How Imam Mohammed achieved tribal unity to create the First Saudi State

How Imam Mohammed achieved tribal unity to create the First Saudi State
A drawing of Imam Muhammad bin Saud as envisaged by Manga Production in Riyadh. (Manga Production)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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How Imam Mohammed achieved tribal unity to create the First Saudi State

How Imam Mohammed achieved tribal unity to create the First Saudi State
  • Saudi Arabia took the first steps on the road to nationhood in 1727 when Imam Mohammed became ruler of Diriyah
  • By the time of his death in 1765, he had laid the foundations for the greatest political entity central Arabia had ever seen

LONDON: The House of Saud took the first steps on the long road to nationhood in 1727, when Imam Mohammed bin Saud succeeded his cousin, Zaid bin Markhan, as ruler of the city state of Diriyah.

It is this pivotal moment, recognized as the date when the First Saudi State came into being, that is celebrated in the Kingdom on Feb. 22 each year as Founding Day.

Imam Mohammed had learned the art of politics at his father’s side. He played a significant role in supporting him throughout his reign and proved his mettle as a leader when Diriyah was attacked in 1721 by the Banu Khalid tribe of Al-Ahsa.

Imam Mohammed led his father’s forces to victory, strengthening Diriyah’s regional standing in the process.

After the death of his father in 1725, Imam Mohammed pledged his support to Markhan of the Watban clan of the tribe Zaid, and after he emerged victorious served him loyally until the prince’s short reign was ended by an assassin the following year.

From the outset, unity was Imam Mohammed’s dream, as the official history published by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority attests.

Contemporary Arab chroniclers recorded that “the people of Diriyah were fully confident in his abilities and (that) his leadership qualities (would) free the region of division and conflict.”

Imam Mohammed was already known for “his many personal characteristics, such as his devotion, goodness, bravery, and ability to influence others,” and the passing of power to him was “a transformative moment, not only in the history of Diriyah, but in the history of Najd and the Arabian Peninsula.”

Already renowned as a man of action, Imam Mohammed would also prove himself to be a wise leader.




Imam Mohammed set about the daunting task of achieving political unity among the tribes, with the ultimate aim of establishing a greater Arabian state. (Sotheby’s)

Imam Mohammed set about the daunting task of achieving political unity among the tribes, beginning with the neighboring towns of Najd, with the ultimate aim of establishing a greater Arabian state.

As the official history published by the Diriyah Gate Development Authority attests, “it wasn’t an easy task,” but by the time of his death in 1765, Imam Mohammed bin Saud had laid the foundations for the greatest political entity central Arabia had ever seen.

From the day of his ascension, “he began planning to change the prevailing status quo of that day and time, laying down a new path in the region’s history toward unity, education, the spread of culture, enhanced communication between members of society, and perpetual security.”

Over the next nine decades, the power and influence of Diriyah grew, as the great task of unity was handed on to Mohammed’s three successors — his son Abdulaziz, who would found the royal district of At-Turaif, Abdulaziz’s son Saud the Great, under whose direction the authority of the First Saudi State reached its peak, extending over most of the Arabian Peninsula and, upon his death in 1814, his son Abdullah, who was known to be great warrior.

But challenging the vast and aggressive Ottoman empire for control of Makkah and Madinah would prove to be Diriyah’s undoing. Imam Abdullah inherited the wrath of Istanbul, which dispatched a vast force to end the threat Diriyah posed to Ottoman authority in Arabia.

It took far longer than the Sultan could have imagined. Fighting a series of fierce battles over several years against impossible odds, the Arabs were slowly driven back from the Red Sea coast to their last stand before the walls of Diriyah.

After a six-month siege, Diriyah fell. Imam Abdullah was taken as a prisoner to Istanbul, where he was executed.

Undeterred, the Second Saudi State sprang up from the rubble of the first, this time in Riyadh — the ancient capital of the Hajer Al-Yamamah region, where it thrived from 1824 to 1891.

This, too, would fall.

But among the members of the family ousted from Riyadh in 1891 by the rival House of Rashid was the 16-year-old son of the last Imam of the Second Saudi State, a young man destined to take the last great step on the path upon which his predecessor Imam Mohammed had embarked generations before.




