Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

History of Saudi Arabia

Statues and Relics from the 7th century BC.
Statues and Relics from the 7th century BC.


According to a recent research made on the Acheulean archeological discoveries in Saffaqah (southeast of Dawadmi Governorate), Saudi Arabia is the first known site in which ancient homo sapiens lived outside Africa. These sapiens used to live in Saudi Arabia more than 190,000 years ago.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has its roots in the early civilizations of the Arabian Peninsula, which played an important role in history as an ancient commercial center and a cradle of Islam.

Middle Ages

The golden age of Arab civilization came with the advent of Islam at the end of the first decade of the seventh century. Medina was chosen as the capital of the Islamic State that expanded during the reign of Prophet Muhammad and his Rashidun Caliphs to include all parts of the Arabian Peninsula and other territories abroad. Many exiting events happened in the peninsula, especially after the death of Prophet Muhammad.

The most notable incident was the wars raged by Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq against apostasy. During these wars, the first Caliph worked to get rid of the apostates. Caliph Ali bin Abi Talib selected Kufa as a capital for the Islamic state. After few years, Damascus was selected as the new capital of the Umayyad empire.

The Arabian peninsula was in that era a subordinate of the Umayyad state that relied on the support of the Arab tribes. Afterwards, Abbasid caliphate took over the peninsula. Moving the capital of the caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad reinforced the influence of the Arabian / Persian Gulf as a sea passage facilitating trade with China and eastern African countries. This was at the expense of the trade road running along the Red Sea. The early Abbasid caliphs encouraged the pilgrimage to Mecca by improving transportation and safety.

With the disintegration of the Abbasid Caliphate (749-1258) and its inability to control its parts, the Fatimids took control of the Hejaz. However, Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi abolished the Fatimid state in Egypt and imposed his control over the Hijaz.

Thereafter, the Mamluks extended their influence there until 1517 when the Ottomans took over the caliphate and over the whole Arabian Peninsula.

The great-grandfather of the Al Saud family, Mani’ ibn Rabi’a al-Muraydi, moved in the mid-fifteenth century from the Al Qatif to Najd. Al-Muraydi settled there and established the city of Al Diriyah.

Al Saud and the Establishment of the Kingdom

The Ottomans took control of Al-Ahsa region in 1871. Al Saud family were exiled to Kuwait at the hands of Al Rashid family in 1891. In 1902, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal Al Saud extended his influence over Riyadh. Al Saud family returned to this area from its exile in Kuwait. Abdul Aziz recaptured Riyadh and began the process of expanding his rule in the region. After four years, Najd were unified under his control.

He continued his journey to unify the kingdom by annexing Mecca in 1924, Medina in 1925 and Asir in 1926. In 1932, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was united and Abdulaziz Al Saud became its king.

Oil was discovered in 1936 and its commercial production began in 1938; a discovery that allowed the modernization process to begin. In 1945, the kingdom became officially one of 51 original of the United Nations.

In 1958, the cabinet system was applied in the kingdom introduced. Six years later, King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud assumed the throne with a vision to modernize the government and its administration. By 1969/1970, the Kingdom launched the first development plan. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (currently Organization of Islamic Cooperation) was established in Jeddah.

In 1973, Saudi Arabia led the oil embargo on Western countries that supported Israel in the October/ Yom Kippur War. Accordingly, oil prices increased 4 times than the usual ones.

In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew and King Khalid bin Abdulaziz took the throne. King Khaled supervised the development and the industrialization process of the country. He co-founded the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981.

From King Khaled to King Salman

After the death of King Khalid in 1982, King Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – who later called himself the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – continued to develop and modernize the country. During his rule, the Consultative Assembly was established in 1992, the Municipal Law was introduced, the Basic System of Governance that clarifies the responsibilities and duties of the ruler was introduced. In 1993, King Fahd issued a decree to divide the kingdom into 13 administrative subdivisions.

During the reign of King Fahd, Saudi Arabia participated in air and ground attacks against Iraqi forces in Kuwait in 1991. Osama bin Laden was stripped of his Saudi nationality in 1994.

In October 1999, twenty Saudi women participated for the first time in a session of the the Consultative Assembly for since its establishment at the end of 1993.

In 2002, Crown Prince Abdullah launched the Arab Peace Initiative at the Arab Summit in Beirut.

In 2003, the Consultative Assembly was granted the mandate of proposing new laws. Two years later, the country’s municipal elections were introduced.

King Abdullah ascended the throne in August 2005. In 2006, he took steps to organize the succession process in an attempt to prevent conflict that might arise among the second generation of princes.

In September 2011, the Saudi king granted women more rights, including the right to vote, the right to stand for local elections, and the right to be appointed in the Consultative Assembly.

In 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz succeeded his brother King Abdullah, after the death of the latter. Since King Salman ascended the throne, his son and Crown Prince Muhammad has played a major role in the administration of the country.