Saudi Arabia in the 1980s: Foreign Policy, Security, and Oil

By William B. Quandt | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
The Arab World and the Palestinians

SAUDI ARABIA within its present borders and under the rule of the Saud family is a recent phenomenon. Today's ruling generation can still remember when some of the peripheral areas of the present-day kingdom were under the control of rival Arab leaders. It was King Abd al-Aziz's most impressive triumph that in the 1920s and early 1930s he was able to subdue or persuade most of the tribal groups and settled areas of the peninsula to accept his leadership. Force, persuasion, and religion went hand in hand as the Saud family extended its sway to the Eastern Province, then to the north, west, and south. In this process the British set limits on the geographical expansion of Saudi power into their own spheres of influence in Jordan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf coast, and Oman.1

It was through confrontation with other Arab leaders and tribes that the Saudis tested and asserted their power, and on virtually every border there were disputed claims that left a legacy of ill will. Many of these have yet to be resolved. This has meant that Saudi Arabia has always been involved in inter-Arab disputes. The Hashemites in Iraq and Trans- jordan, for example, were seen as bitter enemies and competitors for political leadership in the Arabian Peninsula, even though Britain generally managed to keep the conflict contained.

Saudi preoccupation with the Arab world is not simply a function of geography and history. It also reflects the religious, linguistic, and cultural character of the population. Several thousand Saudis may take pride in belonging to the ruling Saud family, but the other 4 million to 5 million citizens of the kingdom identify themselves by tribe, family, and region, with the Arabic language and Islamic religion as their common denominator.

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1
See Christine Moss Helms, The Cohesion of Saudi Arabia.

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