Category Archive: Saudi Arabia
King Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Never Trust a Man Until He Proves Himself Trustworthy.
So went the philosophy of the mentors who tutored Ibn Saud as a child and it remained his lifelong practice to tryout the integrity of those he would rely on. His friendship with Harry St. John Bridger Philby was strong but Philby was not exempt from the scrutiny of the desert fighter, though Philby never knew or understood this. Over time, his undivided admiration and respect for The King was tested by two key trials, Harry’s desire to convert to Islam and his obsession to cross The Rub al-Khali or Empty Quarter. These were Ibn Saud’s ultimate tests of faithfulness.
Harry challenged the patience of The King with his continual requests to become a Muslim. The flaw in Philby’s brilliant intellect was his lawlessness in expressing his thoughts and his letter to Ibn Saud was no exception to this hot-headed approach. In August 1930 Harry wrote:
Peace. Mercy and the Blessing of Allah be upon you. I have already had the honour to submit to Your Majesty’s consideration my desire to become a Moslem and to abandon other religions…I beg you to accept my conversion to Islam which springs in me from grounds of belief, reflection, wisdom and good intention. Allah the Almighty guides to the right path.
There can never have been a more impertinent letter in the history of Wahhab conversions because Harry Philby intended to do what few others considered; to embrace Wahhabism, not only a religion but a political and economic autocracy.
This time his impudence worked and The King telephoned him personally to say that he would permit the entrance of Philby into Islam and instructed him to leave immediately for Mecca for a ceremony.
On the pilgrim’s trail to Mecca he was met by Fuad Hamza, who advised Ibn Saud on foreign affairs. Hamza set up a tent where Philby performed the ritual ablutions and they continued on their way to Mecca. There, Philby kissed the black stone of the Kaabah and drank from the well of Zamzan before he turned to the east with the holy pledge, “I testify there is no god but God; and that Mohammed is his servant and prophet” – the words inscribed on the first Saudi flag.
Afterwards they went to meet the King in Taif who bestowed on Philby the name Abdullah – Slave of God. More important, the King told the gathered party that Harry Philby was a worthy Muslim and because of his dedication to the Wahhab kingdom would sit with his Privy Council. The King wanted Harry as a dedicated Wahab servant to do his will. The following year, in April 1931, Philby accompanied The King in person on the Hajj, or great pilgrimage, which was a major honour. These devotions helped him on his quest to become Ibn Saud’s grand vizier –an advisor to the throne.
This news caused concern with officials in the British world who knew of Harry’s revolt against the British establishment. The British Consul in Jiddah reported that Philby was at odds with British policy in The Middle East and believed in the restoration of an Arab Empire under a single leader who must be Ibn Saud. The Consul warned that as a member of the Looking Back | The King’s Man 22 Privy Council, Philby was in a position to harm British relations with The King. Moreover, Philby spoke the King’s Nejd dialect, which was scarcely intelligible to other Arabic speakers.
But Ibn Saud was his own man and while he was a true friend and supported Philby, he had particular reasons for Harry’s membership of the Privy Council – Philby had the ears of the mightiest politicians in Britain. The reality was that he was the only conduit in both directions and what information he passed either to The King or British diplomats was one-sided. Ibn Saud understood this and managed the information he allowed Philby to pass to Britain.
The second test of trust by The King concerned Philby’s frustrated ambition to cross The Rub al-Khali or Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia and it caused the most significant discord in their long relationship. Philby’s lifetime aspiration was to be the first Westerner to explore The Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. He cherished the thought that if he succeeded he might be knighted, by the establishment he despised, when he returned to London. To think about a knighthood, he must be first across a wilderness the size of Texas and he needed the permission of Abdul Aziz to make the trip.
