Saudi Arabia

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المملكة العربية السعودية‎
Al-Mamlaka al-‘Arabiya as-Saudiya
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi Arabia
Cities:  
 Capital: Riyadh (الرياض‎)
 Largest: Riyadh
 Other: Damman (الدمام ),

Dhahran (الظهران)

Languages:  
 Official: Arabic
 Others:
Bengali, Urdu, Dari (among the immigrants)
King: Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
Prime minister and Crown Prince: Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
Area: approx 820 000 sq.miles
Population: 20 million Saudi Arabians
Established: unification 1932, {{{reason}}}
Currency: 1 Dinar = 5 riyals = 120 qirsh
Organizations: League of Nations, COPEN, Arab Community

Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country of the Middle East sub-region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Contents

Administration

Government

Semi-absolute monarchy. The king is chosen among the most capable male sons and grandsons of the first king, Abdul Aziz, and his decisions should be in consensus with the Majlis al-Islam (Council of Islam) according to the political reforms of 1975 which also established Koran as constitution of Saudi Arabia.

The al-Saud royal family is the largest royal family in the world (with over 25 000 members) and among them more than 200 princes have the higher governmental positions (central and regional) making of Saudi government the most familiar in the world.

The Majlis al-Islam is composed of clerics many of them from al-Wahhab family. Its leader, the Grand Mufti Omar al-Wahhab, is in a practical way the de facto ruler of the kingdom.

History

Early Saudi states

In 1744 a central Arabian Bedouin leader, sheik Muhammad bin Saud, gave protection to a religious leader, the mufti Muhammad bin Abdul al-Wahhab, and his family. Al-Wahhab defended reforms within Islam which wanted to purge idolatry and make religion come to purity as the Shiite were growing in strength in many places. Both established an alliance that should be perpetual between their both families which are the basis of all the three established Saudi states until our days.

On that year Muhammad bin Saud proclaimed the independence of the so-called Dominions of the Saud in an area that was nominally part of the Ottoman Empire. Although the Ottoman Turks claimed central Arabia they didn’t control it really and neglected it as they didn’t see any interest in the deep Arabian deserts.

During the next seventy five years the state ruled by the al-Saud grown in power and spread the ultra-conservative wahhabi theories among the Bedouin tribes in the area. The Ottomans started to be worried with that growth of power and decided to end it. In a vigorous attack they destroyed the Dominions of the Saud, in 1817, causing the retreat of the al-Saud and the al-Wahhab families to deeper desert.

They returned in 1824 and reconquered central Arabia to the Ottoman Turks proclaiming the Emirate of Riyadh having as emir Mushari bin Saud. This new state had as basis the same alliance between political power (al-Saud family) and religious power (al-Wahhab family).

As the Ottoman Empire wasn’t able to control those deep desert lands it allied to al-Rashid family, from the oasis of Ha’il (present day Bedouin Free State), to become as somekind of buffer state between the fanatical Saudi-Wahhabi state and the empire. This was the start of the rivalry between the al-Rashid (connected with Ottoman interests and religiously moderate) and the al-Saud.

In 1891 the al-Rashid, leaded by Emir Muhammad bin Abdullah al-Rashid, and supported by ottoman troops conquered once again the Saudi realm ending their second state. Again the Saudi were forced to retreat to deep desert while the al-Rashid proclaimed in central Arabia a semi-independent state officially called as Rashidi State in Nefd, but commonly called Rashidi Arabia.

The Unification

Flag of Nefd (1902-1932)

The Saudi returned in 1902, leaded by Abdul Aziz al-Saud (1880-1953), who expelled the al-Rashid from central Arabia and proclaimed the independence of the Saudi Emirate of Nefd, the third Saudi state always based on the alliance with the al-Wahhab. Although not having modern weapons the Saudi emir leaded his people to a war to expel the Turks from Arabia and forced the al-Rashid to move more north.

With the start of the First Great War the Ottoman Empire was forced to neglect the defence of its Arabian provinces and protectorates and Abdul Aziz was able to attack the Ottoman and the Rashidi realms so as conquer more territories.

