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Near East Kingdoms

Arabic States


House of Su'ud / Saud (Arabia)
AD 1735 - 1932
Incorporating Saudi Ad-Dar'iyah (1735-1891), First Saudi State (1744-1822), & Second Saudi State (1824-1887)

The first historical mention of Arabs from the southern deserts occurred in 853 BC. Subsequent regional changes allowed Arab groups to migrate northwards to create two kingdoms - the first of their kind - in the form of Kedar and Nabataea, while the Arabs of the southern desert largely remained tribal for another half a millennium.

Only a few cities were formed in the first millennium BC or the first half of the first millennium AD, generally on the western or eastern coastal edges of the Arabian peninsula. Then the prophet Muhammed was born in Mecca around AD 570 and went on to found the Islamic empire in the early seventh century. The empire quickly expanded far and wide, but then soon fractured as competing interests vied for superiority.

By the tenth century AD the cities of Mecca and Medina in particular had become notable to Arabs. Both lie in the gap along the Arabian Red Sea coast between Hijaz Mountains to the north and the Asir Mountains to the south. Now they came under the control of the sharif of Mecca, while much of the rest of Arabia devolved back into a largely nomadic tribal existence from the height of its brief imperial peak.

Into that background emerged the Arabic Su'ud (or Saud) tribe, which is named after its founder, Saud, father of Muhammad I bin Saud, emir of Diriyya. When Muhammad secured control of the emirate in 1735 he kickstarted a process of development. His followers and family would undergo various trials and dips in form over the subsequent two centuries, but would rarely be out of power.

Muhammad's small but mainly independent Saudi state began to expand its borders in the eighteenth century as Ottoman control faded in effectiveness. The state was known as Ad-Dar'iyah or al-Diriyah, based on its origins around Diriyya. It pushed against regional opposition with varying degrees of success, and in two separate incarnations - the 'First Saudi State' and the 'Second Saudi State' - but it was effectively subjugated in 1887. Even so, it laid the basis for the creation of an independent Saudi kingdom in modern Arabia.

Arabs of the ancient world

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1979), from Ancient Assyria, C H W Johns (Cambridge University Press, 2012), from Arabians in Mesopotamia during the late-Assyrian, Chaldean, Achaemenian and Hellenistic Periods, R Zadok (ZDMG 131, 1981), from The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia, Trevor Bryce, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabataeans, Jane Taylor (2001), from The Rulers of Mecca, Gerald de Gaury (George G Harrap & Co, 1991), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Livius, and Saudi Arabia (Rulers.org), and Bahá'í Library.)

? - 1735


Founder of the dynasty. Father of the first emir.


Muhammad I bin Saud, son of Saud, gains the emirate of Diriyya (on the north-western edge of Riyadh in eastern-central Arabia) from Zaid bin Markhan. The town becomes his powerbase, and soon serves as the first capital of his expanded emirate.

Arab Revolt 1916-1918
This photo of Arab fighters of the revolt of 1916-1918 is probably not too different to the appearance of the Saudi Arabs of the mid-eighteenth century, albeit without the rifles

1735 - 1765

Muhammad I bin Saud / Ibn Saud

Son. Founder and first emir of Diriyya.


The emerging power of Muhammad ibn Saud unites with a religious leader named Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab in Nejd in western-central Arabia, just across the Tuwaiq Mountains range from Riyadh.

Wahhab is the proponent of a radical form of Islam, something which forms the basis of Saudi dynastic rule from this point onwards but which is rejected by just about all other Muslims. Together they forge a small, expanded Saudi state (otherwise known as the 'First Saudi State') which is based around Riyadh. It pushes outwards from there.

Such is the displeasure in Muslim circles in regard to Wahhabism that Masud ibn Said, grand sharif of Mecca, refuses permission for Wahhabis to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The qadhi of Mecca publicly denounces them as infidels.

1752 - 1770

Masaad ibn Said, the new grand sharif of Mecca, renews the ban on Wahhabis from making the pilgrimage to Mecca. The ban remains effective until April 1770, setting the Wahhabi-supporting Saudis apart from other Muslims.

Mecca and the Great Mosque
Mecca and the Great Mosque are shown here, also illustrating the long queues of pilgrims entering it in a scene which is repeated every year, even in the modern age

1765 - 1803

Abd al-Aziz I / Abdul Aziz

Son. Assassinated by a Shia from Iraq.


The grand sharif of Mecca, Ahmad ibn Said, denies the Wahhabis permission to send a group of holy men to negotiate for approval to make the pilgrimage, effectively continuing the ban on Saudis entering Mecca.


