Saudi Arabia Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Saudi Arabia is a country located in Western Asia. With the capital city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has a population of 34,813,882 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Saudi Arabia’s first king Ibn Saud (1932–1953) ruled the country according to conservative Islamic laws while establishing close cooperation with the Western powers. Oil began to be extracted on a large scale and laid the foundation for strong economic development. After Ibn Saud, six of his sons have been seated on the throne. The country has remained an Islamic state, although it has been modernized and gradually opened to the outside world. After the Kuwait War of 1990-1991, when US troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia, armed resistance to the regime grew. After the so-called Arab Spring, the peaceful resistance has also been strengthened, but it is poorly tolerated by the royal power.

When Ibn Saud died in 1953, he was succeeded by Crown Prince Saud. Another of the sons, Faisal, took over as Crown Prince. Saud soon became impossible as king through his looming luxury life and was deposed in 1964. New king became Faisal.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Saudi Arabia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Under Faisal, Saudi Arabia developed into a modern industrial and welfare state while preserving traditional Islamic values. The king must proceed cautiously and constantly make sure that changes are not contrary to Islam. The balanced policy – along with growing oil wealth – gave Faisal international authority. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Saudi Arabia.

During the six-day war against Israel in 1967, Saudi Arabia participated in an oil boycott against the West. After the war, Saudi Arabia bought weapons from the Western powers, but in the Arab states’ war against Israel in 1973, the Saudis again ceded oil flow to, among other things, the United States, Israel’s foremost ally.

In 1975 King Faisal was murdered by a relative who was later executed. The king was succeeded by his half-brother, Crown Prince Khalid. Another half-brother, Fahd, was named new crown prince. Since Khalid was sickly, and possibly not so out of politics, Fahd came in large part to run the government. The economy continued to grow and Saudi Arabia was rapidly transforming into a modern state with an increasingly active role in international contexts.

The year 1400 according to Islamic times was 1979 after Christ. Centenary moods prevailed. The Revolution in Iran (see Foreign Policy and Defense) also raised fears of rebellion among Shi’ite Muslims in Saudi Arabia. But the threats to the country’s stability and to the royal house appeared to come from fundamentalist Sunnis: In November 1979, the Great Mosque in Mecca was occupied for two weeks by fanatics who took pilgrims hostage. They wanted to overthrow the monarchy, which they saw as corrupt and too Western-friendly. Around 250 people were killed in connection with the occupation, and some 60 were executed later. The attack on Islam’s holiest site shook the Muslim world and caused a severe loss of prestige for the regime.

King Khalid died in 1982 and was succeeded by Crown Prince Fahd. Another half-brother, Abdullah, head of the National Guard, was appointed crown prince.

Domestic political concerns

Contradictions between Saudi Arabia and Iran in 1987 contributed to bloody clashes in Mecca between Saudi security service and Iranian pilgrims. Over 400 people were killed. Subsequently, Saudi Arabia introduced national quotas for foreign visitors during the annual pilgrimage. Iran protested by boycotting the pilgrimage for several years. At the fall of 1990, more than 1,400 people were killed, when panic erupted among pilgrims in a subway.

After a decade of low oil prices and poorer welfare, social injustice and corruption in the early 1990s came into focus. A popular dissatisfaction was nourished and the royal family’s position was challenged by critics with contradictory demands – some wanted to see stricter application of Sharia, Islamic law, while others wanted a liberalization of society.

After the 1990-1991 Kuwait War (see Foreign Policy and Defense), when the regime allowed the United States to station soldiers on Saudi soil, criticism became harsh from fundamentalists who believed it was wrong to let foreign non-Muslim soldiers protect the country. Among them was Usama bin Ladin, who previously collaborated with the regime in supporting the Mujahid guerrillas in Afghanistan. He was expelled from the country in 1991 for his harsh criticism of the royal house and a few years later was deprived of his Saudi citizenship.

High-ranking religious dignitaries also tried to pressure the regime to apply a stricter interpretation of Islam. A fundamentalist organization was formed in 1993 but was banned quickly. Its management went into exile and continued to operate from London. The following year, protesters who protested against the regime’s attempt to silence the fundamentalists were arrested. Several activists were sentenced to long prison terms.

The criticism of the royal house and the foreign military presence contributed to the emergence of an armed opposition. In November 1995 and in June 1996, terrorist acts against the National Guard and a military base were carried out. A total of 26 people, the majority of American soldiers, lost their lives and hundreds more were injured.

When King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995, power gradually rose to Crown Prince Abdullah. The regime’s authority had then been weakened by the attacks and repeated tragedies in connection with the pilgrimage. The situation was aggravated by the weak economy, which meant a falling standard of living for ordinary Saudis. Crown Prince Abdullah sought to alleviate popular dissatisfaction by somewhat diminishing the royal benefits of the king.