Besides the expelling of the Ottoman Turks from Arabia the Saudi had another goal: to conquer the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina, under Turkish occupation and ruled by another great arab family, the Hashemite. His attacks against Hijaaz caused their rivalry with the Hashemite which lasts until nowadays. For Abdul Aziz Hijaaz should be freed from foreign occupation so as its sacred cities should be ruled by the most pure Muslims, that means the Saudi. But the Hijaazi themselves were able to expel the Turks during the Arab Rebellion of 1916-18 leaded by Faisal bin Hussayn, future king Faisal I of Hijaaz and Iraaq.

With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire on the First Great War new states arose in the Arabian Peninsula as they split from the empire. Hijaaz became independent in 1918 and soon after the Shaykdom of Kuwayt (ruled by the al-Sabah), the Mutawakelite Kingdom of Asir (ruled by the al-Mutawakki) and the Bedouin Free State (a confederation of emirates where the al-Rashid still had certain dominance). In the Arabian Gulf coast between Kuwayt and the Thousand Emirates (under the Federated Kingdoms protection) also was created a semi-independent state ruled by the emir Abdullah bin Saud al-Rashid, the Rashidi State in Al-Hasa (commonly known as the Emirate of Al-Hasa), and created by the Rashidi emir of Ha’il (Saud bin Abdul Aziz al-Rashid) who being afraid of his son’s pretensions over his throne sent him away to rule this new emirate.

With the help of the al-Sabah, Abdul Aziz conquered Al-Hasa in 1919 and let the territory under shared kuwayti-saudi protection (renamed oficially Sabahi State in Al-Hasa). In the coast of the Red Sea Abdul Aziz forced the Mutawakelite royal family to sign a treaty of protection between Nefd and Asir in 1920. By this time Nefd was one of the most powerful countries in the Arabian Peninsula but foreign powers paid much more attention to the Hashemite from Hijaaz.

In 1921 Abdul Aziz upgraded his nobility title from emir to sultan and proclaimed the Saudi Sultanate of Nefd. In reality nothing changed, Nefd was still a country quite unknown to the Europeans, closed to foreign influences and ruled by an absolute monarchy.

In 1926 Nefd attacked Hijaaz with the goal of conquering the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina but was defeated by coalition hijaazi-syrian Hashemite coalition forces better armed with European weapons. With this failure Sultan Abdul Aziz concluded he no longer should be isolated from outside industrialised world.

The years which followed were peaceful years without any other military campaigns. In 1927 Abdul Aziz once again changed his title to king in an effort to get closer to European political thinking. And proclaimed the Saudi Kingdom of Nefd. This would be changed once more when he decided to unify the protectorates to the kingdom. These were abolished so Nefd could have a direct way out to the seas and finally the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was proclaimed in 1932.

Abdul Aziz, king of Saudi Arabia

King Abdul Aziz

Abdul Aziz established then embassies in Europe and North America in order to get his kingdom recognized worldwide and in 1935 joined the League of nations. Also foreign technicians were allowed to come and with the few resources he had he paid better weapons to defend Saudi Arabia from the possible threat that the Hashemite kingdoms (Hijaaz and Iraaq) could be.

In 1938 oil was found in Saudi Arabia. Since then foreign companies were allowed to explore it and when the Second Great War started Saudi Arabia became a major oil producer as the oil needs increased worldwide as result to the war. Abdul Aziz declared his kingdom to be neutral both to Second Great War and Great Oriental War and sold oil to both sides on each conflict. As a result Saudi Arabia became for the first time in its history a rich country although wealth was only in the hands of few families. The average population lived miserably. By the time the great wars ended Saudi Arabia was already the first oil producer in the entire world, position which it still retains nowadays.

Still in an effort to have foreign recognition Saudi Arabia was a founding member state the Arab Community (1949) and COPEN (1951) so as participated for the first time in the 12th World Games, held in Buenos Aires in 1949. Also made several state visits to European and North American countries.

King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and the throne passed to the oldest of his thirty seven sons, prince Said bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (1902-1969).

King Said’s rule

The new king placed many of his sons in higher governmental positions, which annoyed his half-brothers who considered their sons quite inexperienced to take such high positions. He created the position of prime minister putting in cabinet his own son, Crown Prince Muhammad.

The king was considered much wasteful as he spent much money earned from oil building large palaces and spending much in trips with his close family to Southern Europe (especially Monaco and Xliponia). He also bought several private luxury Rolls-Royce Limited aeroscrafts made according to his commands so as a large private yacht.