When Sarur ibn Masaad becomes grand sharif of Mecca, his conditions are so expensive that the Wahhabis and Saudis refuse to comply. Sarur's second successor from 1788, Ghalib ibn Masaad, also denies the Wahhabis permission to make the pilgrimage.


Grand Sharif Ghalib begins a fifteen year-long effort to subdue the puritanical Wahhabis and their Saudi supporters. The first six-month campaign under Gahlib's brother, Abdul Aziz ibn Masaad, reaches Anaiza in the Qasim province of central Arabia.

A second raid under Abdul Aziz produces an extended occupation of al Sha'ara in al Qasim. Other raids serve to restore order in Taraba, Ranya, and Bisha. In 1797, Ghalib participates in a fight against the Wahhabis which is so fierce that two thousand are killed, including more than forty sharifs, and Ghalib is forced to withdraw to Mecca. Even an Ottoman force which is sent out in 1797 fails to produce lasting change (admittedly the Ottomans are occupied by the Second Russo-Persian War of 1787-1792).

Russian troops of the Second Russo-Turkish War in 1787
The Second Russo-Persian War in 1787-1792 witnessed a continuation of imperial Russia's push to extend its borders southwards at the expense of the weakening Muslim powers

1799 - 1801

Ghalib arranges a temporary truce with the Wahhabis in 1799, and a pilgrimage caravan is permitted across Nejd, being escorted part of the way by the Saudi emir himself, Abd al-Aziz I. This takes place in 1800, but in the following year the Wahhabis violate the truce by capturing Hali on the Red Sea coast, sacking Kerbela in Iraq, and attacking the Iranian pilgrimage.

1802 - 1803

Ghalib recaptures Hali and placed a small garrison there but, in 1802, the Saudi emir overwhelms the garrison. Ghalib's brother-in-law, Othman al Madhaifi, secretly plots with the Saudi ruler, securing a promise to be made emir of Mecca and the tribes of Taif.

Othman captures Taif and Qunfidha on the coast and the Saudi emir advances on Mecca. All pretence has been dropped and warfare is now open against the Ottomans and Mecca's grand sharif. In May 1803, Ghalib withdraws with his troops to Jedda. The Wahhabis enter the city, maintaining good order as they take control.

1803 - 1814

Su'ud I / Saud I

Son. Annexed Ottoman Mecca & Madinah. Died of fever.


While they are lenient, the Wahhabis introduce their severe practices, prohibiting smoking and the wearing of silken clothing and requiring regular prayer. Abdul Muin, brother of former Grand Sharif Ghalib ibn Masaad, is made acting governor.

However, when the Saudis besiege Jedda for eleven days and fail to take it, they withdraw to Nejd, allowing Ghalib to retake Mecca. He is allowed by the Saudis to remain in command as long as Wahhabis are exempted from customs duties at Jedda.

Arabian scholars of the nineteenth century
Unidentified Saudi scholars from the nineteenth century - figures second and fourth from left have in many articles mistakenly been identified as Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab even though he passed away in 1792, prior to the very invention of photography (photo courtest Bahai Library)


Despite the agreement with Ghalib, Su'ud I continues to attack some of the less compliant tribes. The Harb in particular offer fierce resistance against Saudi attacks, while the Bani Subh of the Harb even avoid surrender, taking to the mountains. The other tribes - and also the city of Medina - surrender in 1804.

1814 - 1819

Abdallah / Abdullah

Son. Fought off his uncle. Executed by the Ottomans.

1818 - 1822

Unable to spare forces to retake Mecca and Medina in the Hijaz themselves, the Ottomans send Muhammed Ali Pasha, viceroy of Egypt to destroy the Saudi state, although he has already commanded over several years of hostilities in Arabia. He does so in a merciless campaign which ends with the siege of Diriyya.

Emir Abdullah is executed and Arabia is temporarily occupied by the pasha's forces. However, the garrisons in Arabia are unable to prevent the rise of a new Saudi state under a cousin of Abdullah who has taken refuge in the desert to avoid the Ottoman purge of his family.

1822 - 1834


Son. Founded 'Second Saudi State'. Ruled in Najd. Killed.


The 'Second Saudi Sate' is formed, smaller and more circumspect than before, although it still manages to secure Riyadh as its capital (with Diriyya having been destroyed by Muhammed Ali Pasha, viceroy of Egypt). Turki faces strong rivalry from another Arabic family, the Al Rashid (the Rashidis), who vie with him for regional superiority.