Above, warriors of Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud on camel back in Nejd, on their way to recapture Riyadh, c. 1910. (Alamy)

The story of how Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud and a small band of warriors recaptured Riyadh in 1902, restoring the House of Saud to its rightful home in the Nejd, is well known to every schoolchild in Saudi Arabia.

But Abdulaziz’s most remarkable achievement — the bringing together of the many tribes of Arabia to make possible the foundation in 1932 of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — would require decades of unwavering dedication to his ancestor’s vision of unity.

Today, familial attachment to one or other of the tribes rooted deep in the history of the Arabian Peninsula remains a source of great pride for many Saudis and their families, and part of the fabric of the country’s diverse but unifying heritage.

This was, however, not always the case, as John Duke Anthony, founding president and chief executive of the Washington-based National Council on US-Arab Relations, noted in 1982.

“For much of Arabian history, most of these tribes existed as independent political entities in microcosm,” he wrote in an essay “Saudi Arabia: From tribal state to nation-state.”

“As such, they were capable of uniting for common action. At the same time, however, they more often than not acted as divisive forces in any larger societal context.

“It was this latter characteristic as much as any other attribute that prompted the late King Abdulaziz, the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, to seek a number of means by which he could integrate the various tribes into the new national political structure of the Kingdom.”

It was, added Anthony, “the religious content of Abdulaziz’s message as he set about knitting Arabia into a single state (that) proved to be his greatest source of strength.




Above, Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud in Kuwait, circa 1910. (Alamy)

“He was able to direct and control a strict adherence to Islamic doctrines and, in this manner, affect a significant modification of the tribal distinctions which formerly had divided the realm.”

In 2022, Hasan Massloom, a member of the Shoura Council of Saudi Arabia, wrote that in the modern Saudi Arabia tribalism complemented rather than contradicted the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 ambitions, which were unveiled to Saudi citizens and the world by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016.

“No discussion of social change is conceivable without acknowledging the tribal background of the society of Saudi Arabia,” Massloom wrote in an op-ed piece for Arab News.

“Tribalism in Arabia has existed for thousands of years, predating Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was an independent, cohesive system for survival in the desert that provided social status, economic advantage and physical protection for its members.

“People of one tribe shared a common ancestry, a collective dignity and a coalesced reputation. Harsh life in the arid desert decreed a firm and binding moral bond among tribes to defend their progeny and possessions. Tribal history prided itself on social hierarchy, an obligation for vengeance and a deep commitment to territory, pasture and water wells.”

King Abdulaziz, he continued, had “tactfully pivoted the Arabian tribal scene toward his dream of a national kingdom when he persuaded hostile and fighting tribes to cast their conflicts aside and unite under his leadership to build a modern state.”

Indeed, Abdulaziz, the man known to the wider world simply as Ibn Saud, had completed the journey begun by the founding of the First Saudi State by Imam Mohammad in 1727.

On Jan. 27, 2022, Founding Day was established by a Royal Order of King Salman in recognition of this pivotal moment in the nation’s history, and to honor the wisdom of a leader who “provided unity and security in the Arabian Peninsula following centuries of fragmentation, dissension and instability.”


Spanish PM meets Joint Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee on Gaza in Madrid

Spanish PM meets Joint Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee on Gaza in Madrid
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Spanish PM meets Joint Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee on Gaza in Madrid

Spanish PM meets Joint Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee on Gaza in Madrid
  • Officials discuss efforts to stop Israeli aggression in Gaza Strip, Rafah
  • Saudi FM thanks Spain for decision to recognize State of Palestine

RIYADH: Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday held talks in Madrid with the members of the Joint Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee on Gaza, headed by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The meeting, to discuss developments in the besieged Gaza Strip, was attended by the foreign ministers of Qatar, Palestine, Jordan and Turkiye and the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The committee members hailed Spain’s move to recognize the State of Palestine and vowed to keep pushing to secure Palestinians’ rights and promote peace in the region and the world at a time of extremism, violence and violations of international law, the report said.

More than 140 countries now recognize a Palestinian state, after Spain, Norway and Ireland made the diplomatic move on Tuesday.