By 1956 Saudi Arabia was close to bankruptcy due to his wrong economical policies and wastes although his kingdom was the biggest oil producer and exporter in the world. The Suez Crisis (1956) saved the economical situation as oil prices reached historical maximum prices then.

The Hajji War

In 1958, together with the United Arab Rebublic, Saudi Arabia was the only arab country to recognise the rule of Abdul Karim Qassim in Iraaq after the slaughter of the Hashemite royal family. For the al-Saud anything bad which could happen to the Hashemite would always be a good new.

The new king of Hijaaz (also claiming the iraaqi throne), Hussayn I, reacted against the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia by ending the diplomatic relations with those two countries and he prohibited the entry their citizens into hijaazi territory. As result they weren’t allowed to pilgrimage to Mecca or Medina and making the Hajj.

The United Arab Republic solved this problem in a bureaucratic way. As this federation was much recent most of its citizens still had documents considering them as Egyptians or Syrians and the new documents had their emission delayed and as hijaazi law was against the United Arab Republic police weren’t able to stop those pilgrims.

In Saudi Arabia things were much different. Saudi government considered the prohibition as a high provocation and wahhabi clerics organised a pilgrimage with common people who should cross hijaazi borders. On the Islamic month of Dhu al-Qi’dah of 1378 (May of 1959), previous month to the arrival to the Holy Cities, those pilgrims crossed the border and were all arrested by hijaazi police. Things got confuse and more than 200 Saudi Arabian pilgrims were killed. Saudi government accused Hijaaz of the killing of innocent pilgrims while hijaazi government accused Saudi Arabia of sending military disguised as pilgrims.

King Said, instigated by wahhabi clerics, declared war against Hijaaz and soon Saudi troops invaded their neighbouring country. Although short this war soon became quite undecided as both countries had similar military strength.

The egyptian Mahmoud Hassan, secretary-general of the Arab Community, was able to get a cease fire and make both belligerent countries to make an agreement which allowed everyone to make the Hajj in change of the ending of Saudi pretensions of taking the Holy Cities (this was respected by Saudi government until 1975).

As Mahmoud Hassan said:

At the moment of the Hajj we lose our nationality, we are all just Moslem. Mecca and Medina aren’t property of Hijaaz, they belong to all Moslem. So these cities don’t belong to the Saudi for the same reason.

This agreement granted him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1959. Some say Saudi Arabia accepted this agreement due to its delicate economical situation which didn’t allow maintaining a long war.

King Said’s fall

During this period foreign influences (such as Communism and Pan-Arabism) started to be found among the common and discontent people. And the king repressed those subversive followers. The common people were starting to be discontent due to the economical crisis, repression and the behaving of the royal family in dealing with the country.

Al-Saud royal family was also starting to be disliked with king Said rule and in 1964 his half-brother Faisal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (1903-1975) deposed him with the support of the wahhabi clerics. It is said that king Said rule had only two good works: the inauguration in 1957 of the first Saudi university (King Said University in Riyadh) and the abolishment of slavery, in 1962.

The Three Leaps Forward

King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud

Prince Faisal was crowned surpassing Said’s crown prince Muhammad. Said and the crown prince were sent to exile in Lebanon.

Faisal inherited the kingdom on a delicate economical situation, with a large external debt, and a discontent people influenced by revolutionary ideals. The overthrown of the royal families in Egypt (1952) and Iraaq (1958) were on his memory and he didn’t want such could happen in Saudi Arabia.

To fight discontentment he decided not to use the usual repressive means which didn’t solve the problems in Iraaq and Egypt. He decided avoid the causes so he wouldn’t have to fight against the consequences later. Faisal announced then his plan which he called “The Three Leaps Forward”. He described it as a “quiet and bloodless revolution which would take Saudi Arabia to modern and developed world” and to achieve it he surrounded himself with loyal and open minded relatives so as with people with no connections with the royal family. This was the less Saudi of all Saudi governments. In order Faisal could control better the situation he abolished the position of prime minister. From now on he would supervise directly the government.

The Three Leaps Forward would be a succession of thematic five-year plans (the leaps, as he called it) to develop the country in a sustainable way. These should be firstly the development of infrastructures, secondly the development of national economy and finally the development of civil and political rights.