Qasim al-Ahmad seizes Jerusalem after leading his forces from Nablus during an Arab revolt in Palestine. Less than a month later, Jerusalem is captured along with Damascus by Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt (between May and June) on behalf of Muhammad Ali Pasha.

Despite being the favoured residence of the mütesarrifs of Jerusalem, Ramla was not especially well-developed in the nineteenth century outside the residence itself

They are annexed to Egypt and Jerusalem subsequently operates on an autonomous basis. The Ottomans retain only nominal suzerainty. The relative freedom in the city now allows the first foreign consulates to be founded, and four Jewish synagogues are given permission to be renovated soon afterwards (in 1836).



Distant cousin. Killed predecessor. Held power only briefly.

1834 - 1838

Faysal I / Faisal I

Son of Turki. Killed Mushari. Removed and imprisoned.

1838 - 1843

Muhammed Ali of Egypt re-occupies Arabia. Faysal is transported to Egypt along with other members of the Saudi family, so a senior surviving member of the family becomes the preferred candidate to head the Saudi tribe in Arabia.

1838 - 1841

Khalid I

Vassal of Egypt. Supported by Egyptian governor of Arabia.

1841 - 1843

Abdallah II

Vassal of Egypt. Seized control from Khalid.


Faysal I manages to escape from captivity in Cairo, capital of Muhammed Ali's Egypt, and returns to reclaim his rightful position in Arabia for the next twenty-two years. This is a markedly weaker emirate, however.

1843 - 1865

Faysal I / Faisal I

Restored. His death led to family in-fighting.

1843 - 1851

Muhammad ibn Abdul Muin, emir and grand sharif of Mecca for the second time, attacks Diriyya, making the province of al Qasim, to the north of Riyadh, autonomous from Diriyya itself. The act also forces Faisal I to pay tribute. Even more so, it enables a sheikh of the Abda division of the Shammar tribe to detach his people from Diriyya, forming the emirate of Jebel Shammar, with its capital at Ha'il.

The historic site of Diriyah (Diriyya), the first Saudi capital
The historic site of Diriyah (Diriyya), the first Saudi capital, preserves the remains of this important site following its initial abandonment in 1818 (the modern settlement exists alngside it)

1865 - 1871

Abdallah III

Son. Lost power.


Su'ud II / Saud II

Half-brother. Revolted against Abdallah. Overthrown.

1871 - 1873


Uncle. Son of Turki. Removed from power.

1873 - 1875

Su'ud II / Saud II

Regained power. Died.

1875 - 1887

Abdallah III

Restored. Later a governor under the Rashidis (1887-1889).


Muhammad II

Son of Su'ud II.


The Rashidis of Jebel Shammar are ascendant in central Arabia, reducing the Saudis from emirs to to the position of governor. Jebel Shammar conquers the remnants of Diriyya. Keeping an eye on all this regional bickering is the sharif of Mecca & Hijaz who continues to hold pre-eminence in the region now that the Saudis have been reduced.

1887 - 1889

Abdallah III

Restored to power, but now as governor.

1889 - 1891

Abd al-Rahman

Brother of Muhammad. Governor. Exiled to Kuwait.


Muhammad III

Governor. Removed from office and exiled.

1891 - 1902

The Rashidis instigate direct rule in central Arabia in 1891, ending the need for local governors and forcing the Saudis into exile. From that exile, Abdul Aziz recaptures Riyadh in 1902 and becomes emir, effectively kick-starting the process which will lead to the formation of a fully independent kingdom in 1932.

Demolishing the walls of Riyadh in 1950
The walled city of Riyadh became the Saudi capital in 1824 and again in 1892, although its walls were demolished in 1950, as shown here


The question of a homeland for the Jewish Diaspora is gaining international recognition, helped on by the founding of a political form of Zionism (Jewish support for the creation of a Jewish homeland) and the first meeting of the World Zionist Congress in this year, held in Basel in Switzerland. The impression of the mütesarrifate of Jerusalem as an emerging country in its own right begins to grow in the mind of educated Arabs in the region.

1902 - 1932

Abd al-Aziz II / Abdul Aziz

Son of al-Rahman. Emir (1902). In Hijaz (1926) & Najd (1927).

1916 - 1918

The Arab Revolt against the Ottoman empire is led by Hashemite Mecca & Hijaz, together with British Army officer T E Lawrence and backed by the British 'Egyptian Expeditionary Force'. Lawrence manages to combine the power of several Arab tribes to drive the Ottoman forces north in a series of campaigns in coordination with the main British military force.

