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Thursday, March 31, 2022

The House of Saud

Yours truly in his apartment in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, reading "The House of Saud"


The last time I read "The House of Saud" was in my apartment in Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That was in 1983 and so, having long forgotten what I read then, I pulled the book back off the shelf today and started reading it again.

It's a brilliant, well researched, and valuable historical record about the founding of the Kingdom of Saud, [Saudi Arabia], with detailed accounts of its early dealings with the USA, Britain, what now is Turkey, and other Arab nations, and how it grew from a small desert tribe, into a powerful and obscenely wealthy Islamic state. The authors also give readers insight into the Shiite disturbances that began in the 1970s culminating in the seizure of the Grand Mosque, and the bloodshed that followed.

As it says in the book's blurb, "At Riyadh, in 1902 the Desert Raider Ibn Saud [Abdul Aziz] tossed the head of the town governor from a parapet down to his followers below ... thus was the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia founded. Two-thirds of the size of India, it holds a quarter of the world’s oil and has six times more overseas assets than the USA. A land of desert unchanged for centuries, with wealth and power to make the world tremble ... the domain of the House of Saud."


Read it online at www.archive.org


Originally born of isolated Bedouin tribes of the desert, the House of Saud attaches great importance to the purity of the bloodline. Marriages between first cousins, or equivalent relations, are preferred, or else carefully selected partners of equal status and purity in another tribe ... To quote from the book:

"As Islam permits each man to keep four wives at any one time, and as divorce is made easy for males under Koranic law, so that the magic number of four can be multiplied many times over in one man’s life, this custom begot not only large numbers of children by a single father, but also an immense ramification of family and tribal inter-relationships through several generations. Nephews married aunts, uncles were wedded to nieces and their children married each other to form a close-knit and, to the outsider, impenetrable mesh."

At the time of writing, the authors estimate that with about 500 princes descending from Abdul Aziz, together with wives, daughters and collateral branches of the family, 'the House of Saud cannot number less than 20,000 people.' The number of Abdul Aziz' wives has never been officially computed but official records show that he fathered 45 sons from 22 different women. In addition there were at least as many daughters from an even wider range of women, including no doubt some unacknowledged mothers among the various concubines and slave girls, not to forget 'wives of the night' whom it was customary [and still is] for Arabian men to enjoy whenever the opportunity arose. All they had to do was to 'marry' the woman or girl for as many hours as they desired, then divorce her by saying 'I divorce you'. Today, many women and girls are kidnapped from Yemen, and other surrounding Arab nations, for the purposes of this euphemism for a 'one night stand'.

In Islamic countries, the Koran and its inherent sharia law, or path to follow, supplies a total and explicit moral code but in Saudi Arabia it is even more than that. It remains there, the only recognised and enforceable code of law, so that the country is held in a '1300-year-old corset of town and desert morality that is deemed to be universally and eternally applicable.' This desert morality is upheld and brutally enforced by Wahhabism:

"In the middle of the eighteenth century, in what now must be regarded as the most fateful meeting of minds in Arabia since the time of Muhammad, Sheikh Muhammad bin Saud, ruler of Diriya, and great, great grandson of Mani, the first identifiable Saudi ancestor, gave shelter to an itinerant preacher of Nejd, named Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab. The preacher was a Muslim 'revivalist' and the world of Islam by then was much in need of rejuvenation and reform ... Abdul Wahhab was a true zealot, come to cleanse the 'stinking stables of Arabia' once more with the Word of God. But the Word of God proved insufficient for the task. Like the Prophet, Abdul Wahhab needed a sword as well – and to his eternal joy, he found one in Muhammad bin Saud and his family ... Although Muhammad bin Saud was only one of the numerous quarrelling Nejdi sheikhs at the time, little more important than the rest, he evidently grasped that a man who had a message would give him an edge over all his rivals, enabling him to unite Bedouin and townsfolk in a new jihad to extend his personal dominion ...

... Accordingly, in 1744 Muhammad bin Saud married off his son, Abdul Aziz, to a daughter of the preacher and thus sealed a compact between the two families that has been continued unbroken by their descendants ever since ... Contemporary Saudi Arabia, for all its money and the new corruption and idolatry that wealth has encouraged, remains in theory and to a surprising extent in practice, a Wahhabist state, officially dedicated to the preservation of pure Islam as propounded by Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab."

The book takes the story of the House of Saud and of Saudi Arabia only up to 1979 and Juhaiman bin Muhammed Utaibi's crazed attempt to seize the shrine at Mecca but it remains relevant.

The authors - one of whom, David Holden, was murdered execution-style in Cairo, Egypt, in 1977, click here - seemed to think that the 'regime' had little chance of long-term survival, yet here we are, forty-five years later, with the House of Saud still an arbiter, if not the arbiter, of much of Middle Eastern politics.

And here I am, forty years later, still amazed at how I survived those lonely years in the world's largest sandbox, and still reading about it.

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