The meeting discussed efforts to stop Israeli aggression in the Gaza Strip and the city of Rafah, the importance of an immediate ceasefire and the introduction of sustainable humanitarian aid.

It also called for an end to illegitimate Israeli actions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in order to achieve a comprehensive peace, protect Palestinian rights and ensure regional security.

The meeting reviewed the committee’s efforts to support Palestinian statehood and take the necessary steps to implement the two-state solution in line with the Arab Peace Initiative and other international proposals.

The committee stressed the importance of the international community taking urgent steps to recognize Palestine to preserve the rights of its people and achieve security in the region.

Prince Faisal thanked Spain and said its move gave “hope in a very dark time.”

“We are here to say thank you to Spain, Norway, Ireland and Slovenia for taking the right decision at the right time, for being on the right side of history, for being on the right side of justice with all the dark we are seeing as a result of the continuing human catastrophe in Gaza,” he said.

“This is the right moment to give a beacon of hope to the two-state solution, to peace, to coexistence and for that we thank you and we hope that others will follow suit because the only way forward is the path to peace and the path to peace goes through a two-state solution, through a state of Palestine that lives in peace and harmony with all its neighbors including Israel.”


First group of pilgrims from UAE arrives for Hajj

The first group of pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from the UAE for this year’s Hajj was received at Al-Batha Passport Office.
The first group of pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from the UAE for this year’s Hajj was received at Al-Batha Passport Office.
Updated 36 min 44 sec ago
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First group of pilgrims from UAE arrives for Hajj

The first group of pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from the UAE for this year’s Hajj was received at Al-Batha Passport Office.
  • General Directorate of Passports said it is harnessing all its capabilities to facilitate entry procedures for pilgrims

RIYADH: The first group of pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from the UAE for this year’s Hajj was received at Al-Batha Passport Office on Wednesday.

The General Directorate of Passports said it is harnessing all its capabilities to facilitate entry procedures for pilgrims by supporting all entry points with the latest technical devices operated by qualified staff.

A total of 532,958 pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj as of Sunday, the directorate has reported.


Riyadh Travel Fair spotlights diverse tourism offerings

Riyadh Travel Fair spotlights diverse tourism offerings
Updated 29 May 2024
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Riyadh Travel Fair spotlights diverse tourism offerings

Riyadh Travel Fair spotlights diverse tourism offerings
  • Egypt, Georgia, Turkiye and more attract Saudi tourists
  • The fair serves as a platform for tourism products, services and investments, attracting leading global companies in the field

RIYADH: Top tourism companies showcased their destinations to the Saudi market at the Riyadh Travel Fair, which ended on Wednesday.
Held from May 27-29 at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, the event drew top travel and tourism firms from Saudi Arabia, the GCC and wider world.
The fair serves as a platform for tourism products, services and investments, attracting leading global companies in the field.
This year, Riyadh welcomed 250 exhibitors from 23 countries, including 13 tourism boards. New exhibitors included Georgia, South Korea, Egypt, Russia, and the cities of Almaty, Sarajevo and St. Petersburg.
Rusudan Kokoladze, a senior specialist from Georgia’s tourism promotion office, told Arab News: “This is the first time we are participating in the fair, and what we are looking for is to expand our relations with Saudi Arabia and increase the number of Saudi tourists to Georgia, one of the target countries for Saudis who want to see the picturesque beauty and coastline of the Black Sea.
“There is a direct flight to Batumi, so it’s really easy, accessible and safe to travel. It has UNESCO World Heritage sites, national parks and attractive greenery, which makes it a popular tourist destination,” she added.
Elene Gogelia, chief coordinator of the brand development department at the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, told Arab News: “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had 10,000 visitors per year from Saudi Arabia. Of course, the response from year to year has been very positive with an increase in the number of tourists.
“After the pandemic, this is the first year (2024) when in the first quarter alone we have hosted 6,000 Saudi travelers. This is an increase of 28 percent compared to the same time last year.”
She added that Saudi travelers are interested in the Black Sea coast resorts as well as winter ski resorts.
Mohamed El-Sherbeiny, general manager of the International Tourism Office at the Egyptian Tourism Authority, told Arab News: “We are excited to be here; Saudi Arabia is the third biggest market for Egypt. Last year, we received almost 1 million tourists from the Kingdom. We aim to continue the growth rate this year as well, reaching 20 percent more than last year.
“We believe we could achieve it because there is great interest from Saudi travelers to explore more of the northern coast in Egypt during the summer, as it is a wonderful place to relax.”
He said that Riyadh is now a hub for tourists, and “to showcase Egypt at the RTF is interesting.”
Faruk Caluk, senior adviser for tourism development at Visit Sarajevo, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia is a very important market for Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a lot of Saudi visitors come to our country. Earlier, we had visa issues, but now it’s solved and open for Saudi citizens, so we expect more visitors this year, and the RTF is a good opportunity.”
The Turkiye tourism and travel groups hosted a large delegation of hospitality partners at the fair. Additionally, the lead actors from popular Turkish series “Kurulus Osman” made an appearance — Orhan (Emre Bey), Cerkutay (Cagri Sensoy), and Holofira (Ecem Sena Bayir), as well as Gunkut Alp (Hakan Serim) from “Dirilis: Ertugrul.” The stars interacted with fans, sharing details about their work.
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation also took part in the fair. With 17 participants representing nine companies, Visit Maldives showcased the country as a premier travel destination to the Saudi market.


