action and sent Egyptian forces to push back end eventually defeated Sa-ud’s army. When Sa-ud died, his son Abd Allah ibn Sa-ud was not as skilled in battle. The Egyptian forces finally captured Al-Diriyyah in 1818 leading to the capture and execution of the Sa-ud and Wahhab family. This ended the Wahhabi rule but Wahhabi teachings remained in the towns and desert tribes. (“History,” n.d.)

    Second Saudi State 1824-1891

    Restoration of the Sa-ud Dynasty

                 The Sa-ud dynasty continued with the leadership of Turki, Sa-ud’s grandson, by capturing and maintaining control of Riyadh in 1824 and later on including Al-Hasa and Ha-il in 1830. Turki was killed by a cousin in 1834 but Turki’s son, Faysal, executed his father’s killer and took over as leader. Unlike his father, Faysal was against the payment of tribute to the Egyptians since his capture and imprisonment in Egypt. Due to Faysal’s defiance, he was captured by Egyptian forces and replaced by the subservient Khalid, another son of Sa-ud. This caused resentment by the Wahhabis. Abd Allah ibn Thunayan, revolted against his cousin and captured Riyadh. Faysal reappeared in 1843 and resumed his reign and expanded influence in Northern Arabia including Bahrain, Oman and Yemen. British intervention prevented further expansion into the other territories in the western Gulf. (Al-Rasheed, 2002; Vassileiv, 2002)

    Death of Faysal & Civil Conflict for Succession
    Faysal died in 1865. Although the territory remained, there were internal disputes over succession. His two sons, Abd Allah and Sa-ud II fought over leadership, with the period of leadership lasting only a few years. After this, leadership changed hands seven times favoring different members of the Sa-ud family. (Al-Rasheed, 2002; Vassileiv, 2002)

    The Rashidis

                The Rashidis of Jabbal Shammar ruling Ha-il as agents of the Sa-ud leader intervened during the chaos of succession. They took Abd Allah to Ha-il and appointment a Rashidi as governor of Riyadh in 1887. In 1891, Abd Allah was made governor of Riyadh but he died in the same year to be replaced by his brother Abd al-Rahman. Hostilities between the al-Rahman and the Rashidis led to battle of Al-Mulaydah ending in the victory of the Rashidis and the al-Rahman family fleeing to Kuwait. (Al-Rasheed, 2002; Vassileiv, 2002)

    Third Saudi State Saudi Arabia

    Modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

                Abd al-Aziz, the son of al-Rahman, entered Riyadh and took control of the Masmak Fortress in 1902. Riyahd became his headquarters and the center of military plans in capturing Hijaz including the Mecca in 1924 and Medina in 1925. This led to the unification of the tribes into a nation. The cessation of hostilities led to the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in September 23, 1932 as an Islamic state and Koran as the constitution. (AbuKhalil, 2003)

    King Abdulaziz (1932-1953)

                The discovery of oil during the 1930s and its commercialized extraction through ARAMCO, a company established with the help of the United States supported the economic growth of Saudi Arabia. He commenced infrastructure projects such as roads and communication systems. These projects led to growth in the different industries including agriculture and trade. This set the momentum for the modernization of Saudi Arabia. The king’s diplomatic prowess also established relations with different countries beyond the Middle East. (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2009)

    King Saud (1953-1964)

    Education flourished through the establishment of a separate ministry for education and the introduction of King Saud University as the first institution for high learning in the country. He headed an Islamic conference that created the Muslim World League. (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2009)

    King Faisal (1964-1975)

    The first public school for girls emerged during King Faisal’s leadership. During this time, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) emerged in 1971 in Jeddah with the participation of fifty six countries. This further supported unified Islamic states. Economic development plans emerged to address the impact of two Arab-Israeli wars and the oil crisis in 1973. (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2009)

      King Khalid (1975-1982)

                This was a period of prosperity in Saudi Arabia with the rise of many physical infrastructures and the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 to promote regional prosperity of six countries in the Arabian Gulf (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2009).

    King Fahd (1982-2005)

                King Fahd assumed the position as custodian of the Two Holy mosques. He engaged in the economic diversification to develop new industries and improved ports and airports. The Saudi government also underwent restructuring to allow for the first national elections at the municipal level than took place in 2005. The country also supported the resolution of various crises such as the Arab-Palestinian conflict, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, civil war in Lebenon, and other conflicts. He proposed a plan for resolving Arab-Israeli conflict and made Palestine an independent state. This plan was adopted by the Arab League in 1982. (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2009)

    King Abdullah (2005 – present)

                Infrastructure and technology-based projects continued to improve the industries and improve welfare services. The first municipal elections were monitored and concluded successfully. Saudi Arabia explicitly condemned terrorism in 2005. (Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2009)


    AbuKhalil, A. (2003). The battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, fundamentalism, and global power. New York: Seven Stories Press.

    Al-Rasheed, M. (2002). A history of Saudi Arabia. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    History. (n.d.) In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from

    Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. (2009). The history of Saudi Arabia. Retrieved February 15, 2009, from

    Vassiliev, A. (2000). The history of Saudi Arabia. New York: NYU Press.


    History of Saudi Arabia. (2016, Oct 07). Retrieved from

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