From The Sand To The Sword, The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia
High above the glaring, unrelenting sun, the very first idea of a Saudi state began, the area was named The Emirate of Diriyah by Muhammad ibn Saud ibn Muhammad ibn Muqrin Al-Maridi, in short Ibn Saud. The king would have 45 sons from 22 wives. In 1744, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, a Sunni cleric who had been under great pressure from other tribal leaders because of his more strict interpretation of Islam had been asked to leave his home. He had met with Ibn Saud and both agreed to govern a nation state where Muslims can fulfill the earlier traditions of Islam which were incompatible in today’s era. According to Saudi writer Abdul Aziz Qassim and others, it was the Ottomans who “first labelled Abdul Wahhab’s school of Islam in Saudi Arabia as Wahhabism”.
The “pivotal idea” of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s teaching was that people who called themselves Muslims but who participated in alleged innovations were not just misguided or committing a sin, but were “outside the pale of Islam altogether”, as were Muslims who disagreed with his definition. Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab and Muhammad bin Saud agreed that, together, they would bring the Arabs of the peninsula back to the “true” principles of Islam as they saw it. According to one source, when they first met, bin Saud declared:
“This oasis is yours, do not fear your enemies. By the name of God, if all Nejd was summoned to throw you out, we will never agree to expel you.”
Whereas Abdul Wahab replied:
“You are the settlement’s chief and wise man. I want you to grant me an oath that you will perform jihad (Struggle to spread Islam) against the unbelievers. In return you will be imam, leader of the Muslim community and I will be leader in religious matters.”
Ibn Abd al-Wahhab would be responsible for religious matters and Ibn Saud in charge of political and military issues.
The descendants of Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab, the Al ash-Sheikh, have historically led the ulema in the Saudi state, dominating the state’s religious institutions. Within Saudi Arabia, the family is held in prestige similar to the Saudi royal family with whom they share power, which have included several religious scholars and officials. The arrangement between the two families is based on the Al Saud maintaining the Al ash-Sheikh authority in religious matters and upholding and propagating Salafi doctrine. In return, the Al ash-Sheikh support the Al Saud’s political authority, thereby using its religious-moral authority to legitimize the royal family’s rule.
The transfer of power in the Saudi kingdom would start with Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, who constituted the final reconstruction of the Emirate of Diriyah, now presently called Saudi Arabia. Currently led by the descendants of Ibn Saud, or the Sudairi Seven. The family lines are the following:
The number of children that King Ibn Saud fathered in total, with all his wives, is unknown. One source indicates that he had 37 sons. The Sudairis consolidated their hold over these fiefs by appointing their brothers and sons to their own ministries and other key positions. It would give them leverage and totality of power in the Kingdom with many influences belonging to the family lineage. thus transfer of power by an unknown entity is nearly impossible.
With the dual entity of Wahhabism and the family monarchy holding power, the Saudi state began to rise into the regional power we see today. And with it’s massive oil refineries, some of the biggest in the world, its influences can be felt thru-ought the world. Thru the decades, the House of Saud along with it’s religious madrassas, began to influence the neighboring Arab states also of the Sunni school of thought. This began a slow rise in the strict interpretation of the earlier Islamic teachings, and they would be in total contradiction to the evolution of the Shia nation states as well as the non-believing areas of the world.
No two countries could ever be anymore different in it’s internal complexion. The United States being a secular, constitutional Republic, and Saudi Arabia being a ultraconservative Islamic absolute monarchy. But in 1933, their partnership became official. With Saudi Arabia having a good relationship with the British since the 1800’s, the House of Saud was still looking for a recognition with the United States. In 1931 Ibn Saud granted a concession to the U.S. company, Standard Oil of California, allowing them to explore for oil in the country’s Eastern Province, al-Hasa.
In May 1933 the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), later called the Arab American Company (ARAMCO), had started the exploration in the country with large area to explore (Alnabrab, 2008). Although the imported oil was not very important for the U.S. at the time, Washington seemed hungry for the Saudi oil since their confidence in finding oil in Saudi Arabia had greatly grown, which resulted in stronger relations with Saudi Arabia. Over the years, their relationship began to grow. But World War II had put their friendship on hold, which left Saudi Arabia in a vulnerable position for attack…which Italy took advantage of by bombing a CASOC oil installation in Dhahran crippling Saudi Arabia’s oil production.
