I warn you that all revolutions betray their revolutionaries. George Danton sent his King to the guillotine in January of 1793. Then in April of 1794 Danton himself was shaved by the national razor on the chopping block. And the 1913 bargain which gave birth to the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was no different. Young Prince Abdulaziz (above) was determined to return his fundamentalist Sunni al Saud family to dominance in Arabia. So he made an alliance with the ultra orthodox Sunni fanatics of the “Ikhwan”, or “The Brotherhood”, headed by Sultan bin Bajad Al-Otaibi. Beginning in 1920, the Sultan sent his Ikhwan raiders against Abdulaziz's neighbors, to disrupt their trade and spread terror through random murder and destruction.
These shock troops were then followed by Abdulaziz's growing militia, gathering together the four parts of the Arabian peninsula under al Saud rule – in 1922 the great empty space of the Nejd, centered around Riayadh, followed by the Al-Hasar district along the Gulf of Arabia, and the mountainous Asir, bordering Yemen on the south, and finally in 1925 the highland Hejaz, or “the barrier”, which bordered the Red Sea coast and contained the port of Jeddah and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. But that brought al Saud borders up against Hashemite kingdoms of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Kuwait, supported by the the French and British empires And the Europeans demanded that Abdulaziz rein in his fanatics and forbid all cross border raids.
However the Brotherhood was financially dependent on raiding, and as a source of new brides for their warriors. Sultan Al-Otaibi accused Abdulaziz of betraying Islam and his pledge to spread their faith. . To assert their independence, the Ikhwan sent 1,500 men into Jordan and Kuwait. It took the British Royal Air Force to bomb the raiders back, killing perhaps a third of the Brotherhood warriors. The Ikhwan retaliated by massacring two Jordanian villages, killing 1,500 men women and children. At last, Abdulaziz was forced to go to war with his own shock troops.
Thirty miles beyond the town of Ha'il in central Arabia, rises the low hill of Sabilla. Here, in the spring of 1929 Abdulaziz marched his 30,000 man army, supported by machine guns, British armored cars and four RAF airplanes. Blocking their advance were the 10,000 man camel mounted Brotherhood army, led by Faisal Ad-Dawish.
On Friday morning, 29 March, 1929, Abdulaziz's troops tapped at the Ikhwan defenses, seeking a weakness. But when one of the al Saud units shifted their position, the Brotherhood warriors, convinced of their superiority, mistook the movement for a retreat. The fanatics launched a general assault, charging directly into the Saud machine guns and artillery. Five hundred of the Brotherhood were killed or wounded. The fanatics retreated and scattered, pursued by the al Saud militia. By the end of 1931 most of the warriors had surrendered, and leadership of Brotherhood, including Sultan Al-Otaibi, had been murdered. The Ikhawn rebellion crushed, or so it seemed. Now Abdulaziz's only remaining problem was that he was flat broke.
The largest sources of cash for the new state was the sale of Persian Gulf pearls and Haij tourism to Mecca. And because of the conservatism of Abdulaziz's religion – not shared by the majority of Muslims, even in his new kingdom - and his wars of expansion and the Ikhawn rebellion and the worldwide Great Depression, both of those incomes were down sharply. So in early May of 1932, Abdulaziz dispatched his personal adviser Fuad Bey Hamaza to London, looking for a loan of half a million pounds, in exchange for a lease to explore for oil in the Arabian peninsula . Fronting the trip was the King's younger brother, Faisal al Saud (above) , gaining experience in international negotiations. But these two Bedouin tribesmen were up against the very best civil servant warrior a modern western nation could produce - the Director General of the British Foreign Office, Sir Lancelot Oliphant
Oliphants had been in government service since 1141 when an Oliphant saved the Scottish King's life at the “battle of Winchester”. This particular Oliphant, Sir Lancelot (above), had served in the Foreign Office since 1905, starting in Persia. But until his talks with Faud and Faisal, Sir Lancelot's greatest claim to fame had been delivering the British declaration of war to the German ambassador on 4 August, 1914. Now, as he sat across the table from the al Sauds, he gave their loan request the diplomatic cold shoulder, speaking of “difficulties in this time of most stringent economy”
When Faud mentioned an American report suggesting there might be oil under the Saudi sands, Oliphant, responded that “British firms might hesitate to accept a report not drawn up by a British expert”. And then he delivered the diplomatic equivalent of a kick to the groin, saying that British firms did not wish to invest in “a little known country” such as Saudi Arabia. Poor, Sir Lancelot. He would be forever after known as “The diplomat who said 'No' to Saudi oil”. Of course, things were actually not that simple.
In Oliphant's back pocket was a report from British geologists that said there was no oil under Saudi Arabia. And looming over the Saudi request was the approaching $95.5 million interest payment on the $22 billion dollar WWI debt England owed to the United States. The new American Ambassador, Pittsburgh banker and Secretary of the Treasury for the previous 11 years, Andrew W. Mellon, had instructions to press for the full amount. But Mellon was also a major stock holder in Standard Oil, and was pressing the British to open the Persian Gulf to American oil companies, like Standard..
The Foreign Office had already decided, “we cannot embark on a dog-fight with the USA about oil.” In the end Sir Lancelot Olophant pulled off a little legerdemain, offering the U.S. the $95 million they owed, but only as collateral on future debts incurred in Britain – and only so long as the gold stayed in Britain. And the Saudi oil leases were left as low hanging fruit, for the American oil companies to gather up.
On 28 May, 1933, Abdulaziz sold oil concessions to Standard Oil Company of Southern California (SoCal), for a lot less than half a million pounds, but a royalty on every barrel produced. Five years later the company hit their first strike at Damman well Number 7, producing 2,000 barrels a day. The oil would continue to flow from that well for another 44 years, producing 32.5 million barrels in all. Eventually the royalites were so great, the al Saud's bought the entire company. Today all Saudi oil fields produce a near all time high of about 10 million barrels a day, and pump some $182 billion a year into the economy of Abdulaziz's son's kingdom. This time the less sophisticated force that was victorious. But that financial victory has not solved the al Saud's revolutionary problem.
To quote from an article in the Fall 2006 issue of “The Middle East Quarterly”, “Two distinct social groups emerged. The first, composed of young, often Western-educated technocrats... (who) sought to develop Saudi infrastructure...The second were ulema, who graduated from newly-established religious schools....these young ulema...sought to...Islamize all aspects of Saudi life...(they) regarded the House of Saud...at least rhetorically, as a potential leader...The House of Saud did not oppose this conception...so long as its prosecution did not threaten regime stability.” But, of course, that was inevitable.
It is no coincidence that the founder of al Qada, Osama bin Laden, was a member of the Saud family
And in 1979, when a week of bitter fighting was required to recapture the Grand Mosque in Mecca, 63 captured fanatics were publicly beheaded. But the al Saud family then gave the ulema even more money and power over life in Saudi Arabia. Thus it is no accident that the Saudi Royal Air Force has now joined the British Royal Air Force and the American Air Force in bombing the inheritors of the Ikhwan dream, Isis in Syria and Iraq, educated and funded by the grand and great grand children of King Abdulazizal al Saud (above).
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