Insistent, Philby implored The King for permission to mount his Looking Back | The King’s Man expedition and again and again it was withdrawn at the last minute. Philby was at a loss to understand the motives of The King he admired so much and the final bitter blow came when he learned that a former assistant, Bertram Thomas, had completed the journey in the opposite direction from Salalah to Qatar. He was slightly mollified when the deputy foreign minister, Fuad Hamza told him The King had withheld his consent for so long because of his fear the he might lose Philby’s services that were desperately needed as a counsellor – he feared that Philby might never survive The Empty Quarter. The King’s mind was on oil and he recognised Harry’s value in negotiating a deal that could benefit his country. Diplomatically, Ibn Saud allowed Philby to organise the trip and provided guides, camels, safe passage and paid all the bills.
Harry Philby left Hufuf on 7 January 1932 and by the end of February dignitaries in Jiddah and in London presumed him dead. Two weeks later on March 14, burned black by the sun and totally emaciated he turned up at the oasis of Sulaiy. He had conquered the wilderness but was barely alive. When he recovered, Harry couldn’t wait to travel home to London to receive the plaudits of The Royal Geographical Society, read The Times and watch cricket. As much as he expressed contempt for British society, he enjoyed participating in its activities.
On the 27th of September 1932 Abdul Aziz united the Hejaz and Nejd regions into The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over which he reigned as King. Early versions of the Kingdom’s dark green flag were decorated with crossed swords under a palm tree and an affirmation in white script “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the prophet of God.”…words that Harry Philby had pledged at Mecca.
In February 1933 negotiations over oil concessions started in earnest with Philby pulling the strings on behalf of The King. Philby knew the limitations imposed on Iraq Petroleum who represented the British interest with a maximum down payment of £10,000. The American interest of Standard Oil offered a down payment of £35,000 if a concession was granted. In addition another payment of £20,000 was payable in eighteen months plus a yearly rental of £35,000. The cards were stacked and Philby even persuaded Andrew Ryan, the first British Minister to Saudi Arabia that it was better to advise the Saudis to accept the American offer because it was most unlikely there was oil there anyway. Also Standard Oil’s shrewd lawyer, Lloyd Hamilton put Philby on an indefinite retainer of 1,000 dollars a month. There could only be one decision and it went in favour of Standard Oil.
Philby achieved the political decision he sought to humiliate the British and Ibn Saud achieved the commercial decision that would define the future of his Kingdom. Commercial quantities of oil were discovered on the Dammam Dome (Jebel Dhahran) in March 1938. Well number 7 was a deep test well and found biogenic limestone porous enough to hold oil and gas and the taps were turned on.
After hostilities began in World War II, Philby’s disloyal comments about Britain to the Privy Council prompted its other members to comment that he used his words to cover his role as a British spy at court. For the British intelligence services, who were on high alert because of the war, his comments attracted the opposite kind of attention – they might be regarded as treason. Philby’s scornful remarks about Britain alarmed Ibn Saud so much that he told the British authorities of Harry’s intention to travel abroad and spread anti-British propaganda.
Philby was arrested on the 29th July 1940 in Bombay, shipped to England and imprisoned. He remained locked up until February 1941 when he was released as a ‘dotty fanatic’ but his passport was withheld until the end of the war and returned when Ibn Saud asked him back to Jiddah without delay. He sailed to Alexandria and was picked up by Ibn Saud’s private DC3; a present from President Roosevelt. In July 1945, Harry was back in The Privy Council and The King’s Man again.
When Harry was arrested in 1940, oil output was 5.1 million barrels and remained steady through World War II. Extra money came from Great Britain and the USA. To maintain their relationship with Ibn Saud and with Philby’s clever politicking, the British Government granted subsidies that rose to £1m a year. But the major contribution came on 18 February 1943, in the form of Lend-Lease funds of $33m in cash and goods from the USA as well as advances in royalties. As war ended, funds quickly dried up.
Though oil production exploded to 60 million barrels in 1946, the Saudi treasury was still short of income. By 1951 Saudi oil revenue was $110m which included half of Aramco’s profits and in 1952 went past $150m. Harry’s personal fortunes improved in leaps and in 1950 he won a £400,000 contract to build a palace in Riyadh where The King gave him a house. He still maintained contact with the British Secret Service but just to keep them informed of The King’s health which was worsening. When The King died at his palace in Taif in 1953, his body was returned to Riyadh and by Wahabi custom, buried in an unmarked grave. In time, people even forgot where The King was buried but his legacy as a truly great leader was enduring.
