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

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

By 1930, the Saudi king was firmly established in the Arabian Peninsula, ruling over a large but impoverished kingdom. Saudi military capacity, while dominant on the peninsula, was of negligible capacity when measured against the European titans – most of which chose simply to ignore what they considered to be “tribal politics” in Arabia. Real power would come to the Sa’ud family after World War II when the Arab American Oil Company, a branch of Standard Oil, would add incredible wealth (and consequently military power) to buttress (and also weaken) the Wahhabist theocracy. A widening gulf began to emerge between the Wahhabist rhetoric and the lavish lifestyle of the House of Sa’ud.

Without oil, Saudi Arabia would be a regional power at best – and most likely it would not have been able to maintain its cohesion in the face of rapid world economic transformation. Nonetheless, for our purposes the rise of Saudi Arabia is vitally important to understanding the world between 1914 and 1945 and for grasping geopolitics today. The Saudi kingdom’s dual pillars of Wahhabist ideology and state institutions built around vast oil revenues have placed Saudi Arabia at the heart of the Islamic world’s theological and political debates.

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