The war on terrorism

The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 had major repercussions on Saudi Arabia. The attacks were directed at the country’s most important ally, the United States, and the main suspect was the Saudi-born Usama bin Laden. Of 19 airmen who performed the killing, 15 were Saudi. Now the royal house was forced into a difficult balance. The United States demanded and was promised cooperation in the fight against international terrorism. In Islamist circles, criticism was harsh, even among many who distanced themselves from the terrorist act itself. American presence not far from the sacred places of Islam stung their eyes. Many Saudis were also hostile to the United States because of the country’s policies in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

The US invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 sharpened the contradictions. Following the invasion, the US and Saudi Arabia agreed that the US military should leave Saudi Arabia. Despite this, in May, four suicide bombings were carried out against residential areas with westerners in Riyadh. Over 30 people were killed and Usama bin Laden’s terror network al-Qaeda suspected to be behind the act. A clap hunt was launched on suspected terrorists in the country. Firefighting took place in Riyadh between security forces and militant Islamists. Hundreds of members of banned groups were arrested and radical imams were forbidden to preach. Regimental-critical protesters were also arrested, and sentenced to prison and prison sentences.

In 2004, the suspicion that militant groups had sympathizers within the state apparatus was reinforced. The terrorist chase escalated. Nevertheless, the attacks continued, against oil plants and on one occasion against the US consulate in Jeddah. Dozens of people were killed, many of them foreigners, and the United States urged its citizens to leave the country.

In early 2005, political elections were held for the first time in Saudi Arabia. Saudi men appointed half of the members of 178 local councils. During the year, a clear sign was also given for elections to the boards of the provincial chambers of commerce – and women were now allowed to vote. In two provinces, they were also allowed to run, and in Jeddah two women were elected to board positions.

In August 2005, King Fahd passed away. He was succeeded by Abdullah, who has long been the actual leader. New Crown Prince became Sultan, brother of Fahd and Minister of Defense for over 40 years. Abdullah continued the cautious liberalization of the political and social system which he initiated even before his accession to the throne. He gave women and Shi’a Muslims some representation in social organizations. Moral police’s habit of forcing recognition was highlighted, and in 2007, the Moral Police, al-mutaww’in, was deprived of the right to arrest people. Abdullah replaced several conservative opponents in a government reshuffle in 2009.

Extreme Islamist circles continued to threaten the country’s stability. In 2009, a suicide bomber struck the Interior Ministry. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef – the son of Nayef Minister of the Interior and himself responsible for the government’s counterterrorism campaign – escaped with little need. Al Qaeda said it was behind the attack. That same year, al-Qaeda’s Saudi supporters made a joint effort with more well-organized colleagues in Yemen and formed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap). Thereafter, terrorist attacks increased again in Saudi Arabia.

The Arab Spring 2011

The scourge that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 also echoed Saudi Arabia. An attempt to form a political party was made – but quickly stopped. Demands were made on political reforms, such as the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and majlis al-shura being elected by the people instead of being appointed by the king. There were no political concessions, but the regime was obviously worried. In an effort to stave off protests, King Abdullah launched social initiatives, such as housing construction, strengthened unemployment benefits and increased salaries for civil servants.

But demands for reform continued to spread through the internet and dissatisfaction raged, especially among Shia Muslims in the East. There was great anger among the Shiites when Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to help the royal power there to defeat protests by force (see Foreign Policy and Defense). The protests led to hundreds of arrests and several deaths in clashes between protesters and police.

When Crown Prince Sultan died in 2011, his full brother Nayef became Crown Prince and when he died the following year, the Crown Prince’s title went to yet another full brother, Salman. The three belonged, as did Fahd, King Abdullah’s representative, the clan Sudayri, who is regarded as the most powerful faction within the Saud family. As a result, a member of the Sudanese clan was in turn constantly taking over the throne after Abdullah (see also Political system).

In 2013, the king broke the tradition when he brought in 30 women in majlis al-shura. He also promised that women would be allowed to stand as candidates and vote in future local elections.


In January 2015, King Abdullah died and Crown Prince Salman became a new king. The new deputy crown prince was appointed 55-year-old interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef, son of the former crown prince Nayef. Salman also appointed one of his own sons – Mohammed bin Salman – as the new Minister of Defense, Special Advisor and Head of the Court, and a newly established Council for Finance and Development. Thus, for the first time, representatives of the “cousin generation” stood in the throne, the generation consisting of hundreds of grandsons to Saudi Arabia’s founder Ibn Saud.

It also meant that King Salman clearly sharpened the Sudanese grip on power. The king also deposed two of Abdullah’s sons who were governors of Riyadh and Mecca, two of the three most important provinces. The image of the sudiirs moving forward their positions was reinforced by the fact that Crown Prince Muqrin, who was considered to belong to the Abdullah camp, unlike his representatives did not receive any heavy government post.

Saudi Arabia Modern History