Friday, November 24, 2006

Allies of the al-Sauds

On that same thread I mentioned at the end of my last post about Pierre Gemayel, I noticed another comment by Charles Coutinho. He's right, the al-Saud family won the kingdom by conquest. The British initially backed the Hashemite family, but later came to terms with the al-Sauds. There may have been sheer incompetence on the part of the Hashemites, but also they were weakened because they were seen as having betrayed Islam by  fighting against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. 

As an example of the Saudi-British alliance, before the days of oil, the kingdom was heavily dependent on revenues from pilgrimages to Mecca. When these were reduced during World War II, it received subsidies from Britain and the US.

This was British 'sphere of interest' was later more or less taken over by the US (*). Roosevelt famously met on board ship with the Saudi king during the the war. Any idea, though, that the Americans went behind the back of the British to "steal" their ally is, in my view, way off the mark. The British continued to derive great benefit from their relationship with the Saudi Arabia. In 1985 they signed a large  contract for the supply of fighter aircraft and another deal was in the offing earlier this year.  The Saudis apparently find it a little less politically sensitive to be supplied by the British rather than the Americans (**).

* See William L.Cleveland, A History of the Modern Middle East, 1994 and the last two paragraphs of an earlier post of mine.

** Reports in the Financial Times.

Update: important new evidence has been released today that supports what I say above about the Saudi-British-American relationship. King Ibn Saud refused to agree to the meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, unless Churchill was also present. The British PM, however, wrote to the king saying, "I greatly desire that you meet him..."

Incidentally, the contrasting views of Roosevelt and Churchill about the question of Jewish resettlement are surprising, to say the least. ( The Today Programme, 24 Nov; listen)


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