The first leap

He was able to negotiate with the foreign banks the delay of paying the national debt. Using the oil benefits king Faisal started a huge programme of building infrastructures. Impressive irrigation works were made in the most fertile provinces (Al-Hasa and Asir) and there was the promotion of settlement of the nomadic Bedouins who should turn to agriculture. Somekind of land reform was made and modern agriculture machinery was given to the settled Bedouins. Oil benefits also financed the creation of the Saudi public schools (previous were all dependent to the clerics), building hospitals and the national money funds were used to help poorer people. Also transportation wasn’t forgotten and new roads and railroads were built so as new aerodromes and the port facilities were increased.

By the end of the first leap, in 1969, Faisal had already recovered the popularity of the royal family among the average people although some of the princes disliked these reforms as they considered those as wasteful so as disliked so few members of the royal family were at government.

The second leap

National wealth was the theme of the second leap. King Faisal gave special conditions to foreign multinational companies to be installed in Saudi Arabia. Factories were built so as new oil refineries (previously most of Saudi oil was processed abroad). But Faisal didn’t allow the multinationals to move influences within the government. Some tried and were simply expelled so as forbidden to sell their products in Saudi Arabia. Non-Muslim immigrants (especially from India) were allowed to work in the kingdom causing critics from the clerics.

By 1972 Saudi Arabia had already paid its debt and the success was known worldwide and called “the Saudi economical miracle”. The League of Nations then advised other developing countries to follow the Saudi Arabian example.

COPEN and Arab nationalism

By the year Faisal arrived to the throne (1964) only three Arab countries (Saudi Arabia and Iraaq as founding members and Kuwayt since 1953) were at COPEN among nine members (others were then the founding members Persia and Tejas plus Venezola, Russia, Gabon and Gold Coast which were admitted during the 1950’s and 1960’s). King Faisal considered himself as an arab nationalist (but not pan-arabist) so as considered the Arab Community wasn’t strong enough to defend arab interests around the world. So he pressured the other member states to admit more arab countries to the organisation which at that time was one of the most powerful in the world. Thanks to him Libya, the Thousand Emirates and Maghreb joined COPEN in 1965, 1967 and 1972 respectively making a stronger presence of Arab nation. But he failed on the admission of Syria which wasn’t considered an oil producer bigger enough.

During the height of Saudi Arabian prosperity King Faisal offered COPEN, on its twentieth anniversary (1971), the building which is today the headquarter of the organisation, in Beyrut, Lebanon, after years of rotative headquarter localisation.

The Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393

See main article: Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393

On the 17th October 1973 (20th Ramadan 1393 for Moslem) oil prices felt almost 20% in a single day due to iraaqi oil high producing policies. As result the oil producing countries went to a serious economical crisis due to the massive loss of profits. Faisal saw his plan in risk of failure. To avoid that he used once again the national money reserves to reverse the crisis so as reduced the oil production hoping to make higher oil prices. But it didn’t work as the oil world needs were becoming smaller due to the generalization of the Tesla Generators in most developed countries. To take the more possible profits from oil industry Saudi oil industry was nationalized in 50% which disliked much the multinationals. They accused Faisal of being a communist and this gave more strength to those who were against the reforms. Also the establishment of diplomatic relations with countries such as the CSDS or Bavaria didn’t help.

The third leap

1974 was the year of the third leap devoted to civil and political rights. King Faisal announced that until 1979 all political parties without exception would be legalized, an elected parliament would be created so as everyone (including women) would have the right to vote and the kingdom would have a written constitution inspired on the egyptian one of 1961. Also announced that state would be more separate from religion although he kept Islam as official religion. This let in shock all conservative sectors, from the royal family to the wahhabi clerics (especially those) and even among part of the average people.

To avoid such “subversive” ideals the wahhabi clerics gave support to an ambitious Faisal’s nephew, coronel Faisal Bin Musad al-Saud (1944-1982) who on the 25th March 1975 deposed the king. Faisal died on that day during the assault against the royal palace and the crown prince, his half brother Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (an intelectual), went to exile firstly in Iraaq and later in NAL where he became an university teacher. The coronel was proclaimed by the clerics new king as Faisal II (first and only Saudi king who wasn’t a son of King Abdul Aziz) and no national mourning for Faisal I was permitted. Curiously other arab countries made national mourning (Iraaq, Libya and Egypt) as the deposed Saudi king was then considered one of the most important and respected arab leaders and his policies were much admired worldwide.