In Wahabi tradition, Harry did not grieve for The King but nevertheless reflected for the rest of his own life on their 35 year liaison. Abdul Aziz bin Abdur Rahman bin Faisal al Saud conquered and created his Kingdom by bravery, shrewdness, audacity and the huge force and charm of his personality. These qualities found uniquely in a single human being were why Harry St. John Bridger Philby was, and always would be, The King’s Man.
Mel Trotter lived in Dhahran in the ‘70’s and flew Royal, corporate, Tapline and exploration work. He was a pilot in the Aviation Department – believed to be the first English one where the others were all American at that time with Aramco. A writer and executive coach, he now lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
Mel’s latest novel The Orphan Sniper is available in paperback at The Amazon Store and as an eBook on Kindle and compatible devices.
To learn more visit:
He can be contacted through his website at www.humanriskfactors.com.
Read The King’s Man – Before Oil.
Reprinted with permission of Mel Trotter.
JEDDAH: P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR; Tuesday 23 October 2012: Saudi authorities stepped up preparations for the five-day annual Haj pilgrimage — which begins tomorrow — by mobilizing human and material resources.
More than three million pilgrims, including two million from abroad, are expected to take part in the spiritual event.
Groups of pilgrims have started the move from Madinah and other parts of the Kingdom to Makkah and Mina, chanting Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik (O God, here I am answering your call).
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who is supervising Haj operation from Jeddah, instructed all related government departments to provide the necessary services to the guests of God.
Khaled Mirghalani, Health Ministry spokesman, said: “The ministry has readied 25 hospitals with a capacity of 5,200 beds in addition to the 141 health clinics situated in the holy sites, to serve pilgrims.” More than 175 ambulances are on stand by,” he added. The Saudi Red Crescent Authority plays an important role during Haj, providing first-aid and transportation services to hospitals. It will deploy 1,060 volunteers in Makkah, Mina and other holy sites.
The Civil Defense yesterday conducted a mock operation to control gas leakage near the Jamrat Bridge in Mina, where a large number of pilgrims assemble during the peak days of Haj for the stoning-the-Satan ritual.
Lt. Col. Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, commander of the Civil Defense’s special intervention force, said: “The operation was aimed at keeping our forces at a high level of readiness to deal with possible leakage of poisonous gases.”
Foreign pilgrims have expressed their joy over getting the opportunity to perform Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam. “It’s my first time in Makkah for pilgrimage. I can’t wait to pray in Arafat,” said 32-year-old Koara Abdulrahman, a businessman from Burkina Faso. Inside the Grand Mosque, scores of pilgrims circumambulated the Holy Kaaba with many pushing their way through the crowds to kiss Hajar Al-Aswad (the Black Stone) on a corner of the cube-shaped structure.
“Right now, I’ve got all the good feelings you can think of,” said an ecstatic Iranian pilgrim.
More than 1,400 Muslim leaders from around the world are performing Haj this year as guests of King Abdullah. They come from China, Russia, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Togo, Botswana, Burundi and Liberia.
Heavy rains hit Makkah and Mina on Sunday, and the Civil Defense said 13 people were slightly injured when a fire erupted in a building housing Indian and Myanmarese pilgrims.
Despite being marred by deadly incidents in the past such as floods, stampedes and fires, Haj has become nearly incident-free in recent years, thanks to multibillion-dollar projects implemented by the government annually.
This year, new development projects totaling SR 1.5 billion include an initiative to help pilgrims reach the Jamrat Bridge quickly from Makkah, Aziziya and Shaabain. The Ministry of Water and Electricity said it has started supplying 600,000 cubic meters of water daily to the holy sites. There are 36 water tanks in Makkah and 27 at the holy sites with a total capacity of 2.5 million cubic meters.
