26/12/1915 Britain makes a new Arab friend

Abdulaziz ibn Saud is the emir of Nejd, a territory on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula. Much of his power derives from his family’s long alliance with followers of Wahhabism, a particularly austere Islamic sect.

Today Ibn Saud meets with representatives of the British government on the Persian Gulf island of Darin. He signs a treaty agreeing to accept the protection of the British and their support in his ongoing struggle with the Rashidi family. The Rashidi have accepted the suzereinty of the Ottoman Empire. Ibn Saud hopes that the support of his British friends will even the odds against his enemies.

British goals in the treaty are as much to contain Ibn Saud’s ambitions as to send him to war against Turkish clients. The treaty obliges Ibn Saud to respect the independence of Britain’s other Arab allies: Qatar, Kuwait and the Trucial Coast emirates.

Britain may however be drifting into mutually incompatible obligations in the Middle East. British officials are also in discussions with Sharif Hussein bin Ali, ruler of the Hejaz (the western Arabian region in which Mecca and Medina lie). The British want Hussein to lead an Arab revolt against the Turks that will set the Middle East alight, implicitly offering to make him the ruler of a vast state stretching from Syria to the Hejaz. Britain’s treaty with Ibn Saud does not oblige him to leave the Hejaz alone. This could be an unfortunate oversight, given Ibn Saud’s ambition to dominate the entire Arabian peninsula.

image sources:

Abdulaziz ibn Saud (Nunnita on Tumblr)

map (Michael McInneshin: the Third World in the Twentieth Century)

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