Ibn Saud: The Desert Warrior Who Created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabiaby Published 01 Jul 2012
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Ibn Saud grew to manhood living the harsh traditional life of the desert nomad, a life that had changed little since the days of Abraham. Equipped with immense physical courage, he fought and won, often with weapons and tactics not unlike those employed by the ancient Assyrians, a series of astonishing military victories over a succession of enemies much more powerful than himself. Over the same period, he transformed himself from a minor sheikh into a revered king and elder statesman, courted by world leaders such as Churchill and Roosevelt. A passionate lover of women, Ibn Saud took many wives, had numerous concubines, and fathered almost one hundred children. Yet he remained an unswerving and devout Muslim, described by one who knew him well at the time of his death in 1953 as “probably the greatest Arab since the Prophet Muhammad.” Saudi Arabia, the country Ibn Saud created, is a staunch ally of the West, but it is also the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Saud’s kingdom, as it now stands, has survived the vicissitudes of time and become an invaluable player on the world’s political stage.
Ibn Saud: The Desert Warrior Who Created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Reviews
One of the most detailed biographies of the famous founder of Saudi Arabia, this book provides an interesting insight into the history of Saudi Arabia and the challenges Ibn Saud had to face in maintaining the sovereignty of the state. What struck me the most was the balance Ibn Saud had to maintain between the Ikhwan and the state. Ibu Saud was born when his family line was in a long-standing conflict with the Rashids, and he had to employ the help of a fundamentalist military organization, the Ikhwan, in order to hold them back. Eventually, he succeeded in defeating the Rashids and uniting the four distinct regions (Najd, Hejaz, Eastern and Southern Arabia), but ultraconservative Wahhabi values still remained in the country. Directly after her unification, Saudi Arabia began to face financial problems, exacerbated by corruption in the Saudi royal family. This is where things get pretty weird. Ibn Saud justified his extravagant lifestyle, saying that he embodied the state. However, the hoarding of funds by the royal family, leaving none to trickle down to the poor, is obviously contrary to the tenants of Islam and what the Qu'ran preached! Meanwhile, fundamentalist ideals still remained in the country, burying liberal ideas in obscurity.
In a way, WWII was beneficial to Saudi Arabia. It remained officially neutral when the war broke out, but soon Americans were paying a hefty sum to Saudi's coffers for its oil. It thus became an indispensable ally of the US and UK. In a way, the Kingdom's financial problems were not solved by 'draining the swamp' of the Saudi administration. Rather, they were solved because the US needed oil for the bombers in WWII. In a way, Ibn Saud 'lucked' out. It is uncertain if Saudi Arabia would have survived without its natural resources, but it is fair to say that its developments would have been far slower, especially considering that subsequent modernization of the Kingdom relied heavily on wartime oil funding.
Ibn Saud efforts were significantly limited in stemming the tide of religious conservatism following the founding of Saudi Arabia. Whereas he had put down rebellions of Ikhwan raiders before (mostly because they have raided between Iraq's and Saudi's neutral zone), after the founding of Saudi Arabia, his health seriously declined and his efforts to stem the tide of religious conservatism were paltry, at best. Later on, after his death, Saudi Arabia began clamping down on religious conservatism, but suffice it to say that modern developments, such as radio, TV, cars, high-rise buildings were resented and hampered by many that had fought in the Ikhwan rebellion. Better return to the tribal life, they protest, then live a life of decadence, materialism and moral floundering.
In a way, Saudi Arabia's history is an appeasing act. Throughout their history, they constantly had to appease imperial powers and Ikhwan raiders. Their reliance on the Ikhwan mandated it to be so. The rise of Wahhabi's religious tenets, therefore, cannot be associated with Ibn Saud's incompetence. However, in recent years, as a wave of populism and Western ideals spread throughout the Middle East, Saudi Arabia had begun to liberalize. Municipal elections have been held and when a police attempted to stop women from escaping a burning building (because they were not veiled), the kingdom condemned the police.
While we shouldn't tolerate human rights abuses and violations of freedom, we should consider the historical perspective that had lead Saudi Arabia to become the state it is. Western powers shouldn't be so quick to judge the development of Middle Eastern states. Keep in mind that practices that we see as barbaric today were practiced in Europe and United States as recently as 300 years ago. In the US, women weren't allowed to vote until the 19th Amendment to the constitution! As for Ibn Saud himself, I certainly can't judge him as a character, as I have not been into battle and am (obviously) inexperienced in leading a nation. But his biography remains one of the most fascinating I've ever read, and I can't help but wonder what kind of life he led in the vast oceans of desert, both as a warrior and politician.
Even though, I am associated with Saudi Arabia for more than 30 years now, I learnt a lot on the early days of Abdel Azziz from this book.
I felt that the Epilogue chapter was unnecessary. This is rehash of current events, which majority of the readers are already aware of.
A crash course on Arabian history presented through a wonderful telling of one man's story.
I bought this book for my husband, who has met Ibn Saud and is the author of several books that entail Saudi history. I became quite fascinated with it, myself, having lived in the Kingdom for several years. I have a great respect for the true Islam and its followers, of which Ibn Saud was surely one!
This biography of Ibn Saud, the man who created Saudi Arabia is a must read for westerners who want to understand more about this kingdom which covers the majority of the Arabian peninsula. The book is heavily footnoted and contains some priceless vintage photos. The authors strive for historical accuracy, and to not judge Ibn Saud and his sons and successors by western standards.