Dir’iyyah and the First Saudi State
Two-and-a-half centuries ago the first Saudi State rose out of the heart of Arabia, dominated the Peninsula and its Holy Places, and was finally crushed by the might of Muhammad Ali, the Ottoman ruler of Egypt. It is a story little known outside the ranks of Middle Eastern historians. Dir’iyyah was the capital of the phenomenal empire that flourished from 1745 to 1818. Today it is a scatter of ruins beyond the northern limits of Riyadh, covering an eight-mile stretch of the Wadi Hanifah, brooded over by the mighty citadel of Turayf. The site has been specially photographed for this work, and a visual impression of how life was lived there 200 years ago has been reconstructed. By seizing the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah (1803-4), the house of Saud threatened the basis of the Ottoman Caliph’s legitimacy as Commander of the Faithful. The Turco-Egyptian invasion this provoked, led ny Muhammad Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, penetrated the fastness of central Arabia, culminating in the destruction of this daring reassertion of Arab power inspired by the restoration of Islamic purity.
The reform movement, propagated by the teacher Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, was given political realization by the first Imams of the house of Saud. It harnessed the energies of town and tribe to the larger ideal of Muslim brotherhood. Dir’iyyah remains a symbol of the Saudi nationhood of today. The rise and fall of Dir’iyyah is an epic tale, told here by William Facey.
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