Tim Belford: Short Takes On Life
Tim Belford
Tim Belford
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Tim Belford is host of Quebec A.M. -- CBC Radio's popular English- language morning show (91.7 FM, 6-9, Mon.-Fri). He also is said to know a thing or three about wine.

Posted 08.04.05
Quebec City


It ain't over in Saudi Arabia, eh?

With all that's been going on this week in the Middle East I thought a history lesson would be in order.

King Faud of Saudi Arabia is dead.

The new king, Abdullah, is Faud's half brother, the latest in a long line of Sauds to rule the Arabian peninsula.

Abdullah is one of 52 children of Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman ibn Faisal al Saud - better known as Ibn Saud, a shortened moniker that I am sure most journalists are thankful for.

The Saud family have been prominent in the world of desert politics since the late seventeen hundreds.

At that time Mohammed bin Saud, a little-known minor chieftain living several sand dunes outside of Riyadh gave refuge to a Muslim scholar by the name of Mohammed bin Abdul-Wahab.

Abdul-Wahab was the founder of a strict Muslim sect which came to be known as Wahabism.

And it was this combination of a desert warrior and a fundamentalist scholar that led to the present day Saudi Arabia.

They were a pretty tough lot.

Of the twenty leaders of the house of Saud since 1745, three have been assassinated, one executed, three deposed, one captured by enemies, two simply lost control and one, obviously seeing the writing on the wall, fled.

Now, to understand the Saud family and Saudi Arabia, you have to understand their religious affiliation.

Picture one of Cromwell's most ardent Puritans, put a Bible in one hand (or in this case, the Koran) and a broadsword in the other and essentially you've got a Wahabi.

What the Wahabis see as their role is to return Islam to its roots.

That means getting rid of superstition, deviancies, heresies, and idolatry.

The sticky point here is that committing any of the above was punishable by death,

Is it any wonder that folks converted to Abdul Wahab's way of thinking, especially when his preaching was backed up by the Saud family's swords.

Skip ahead to 1890.

At that time, the aforementioned Ibn Saud and his family were exiled to Kuwait. Eleven years later, at the age of 22, he decided to reclaim the family land.

It took him just twenty men and the permanent removal of the governor, a fellow named Rashidi, to take the city of Riyadh.

Over the next twenty or so years Ibn Saud and his tribe managed to conquer the entire Arabian peninsula.

With his Wahabi preachers in tow he wiped out the rest of the Rashidis, sent the Ottoman Turks back to Istanbul and forced his only serious rival, Sherif Hussein ibn Ali, to move to Syria and Jordan.

(An interesting side note: notably absent in his condolences over the death this week of King Faud was the present king of Jordan whose great-grandfather was the same Hussein who was forced to pack up his camels and flee the wrath of Ibn Saud.)

Given this interesting history, it's probably safe to say that it ain't over yet.

The family has successfully managed the transfer of power from one of Ibn Saud's 37 sons to another for the last fifty-two years.

But bear in mind. Of the four successors one has been assassinated and one deposed.

And remember, the new King Abdullah is only a half brother. The late Faud has six full brothers waiting in the wings.