History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Pre 20th Century History

The Arabian Peninsula -- including Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia -- had been practicing agricultural, herding and hunting cultures for thousands of years.

Because they lived on important ancient trade routes, the ancestors of today's Saudi Arabians were influenced by such varying civilizations as Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, India, Persia and China.

The Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed in the western Arabian cities of Makkah and Madinah beginning about 610 AD.

The birth of the new faith of Islam was an important historical event. Inspired by their new religion, the Arabs expanded from Arabia, spreading Islam and the Arabic language as far west as the Atlantic Ocean and as far east as central Asia.

The birth of the new faith of Islam was an important historical event. Inspired by their new religion, the Arabs expanded from Arabia, spreading Islam and the Arabic language as far west as the Atlantic Ocean and as far east as central Asia.

The Islamic civilization remained vigorous for centuries, providing stability and advancing human knowledge when most of Western Europe was in a state of chaos and superstition known to historians as the Dark Ages. In the 13th century, the Mongol invasions dealt a devastating blow to the Arabs' eastern lands and their empire began to decline.

The first ruler of the First House of Saud was Muhammad bin Saud (forebear of the present rulers). He started as ruler of Ad-Dar'iyah, where he joined forces with Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, the eminent religious leader, in what could be called the first alliance.

Muhammad bin Saud concluded an agreement with Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab that together they would bring the Arabs of the peninsula back to the true faith of the Islamic religion. They confirmed this agreement with an oath in 1744.

Muhammad bin Saud's son, Abdul Aziz bin Muhammad bin Saud, ruled from 1765 (1179 AH) through 1803, retaining the association with Imam Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab in the same capacity as his father and continuing to reform Islam in the peninsula.

Abdul Aziz successfully captured the city of Riyadh in 1773. The combination of a deeply held theological conviction and military success proved irresistible to many. As a result, the Saudi state began to spread rapidly and within fifteen years had extended its authority all over Nejd.

After the death of Abdul Aziz, his son, Saud, ruled from 1803 through 1814. In 1803, Saud bin Abdul Aziz, provoked by the Sharif of Makkah, marched on the Holy City and took it. There he and his men performed Hajj. The Saudi Kingdom now stretched from Nejd to Hasa in the west and south towards Najran.

Such an increase in authority was not to pass unchallenged. The Turkish Empire concluded that action must be taken and invited Muhammad Ali, the Viceroy of Egypt (which at that time fell within the Ottoman sphere of influence) to dismantle the work of Muhammad bin Saud, his son and grandson, and to put an end to the emerging nation.

Before Saud bin Abdul Aziz died in 1814 (1230 AH), Muhammad Ali had retaken the Hijaz.

Saud's successor, his son Abdullah (who ruled until 1818), was unable to halt the Egyptian advance. Ad-Dar'iyah was taken and Abdullah bin Saud removed to Istanbul where his captors executed him. Riyadh was captured in 1818.

From 1818 to 1824, the Ottoman Empire maintained a few garrisons in Nejd, as a gesture of their dominance. Thus, the first temporary decline in the House of Saud occurred.

Within a few years, however, the fortunes of the House of Saud were to revive. In 1824, Turki, a cousin of Saud bin Abdul Aziz, assumed the Amirship of Nejd. In the course of his rule (1824 to 1834), Turki, retook Riyadh and continued the Saudi drive for consolidation of the area.

In 1834, Turki was assassinated. Turki's eldest son, Faisal, defeated the assassin and became Imam. Faisal bin Turki refused to acknowledge the Viceroy of Egypt. The Viceroy, Muhammad Ali, was not prepared to see his earlier victories so quickly reversed.

In 1838, Egyptian forces defeated Faisal bin Turki, retaking the Nejd. Faisal was taken captive and sent to Cairo. Later, when Muhammad Ali declared Egypt's independence from the Ottoman Empire and was forced to withdraw his troops stationed in Nejd in order to support his own position in Egypt, Faisal bin Turki escaped from Cairo (after five years of captivity) returning home and resuming his reign which lasted till 1865. By then, the House of Saud once more controlled most of Nejd and Hasa.