“Wahhabi Arabia”

Following the king’s death many riots occurred in major cities and repression was much violent. Some say between 30 000 and 50 000 people were murdered during the weeks after the coup.

Faisal II abolished the Three Leaps Forward and a large defamation campaign was made accusing the previous king of being insane, alcoholic or communist. Since then Faisal I name is often omitted from Saudi Arabian history records trying to make him fall in complete oblivion. Also the non-Muslim immigrants were expelled leaving Saudi Arabia without many specialised workers. Samraj and other Indian countries protested at the League of Nations.

The previous consultative council (Majlis as-Shura) was replaced by a new one with much power, the Council of Islam (Majlis al-Islam), completely dominated by wahhabi clerics and leaded by the imam Omar al-Wahhab who became the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. Koran was proclaimed the constitution of the kingdom and all decisions by the king should be in consensus with the Majlis al-Islam. A religious police, the Mutawwa’in, was instituted which has discretionary powers to powers of surveillance and entry to property, detention and interrogation of suspects, and, in some places, summary judgment and execution of punishment for perceived violations of Sharia. Also clerics are allowed to decree fatwa’s against national or foreign citizens (one was decreeted against the saudi arabian religious agitator Osama BinLadin for his “crimes against religion”).

More than ever Saudi Arabia became a theocracy and gave support to Sheik Saddaam Hussayn when he took the power in Iraaq and his war against Persia and signed the Treaty of Friendship and Co-Operation. Although not sending officially troops to fight on iraaqi side during the Persia-Iraaq War (1980-1988) Saudi Arabia sent mujahideen militias of volunteers to fight the “Great Persian Satan”. Also mujahedeen militias were sent to Moghul National Realm to fight the Russian invaders.

Faisal II died in 1982 without appointing a crown prince and was succeeded by Fadh bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (1923-1995) chosen by the Majlis al-Islam, who pursued the policies of Faisal II. Also supported the Islamic revolutions in Sanjak and Albania in 1991. Internally he re-instituted the position of prime minister which would traditionally give to the crown prince.

The Gulf War and the Basri Rebellion

Iraaq invaded the small Kuwayt on the 2nd August 1990. Although not sharing the religious pan-arabist points of view of Saddaam Hussayn king Fadh supported him.

The League of Nations condemned Hussayn’s policies on Kuwayt, made an international embargo and sent him an ultimatum to retreat from the shaykhdom by 19th December 1990. Both the League of Nations and the Arab Community threatened Saudi Arabia with an embargo in case the country didn’t co-operate with the arab coalition forces (mostly from Syria and Egypt). Fadh accepted the troops would depart from national territory but wouldn’t send any troops. In February 1991 Kuwayt was released and Iraaq was placed under an international embargo. Saudi Arabia often broke it selling weapons to iraaqi regime and sending volunteer mujahideen militias to fight against the Shiite rebelled from Al-Basra so as supported with funds and mujahideen militias the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria during the 1990's.

In 1995 king Fadh died of a stroke and he was succeeded by his half-brother and Prime Minister Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (born in 1924) who pursued same policies as the previous king. The theocratic regime in Iraaq ended in 2003 and Abdullah gave exile to several high members of the deposed government. Since then Saudi Arabia has a dispute with the international court which is judging Saddaam Hussayn and his co-operators.

Geography

Sparsely unhabbitated, mostly desert with great temperature extremes.

Borders

North: Bedouin Free State, Al-Basra, Kuwayt
West: Hijaaz, Red Sea
South: The Thousand Emirates
East: The Thousand Emirates, Arabian Sea

Saudi Arabia maintains with The Thousand Emirates a dispute over Rub al-Khali Desert due to the borders were never clearly designed.

Economy

Oil based economy. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producer and exporter in the world having a leading role at COPEN.

Culture

Language and ethnicities

Arabic is the official language. About 95% of the population is Arab being the rest mostly immigrants from the Muslim countries in India. Non-Indian immigrants (5%) are mostly from other Arab countries (Egypt, Syria, Bedouin Free State, Iraaq and the poorest emirates from The Thousand Emirates).

Religion

Sunni Islam in its wahhabi tendency is the official religion. Non-Muslim religions aren’t tolerated among local citizens so as among immigrant workers.

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