Saudi royal reserve abuzz over beekeeping program

Training program by Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority is offering qualifications.
Training program by Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority is offering qualifications.
Updated 29 May 2024
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Saudi royal reserve abuzz over beekeeping program

Training program by Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority is offering qualifications.
  • Program provides theoretical and practical training on the best methods for beekeeping and honey production
  • As well as boosting economic development and promoting local products, it empowers young people by developing their skills

RIYADH: A “Bee Basics” training program by the Imam Abdulaziz bin Mohammed Royal Reserve Development Authority is offering qualifications and opportunities that will ultimately strengthen the local economy.

The program provides both theoretical and practical training on the best methods for beekeeping and honey production, reported Saudi Press Agency.

As well as boosting economic development and promoting local products, it empowers young people by developing their skills, introducing them to the latest beekeeping technologies and providing qualifications.

The training program is helping the authority achieve its strategic goals for community development, as well as building industrial leadership.

Once completed, trainees can obtain licenses from the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture, and Water, allowing them to practice beekeeping and honey production on the royal reserve in accordance with environmental standards.

They are provided with items such as local beehives, beekeeping jackets and wax scrapers. The authority also provides technical support and consultations for a full year, as well as marketing services.

The royal reserve is well known for the quality of its honey varieties, such as sidr, talh, sayyal and shafallah honey. The authority provides places for beekeepers to set up hives in accordance with regulations that guarantee the preservation and sustainability of natural resources.

Since 2020, around 10,584 beneficiaries have shared honey industry funding of SR140 million ($37.3 million) from the Sustainable Agricultural Rural Development Program, also known as Saudi Reef.

Honey production in the Kingdom reached 3,120 tonnes in 2023, a 41 percent increase on 2021. The aim is to increase this to 7,500 tonnes by 2026.


Getty Images co-founder opens ‘Library Talks’ initiative in Riyadh

Getty Images co-founder opens ‘Library Talks’ initiative in Riyadh
Updated 29 May 2024
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Getty Images co-founder opens ‘Library Talks’ initiative in Riyadh

Getty Images co-founder opens ‘Library Talks’ initiative in Riyadh

RIYADH: Mark Getty, the chairman and co-founder of Getty Images, was the guest speaker at the first of a series of “Library Talks” hosted by the King Fahd National Library in Riyadh.

The initiative aims to provide a monthly platform for thought leaders, experts and influencers from around the world to share their knowledge, ideas and experiences, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

In his presentation, titled “A Journey Through the Horizons of Technology,” Getty shared his insights on setting up and developing one of the world’s best-known visual media companies.

He spoke of the obstacles and challenges he has faced and emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of producers, authors and content creators.

Prince Faisal bin Salman, chairman of the library’s board, welcomed Getty to the Kingdom.