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Abdulaziz ibn Saud – Founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

‘The Arabs have now found a leader who stands head and shoulders above any other chief and in whose star all have implicit faith.’ So wrote the British in their report to the India Office in 1914.

The present prosperous, united and modern state of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1902 by one of the great figures of 20th century history: Abdulaziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud.

The small force of only forty or so men that Abdulaziz (known in the West as Ibn Saud) led from Kuwait in 1902 to recapture Riyadh from the al-Rashids marked a turning point in the fortunes of the House of Saud.

He carefully planned his attack, spending several months in the desert, gathering only twenty more to their numbers. But Abdulaziz did not let the small number of his followers deter him and he prepared to set off towards Riyadh.

A short distance outside Riyadh, he left one-third of his force behind, telling them to return to Kuwait if no message was received from him within twenty-four hours. With the rest of his men he approached the city and hid until nightfall in the palm groves.

Leaving thirty-three men with his brother, Muhammad, he daringly scaled the walls with the others. The plan was to take Ajlan, Ibn Rashid’s governor of the city, prisoner. Standing on one another’s shoulders, Abdulaziz and his men entered the governor’s house, only to find to their despair, that he wasn’t there – he spent his nights at the fort in Masmak.

The capture of Riyadh

The night passed and as morning dawned and the gates of the fort opened Ajlan emerged, accompanied by ten bodyguards. Abdulaziz and his force attacked and Ajlan’s cowardly bodyguards deserted though he fought bravely on until he was slain by Abd Allah Ibn Jiluwi, a cousin of Abdulaziz who later became governor of the Eastern Province.

The story of the storming of Masmak and how Abdulaziz and his men were victorious has become a legend in Saudi Arabia. The inhabitants of the area, learning that Riyadh had been taken by the House of Saud, welcomed their new ruler, and the Bedouins, full of admiration at his exploits, rode into Riyadh to join Abdulaziz.

Bitter contests between the House of Saud and the al-Rashids were to continue for the next three decades but Abdulaziz proved to be wise and farsighted. After the death in battle of Ibn Rashid in 1906, Abdulaziz set about quelling any further opposition in the country, making a point of including everyone, even former enemies, in his plans. The years spent exposed to the power politics and warfare of Arabia’s ruling families developed Abdulaziz into a deeply religious man who found a sense of security and comfort in the Qu’uran and daily prayer.

Abdulaziz's mission

His mission was to unite his country and restore the true faith of Islam. King Abdulaziz’s swords were weapons of honour and justice. Crossed swords and a palm constitute the symbol of Saudi Arabia, the date palm standing for vitality and growth.

The inscription on the Saudi Flag is the Muslim creed: that there is only one God and Mohammed is his messenger.

Gaining control of the Gulf coast

In 1913 Abdulaziz seized control of the Gulf coast from the Turks, which in later years was to prove an invaluable asset. Beneath its sands lay the precious oil that was to provide the wealth of his nation. He then directed his forces to the areas that were not under Saudi control, and by 1927 was recognised as King of the Hijaz and Najd and its dependencies, with Riyadh and Makkah as his two capitals. The southern, mountainous stronghold of the Asir was secured for the Saudis during the next decade. In 1932 Abdulaziz proclaimed the ‘Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, which was an area three times the size of France.

Building the Kingdom

After years of struggle Abdulaziz had brought peace and security to the region. Prosperity followed with the discovery of oil in 1937.

The first returns from the oil industry allowed for the beginnings of modern development in Saudi Arabia. During his rule a national airline, a railway, national radio broadcasting, newspapers, new roads and schools were built.

Did you know?Abdulaziz believed in Islamic solidarity and arranged the first ever Islamic Conference in Makkah in 1926. Saudi Arabia was also a founder member of the United Nations organisation signing the charter in 1945. He was fascinated by modern technology and delighted in showing his followers its value. It is told how he spent a great deal of time explaining the value of the telephone to them and invited sceptics to listen to recitations from the Qu’uran being read down the phone line.

Although he always maintained a high level of control, Abdulaziz saw that a modern state needed a system of government and so he set up a system of ministries. One of the first was a General Directorate of Education in 1926 which later became the Ministry of Education – education for all was one of his major goals.

Abdulaziz granted the first oil concession as early as 1923 but it turned out to be a long and wearisome road before the vast resources were unleashed in 1938.

The years spent building his nation laid the foundations for Saudi Arabia’s prosperity and peace in the future. He ruled until his death in 1953. His legacy was a stable, developing Kingdom. His sons King Saudi, King Faisal, King Khalid and the current monarch the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd have carried on his work.

The present ruler, King Fahd bin Abdulaziz was born in Riyadh in 1923.

mOre Take a look at the following websites:

Photographs of Abdulaziz, as well as many other historical photographs can be downloaded from the photo gallery: www.outintheblue.com

Gertrude Bell’s book The Arab War is also on this website. Chapter 4, describing the appearance and leadership of Abdulaziz on his visit to Basra in 1916, can be downloaded.

Historical photographs of the Royal family:


Sources of reference

Saudi Aramco and its World 1995

Saudi Arabia ’s Centennial – Aramco World Jan.1999

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