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How Did the Founder of Saudi Arabia Impose Himself as a Political Reality on Two Empires?

How Did the Founder of Saudi Arabia Impose Himself as a Political Reality on Two Empires?

Friday, 23 September, 2022 - 12:00
A meeting between King Abdulaziz and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1945 (Getty Images)

Dr. Princess Jawaher bint Abdul Mohsen bin Jalawi Al Saud, a researcher in Saudi history, said that King Abdulaziz set among his goals, priorities, and strategies to deal with the poles of power during the early years of the Kingdom’s establishment.

According to the researcher, he sought to adopt a policy of neutrality without making concessions, while rejecting everything that could undermine Saudi Arabia’s independence.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the occasion of the 92nd anniversary of the Saudi National Day, Princess Jawaher pointed to documents and messages exchanged between the British and Ottoman empires, which suggested that the Saudi king possessed power, political status and influence over his regional environment. His presence became a political reality that was difficult to ignore at that time.

Dr. Jawaher Al Saud pointed to historic documents that highlighted lack of British support for King Abdulaziz in the early stages of the Kingdom’s establishment.

She refused, however, to consider the Treaty of Darin, signed between Saudi Arabia and Britain in 1915 during the outbreak of the First World War as unfair, noting that the king “was clever in using it and employing it for his benefit thanks to his awareness of political developments and the change in the balance of forces” at that time.

Asked about the British sovereign government’s dealing with King Abdulaziz’ demand to reclaim Al-Ahsa, she said regaining Al-Ahsa was not only the result of political developments, but thanks to the firm determination of the Saudi king.

The influence and contacts of King Abdulaziz did not only raise questions among the senior politicians of the British government, but historic documents revealed the difference of views between the British government of India, which supported the king’s demand to reclaim Al-Ahsa, and the London-based government, which preferred to maintain its interests in the coastal strip of the Gulf, according to the historian.

She recounted that after a long exchange of messages between the two governments, the British government refused to disrupt the balance of power in the region for the sake of King Abdulaziz, and contented itself with monitoring the developments of Najd. The Government of India and its consuls in the Gulf, on the other hand, pointed to the increasing influence and control of King Abdulaziz, which reached the north to Al-Qassim, after his success in preventing the tribes from contacting the Turkish soldiers and carrying their mail and supplies.

Dr. Jawaher Al Saud said that British documents revealed how King Abdulaziz’ goals and victories preoccupied the politicians of London and the British government of India. Those saw that relations with the king would strengthen the position of the British government, and would reflect on the consolidation of security in the region.

She said that in Rabi’ al-Thani 1329 AH - April 1911 AD, the British Political agent in Kuwait met with King Abdulaziz, who told him that he would rely on his sword and destiny, and that he was determined to expel the Turks from Al-Ahsa. The Political Commissioner recommended the necessity of serious attention to the Saudi king, who is capable of leading the Arabian Peninsula and its tribes.

Despite the opposition of the political agent in Kuwait to the idea of reclaiming Al-Ahsa, which he described in his report as “a foolish attempt because of the consequences and dangers that would lead to confronting the Ottoman Turkish government,” King Abdulaziz decided to rely on his own strength without coordinating with Britain.

On the fifth of Jumada al-Awwal 1331 AH – April, 11 1913 AD, the king recaptured al-Ahsa and expelled the Ottoman Turkish military base without British assistance.

The response of the Ottoman Turkish government came in the form of military moves along the coast, without any military or political weight.

King Abdulaziz maintained his endeavor to try to strengthen his friendship with Britain and gain its support as the striking force in the region. He was advised by British officials to coordinate with the Ottoman Turkish government, which has nominal sovereignty in the region. As a result, the Saudi-Turkish negotiations began, in which the king stressed his independence and rights in the coast.

The British documents revealed a radical shift in London's policy towards Saudi Arabia. With the imminent declaration of World War I, Britain realized the strategic and military importance of King Abdulaziz. Consequently, the British Foreign Office recommended the need to reconsider the Saudi-British relations. Britain sought to obstruct the Turkish-Saudi negotiations by sending its envoys to King Abdulaziz - who had become the most powerful ruler in the Arabian Peninsula - on a mission to verify his views in order to enable the British government to find means of coexistence.

King Abdulaziz did not miss the opportunity to benefit from the Saudi-British Darin agreement, the historian said. Although some people found that the terms of the agreement were unfair, the princess asserted that the king was skillful and clever in using it to his advantage, as he was aware of the political developments and the change in the balance of power in the world.

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