charismatic founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and political patron of the conservative Wahhabi sect of Islam
Abd al-Aziz was the descendant of the Al Saud clan of central Arabia that had formed a strategic alliance with the revivalist leader mUhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab (1703–92) and established a tribal state that ruled much of the Arabian Peninsula during the 18th and 19th centuries. In a period of political fragmentation, he revived Saudi control of the peninsula after conducting a raid from neighboring Kuwait in 1902 that resulted in the capture of the town of Riyadh, the future capital of saUdi arabia. He then conquered other regions of the peninsula with the assistance of the Ikhwan (Brotherhood), a Wahhabi fighting force recruited from among
Arab tribes. In 1926, after the fall of mecca and medina, religious authorities recognized Abd al-Aziz as king of the Hijaz and sultan of Najd, the western and central regions of Arabia, respectively. With the support of tribal allies, Ulama, and the British, he defeated a rebellion among the Ikhwan in 1927–30, and in 1932, he renamed his realm the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abd al-Aziz was a skillful statesman and leader in times of peace, in addition to being a man of war. He consolidated his power through consultations with close advisers and merchants, intermarriage with influential tribes and clans, and generous disbursements of state revenues. Although he had ruthlessly suppressed the Ikhwan, he maintained solid ties with Wahhabi ulama and gave them control of the country’s religious and educational affairs. They were not capable of seriously opposing him as he moved to modernize the kingdom, however. He granted Standard Oil of California oil exploration rights in 1933, and he persuaded the ulama to allow for the introduction of radio
transmissions and the telephone. Oil was first discovered in 1938, and Abd al-Aziz quickly moved to use the new revenues to build family properties and palaces. It was not until after World War II, however, that the Saudi kingdom and the royal family began to fully enjoy the profits of the oil industry. This was when Saudi Arabia became the first Arab country to form close ties with the United States, as signaled by Abd al-Aziz’s meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 on the deck of the USS Quincy. The newly formed Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) then took charge, with Saudi participation, of building much of the country’s infrastructure: roads, airports, communications, electrical power, and water system. When Abd al-Aziz died, he left a country that was about to embark on a rapid and far-reaching modernization program. Since that time, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by his sons, in alliance with the Wahhabi ulama. He is still held in high esteem by his country.