A Saudi researcher specialized in the Kingdom’s history referred to documents dating back to the Ottoman era, as well as British records, and contemporary local writings, to confirm that the First Saudi State, which was established by Imam Mohammad bin Saud, was a source of concern for the great powers in the region.
Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day, which falls on Feb. 22, celebrates Saudi heritage and history. On this occasion, Dr. Princess Jawaher bint Abdul Mohsen bin Abdullah bin Jalawi Al Saud unveiled, in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that the power of the Saudi state allowed it to spread the highest levels of terror and panic among the Turkish pashas all over Asia, reaching the Sultan in Constantinople.
The researcher also said the British government did not ignore the strong Saudi presence, especially after it reached its areas of influence. Therefore, the British were cautious in their movements and used diplomacy in their dealings with Imam Saud bin Abdulaziz.
According to foreign documents revealed by the princess, the founder of the First Saudi State and the first Saudi king, acknowledged the importance of imposing a system that would rely on the management of a ruler, who would be capable of taking firm decisions that would provide security and stability for the region.
The documents of the Ottoman archives confirmed the Ottomans’ efforts to wage war against the Saudi state, which started to constitute a threat to the continued existence of an empire. The reaction of the sultans of the Osman family was not limited to the successive military campaigns, which reflected their political, military and material weight, but included a propaganda war to distort the idea and goal of that young state that emerged from central Najd.
Thus, many accusations and rumors were spread against the Saudi emir and his people, calling them Kharijites and Wahhabis. This was confirmed by British documents that indicated that they “were called Wahhabis by the Ottomans, while if one of the followers of the Saudi imam was asked: Are you a Wahhabi? He will not understand what this word means.”
The Saudi researcher said that orientalists, writers, and historians, whether Arabs or Westerners, were right when they took the term “Wahhabis" from the Ottomans to refer to the Saudis. But they failed to exert enough effort in research and investigation.
Contemporary local documents of that era revealed the true name of this young country, whose goals preoccupied the great powers in the region.
Historian Hamad bin Laboun, who died after 1257 AH - 1842 AD, called it in his book (Nasab Al Saud): “The Hanafi Saudi State.” That is, he attributed the state to the Saudi family of Bani Hanifa.
Some contemporary local narratives of the first Saudi era also mentioned the name “the Saudi sect,” or the name “Saudis,” and many others. Thus, it would be wrong to associate the name of the Saudis or the Saudis with the year 1351 AH - 1932 AD, as we have been Saudis for 300 years, Princess Jawaher told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Arab force to expel the Ottoman invader
Referring to the Ottoman documents, the Saudi researcher said the Sultan of the Osman family was unaware that he was dealing with a free Arab force that aims to unite the Arabs of the peninsula, expel foreign colonialism, and establish a unified entity that aspires for security, stability, and progress.
Ottoman documents revealed that Imam Abdul Aziz bin Mohammad’s assumption of power in the year 1179 AH - 1765 AD was a radical turning point in the foreign policy of the First Saudi State. His armies were moving in all directions at the same time, heading west towards the Two Holy Mosques, and east towards the Arabian Gulf and the Ottoman states in Iraq, north towards the Levant, and south towards Yemen and Oman.
Frequent letters from the Ottoman Arab provinces to the Ottoman sultan talked about the danger coming from the center of Najd. Tribes, cities and villages vowed allegiance to the Saudi imam, which made the Ottoman state lose much of the support it enjoyed in that region.
According to Princess Jawaher, the Ottoman documents confirmed that the Saudi imam extended his authority from Baghdad to Muscat, and from Yemen to the Levant and Aleppo. Thus, the Ottoman Empire faced a real challenge that shook its Islamic and international standing.
Ottoman failure against the Saudis
The Saudi researcher told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Ottoman sultan realized the failure of the governors of Baghdad in confronting the striking force of the Saudi imam. Nonetheless, he continued to insist on the need to eliminate Diriyah at any cost and by any means. But the responses of his governors brought him disappointment.
As for the governors of the Levant, they were not better off than those of Baghdad. They confronted the Sultan, saying that they could not face the Saudi imam. This prompted him to expel a number of governors, who failed to fulfil his wish to eliminate the Saudi power, including Youssef Pasha, Ahmed Jazzar Pasha, Salih Bey, Abdullah Pasha Al-Azem, and Kunj Youssef Pasha.
Princess Jawaher pointed to a letter written by the Ottoman sultan himself, commenting on one of the messages that he had received from Sharif Ghalib, the Sharif of Makkah, in the year 1218 AH - 1803 AD. The letter highlighted the extent of the terror that gripped the sultan.
The following is an unofficial translation of the sultan’s words: “God forbid, I could not bear to read these papers coming to me. How can such a thing happen? A way must be found to save the Two Sanctuaries. I do not sleep at night thinking about this matter, and this matter is not like other things. Help me, O God.”
The Saudi researcher recounted that the sultan became aware of the reversal of the balance of power, and that the Saudi imam would not stop until he successively rid the Arab countries of Ottoman rule and bring them under his authority with the aim of forming a free Arab empire.
A British document confirmed the power of the Saudi state and the terror it struck in the hearts of the Ottomans and Turkish pashas.
It read: “…government of this singular people, who, from very slight and feeble origin, had at one time, arrived at such degree of power, as to cause the most serious alarm both to the Turkish pashas throughout all Asia, as well as their master the sultan at Constantinople…”
Saudi presence reaches areas of British influence
Princess Jawaher said the British government did not overlook the Saudi presence, especially after it expanded to its areas of influence. At first, it provided military support to its allies, but then realized the extent of Saudi superiority.
Consequently, the historian recounted that the British government refused to engage in a direct military confrontation with the Saudis, and recommended its allies to accept Saudi influence as long as it remained within the limits of preserving security and saving the British image.
Encyclopedia of Saudi history
Asharq Al-Awsat asked Princess Jawaher about her most important achievements in her long journey of historical research and studies.
She replied: “Specialists in the field of research and historical studies are aware of the importance of documents, including official correspondence, reports, notes, decisions, strategies, political plans and intelligence information, which are the most important source of history.”
“In order to present a serious study, it is necessary to rely on documents, and therefore the issue is not a matter of collecting, but rather a matter of searching for information, which is a tedious process that requires patience and perseverance, because the researcher faces a huge amount of documents kept in records that take a long time to view, retrieve and translate,” she remarked.
She told Asharq Al-Awsat that she was working on a documentary study of eight volumes that will reveal unprecedented, interesting and surprising information on Saudi Arabia’s history, based on thousands of Arabic, Ottoman, British and French documents.