Following the Arab revolt, Sherif Hussein proclaimed himself King of all the Arab countries, but the British government was prepared to recognise only his control of the Hijaz.
Confrontation over the future of Arabia ensued between Hussein and another British protégé. Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, a rising power in central Arabia whose forces had captured the Nejd region with its capital at Riyadh.
Britain had already provided arms and money to Ibn Saud during the First World War, signing a treaty with him in 1915 and recognising him as the ruler of the Nejd province under British protection.
By the end of the war, he was receiving a British subsidy of £5,000 a month 28 – considerably less than the £12,000 a month doled out to Hussein, whom the British government at first continued to favour.
That some British officials were pinning their strategic hopes on Ibn Saud during the war is evidenced in a memorandum from one British soldier, a Captain Bray, on the ‘Mohammedan question’ in 1917:
At the present moment agitation is intense in all Mohammedan countries . . . The reports of agents and others confirm . . . the extreme vitality of the movement [pan-Islamism] . . . It is . . . essential that the country to whom Mohammedans look should not be Afghanistan. We should therefore create a state more convenient for ourselves, to whom the attention of Islam should be turned. We have an opportunity in Arabia.
In 1919 London used aircraft in the Hijaz in support of Hussein’s confrontation with Ibn Saud, but it was to little avail.
After accepting a temporary ceasefire in 1920, Ibn Saud’s 150,000-strong Bedouin militias known as the Ikhwan advanced relentlessly, and by the mid-1920s had gained control of Arabia, including the Hijaz and the Holy Places, defeating Hussein for supremacy in the region.
Ibn Saud established ‘Saudi’ Arabia in an orgy of murder.
In his exposé of the corruption of the Saudi ruling family, Said Aburish describes Ibn Saud as ‘a lecher and a bloodthirsty autocrat . . . whose savagery wreaked havoc across Arabia’, terrorising and mercilessly slaughtering his enemies.
The conquest of Arabia cost the lives of around 400,000 people, since Saud’s forces did not take prisoners; over a million people fled to neighbouring countries.
Numerous rebellions against the House of Saud subsequently took place, each put down in ‘mass killings of mostly innocent victims, including women and children’.
By the mid-1920s most of Arabia had been subdued, 40,000 people had been publicly executed and some 350,000 had had limbs amputated; the territory was divided into districts under the control of Saud’s relatives, a situation which largely prevails today.
The British recognised Ibn Saud’s control of Arabia, and by 1922 his subsidy was raised to £100,000 a year by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill.
This is an extract from the book “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam” by Mark Curtis