With the end of the war in 1945, the citizens of Saudi Arabia saw the United States as an immoral country, and with the threat of the Cold War looming, the United States didn’t bother to put the Saudi partnership on the back burner, instead it strengthened it. The Harry S. Truman, administration also promised Bin Saud that he would protect Saudi Arabia from Soviet influence.
Therefore, the U.S. increased its presence in the region to protect its interest and its allies. By doing this, the U.S.-Saudi relationship truly began to take hold. As the rush for the world’s largest oil fields at the time ended with this partnership. In 1951, under a mutual defense agreement, the U.S. established a permanent U.S. Military Training Mission in the kingdom and agreed to provide training support in the use of weapons and other security-related services to the Saudi Security Forces.
By 1964 Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud would become the new King of Saudi Arabia. This would make the United States give pause about what kind of monarchy Faisal would bring to the table of the United States. His main foreign policy themes were pan-Islamism, anti-Communism and pro-Palestinian nationalism. The latter would be a stopping point between the two nations, as the United States had been pro-Israel for decades. As with many of his other policies, the move aroused strong objections from the religious and conservative sections of the country.
Faisal assured them, however, that Islamic principles of modesty would be strictly observed, and made sure that the broadcasts contained a large amount of religious programming. In 1973, the Yom Kippur war was a turning point and with the United States backing of Israel, Saudi Arabia under King Faisal put an oil embargo on the United States. This would lead to an energy crisis. Despite the tensions caused by the oil embargo, the U.S. wished to resume relations with the Saudis. Indeed, the great oil wealth accumulated as a result of price increases allowed the Saudis to purchase large sums of American military technology. The embargo was lifted in March 1974 after the U.S. pressured Israel into negotiating with Syria over the Golan Heights.
March 25, 1975…..King Faisal of Saudi Arabia prepared a “majlis”, a special council with Kuwaiti delegates. While greeting his entourage there was another member of the delegation awaiting the King’s handshake. Prince Faisal bin Musaid, nephew to the King himself held the face of the King in a slight moment of silence….while the King felt relaxed, The Prince suddenly pulled out a revolver and shot the King three times in the head, with one entering the ear and under the chin. Faisal Ibu Musaed was seized immediately after he attacked his uncle and was questioned by the Saudi security detail, only to find him mentally incompetent during interrogation.
A sharia court found Faisal guilty of the king’s murder on June 18th, and his public execution occurred hours later. Rumors had circulated about the untimely death of Faisal immediately after the shooting took place. Examples of these rumors suggested that the prince had told his mother about his assassination plans, who in turn told King Faisal who responded that “if it is Allah’s will, then it would happen”. Arab media implied that the prince had been a tool of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
Immediately after the death of Faisal, the kingdom had to appoint a new King. Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was named the successor. In 1965 he was appointed the Crown Prince and he was also the first first deputy prime minister. He was proclaimed king after a meeting of five senior members of Al Saud: his uncle Prince Abdullah bin Rahman and his elder brothers Prince Mohammed, Prince Nassar, Prince Saad and younger brothers Prince Fahd and Prince Abdullah His reign as King was a massive development in the House of Saud. Under his leadership, Saudi Arabia suddenly became one of the richest countries in the world.
He primarily dealt with domestic affairs with special focus on agricultural development Notable achievements in his reign included the institution of the second “Five-Year Plan” in 1975, which aimed to build up Saudi infrastructure and health care while also launching the Kingdom’s third Development Plan with the planned budget of $250 billion in May 1980. Also the political over under his reign grew drastically which saw a massive consolidation of power inside the Sudairi Seven clan.
Things would change drastically as King Khalid tried to modernize the kingdom to respectability, and the traditionalists of the Sunni school of thought would try by any means to avoid such changes. As more of the radical imams within the Kingdom became prisoners of the Saudi security detail, the more tensions would rise as the imams began presenting fiery sermons which were secretly recorded and distributed inside the jail to the public. The growing tensions of the Sunni populace would soon hit the boiling point.
