In 1902, King Abdulaziz’s successful capture of Riyadh stood as a pivotal moment in the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
This landmark event marked the inception of a new chapter in which King Abdulaziz dedicated himself to safeguarding the borders of his state from formidable powers that encircled it from all directions.
The founding king dealt with these powers with strength and wisdom, capitalizing on events and circumstances to benefit his homeland.
In an interview, Asharq Al-Awsat asked Princess Dr. Jawaher bint Abdul Mohsen bin Abdullah bin Jiluwi Al Saud about the circumstances that surrounded the emergence of Saudi Arabia and how King Abdulaziz dealt with them.
“The achievements of King Abdulaziz, spanning two decades, began with his recapture of Riyadh in 1902,” asserted Princess Jawaher.
“This event effectively encircled him, with the Arabian territories to the north and west under Ottoman control, local powers governing central Arabia, and British presence to the east and south,” she added.
“Arab tribes, which played a pivotal role in the region’s security, were either allies under strong governance used against adversaries, or potential threats if mismanaged.”
“King Abdulaziz had to navigate these complex dynamics, constantly concerned about the resurgence of Saudi power and its expanding influence, as had been the case during his ancestor's reign at the dawn of the 19th century AD,” explained Princess Jawaher.
In 1915, Britain initiated covert negotiations with Sharif Makkah Hussein bin Ali, known as the “Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.”
According to Princess Jawaher, Britain committed to establishing an independent Arab state under the leadership of Sharif Hussein and pledged full protection against external threats.
“In return, Sharif Hussein vowed to support the armed revolt against the Ottoman Turks in the Arab territories,” clarified the Princess.
The correspondence had unveiled tensions in the relationship between King Abdulaziz and Sharif Hussein.
Sharif Hussein had sought the participation of Najdi forces in the Arab Revolt, but King Abdulaziz, while openly supporting the Arab cause, refrained from direct involvement despite his strong aversion to the Ottoman Turks and their colonial ambitions in the region.
“King Abdulaziz foresaw that his relationship with Sharif Hussein might eventually escalate into an armed conflict, especially considering Sharif's potential exploitation of the Arab Revolt to declare himself the ruler of all Arabs,” elaborated Princess Jawaher.
Meanwhile, the British government found Sharif Hussein’s declaration perplexing, given the presence of other rulers exercising authority not subordinate to him in the region.
Consequently, they recognized him as the ruler of the Hejaz but were cautious about acknowledging his sovereignty over the broader Arab territories.
“King Abdulaziz realized that self-reliance was the key to exerting influence independently, immune to the sway of local events and the agendas of foreign powers,” revealed Princess Jawaher.
“He aimed to strike a delicate balance between international powers and local objectives, a contrast to Arab rulers and leaders of Arab associations who sought solutions to their Arab cause within the intricacies of British and French colonial politics,” she clarified.
Many underestimated the birth of political entities resistant to colonization, which emerged as the 20th century unfolded. This oversight was compounded by the dynamics of the two World Wars.
As for how did Britain deal with the tension between the Saudis and the Sharifs, Princess Jawaher said: “Britain was faced with the challenge of managing the strained relations between the House of Saud and the Sharifs, a conflict rooted in the historical rivalry between the rulers of the First Saudi State and the Sharifs.”
“This rivalry resurfaced in the case of Khurma, a small village that only entered the historical record after a competition for its sovereignty between King Abdulaziz and Sharif Hussein.”
The spark that ignited hostilities between them dated back to 1910, when Sharif Hussein captured Prince Saad bin Abdulrahman, the younger brother of King Abdulaziz, while he was on a mission.
Sharif Hussein refused to release him without two conditions: recognizing Ottoman rule over Al-Qassim and paying the annual tax to the Ottomans, which King Abdulaziz had stopped paying for several years.
A period of relative calm ensued due to negotiations and King Abdulaziz’s preoccupation with domestic affairs.
“Sharif Hussein resumed provocative actions aimed at provoking King Abdulaziz,” revealed Princess Jawaher, adding that “he launched unsuccessful attacks on Khurma, despite Britain instructing him to refrain from provoking King Abdulaziz.”
Simultaneously, King Abdulaziz received word of the British government’s displeasure with his defiance of Sharif Hussein and the necessity of ending military operations against the Hashemites and relinquishing control of Khurma.
“However, King Abdulaziz did not heed these threats and remained determined to counter Sharif Hussein’s encroachments on his territories,” asserted Princess Jawaher.
King Abdulaziz expressed his displeasure with Sharif Hussein’s actions and the language used by British authorities in their ultimatum.
“This prompted Britain to convene the First Middle Eastern Circles Conference in London on March 10, 1919, to reconsider its policy towards the Arab region and determine its stance on the conflict between Sharif Hasan and King Abdulaziz,” said Princess Jawaher.