The Ottoman Way of Dealing with the House of Saud

First, the “I told you so”: I have been dealing with the Sunni-Shi’a divide since 2005, now everyone knows how important it is.

Now for something different: this, from Andrew Wheatcroft’s The Ottomans:

Deep in the heart of Arabia, the desert warriors of the Wahabi sect, fanatical in hatred for the wickedness of the world, had built a great army dedicated to purifying the Faith with fire and the sword.  To many, they seemed reminiscent of the armies of the Prophet that had swept out of Arabia in the first century of the Muslim era.  For the Wahabis, the luxury and good living in the holy cities of Medina and Mecca was an abomination, a new Sodom and Gomorrah.  In 1804 they captured Medina, the second city of Islam, and purged it of evil; then they rode north to take war to the gates of Baghdad. In the following year, the Wahabi leader Abdullah ibn Saud refused to allow the pilgrims on the haj–the pilgrimage to Mecca–to enter the holy city unless they accepted the principles of Wahabi puritanism.  In 1806, the pilgrims humbled themselves before the Wahabis and were allowed entry…

In February 1807 Abdullah entered the holy city of Mecca and loosed his warriors in an orgy of destruction and looting.  They purged the city of anything which was not within the teachings of the Koran…

Wheatcroft does not mention it, but the house of Saud had intermarried with the founder of Wahabi Islam’s descendants; it was and is a family affair.

It took a few years for the Ottomans to get Mecca back, and they did so with the help of Egyptian Pasha Mehmet Ali:

In 1813 these same troops (the new Egyptian “Ordered Army”) slaughtered the Wahabi army and recovered the holy cities of Arabia. Mehmet Ali sent the keys of the cities to the sultan, and once again the sultan’s name was honoured in the Friday prayers at the heart of Islam…

In 1818 the triumph was completed when an Egyptian army led by Ibrahim Pasha captured the Wahabi leader, Abdullah ibn Saud, and sent him in chains to Constantinople.  (Ottoman Sultan) Mahmud handed the Saudi chief to the ulema, who questioned him closely and found him an incorrigible heretic.  They returned him to the justice of the sultan. Abdullah was publicly beheaded, as an eyewitness observed, ‘at the door of the gardens of the serail’, and his head was displayed on a marble column.

It took the British, with the help of T.E. “Lawrence of Arabia” to oust the Ottomans at last from Mecca and Medina and hand them to the house of Saud.

I would like to think that the leaders in Cairo and Ankara have called to mind this little known piece of history.  The tricky part is getting the place back without either the oil fields or the holy cities or both falling into the hands of Tehran.

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