In other news, participants of a seminar organized by the Haj Ministry called for the use of social media networks to enhance Haj awareness for pilgrims. Najah Al-Qublan of Princess Norah University said: “We have to make use of social media effectively for creating Haj awareness and spreading the message of Islam.” Facebook users in the Arab world increased from 29.8 million in 2011 to 45.2 million by June 2012, she said.
Article reprinted with permission by Arab News.
Harry Philby prospered because of
his energy and linguistic skills.
When Ibn Saud scaled the walls of Riyadh in 1902, it began his celebrated passage to becoming King of Saudi Arabia.
This story briefly describes the years when he recovered his heritage and oil was on the horizon. It outlines his unlikely and complicated relationship with a British political officer named Harry Philby. Of course, historical judgements and observations are subjective despite the documents available from the first years of the 20th century, and we don’t know the personalities of those who produced the evidence.
Players in this action are long dead, so the narrative is weighted toward the views of a writer who has read many different reports of the same incidents. Other versions are not incorrect, but this is another perspective about key chapters in an improbable and unique relationship between Harry Philby and Abdul Aziz ibn Abdur Rahman ibn Faisal ibn Turki al Saud on his 30-year journey to reign as King.
It begins in 1902 with the epic tale of the capture of Riyadh by Abdul Aziz using the military skills honed during his years in exile in Kuwait. Ibn Saud and his party of warriors approached the walls of Riyadh during the last night of the ‘Id carrying palm trunks to scale the walls of the town and capture the fort. Legend tells us that Ibn Saud and eight of his men fought their way into the stronghold and threw open the gates for the rest of his invading warriors.
In the fierce hand-to-hand battle, the Amir Ajlan ibn Mohammed ar Rashid was killed and the remaining defenders surrendered. Ibn Saud was just 23 years of age, and his victory had just marked the beginning of the Third Saudi State.
Those events in Riyadh were a world away from the academic cloisters of Cambridge University and an unimagined relationship with an Englishman that would develop over the next three decades. Harry St. John Bridger Philby was a few years younger than Abdul Aziz and arrived as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1904.
He knew nothing of events in Riyadh and never guessed he would be part of what led to the present Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Philby was a gifted student and worked hard to win a brilliant first in modern languages. His predicted career was as an employee of the Raj, and with that in mind he developed a command of six Oriental languages: Arabic, Baluch, Hindi, Persian, Punjabi and Urdu.
When Philby was recruited into the
Indian Civil Service, he promised to abide by its code that, ‘an officer must be loyal to his service and to his country.
When Philby was recruited into the Indian Civil Service, he promised to abide by its code that, ‘an officer must be loyal to his service and to his country’. But Philby’s linguistic brilliance did not compensate for a deeply rebellious nature, for he already mistrusted the philosophy of the Edwardian establishment he was brought up in, misgivings that were a key factor in his eventual liaison with Abdul Aziz.
In December 1908, he sailed for India and arrived just six years after Abdul Aziz had claimed the city of Riyadh. Philby became one of 141 ‘Heaven Born’ Britons in Bombay who ruled 42 million Indians in The Punjab.
Soon, his politics were perceived as less than those expected of a Raj official, and he was labelled as a radical troublemaker with an irritable side. In his autobiography, he claimed to be “the first Socialist to join the Indian Civil Service”. With such an unaccommodating nature, a clash with the Raj philosophy of the ‘inevitability of gradualness’ when dealing with far-off cultures was to be expected.
In 1910, Philby made a decision to marry. That brought disapproval from his masters in the Raj who considered his bride, Dora Johnston, to be unsuitable. Nevertheless, he went ahead with his cousin as best man — Lt. Bernard Montgomery, later the 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, whose military career led him to become commander in chief at the Normandy landings in 1944.
But Philby felt bitter that his marriage was censored and paranoid that he was victimised by Lt. Gov. Dane, his boss in the Raj. Victim or not, Philby prospered because of his energy and linguistic skills, despite the setbacks caused by his abrasive personality. An association with Ibn Saud took a step closer when he came to the attention of the Political Mission in Iraq. In 1915, he was recruited by its chief, Sir Percy Cox and arrived in Basra with the rank of major in the Political and Secret Department of the Indian Government.