In 1979, all Arab governments except Oman, Somalia and the Sudan severed diplomatic relations with Egypt in outrage over its peace treaty with Israel. This was primarily in due with then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who along with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and U.S. President Jimmy Carter signed the The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. It was seen as an “affront” to the more “traditionalist” Sunni Arab nations. And most hard-line Sunni imams immediately took notice. The agreement notably made Egypt the first Arab state to officially recognize Israel.
But the kingdom of Saudi Arabia would soon have more turbulent problems head internally. Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia primarily dealt with domestic affairs with special focus on agricultural development. He also frowned upon the major dissent and constant threat of the Wahhabi imams which permeated in every aspect of Saudi life. His crackdowns on popular hard-line imams would have a resounding effect.
On November 20, 1979, the imam of the Grand Mosque, Sheikh Mohhamad al-Subayil, was preparing to lead prayers for the 50,000 worshipers who had gathered for prayer. At around 5:00 am he was interrupted by insurgents who produced weapons from under their robes, chained the gates shut and killed two policemen who were armed with only wooden clubs for disciplining unruly pilgrims. The seizure was led by Juhayman al-Otaybi, a member of an influential family in Najd. He declared his brother-in-law Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani to be the Mahdi, or redeemer, who arrives on earth several years before Judgement Day.
His followers embellished the fact that Al-Qahtani’s name and his father’s name are identical to Prophet Mohammed’s name and that of his father, and developed a saying, “His and his father’s names were the same as Mohammed’s and his father’s, and he had come to Makkah from the north”, to justify their belief. When the first news of the attack in Mecca reached Riyadh, the initial reaction of King Khalid was to consult the ulema, in order to get permission to use military force to eject the attackers. However the Islamic ruling authority, ulema, had not reached a definitive answer,
At the time the Grand Mosque was being renovated by the Saudi BinLaden Group, later Osama Bin Laden would remark that it was this armed defiance against the Saudi Kingdom which helped lead him to a more “religious” path which he saw as a message form the Islamic religious authority against the secular leadership’s decisions to modernize the nation under the behest of Crown Prince Khalid Al Saud. Soon after the rebel seizure, about 100 security officers of the Ministry of Interior attempted to retake the mosque, but were turned back with heavy casualties. The Saudi National Guard and the Saudi Army suffered heavy casualties. tear gas was used to force out the remaining militants.
The battle had lasted for more than two weeks, and had officially left “255 pilgrims, troops and fanatics” killed and “another 560 injured … although diplomats suggested the toll was higher.” Military casualties were 127 dead and 451 injured. Al-Qahtani was killed in the recapture of the mosque but Juhayman and 67 of his fellow rebels who survived the assault were captured and later beheaded. None of the remaining dissidents were shown any mercy by the Saudi High Council. On 9 January 1980, 63 rebels were publicly beheaded in the squares of eight Saudi cities.
But the damage was done as the Arab world looked on and saw that a new jihad had taken place, which started in the most Holiest site in all of Islam, the Kingdom of the Two Most Holiest Sites of Mecca and Medina. Saudi King Khalid, however, did not react to the upheaval by cracking down on religious puritans in general, but by giving the ulema and religious conservatives more power over the next decade. He is thought to have believed that “the solution to the religious upheaval was simple: more religion.”
The forced capitulation of the Grand Mosque was the first glimpse of the “Frankenstein” monster that the Wahhabi sect which arise from the teachings of Ibn Abd al-Wahab just less then 100 years ago, The Kingdom was no longer absent from reprisals from the ultra-orthodox. They began to finance the Wahhabi led sects, not just within the Saudi Kingdom, but also in SE Asia. Tens of millions would be given to Egyptian and Afghanistan Sunni orthodox movements and in return the Saudi’s would prevent from becoming a victim of aggressive terrorist attacks, but those attacks would be conscripted elsewhere.
