Heads and tales: history of the Saudi halalas

Left: A coin bearing the likeness of King Abdul Aziz, the founder of Saudi Arabia. Above: Ancient coins from Arabia. (Shutterstock/SPA)
Updated 24 December 2018
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Heads and tales: history of the Saudi halalas

  • Among the coins, some of which date back to 757 AC, they found an array of currencies from Great Britain to Austria and from India to Indonesia
  • The Saudi coins’ new black market bore new need for a banking system to regulate the Kingdom’s newfound income influx, which was spurred, in large part, by the state’s growing oil exports

JEDDAH: The Kingdom’s fiscal trajectory in many ways mirrors the tribulations it endured before emerging as one of the world’s foremost trade and financial hubs.
Before the Kingdom was unified by its late founder, King Abdul Aziz, the Arabian Peninsula had suffered its fair share of economic woes thanks to war and political strife within tribal factions.
In fact, the provinces that now form modern Saudi Arabia were completely independent at the time, leading to a precarious regional economy at best and the fragmentation of the indigenous Arab society into nomadic groups.
What remains of this pre-Saudi era has made for an extensive round of research at the hands of a local foundation devoted to piecing together the region’s past.
Historians at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) recently delved into their archives to unearth coins of all shades and sizes.
Among the coins, some of which date back to 757 AC, they found an array of currencies from Great Britain to Austria and from India to Indonesia. Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932 by the unification of the central Najd region, which today comprises about a third of the country’s population, with Al-Ahsa, which forms much of today’s Eastern Province, Hijaz to the west and Asir to the south.
Only a handful of coins had ever been issued by the Kingdom. Among the most famous versions, the “tawilah” (Arabic for long) copper coin from the Eastern Province’s Hofuf region bore mostly illegible Arabic scripts.
Before anything resembling a monetary system was devised in 1928, the Indian rupee and a version of Britain’s golden pound coin were commonly used throughout the Gulf and Al-Ahsa in the inland Najd region.
Otherwise, Ottoman silver coins and “thaler” coins with images of Austria’s then de facto empress, Maria Theresa (dubbed the “French riyal”), were used before 1926.
While the king canceled foreign currency in 1927, the first silver Arab riyal was adopted as the region’s official currency until a new version of the silver-colored riyal coin bearing the official name of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was produced in 1935. In that time, the Ottoman currency was unofficially still in circulation.
Researchers at Darah have mainly focused on the region’s monetary trajectory before its founder arrived in Riyadh in 1902.
Among the findings were the Majidi riyal, named after Ottoman Sultan Abdulmajeed. The Egyptian pound and other currencies from East Asia, including artifacts from modern-day Indonesia, were also largely used to bridge the gaps.
Despite the circulation of foreign currency, rampant trade required even larger quantities of cash, leading to the issuance of halves and quarters of the “Qirsh” (Arabic for pennies) in 1924, often produced in Umm Al-Qura near Makkah.
In an initial effort to unify the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz ordered the issuance of one Qirsh, half Qirsh and quarter Qirsh copper-nickel coins. Inscribed on the coins was “King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, king of Hijaz and sultan of Najd.”
As no central monetary authority existed to organize and regulate state money issuance, coins were minted abroad and brought back to the country in batches. Among newly formed rules aimed at quelling interregional strife was the value unification of coins made for the Hijaz and Najd regions.
Subsequently, Al-Saud’s designation appeared as “king of Saudi Arabia” instead of “king of Hijaz and Najd” on all local coins.
The foreign production of coins boded well for the value of the Saudi coins in the international market, leading to money exchangers smuggling it abroad in large quantities to markets in India.
The Saudi coins’ new black market bore new need for a banking system to regulate the Kingdom’s newfound income influx, which was spurred, in large part, by the state’s growing oil exports.
Saudi Arabia’s Monetary Authority (SAMA) was formed in 1952, just in time to burden the fluctuations caused by volatility in the gold and silver market.
SAMA began issuing notes, known famously in Arabic as “pilgrims’ currencies,” for foreigners coming to Makkah and Madinah. More than 5,000 SR10 paper denominations were issued in Persian, English, Urdu and even Malay.
These resembled banknotes but eventually became widely used and replaced coins in major financial transactions. The makeshift currency was withdrawn by 1965 and Saudi riyal notes depicting the kings of the times were printed over the years, including images of the late King Faisal in 1968, King Khaled in 1976 and King Fahd in 1984.
What proved clear to the researchers is that both unification efforts and the influx of pilgrims played a decisive role in putting Saudi Arabia’s currency in top form on the world map.


Houthi threat to holy sites in Makkah condemned

Updated 21 May 2019
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Houthi threat to holy sites in Makkah condemned

  • Iran-backed militias have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, says analyst
  • This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017

JEDDAH: The Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces intercepted and destroyed two missiles launched from Yemen by Iran-aligned Houthi militias on Monday. 

The missiles were reported to have been heading toward Makkah and Jeddah. 

A spokesman for the Arab Coalition said that the missiles were destroyed over Taif in the early morning, and that fragments from the first projectile had landed in Wadi Jalil, a valley that extends toward Makkah.

Residents in Jeddah told Arab News that they heard a loud blast early on Monday morning.

This is not the first time that Houthi militias have targeted Makkah, having fired on the city in July 2017.

Videos circulating on social media reportedly show the second missile being intercepted and destroyed in the skies over King Abdulaziz International Airport.

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry denounced the Houthi attack and commended the Royal Saudi Air Defense Forces for their vigilance. 

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said: “This isn’t the first time that the Houthis and their masters in Tehran have fired missiles close to the holy city of Makkah.” 

They have no qualms about attacking the holiest place in Islam, he added. 

“They care nothing for the sanctity of the holy month of Ramadan. What they did today, and what they did in the past, clearly reveal their sinister designs to strike at the heart of the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

“Now is the time for all Muslim nations in the world to come to the defense of the holy land. Our sacred places are under attack from Iran, the Houthis and their militias,” he added.

“Mere condemnation won’t do. Iran and the Houthis have crossed a red line, and this calls for deterrent action against Tehran,” he said.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government also condemned the Houthis’ attempt to target Makkah, calling it “a full-fledged terrorist attack.”

Monday’s aggression came as Saudi Arabia warned that recent drone attacks against its oil-pumping stations by the Houthis will jeopardize UN peace efforts in Yemen and lead to further escalation in the region.

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi ambassador to the UN, said “seven explosive drones” directed by the Houthis attacked pumping stations on May 14 in the cities of Dawadmi and Afif “on the east-west oil pipeline that transfers Saudi oil to Yanbu port and to the rest of the world.”

He urged UN Security Council members, in a letter circulated on Monday, “to disarm this terrorist militia in order to prevent the escalation of these attacks which increase regional tensions and raise the risks of a broader regional confrontation.”

Al-Shehri said Monday’s attack is a reminder to Muslim nations about the clear and present danger from Iran.  “Tehran timed the attack just as King Salman has called for a meeting in Makkah to discuss the threat from Iran to the Muslim world,” Al-Shehri said.

Saudi security forces have intercepted and destroyed 227 ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis at the Kingdom since 2015.