- Download our Moving to Saudi Arabia Guide (PDF)
- The Arabian Peninsula has a long history of tribal societies, with various groups living in the region for thousands of years.
- The region was important for trade routes linking Europe, Asia, and Africa, with cities such as Mecca and Medina becoming important centres of commerce.
- In the 7th century, the Islamic prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca and began preaching a new religion, which would later become known as Islam.
- In 622, Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina in what is known as the Hijra, marking the beginning of the Islamic calendar.
- After Muhammad's death, his successors, known as the caliphs, expanded the Islamic empire, bringing the Arabian Peninsula under their control.
- Until the 16th century, the area that is now Saudi Arabia was ruled by various Arab tribes, including the Rashidun, Umayyad, and Abbasid dynasties.
- The region was known for its trade in spices, textiles, and other goods, with merchants traveling long distances to sell their wares.
- The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, was a major source of income for the region, with pilgrims from all over the Muslim world traveling to the holy city to perform religious rituals.
- In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire took control of the region, ruling over it until the 20th century. Ottoman control started with Selim I’s acquisition of Medina and Mecca in 1517, and they soon controlled the regions along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coasts. They also laid claim to the interior, although this remained a nominal suzerainty.
- In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain and France (which were fighting the Ottomans, the sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, led a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, with the aim of securing Arab independence and creating a single unified Arab state spanning the Arab territories from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.
House of Saud
- In 1727, Muhammad ibn Saud, a local tribal leader, established the First Saudi State in the area around Riyadh. The fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell over the next 150 years as they vied for control of region with the Ottoman Empire, Egypt and other Arabian dynasties.
- In 1744, Muhammad ibn Saud combined forces with Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, a scholar and founder of the Wahhabi religious movement. This alliance formed the ideological basis to the expansion of the House of Saud and Wahhabism remains Saudi Arabia's dominant faith.
- The Saud family briefly controlled most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia, including Mecca and Medina, through conquests made between 1786 and 1816.
- Concerned at the growing power of the Saudis, the Ottoman ordered his viceroy in Egypt to reconquer the area, and by 1818 the Saudi forces were routed.
- In 1824 the Al Saud returned to power, a period which became known as the Second Saudi State, although the area they controlled was limited to the Saudi interior. During this period the Saudis were challenged by the powerful Al Rashid dynasty, and by 1891 were conclusively defeated and driven into exile in Kuwait.
- In 1902, Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, leader of the Al Saud, returned from exile to resume the conflict with the Al Rashid. He seized Riyadh, the first of a series of conquests, and created the Third Saudi State which ultimately led to the creation of Saudi Arabia in 1930.
- Abdul-Aziz is recognised as the founder of modern Saudi Arabia and ruled as king from 1932 to 1953. Since then, six of his sons in succession have reigned over the kingdom.
Modern Saudi Arabia
- The discovery of oil in 1938 transformed the country's economy and allowed for rapid modernisation.
- During World War II, Saudi Arabia supported the Allied powers and provided oil to the United States and Great Britain.
- In 1960, Saudi Arabia was one of the founding members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), giving it significant influence in global oil markets.
- In 1979, the Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by Islamic militants, leading to a two-week siege and a crackdown on religious extremism.
- In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia was a key player in supporting the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.
- In 1990, Saudi Arabia played a leading role in the Gulf War, which expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
- In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, it was revealed that most of the attackers were of Saudi nationality. This put a strain on the relationship between the two countries.
- In 2005, King Fahd died and was succeeded by his half-brother, King Abdullah.
- In 2011, Saudi Arabia sent troops to Bahrain to help quell pro-democracy protests there.
- In 2015, King Salman ascended to the throne and launched a series of economic and social reforms under the banner of Vision 2030.
- In 2017, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Qatar over allegations of support for terrorism.
- In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a crackdown on corruption, arresting dozens of high-profile businessmen and officials.
- In 2019, Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive for the first time.
- In 2021, Saudi Arabia hosted the G20 summit, showcasing its efforts to diversify its economy and promote cultural openness.
Are you an expat living in Saudi Arabia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Saudi Arabia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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