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The Al Saud and the Hashemites: from rivals to equals

The Saudi-Hashemite rivalry shows the slow emergence of ingroup identification between two rivaling dynasties initially divided by hierarchic ideologies. After the abandomnent of the ideology and rivaling dynastic claims, and catalyzed by the threat by socialist pan-Arabist revolutionary republics, they extended recognition to each other. Slowly, a shared group identity as monarchies formed, showing that a similar political system has a unifying effect even in the absence of an otherwise-close connection as between khaleeji monarchies.

The rivalry between the two dynasties can be traced to a time before either of the states that bear their names (or have in the past), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Hashemite Kingdoms of Jordan and Iraq, had been established.

The following case study proceeds by first elaborating on the role of the scope condition of state building by setting up the pre-independence context before going through the process indicators from ingroup development toward peacefulness.

The struggle over the Hijaz (1917-1926): state building as a scope condition

At the beginning of the 20th century, the relations between the Hashemites, who ruled over the Hijaz, and the Al Saud, whose power base was centered on the Najd region, were respectful and even cooperative. There was no sign of a grand expansionary design during the First World War, when Hashemite ruler Hussein bin Ali, Sharif and Amir of Mecca, asked Ibn Saud (also known as Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, the founder of the Saudi Kingdom) to join the Arab Revolt in July 1916 and the latter agreed. Although no direct collaboration followed, the war bolstered Ibn Saud’s importance. In November 1916, Hussein’s son Abdallah described Ibn Saud with respect and called him “Chief of Arabs” (Kostiner 1995, 48).

But this honeymoon was not too last, and soon after, relations deteriorated on both sides. An example of the deep enmity that developed is Ibn Saud's remark to John Philby. the political resident in the Gulf's secretary, that although he would marry an Englishwoman or eat meat slain by Christians, he would never marry a daughter of the sharif or eat meat slain by the Sharifian niushrikiin (polytheists, ergo no true Muslims) (Teitelbaum 1995, 83, fn 23). This shows not only that there was no ingroup identification at the beginning but also that the difference was emphasized and maximized, resulting in othering even on the basis of qualities that should have been unifying rather than divisive, namely their shared adherence to conservative Sunni Islam.

But at this point, it is hard to describe the two dynasties as full-blown monarchies that should "naturally” develop a sense of community, because they were still long way from the modern monarchies examined here. Thinking of power in categories of clearly delineated territory was then not the established norm on the Arabian Peninsula, and even the urban Hashemites at that time based their rule on tribal law and de-emphasized state building. Tribal politics entailed a "perennial struggle over undemarcated territories” (Kostiner 1995, 49). John Philby was instrumental in British policy on the Peninsula at that time. Although he was a supporter of Ibn Saud, he attempted to separate the two dynastic spheres of influence and turn their expansionary drives in different directions. The British introduced a system of division of power based on demarcated territorial lines, as opposed to the earlier hegemonic custom of tribal allegiance, into the region. It was accepted by the Najdis and Hijazis alike (Kostiner 1995, 57).

Amid growing Hashemite expansionism and territorial uncertainty, Ibn Saud capitalized on the wariness of local rulers. At that time, the British supported both dynasties in their respective geographical areas and promised protection of Saudi territories in Najd, although with a mere 5000 pounds per month, Ibn Saud only received a 25th of the amount Hussein commanded (Kostiner 1995, 53, 55).14

The difference was not restricted to the level of British support: Ibn Saud’s legitimacy was based not on descent from the prophet, as was the Hashemites’, but on his appeal to Wahhabi revivalism, which gained a growing following, even among Hashemite chieftaincies (Kostiner 1995, 53).

The Kliurma incident was the first major disruption in their relations and was triggered when Hussein attempted to consolidate his control over the strategically important town, affiliated with both Wahhabis and Hashemites in political, economic, and tribal terms. Khurma's local governor, Amir Khalid, called for Saudi help to balance Hashemite pressure (Kostiner 1995, 53). Before Ibn Saud could arrive, Amir Khalid surprisingly attacked Abdallah's camp at Turaba independently, along with a following of Ikhwan fighters, the Wahhabi tribal warriors infamous for their fanaticism. The attack decimated most of the Hijazi forces; the rest, including Abdallah, fled. This marked a turning point in military balance between the continually shifting rivaling fronts (Kostiner 1995, 60).

