Ibn Sa'ud, Abdul-Aziz
in full 'ABD AL-'AZIZ IBN 'ABD AR-RAHMAN IBN FAYSAL
IBN TURKI 'ABD ALLAH IBN MUHAMMAD AL SA'UD
(b. c. 1880, Riyadh, Arabia--d. Nov. 9, 1953, at-Ta`if,
Saudi Arabia), tribal and Muslim religious leader who formed the modern
state of Saudi Arabia and initiated the exploitation of its oil.
The young leader.
The Sa'uds ruled much of Arabia from 1780 to 1880; but, while
Ibn Sa'ud was still an infant, his family, driven out by their
rivals, the Rashids, became penniless exiles in Kuwait. In 1901
Ibn Sa'ud, then 21, set out from Kuwait with 40 camelmen in a bold
attempt to regain his family's lands. (see also Index: Sa'ud,
Reaching their old family capital, Riyadh, the little group slipped into
the town by night (January 1902). The Rashidi governor slept
in the castle but came out every morning after dawn. Ibn Sa'ud
lay hidden until the governor emerged. Then, rushing forward with his
men, he killed him and seized the castle. This exploit roused the former
supporters of his dynasty. They rallied to so magnetic a leader, and in
two years of raids and skirmishes Ibn Sa'ud reconquered half of
Ibn Rashid, however, appealed for help to the Turks, who sent
troops; Ibn Sa'ud suffered a defeat at their hands on June 15,
1904. But he was not driven from central Arabia and soon reconstituted
his forces, the years 1907 to 1912 being passed in desultory fighting.
The Turks eventually left, unable to supply their troops. (see also Index:
Role of religion in Ibn Sa'ud's policy
Ibn Sa'ud decided, in the years before World War I, to revive
his dynasty's support for Wahhabism, an extremist Muslim puritan
revival. Ibn Sa'ud was in fact a devoted puritan Muslim--to him
the Qur`an was literally the word of God, and his life was regulated
by it. Yet he was also aware that religious fanaticism could serve his
ambition, and he deliberately fostered it, founding a militantly religious
tribal organization known as the Ikhwan (Brethren).
This fanatical brotherhood encouraged his followers to fight and to massacre
their Arab rivals, and it helped him to bring many nomadic tribesmen under
more immediate control.
He was able to persuade the religious leaders to declare it a religious
duty of all Wahhabis to abandon nomadism and to build houses
at the desert wells. Thus settled, they could more easily be levied into
his army. But the scheme was unrealistic: nomads who sold their flocks
were often unable to cultivate and were reduced to penury. The destitution
of the more fanatical tribes, however, made them more eager to raid, and
Ibn Sa'ud was not slow to suggest that they plunder the subjects
of Ibn Rashid.
During World War I Ibn Sa'ud entered into a treaty with the
British (December 1915), accepting protectorate status and agreeing to
make war against Ibn Rashid, who was being supported by the Turks.
But despite British arms and a subsidy of 5,000 a month from the British
government (which continued until 1924) he was inactive until 1920, arguing
that his subsidy was insufficient. During 1920-22, however, he marched
against Ibn Rashid and extinguished Rashidi rule,
doubling his own territory but without significantly increasing his meagre
Ibn Sa'ud now ruled central Arabia except for the Hejaz region
along the Red Sea. This was the territory of Sharif
Husayn of Mecca, who had become king of the Hejaz during the
war and who declared himself caliph (head of the Muslim community) in
1924. Sharif Husayn's son 'Abd Allah had become ruler
of Transjordan in 1921, and another son, Faysal, king of Iraq.
Ibn Sa'ud, fearing encirclement by this rival dynasty, decided
to invade the Hejaz. He was then at the height of his powers; his strong
personality and extraordinary charm had won the devotion of all his subjects.
A skillful politician, he worked closely with the religious leaders, who
always supported him. Relying on the Ikhwan to eliminate his Arab
rivals, he sent them to raid his neighbours, then cabled the British,
whose imperial interests were involved, that the raid was against his
orders. In 1924 the Ikhwan took Mecca, and the Hejaz was added
to his dominions.
At this point, there were no more rivals whom Ibn Sa'ud could
conquer, for those remaining had treaties with Britain. But the
Ikhwan had been taught that all non-Wahhabi Muslims
were infidels. When Ibn Sa'ud forbade further raiding, they charged
him with treachery, quoting his own words against him. In 1927 they invaded
Iraq against his wishes. They were repulsed by British aircraft, but Ibn
Sa'ud's authority over them had vanished, and on March 29, 1929,
the Ikhwan, the fanatics whom he himself had trained, were crushed
by Ibn Sa'ud himself at the Battle of Sibilla. [Check
the version written in Atlas of teh Islamic World]
Foundation of Saudi Arabia.
This battle opened a new era; thereafter Ibn Sa'ud's task was
government, not conquest. In 1932 he formally unified his domains into
the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An absolute monarch, he had no regular civil
service or professional administrators. All decisions were made by him
or by those he personally delegated for a particular task. There was little
money, and he himself was not interested in finance. In May 1933 Ibn Sa'ud
signed his first agreement with an American oil company. Not until March
1938 did the company strike oil, and work virtually ceased during World
War II, so that Ibn Sa'ud was again nearly penniless.
Saudi Arabia took no part in the war, but toward its end the exploitation
of oil was resumed. By 1950 Ibn Sa'ud had received a total of about
$200,000. Three years later, he was getting some $2,500,000 a week. The
effect was disastrous on the country and on Ibn Sa'ud. He had no
idea of what to do with all the money, and he watched helplessly the triumph
of everything he hated. His austere religious views were offended. The
secluded, penurious, hard, but idealistic, life of Arabia was vanishing.
Such vast sums of money drew half the swindlers in the Middle East to
this puritan religious sanctum. Ibn Sa'ud was unable to cope with
financial adventurers. His last years were marked by severe physical and
emotional deterioration. He died at at-Ta`if in 1953. (J.B.Gl.)
David A. Howarth, The Desert King (1964), is the best biography;
J.B. Glubb, War in the Desert (1960), describes Ikhwan raids
and meetings with Ibn Sa'ud. See also H.St.J. Philby, Arabia
of the Wahhabis (1930). Philby knew Ibn Sa'ud intimately but
was strongly prejudiced in his favour. Ameen F. Rihani, Ibn Sa'oud
of Arabia (1928), is an account of a visit to Ibn Sa'ud in
|"Ibn Sa'ud" Britannica Online.
[Accessed 08 February 1998].