By chance, Gertrude Bell, an influential aide, noticed his gift for languages and became his mentor. She made decisions about Philby’s political role that made it certain he would meet with Abdul Aziz, and Philby emerged as a key factor in her strategy. While the future King fought battle after battle to unify the tribes he would eventually rule, Philby immersed himself in the politics of the Middle East. Finally, the two men came together for the first time in December 1917, when Philby was sent as head of a mission to meet Ibn Saud on Arabian soil.
From the very first greetings, Philby was charmed by Ibn Saud, and as they started negotiating, an alliance formed that lasted for 36 years. Philby was entranced by the magnetic personality and charismatic presence of Ibn Saud, who in turn was intrigued by the irascible Englishman almost a foot shorter than himself. It also helped that Philby handed over £10,000 of the £30,000 fund given him in Iraq as a token of the esteem in which Ibn Saud was held by the British.
We can only guess whether Ibn Saud revealed his personal ambitions to Philby at this time or whether Philby gave them unconditional encouragement. But it is significant that after World War I, his financial support from the British increased, and he also received a huge tranche of surplus ammunition from them.
Ibn Saud, who, by 1932, became ruler
of what is now The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and remained as King until his death.
Ibn Saud unleashed his campaign against the Al Rashidi in 1920, and by 1922 had all but destroyed his enemy and doubled the size of the Saudi territory he controlled. By this time, Philby was head of the Secret Service for what is now The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and at the end of 1922 he traveled to London for high-level diplomatic meetings that included Winston Churchill, King George, the Prince of Wales and Baron Rothschild. Finally, he rubbed shoulders with the very highest echelons of the British establishment, but where did his allegiance lie? Philby made his view known that the British interests would best be served by supporting the Saudi family in uniting the Arabian Peninsula under one government.
His support for Ibn Saud was so unambiguous that by 1924 Philby was forced to resign his Secret Service position when he was found to be in unauthorised correspondence with Ibn Saud – sending him secret information. In British terms, this was plainly espionage, but his Secret Service masters continued to pay him as their most valued means of communication to Ibn Saud. Unabashed, Philby continued to advise Ibn Saud on the extent of his ambitions to unify all of Arabia and the likely British reaction, and in 1925, the armies of Ibn Saud captured the holy city of Mecca from Sharif Hussein bin Ali and ended 700 years of Hashemite rule.
As a non-believer, Philby couldn’t attend the coronation of the new King of the Nejd and Hijaz but Ibn Saud allowed Philby to arrange his seating banquet in Jiddah. Their relationship was cemented over the following years, and there is little doubt that time and again Philby betrayed the political will of his British masters in deference to the interests of Abdul Aziz and provided unilateral backing for the King’s strategy in unifying the Arabian Peninsula. Philby supported the King’s conquest of the Hijaz and made sure his delicate relationship with the British remained amicable. Philby’s position as an informer to both parties was unique, and he used it to good effect on behalf of Ibn Saud.
By 1932 Ibn Saud became ruler of what is now The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and remained as King until his death. Philby stayed a loyal ally and benevolent shadow offering advice and support. In that same year, Standard Oil of California retained Philby as a paid adviser to facilitate their goal of obtaining the country’s oil concessions. As usual, he did this with the guile of a lifetime — appearing to act for one party providing it was with Ibn Saud’s best interests in mind, but then, of course, he was The King’s Man.
Editor’s Note: Mel Trotter lived in Dhahran in the ‘70’s and flew Royal, corporate, Tapline and exploration work. He was a pilot in the Aviation Department – believed to be the first English one where the others were all American at that time with Aramco. A writer and executive coach, he now lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire. Mel’s latest novel The Orphan Sniper is available in paperback at The Amazon Store and as an eBook on Kindle and compatible devices. He can be contacted through his website at www.humanriskfactors.com.