By 1981, Khalid had suffered a massive heart attack, leaving him unable to rule… Crown Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was in charge of ruling the country by default. He had risen to the throne with the death of Khalid however in 1982. Fahd had been an ardent student of U.S politics and even visited the United States in 1947 along with his brother, and former Saudi King, Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Fahd, much like Khalid had feared a religious uprising which would overtake the Kingdom and began financially supporting Iraq under Saddam Hussein against their war with Iran. The CIA had began internally influencing relations with Baathists in Iraq and began phishing for information in Tehran, Iran’s capitol. By 1982, King Fahd had immediately began repairing relations with former Arab nationalist governments, starting with Syria. Fahd agreed to meet with Hafez al-Assad.
Fahd also supported the Ultra-orthodox and also began to interject religious laws as well as supporting the expansion of the “religious police” (Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice). Women were to wear full veil and also movie houses continued to remain closed. Fahd also supported the famous qari and Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, who was considered “non-compromising” in his stance of Wahhabi Islamic faith. Ibn Baz would later condemn even Osama Bin Laden considering him “munafiq” (a false representative of being Muslim). Ibn Baz then decreed a fatwa (religious order) against anyone supporting Bin Laden, Ibn Baz write:
“ …It is obligatory to destroy and annihilate these publications that have emanated from al-Faqeeh, or from al-Mas’aree, or from others of the callers of falsehood (bin Laadin and those like him), and not to be lenient towards them. And it is obligatory to advise them, to guide them towards the truth, and to warn them against this falsehood. It is not permissible for anyone to co-operate with them in this evil. And it is obligatory upon them to be sincere and to come back to guidance and to leave alone and abandon this falsehood. So my advice to al-Mas’aree, al-Faqeeh and Bin Laadin and all those who traverse their ways is to leave alone this disastrous path, and to fear Allaah and to beware of His vengeance and His Anger, and to return to guidance and to repent to Allaah for whatever has preceded from them.”
Under the Reagan administration the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia would witness a troubling event which would make the country a target for international terrorism, a ripple effect that would continue even to the present moment. It began with the U.S military protecting the Saudi’s from a false assertion that Iraq, which had invaded Kuwait, were threatening to invade the Saudi Kingdom next. The end of the Soviet Invasion saw the retreating secular invaders head back to the embattled communist nation, Bin Laden, the young Saudi who provided financial relief as well as himself being in the battlefields in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capitol had made him a revered leader within the Mujaheddin, the ultra orthodox of Wahhabi Islam, for which was provided logistical and financial support from the CIA, British MI6 and Pakistan ISI the last 9 years.
The Saudi Kingdom however had kept funding the Mujahideen, to help keep the peace in the Kingdom they began even providing financial support to Bin Laden and his mentor, a physician and leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Together they would form Al Qaeda. With the sudden death of Pakistan imam and mentor to Bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam in 1990, the Al Qaeda group took on the finances and began to spread inside the United States in states such as Arizona, Oklahoma, Chicago and New York. The Saudi Kingdom even helped financially support the Al Qaeda organization thru funneling tens of millions to local madrassas.
But before the U.S troops had arrived in Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden pleaded his case to defend the Kingdom from the Iraqi Ba’athist Army by using his Mujaheddin fighters, for which King Fahd and Director of General Intelligence Directorate, Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had flatly rejected. However Fahd feared a reprisal and had ordered Bin Laden to house arrest, froze his assets and took away his passport. Prince Turki Al Saud had visited Bin Laden in his home and gave him an ultimatum. Leave the Kingdom without incident, do not commit to an attack against it and his passport and finances would be released. Bin Laden agreed.
The ultra-orthodox groups in the Middle East and Southeast Asia had soon become more structured. Groups such as the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Al Qaeda, Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Egypt, and Hamas in Palestine. Most of these organizations were supported financially thru mosques and charity fronts from the Saudi Kingdom. In time the “boiling pot” of terrorism would begin to spill over, as bombing campaigns would become more noticeable and expansive. The Kingdom for now would be spared it’s tentacles, but for how long? The sun had set and the sword would now give rise with the aim of a global jihad.