USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Sa’ud’s Conquest

In 1902, Abdul ‘Aziz al Sa’ud was strong enough to march on the city of Riyadh and seize control of it. After his capture of Riyadh, Sa’ud spent the next two decades in a successful effort to gain control over the Arabian Peninsula through a combination of skillful political alliances and a sustained and zealous campaign of disseminating the doctrines of Wahhabism. In 1924, Sa’ud’s quest culminated in his march on Mecca and Medina, driving the Arabian king, Sharif Husayn, into exile. The House of Sa’ud was now in power, though on fairly shaky ground.

What was the foundation of Abdul ‘Aziz al Sa’ud’s power? There is no doubt that the main source of Sa’ud power was its ideology. Sa’ud’s followers embraced Sa’ud not just as a political ruler but as a religious leader. In terms of raw force, Sa’ud’s authority rested on the Wahhabi Ikhwan, former tribal bands that Sa’ud transformed into a military and religious elite, animated by the call of jihad against less puritanical Muslims throughout Arabia. By 1927, the Ikhwan had pacified all opposition, winning victory in every military campaign between their founding in 1913 and the final consolidation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As Sa’ud entrenched himself ever deeper in power, however, conflicts arose between his militant wing, the Ikhwan and his court – which was becoming increasingly less interested in military campaigns and Wahhabist rhetoric and more interested in transforming the kingdom into a stable nation. When leaders of the Ikhwan began to turn on Sa’ud, the king crushed the movement and with it, the last possible locus of internal dissent. King Ibn Sa’ud now reigned over a united Arabian Peninsula (with the exception of the British protectorates and the nation of Yemen). Islamist had proven to be successful social glue in Arab politics. Its example would lend itself to subsequent movements in the Middle East.

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