On Faisal's death, however, Saudi fortunes declined once more. Disagreements between the sons of Faisal weakened the House of Saud. At the same time, a tribal leader of the Shammar, Muhammad bin Rashid, based in Hail, created a strong political body which rapidly covered the greater part of Nejd, and by 1871, after concluding a pact with Turkey, captured Al-Hasa.

In 1889 (1307 AH), a younger son of Faisal, Abdul Rahman bin Faisal, managed to confirm the rule of the Saudi dynasty by assuming the leadership of the family. At that time, the authority of the Saudi family centered on Riyadh but, in 1891 (1309 AH), the House of Saud faced a further set-back. Muhammad bin Rashid completed his control of Nejd by capturing Riyadh, the citadel of the House of Saud. Abdul Rahman was forced to leave the city. He settled for months with the Al-Murrah tribes at the Great Waste, in the outskirts of the Rub al-Khali, the Empty Quarter, accompanied by his son, Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud), the future King of Arabia

Eventually he left for Bahrain, to gather his family, and then went to Kuwait to live there in exile

Modern Century History

The history of modern Saudi Arabia begins in the year 1902 when Abdul Aziz Al-Sa'ud and a band of his followers captured the city of Riyadh, returning it to the control of his family.

The story for his recapture of Riyadh is well-know. The difficulties of taking Riyadh with so small a force were obvious and intimidating. Abdul Aziz asked for volunteers to accompany him in the execution of a plan which seemed to have only its boldness to recommend it. With forty of his devoted friends, he left Kuwait in December 1901 and reached Riyadh in January. The account of Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud)'s assault on the Masmak fort and his retaking of Riyadh from the Rashid is perhaps the most dramatic of all the stories of modern Arabia. In its daring and determination, it was a sure indication of the true character of the man who was to found the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was in fact the point of departure from which he began his campaign. His battles and conquests were many including the recapture of Jeddah and Madinah. He spent 31 years in continuous struggle from the time he left Riyadh until he succeeded in reuniting the Kingdom under the system of Tawheed (monotheism).

Abdul Aziz was born about 1880 and spent the early years of his life with his father in exile in Kuwait. After the capture of Riyadh, he spent the next twelve years consolidating his conquests in the area around Riyadh and the eastern part of the country from where the Turks were expelled.

The Arab tribes had never liked the Turks and they were only too willing to listen to a new ruler whose ambitions were aided considerably by the troubles of the Ottoman Empire.

On the 23rd of September 1932, the lands under the control of Abdul Aziz were renamed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in 1936 a treaty was signed with Yemen marking the southern borders of the Kingdom.

The main preoccupations of Abdul Aziz were the consolidation of his power and the restoration of law and order to all parts of his recently created kingdom. To these ends, he developed a system whereby every Sheikh was responsible for his own tribe under the authority of the king who was empowered to intervene to impose law and order. It was clearly understood that internal anarchy within the Kingdom could quickly lead to foreign intervention. And all were agreed that this was unacceptable.

King Abdul Aziz died in November 1953 after more than half a century as leader and king. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud bin Abdul Aziz, who devoted a great deal of time to fostering the Kingdom's relations with its neighbors.

His reign saw solid achievements in the field of education, social services as well as the expansion of the Holy Places in Makkah and Madinah. There were, however, some financial difficulties during Saud's kingship which resulted in the Crown Prince, Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, introducing austerity measures which were aimed at putting the Kingdom on a solid financial base.

King Saud abdicated after 11 years in favour of his brother the Crown Prince. King Faisal continued the programs of reorganisation and reform, following the policy of 'change -- but slowly'. This of course created a firm basis upon which the central government and administration rested.


The main objective of King Faisal's reign was development of the Kingdom's resources. The First Development Plan was introduced during his reign, in 1969/70. Although there were constraints within the plan, it did clearly indicate the Kingdom's importance as a leading financial power in the Islamic world and also in the international economy as a major oil producer.


