The Holy Alliance
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of "Wahhabism," an austere form of Islam, arrives in the central Arabian state of Najd in 1744 preaching a return to "pure" Islam. He seeks protection from the local emir, Muhammad ibn Saud, head of the Al Saud tribal family, and they cut a deal. The Al Saud will endorse al-Wahhab's austere form of Islam and in return, the Al Saud will get political legitimacy and regular tithes from al-Wahhab's followers. The religious-political alliance that al-Wahhab and Saud forge endures to this day in Saudi Arabia.
By the 19th century, the Al Saud has spread its influence across the Arabian Peninsula, stretching from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf and including the Two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina. But in 1818, forces of the Ottoman Empire sack the capital, Riyadh, and execute many of the religious and political leaders. Over the next eighty years the Al Saud attempt to reestablish their rule on the Arabian Peninsula without success.
Abd al-Aziz and the Ikhwan
In 1902, a direct descendent of Muhammad ibn Saud, twenty-year-old Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, rides out of the desert with 60 of his brothers and cousins to restore the rule of Al Saud. He captures Riyadh, the ancient capital of the Saudi kingdom, but to conquer all of the Arabian Peninsula, he seeks the help of nomadic Bedouins, the Ikhwan, or Muslim brothers. Renowned warriors, the Ikhwan are also fervent Wahhabi Islamic puritans who want to spread their form of Islam throughout the Middle East.
Abd al-Aziz Captures Mecca and Medina, Crushes the Ikhwan
With the Ikhwan by his side, Abd al-Aziz captures province after province of the vast desert. He captures Mecca in 1924 and Medina in 1925, becoming the ruler of the Two Holy Cities of Islam. But the Ikhwan want to spread Wahhabism beyond Arabia and when Abd al-Aziz tries to restrain them, they rebel. To survive, Abd al-Aziz realizes he has to destroy the Ikhwan. But how can he, a defender of Islam, justify going to war against his Muslim warriors?
Abd al-Aziz seeks the approval of the ulama, the religious authorities, regarded as the moral guardians of the realm. With the ulama's endorsement, he crushes the Ikhwan.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud declares himself king and gives his name to the country: Saudi Arabia. To keep his new kingdom united, he marries a daughter from every tribe as well as from the influential clerical families -- more than twenty wives, although never more than four at one time, in accordance with the Quran.
These unions produce 45 legitimate sons and an unknown number of daughters (daughters are not counted). Abd al-Aziz then begins consolidating power away from the brothers and cousins who helped him conquer the peninsula in favor of his own sons. Every Saudi king since has been a son of Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud.
Source: Frontline PBS