This article was first published in Aramco Overseas Company’s Alaela magazine. Permission to reprint granted by Mel Trotter.
Mel Trotter has written a novel called The Orphan Sniper. To learn more visit:
Saudi Arabian Ambassadors to America in Context: The Diplomatic and Geopolitical Lives of Ambassadors Prince Bandar, Prince Turki, and Adel Al-Jubeir by John Duke Anthony as reported in National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations Publications.
In the rapid succession of dramatic events related to the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world, one frequently has reason to wonder what on earth could happen next. Something like this happened this past month. it became clear that former Libyan President Muammar Al-Qadhafi had been killed, news references reporting on his death throughout the world added a phrase to his name that no one had ever heard or read before: namely, ” …the late president Qadhafi ….” Indeed, it is often the nature of a given day’s diverse news cycle that dramatic events of only a few days before suddenly become “old news.”
But not always.
Such is the bizarre case of one of the last several weeks’ hottest news items. For days on end the focus was on an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Adel Ahmed Al-Jubeir. Once reports of the dire threat hit the news wires, it was as though the international media, and especially its American components, could focus upon little else.
All of a sudden, few remained unaware of the media’s extensive references to Mexico’s drug cartels, the international reach of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and the imposition of additional sanctions against specific individuals and institutions associated with the Iranian government. Neither did the media ignore what, if the reports were true, the implications might be for Iranian-U.S. relations or Iran’s position and roles within regional and global affairs. Nor did it ignore for long the drawdown of American armed forces from two of Iran’s neighbors, namely Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead, in writing about these and related phenomena, large portions of the media failed to provide an account of one of the central figures to the story: the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia himself.
To read more, please visit the National Council on U.S. Arab Relations to download the full PDF.
Reprinted with Permissioin: National Council on U.S. Arab Relations
RIYADH: The US Embassy has prioritized the issuance of student visas in its mission in Riyadh and its consulates in Jeddah and Dhahran, a senior embassy official told Arab News on Saturday.
“Some 48,000 Saudi scholarship students are currently studying in various universities and colleges in the United States,” said Mofid Deak, press attaché at the mission in Riyadh. He added another 5,000 students are studying in the US on their own and along with the students’ family members. There are up to around 100,000 Saudis currently staying in the US.
The diplomat said that during the fiscal year ended September, the missions in the Kingdom had issued 121,296 visas for Saudis, up 32 percent over the previous year. The Riyadh embassy issued 71,490 visas, while Jeddah and Dhahran issued 26,349 and 23,457 visas respectively.
“Of the visas issued in the Kingdom,” he said, “26 percent was for students which was a remarkable number.”
Deak added that there was a 34 percent increase in the number of student visas issued to Saudi citizens compared to the previous year.
During International Education Week, the US Department of State highlights existing efforts to attract future leaders from abroad to take advantage of the exceptional educational opportunities in the United States, he said.
“We also recognize that foreign students bring with them tremendous intellectual, social and economic benefits,” the attaché said, pointing out that as part of these efforts, the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs gives student visa appointments special priority.
All US embassies and consulates expedite visa processing for foreign students to ensure qualified students are able to begin their academic program on time, he noted.
“The maximum wait for a student visa appointment is fewer than 15 days. However, the missions in the Kingdom have reduced it to two to three days,” he said, adding that they can apply for their visas up to 120 days before their academic programs begin. We always encourage all visa applicants to apply early.”
At home and abroad, students continue to seek international education to gain skills, contacts and the experience necessary to succeed in the global marketplace. The consistent growth in international enrollments in the United States attests to the universally recognized preeminence of the country’s higher education system.
International education grew by nearly nine percent during the 2010/11 academic year and foreign students studying in the United States brought $21.3 billion into the domestic economy. Most importantly, educational exchanges foster mutual understanding, respect and goodwill between Americans and people around the world, he concluded.
By MD RASOOLDEEN | ARAB NEWS Published: Nov 20, 2011