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The Fall of the First Saudi State - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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If we want to talk and shed light on the first Saudi state, its wars and its extension from Oman to the deserts of Iraq and the Levant, and from the Arabian Gulf to the Red Sea, in the days of Imam Saud Bin Abdulaziz, then we have to look at the unholy agreement or alliance between the Ottoman Empire and Britain, formed in order to eliminate the Saudi state and control the Arabian Peninsula. The point man in all of this was Mohammed Ali Pasha, the ruler of Egypt.

At the time, Imam Saud’s forces had stormed Karbala and were about to enter Damascus, were it not for the fact that its governor Yusuf Pasha had pledged allegiance to Saud’s ideological approach. As a result, Damascene shops and markets were closed at prayer times, prostitution and alcohol were prohibited, and for the first time a hajj convoy departed without drumming, dancing or flag waving.

As his forces took control of almost the entire west coast of the Arabian Gulf, Imam Saud turned on the British boats and ships, culminating with the capture of the massive merchant ship Minerva. In my view, this was the biggest mistake that Imam Saud made, as this provoked Britain, and instead of being neutral it became an opponent. Britain began to send its warships, one of which alone contained 36 cannons, to bombard forts and sink boats in the region.

Then Britain actually began to supply gold and equipment to Mohammed Ali, as did Astana, as the Egyptian historian Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti indicates when he writes: “The supply convoys ran uninterrupted from Egypt to Yanbu”.

Many writers are mistaken when they refer to the army of Ibrahim Pasha as the Egyptian army, for this is not true at all. The people of Egypt were not content to fight such a war, and most of those enrolled in the army were mercenaries – French, Italians, Albanians, Turks, Circassians and some Moroccans, Africans and Egyptians. Thus, the Saudi historian Ibn Bashar was not wrong when referred to it as the “Roman army”.

Ibrahim Pasha’s army was armed to the teeth with guns, bombs, rifles and barrels of gunpowder. On the other hand, the Saudis had nothing except their faith, courage, swords and spears, and a few muskets or whatever they could plunder from their enemies.

Ibrahim Pasha’s campaign was led by his French military advisor Veissière, who had already fought with Napoleon and was one of his greatest leaders.

The enemy armies lacked nothing in terms of food, medicine or alcohol; they even had doctors and pharmacists from Italy.

Veissière praised the courage of Abdullah bin Saud and said: “He followed the strategy and tactics of his father and continued to fight us in the desert and on open land. He did not barricade himself in Diriyah. It was difficult for us to defeat him by any means”. Shortly afterwards Abdullah bin Saud was captured and executed in Istanbul.

In that war Diriyah stood firm for nearly seven months as cannons bombarded it day and night. Its citizens sacrificed themselves and became steadfast fighters. At the same time, the city of Acre, fortified with citadels and stone walls, fell to Ibrahim Pasha’s army within a few days.

After news arrived of the surrender of Diriyah, Mohammed Ali’s celebrations continued for seven days and nights, and similar scenes took place in Turkey. British Foreign Secretary Lord Aberdeen invited Ibrahim Pasha to visit England in recognition of his achievements.

The British monarch Queen Victoria even sent Mohammed Ali a diamond encrusted portrait of her as a gift to mark the occasion, and when he received it from the British Consul he held the gift in a velvet box and placed it over his head saying: “This is the most valuable treasure in the world. It was enough that Britain supported us morally and financially, and on top of that with its naval fleet”.

And that is how the first Saudi state fell.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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