The period between 1915 and 1927 witnessed conflicts in various parts of the world, most notably the outbreak of the First World War. The Arabian Peninsula, for its part, was experiencing a decisive transitional phase in its history.
During that time, the Peninsula passed through three important stages: The revolution against Turkish subordination in some of its parts, internal wars, and then the unification and stability under the founding king.
In this atmosphere, the Uqair Treaty was signed in 1915 and constituted the first basis for shaping the spirit and nature of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Britain.
Some historians describe it as a treaty of protection and influence, which is similar to other accords concluded by Britain with a number of Gulf States. However, King Abdulaziz at the time was very cautious and aware of the political game played by Westerners, especially Britain.
Fearing the expansion of the conflict of the great powers to the Arabian Peninsula during the First World War, King Abdulaziz wrote to his neighbors, including Mubarak in Kuwait, saying: “I see as the war has occurred, that we meet to deliberate, hoping that we agree on what will save the Arabs from its horrors, or we will ally with one of the countries to protect our rights and promote our interests.”
The Uqair Treaty is not like all other treaties concluded by Britain in the Gulf region. It is neither a protection pact nor an agreement of influence, but rather a treaty of mutual interests between two parties, each of which wants to protect its own interests.
The Treaty Clauses
The first clause included the British government’s recognition of Nejd, Al-Ahsa, Qatif and others (areas that belong to Saudi Arabia now) as “the countries of Ibn Saud and his fathers, and that the ruler nominates whoever succeeds after him, and that the candidate is not opposed to the British government in any way, especially with regard to this treaty.”
This specific item reflected the correct picture of the relationship between King Abdulaziz and Britain, which was based on the British government’s explicit recognition of the nascent state of King Abdulaziz.
The second clause stipulated that if “any attack occurs by a foreign country on the territories of Ibn Saud and his allies without consulting the British government… then Britain shall assist Ibn Saud after consulting with him.”
It is worth noting that King Abdulaziz did not ask for assistance from a foreign country from the date of the conquest of Riyadh in 1902 until the unification of the Saudi state.
In Clause 4, King Abdulaziz pledged not to sell any of the aforementioned regions to a foreign country without the approval of the British government, provided that this does not prejudice the country’s interests.
In the fifth clause, Ibn Saud vowed to secure the freedom of movement and protect pilgrims on their way to the holy sites.
King Abdulaziz pledged, in the sixth clause, not to interfere in other countries’ affairs – a policy that he long sought to advocate.
The seventh and last item includes the commitment of Britain and King Abdulaziz to sign another treaty that further details matters pertaining to the relationship between the two sides.
Saudi Arabia and Britain... After the Treaty
After World War I, Britain was keen to maintain its presence and strength in areas far from the battlefield, especially as it competed with countries that had a strong desire to obtain spheres of influence in the Middle East, such as France, Germany, Russia and other European countries.
During the war, Britain sent Captain Shakespeare to Riyadh, carrying with him recognition of the Saudi State and recalling the “danger of the German influence” and the desire to develop a plan of cooperation with King Abdulaziz on a solid basis.
King Abdulaziz, for his part, believed that the Turks were passing through a critical stage and that supporting them against Britain during the war could make his country lose the opportunity to consolidate its security.
The British policy was working to serve its interests and realized that the Saudi power had become dominant in the Arabian Peninsula. King Abdulaziz, for his part, was aware of the need to forge a treaty that is consistent with the new status of his state and for the world’s major powers to recognize the new Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Consequently, the Jeddah Treaty was concluded on May 20, 1927, and consisted of 11 articles and 4 annexes. It included the British government’s absolute official recognition of the complete independence of the state of King Abdul Aziz without reservation.