Once the Arabs capture Damascus they secure a semblance of power (which is well depicted in the feature film, Lawrence of Arabia). In subsequent bargaining with the British who now control the overall region, the Hashemites under King Husayn claim Hijaz and Greater Syria.

Arab Revolt
With the Ottoman empire fading in power and prestige, the time was ripe for the Arab Revolt, led by the Hashemites and T E Lawrence

1925 - 1932

King Husayn and his son are overthrown in Hijaz. The Saudi tribe's Abdul Aziz, emir of Riyadh, declares himself king of the Hijaz in 1926, and king of Najd in 1927. The two kingdoms, which cover western Arabia and central Arabia respectively, are united in 1932 as the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
AD 1932 - Present Day

The modern Saudi-ruled kingdom of Arabia encompasses the southern parts of the former Kedarite kingdom of the first millennium BC. To the west it borders Egypt (across the narrow Gulf of Aqaba), to the north Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait, to the east Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates, and to the south Oman and Yemen (with a mostly undefined border).

The powerful Rashidis had instigated direct rule in central Arabia in 1891. They had already subjugated the Saudi emirate of Diriyya, demoting its independent emir into a regional governor, but now the Saudis were forced into exile. From that exile, Abdul Aziz II captured Riyadh in 1902 to turn the tables on the Rashidis. He effectively kickstarted the process which would lead to the formation of a fully independent kingdom in 1932.

Before that, Abd al-Aziz (or ibn Saud) became emir of Nejd in 1902, once he had swept aside the Rashidis, then sultan of Nejd in 1921, king of Hijaz in 1926 following its occupation, and king of Nejd in 1927. Taking Hijaz effectively united much of Arabia under one ruler, albeit in the form of two distinct kingdoms. In 1932, he formally united his two kingdoms into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. His official title, and that of his successors, was and is malik al-mamlaka al-'Arabiyya as-Sa'ūdiyya.

The kingdom is ruled as an absolute monarchy, much against the grain of modern western politics but in line with Arabic practice. In 1986, King Fahd took the title 'Khadim al-Haramayn al-Sharifayn' ('Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques') to indicate his protection of the two most holy sacred Muslim sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which were seized from the Hashemites in 1925.

Saudi Arabia quickly became one of the world's major oil-producing countries in the twentieth century, making big margins on production and exploration even during economic recessions. This put it in a powerful position on the world stage and caused country's pace of life to accelerate rapidly. The constant flow of pilgrims to Mecca and Medina had always provided the country with outside contacts, but interaction with the outside world has greatly expanded though modern innovation. Traditional nomadism has been almost entirely replaced with highly intensive patterns of urban land use. More than eighty percent of Saudi Arabia's total population lived in cities by 2023, and almost all of the rest were in government-supported agricultural enterprises.

The royal family has been accused of squandering and mishandling the country's wealth, however. In addition, civil discontent has increased following the First Gulf War (1990-1991) over the country's close ties to the west, to an extent symbolised by the stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia until 2005.

Arabs of the ancient world

(Information by Peter Kessler and the John De Cleene Archive, with additional information from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1979), from National Public Radio (USA, first broadcast on 30 August 2019), from New York Times (4 December 2000), from Times Atlas of World History (Maplewood, 1979), from Washington Post (2 January 1996, 7 January 1996, and 26 September 1998, plus Bombings at Yemeni mosques kill scores (21 March 2015), Saudi Arabia launches strikes in Yemen as rebels advance (26 March 2015), Egypt poised to join offensive (27 March 2015), In Yemen, crisis, risk of wider war (28 March 2015), and Saudi Arabia says it is scaling back Yemen campaign (22 April 2015)), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Iranica, and Livius, and Saudi Arabia (Rulers.org), and Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB), and Saudi Arabia (Zárate's Political Collections (ZPC)), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

1932 - 1952

Abd al-Aziz II / Abdul Aziz / Ibn Saud

Founded the Saudi kingdom. King of Najd & Hijaz.

1938 - 1941

Vast reserves of oil are discovered in the Al-Hasa region of Arabia. Production begins in 1941 and is in full swing within a decade, bringing unforeseen huge amounts of wealth to the kingdom.

Founding of the United Nations
In San Francisco, USA, in summer 1945, representatives of fifty countries signed the United Nations charter to establish a new, international body which was tasked with upholding the human rights of citizens the world over


Representatives of fifty countries gather at the 'United Nations Conference on International Organization' in California's San Francisco, USA, between 25 April and 26 June 1945. In that time they draft and then sign the UN charter, which creates this new international organisation. It is hoped that it will be able to prevent another world war like the one just ended. Saudi Arabia joins the United Nations on 24 October, the very first day of its official existence.