Hussein's standing among the British and the Muslim world deteriorated not least due to his mismanagement of the annual hajj, while Wahhabi influence grew stronger. By 1923, a Wahhabi invasion of the Hijaz was probably in its preparatory stages. In 1924, Egyptian King Fu'ad received a congratulatory letter on the opening of the first Egyptian parliament from Ibn Saud, who clearly tried to capitalize on the Egyptian-Hashemite rivalry. When, in his ever-growing self-aggrandizement. Hussein proclaimed himself caliph in early March 1924. after the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate, he was met with rejection (Teitelbaum 1995, 75-77). Ibn Saud’s actions affirmed that he did not accept the status change either give that he moved to attack later that year after the British had withdrawn their subsidies (Al-Rasheed 2010, 43).

When the Hashemites refused to grant the Najdis access to the hajj that year, Ibn Saud’s ulaina ’ declared it a casus belli. On September 5,1924, the occupation of Ta’if marked the beginning of the Hijaz invasion. By mid October, Mecca was occupied by the Ikhwan, and Hussein had left for Aqaba. His eldest son, Ali, who was put in charge, retreated to Jidda, which he surrendered in December 1925 (Teitelbaum 1995, 77-79).

As the sole reason for invading the Hijaz, Ibn Saud gave the aim to "guarantee the liberty of pilgrimage and to settle the destiny of the Holy Land in a manner satisfactory to the Islamic world” (cited in: Al-Rasheed 2010, 44). Acknowledging the finality of the Hashemite loss, Ali had agreed to recognize King Fu'ad of Egypt as caliph and an Egyptian protectorate over the Hijaz some weeks previously, to no avail (Teitelbaum 1995, 81). This desperate attempt shows the lengths to which the Hashemites were willing to go to prevent the upstart Saudis from consolidating their rale, having failed militarily.

The Wahhabi Ikhwan forces of Ibn Saud eventually conquered most of the Arabian Peninsula with tacit British support. Hussein fled into exile in Cyprus, where he died in 1931, while his sons, Abdallah and Faisal bin Hussein Al Hashemi, went on to claim the thrones of Transjordan, Iraq, and briefly Syria (Teitelbaum 2001c, 282). Faisal proclaimed himself king of Syria in 1918 and was recognized by an all-Arab congress in July 1919 as king of a united Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan before being evicted from his throne by the French in summer 1920. To make up for the loss, the British accorded him the Iraqi throne, to which he formally ascended in October 1921. His brother Abdallah claimed Transjordan in passing by Amman on his way to confront the French. To get him to relinquish this ambition, the British recognized his rale in Transjordan in 1922 (Weinberger 1986, 244-245).

This marks the beginning of the statehood period of Saudi-Hashemite relations, characterized by Hashemite irredentism (and weakening Wahhabi expansionism) and state building in both dynastic realms that only just began to crystallize into nation-states. It is in this time that the first signs of ingroup identification occurred, having been notably absent in the pre-state period.

Aprecursor to official mutual recognition is the symbolic equalization expressed in chosen styles and titles at that time. Due to their high symbolic importance, there was a certain amount of competition for styles conveying sovereignty and superiority. It was around the time when Hussein became cognizant of the Saudi rise that he demanded a new title from the British, to reflect his superordinate position in December 1917, explicitly also vis-à-vis Ibn Saud (Kostiner 1995, 53). He had already declared himself "king of the Hijaz” and "king of the Arab Lands” (malik bilad al-‘arab), thereby becoming the first modern Arab monarch to claim that title (Lewis 2000. 19). However, the latter title, that implied a wider sovereignty over all territory occupied by Arabs, was not widely recognized, including by Ibn Saud (Kostiner 1995, 54). His self-elevation to caliph in early March 1924, after the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate, was met with near universal rejection (Teitelbaum 1995, 77)

Previously known as an amir (prince) and imam (since 1902), Ibn Saud adopted the title of sultan of Najd after Faisal's ascent to the Iraqi throne as king of Iraq. The British confirmed the title in August 1921. In contrast to the former two, the latter title was not claimed by other local rulers in central Arabia (Al-Rasheed 2010, 60-61), which thus gave Ibn Saud a competitive edge on the peninsula. Still, one step remained to elevate him to the formal level of the Hashemites; after the conquest of the holy cities, Ibn Saud declared himself "king of Hijaz” in December 1925 with the local notables pledging allegiance and proclaiming him "king of Hijaz and sultan ofNajd and its dependencies” on January 8, 1926, thus finally elevating him and his dynasty to long-sought royal status (Al-Rasheed 2010, 44).15

This symbolic equality would provide the basis for an acceptance of equal status by other monarchs in later periods. The two domains were merged into one in 1932, when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was proclaimed (Podeh 1995, 86). Hashemite Iraq, a kingdom since 1921, declared its independence a short time afterward, while Transjordan remained an emirate until May 1946, when Abdallah crowned himself king (Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe 2009, 28).

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