King Khalid was the fourth King of Saudi Arabia, reigning from 1975 to 1982. Khalid succeeded to the throne on the death of King Faisal. Khalid who, like his father was most at home in the desert, assumed his new and heavy responsibilities with dignity. He already had considerable experience of government, having served as Governor of the Hijaz from 1932 to 1934 and as Minister of the Interior (appointed 1934).

As King, and with Fahd at his side as First Deputy Premier, Khalid achieved much in both domestic and foreign policy, despite a heart condition which would have deterred a less committed individual from such strenuous and stressful activity. Not long after his accession, Khalid launched the second Five Year Plan which set in train much of the infrastructural development on which the future health and prosperity of the Kingdom was to depend. He involved himself in the intractable Lebanese civil war; he convened the historic summit of Arab nations in Taif and the Holy City of Makkah in 1981; and he inaugurated the Gulf Co-operation Council in the same year.

King Fahd, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, was the fifth King of Saudi Arabia.

King Fahd has brought to his high office a wide range of experience in a number of key posts. He was appointed the first Saudi Arabian Minister of Education in 1953. He served at that Ministry for five years, laying the foundations for the Kingdom's ambitious and successful educational program. He became Minister of the Interior in 1962, holding this key position for thirteen years - in the course of which he ensured the Ministry could discharge all its functions as efficiently as any such organization in the world. In 1975, when he became Crown Prince, he had, with consummate grasp of the complexities of the task, undertaken the supervision of both the planning and the implementation of the Kingdom's second and subsequent five year plans.

It has been, however, in the field of international diplomacy, that Fahd bin Abdul Aziz as king has made his greatest contribution. Working tirelessly, he has brought to bear on the intractable problems of the region his own remarkable subtlety of mind combined with great tenacity of purpose to find, whenever possible, peaceful solutions, based on justice. In the pursuit of this goal, he was always ready to deploy the status and the resources of the Kingdom. 

King Fahd died on 1st August, 2005. He was succeeded by Crown Prince Abdullah. 

In August, 2005, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, formerly Crown Prince, became the sixth King of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Prime Minister. He remained head of the Kingdom's National Guard which he has commanded since 1962. Born in Riyadh in 1924, he was given a formal religious education. 

Throughout his long public life, HRH Crown Prince Abdullah has exerted a major influence on both the domestic and foreign policy of the Kingdom.

King Abdullah has added to his early education at the royal court with extensive reading of history, politics and social affairs. His years spent with the Bedouin in the desert reinforced in him the traditional Bedouin values of honor, generosity, simplicity and courage. 

From the early years of his manhood, he has been closely involved in events inside the Kingdom, invaluable experience not only for dealing with the internal affairs of the Kingdom but also for the role he has played on the wider stage of international affairs.

He has visited most of the Kingdom's allies and has used his good offices to mediate in negotiations between other Arab states. 

The appointment in 1962 of the then Crown Prince Abdullah as head of the National Guard (formed originally from the descendants of those who fought alongside King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud) to consolidate the Kingdom) was particularly appropriate in view of his intimate knowledge of the tribes of the Kingdom and his love of the desert and its traditions. 

Since his appointment, the King has transformed the National Guard into not only an effective modern military force but also a unique social and cultural institution. He has played a particularly noteworthy role in preserving and celebrating the cultural heritage of the Kingdom. 

A major element in the preservation of the Kingdom's heritage is the annual National Heritage and Cultural Festival, inaugurated in 1985, and held in Jenadriyah. With the King as its patron, the Festival which includes folksong, dance and literary events, attracts visitors from all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

As Crown Prince, Abdullah was appointed Second Deputy Prime Minister in 1975 on the succession of King Khalid and, when King Fahd succeeded to the throne in 1982, was named Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister. 

In his capacity as First Deputy Prime Minister, Crown Prince Abdullah presided over cabinet meetings in the absence of the King.