1948 - 1949

On the day following the proclamation of the creation of the state of Israel, the neighbouring Arab states of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria attack, prompting the start of the Arab-Israeli War. Saudi Arabia sends its own military contingent to support the Egyptians.

The war lasts for a year before a ceasefire is agreed. The Green Line is established - temporary borders which can be generally agreed by all sides. Egypt gains the Gaza Strip while Jordan controls East Jerusalem and the West Bank region, but an estimated 700,000 Palestinians have been expelled or have fled their homeland, mostly to enter southern Lebanon or Jordan.

Official declaration of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948
The white-haired, sixty-two year-old David Ben-Gurion proclaims the declaration of the creation of the state of Israel, doing so in the small art museum on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv in 1948

1953 - 1964

Su'ud III / Saud III

Son. Deposed.


Doubts over Su'ud's ability to rule, along with increasing rivalry from his half-brother, Faysal, lead to the king being deposed. Frequently acting in the role of prime minister (between 1954-1960 and again in 1962-1975), Faysal himself acts as regent between March to November 1964, until the king is deposed.

1964 - 1975

Faysal II / Faisal II

Half-brother. Assassinated.

1973 - 1975

The 'Oil Crisis' grips the industrialised world when the Arab oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, put pressure on the USA to withdraw its support of Israel by withholding oil supplies. The attempt eventually fails. King Faysal is assassinated by his nephew, Prince Faysal bin Musa-id, although it is his half-brother who succeeds him onto the throne.

1975 - 1982

Khalid II

Half-brother. Forged closer ties with the USA.


The Iranian revolution and the introduction of a hardline Islamic state there threatens Saudi Arabia's security, especially in the east (the location of the oil fields), where the possibility exists that a breakaway territory may form which could be absorbed by Iran. As a result, a more strict observance of Islam is enforced within Arabia. Fahd effects a good deal of control from behind the throne during Khalid's reign.

1982 - 2005


Brother. Suffered stroke in 1996. Died 01.08.

1990 - 1991

The First Gulf War is triggered when Kuwait is occupied by Iraq. A United Nations coalition army under the control of the USA is assembled in Saudi Arabia, and it forces out the Iraqis, causing them heavy losses.

First Gulf War 1990-1991
Following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi forces suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the popular alliance that removed it, but Kuwait itself also suffered damage that took time to repair

1996 - 2005


Half-brother. Fulfilled most of king's duties after stroke.

2005 - 2015


Former regent. King following the death of his brother.


A wave of popular protests against a deeply unpopular and dictatorial government in Tunisia forces the president to flee to Saudi Arabia where he is given asylum. The protests strike a chord in Arabs across North Africa and the Near East, and similar protests are triggered in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Yemen. Some protests are also voiced in Saudi Arabia, although on nothing like the scale seen elsewhere.


Prince Sultan

Brother. Crown prince 01.08.2005. Died of cancer 22.10.2011.


Prince Nayef

Brother. Named the new heir on 28.10.2011. Died 16.06.2012.

2015 - Present


Brother. Born 31.12.1935.



Half-Brother. Crown prince 23.01-29.04.2015. Replaced.


Saudi Arabia's new king, Salman, announces a major cabinet reshuffle at the end of April which puts in place a new generation to succeed him. As crown prince, the king appoints his nephew, the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The king's own son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is made deputy crown prince (an extremely powerful position), while the foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, is replaced.

Oil refinery in Saudi Arabia
The discovery of oil in Arabia brought great wealth to the ruling family and a rapid process of modernisation to the country

This latest reshuffle shows that Salman is firmly turning the page on his predecessor's era by pushing aside allies of the late monarch such as his half-brother Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz who, until Wednesday 29 April, had been crown prince.

2015 - 2017

Mohammed bin Nayef

Nephew of Salman. Crown prince from 29.04.2015. Replaced.


On 25 March 2015 the Houthi organisation, which is in control of the Yemeni government, continues its advance towards Aden. On this day, however, Saudi Arabia launches air strikes against them. Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, rival Yemeni president and former president, flees his own country.

One day later, on 26 March, Egypt joins the regional coalition against the Houthis, sending warships to the coast of Yemen. Saudi Arabia amasses 150,000 troops along the Yemeni border while Bahrain begins providing air forces to the anti-Houthi coalition, and Sudan prepares to join the coalition.

Mohammed bin Salman

Son of Salman. Crown prince from 20.06.2017.

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