The country we know today as Saudi Arabia is the second largest state in the Arab world. The huge peninsula of which it is the biggest country is also home to Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
The kingdom is a relatively recent establishment, at least in its present configuration. It was only founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud (who is known in Arab countries as Abdulaziz) then leader of the House of Saud.
Four Distinct Regions
The country is made up of four regions:
Hejaz – Bordering the western seaboard, this region contains the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Najd – An ancient region, Najd is in the middle of the country and for a long time was the cultural home of the Shammar tribe.
Al-Ahsa – Famous for its palms and dates, this region is in the eastern part of the country and is the site of Saudi Arabia’s oil deposits.
Asir – Located in the southwest of the country bordering Yemen, this region was formerly the home of the Asir tribe.
United Through Conquest
Ibn Saud brought what is now Saudi Arabia together in a series of conquests. In 1902 he recaptured Riyadh the family’s ancestral home, which had been held by the Shammar since 1891.
It took Ibn Saud the next thirty years to consolidate what he had started. Najd was under his control by 1922 and Hejaz by 1925.
An astute leader and a charismatic man, he was able to unite the House of Saud behind him and settle the disparate tribes that had made up the area.
Early Saudi Arabia
After 1932 sources of revenue were limited in the kingdom. There was some agriculture plus the revenues generated from the annual pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina (the burial place of the prophet Muhammed).
The Haj, which is the name for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca the holiest city for Muslims, is expected to bring in revenues of $150 billion by 2022. The numbers in 1932 were not comparable.
The country changed from being similar to other Middle Eastern counties when in 1938 it was changed forever by the discovery of oil in the Eastern region, Al-Ahsa. Saudi Arabia became the biggest producer and exporter of oil by 1976. Its importance in the world due to its oil means that it is the only Middle Eastern country which is a member of G-20 major economies.
It took until 1941 for Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company) to start the full exploitation of the old find. In 1972 Saudi Arabia wrestled a 20% control of the company and finally, but not until 1980, was it able to buy out all American interests in the company.
Not Necessarily a Country at Ease With Itself
Saudi Arabia is not yet into its 9th decade as a unified country and there are elements which as yet do not seem stabilized. Its relationship with external workers, for example, is not exactly comfortable.
Regardless, as long as the oil flows the country has a place on the world stage and even when it runs out, the country will remain one of the richest on earth.