Saudi Arabia factfile
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Take a look at the
Abdulaziz, as well as many other historical photographs can be downloaded from the photo gallery: www.outintheblue.com
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.
of the Royal family:
Sources of reference
Saudi Aramco and
its World 1995
Saudi Arabia ’s
Centennial – Aramco World Jan.1999