Memories of King Saud

Poster of the King Saud exhibit in the Bahrain National Museum

Poster of the King Saud exhibit in the Bahrain National Museum

You may have heard that the Bahrain National Museum is holding a special exhibition on the late King Saud Ibn Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia.  There are lots of billboards in Bahrain advertising the exhibit.

Well, I was interested in seeing it this weekend.  I thought I’d take the kids too to make it a family event.  I’ve been wanting to take them to the museum for some time now.  Well, when I wanted to go my daughter couldn’t come because she had art class.  So I asked my son Laith (who’s 5 years old) if he wanted to come.

He was weighing his options carefully when I asked him if he was interested.  He was playing with his dinosaurs and was engrossed in his fantasy world.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  “Laith!  You want to go to the museum with me?”

Laith: “mmmm… what do they have in the museum?”

Me:  “Lot’s of cool things that we can see!”  I’m trying to sound as excited as I possibly can.

Laith:  “Do they have dinosaur bones?”

Me:  “um, no.  But they have nice things like… er, old cars and lots of old pictures!”

Laith:  “I don’t want to come.”

Me:  “Come on!  It will be lot’s of fun!”

Laith:  “No, I want to stay here and play.”

And so I went on my own.  To be honest, it was probably for the best because I think he would have been bored there.  There were one or two young children at the exhibit and they were whining a lot to their parents about wanting to leave.

Anyway, I thought the exhibit was really good.  They have lots of old photos going back to the early 20th century.  I love seeing these old photos.  They also had some videos and original artefacts from King Saud, like glasses, swords, awards received etc.  Like I said, I really enjoyed it.

FYI, King Saud was the second Saudi King.  Saudi history is a bit of a hobby of mine, so I’ll give you just the briefest of briefs of the Kingdom’s history, and where King Saud fits in.

The current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is what is referred to as the “third Saudi state.”  The first state goes back all the way to 1744 AD when an alliance was formed between the Amir Mohammed bin Saud and the reformist cleric Mohammed bin Abdulwahab.  You may have heard the term “wahabis”, this refers to the teachings of the sheikh.

I don’t recall the exact dates, but the reformist movement and the first Saudi state spread through various parts of the Middle East.  It was finally stopped by the Ottomans in the early 19th century.  A second Saudi state emerged a few years later and lasted until the 1890’s.

The third Saudi state started in 1902 AD when Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud captured Riyadh in a daring raid.  From there the young prince expanded his reign and established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

I’m a big fan of King Abdulaziz and read lot’s of books about him.  He’s considered a historic leader on the level of Churchill, Roosevelt and the like.  King Abdulaziz had many children (probably around 70 give or take).  The oldest was prince Turki who died relatively young.  His second oldest was prince Saud.

Prince Saud was heavily involved with his father’s conquests and was later named Crown Prince.  King Abdulaziz also named his other son, prince Faisal as his deputy.  And thus a tradition started in Saudi Arabia – unlike other kingdoms – where the throne passes from brother to brother, not from father to son.

When King Abdulaziz passed away in 1953 prince Saud was named king, and prince Faisal Crown Prince.  King Saud’s reign was marred by controversy.  He was deposed by his brother Faisal and other senior members of the royal family in 1964. (Like I said, this is just a very brief intro.  There were various reasons why he was deposed, you can do some more research on the net if you’re really interested)

The interesting thing is, for many years, the Saudi government tried to erase King Saud from the history books.  I remember in school we learnt that when King Abdulaziz died, his son Faisal became king.  There was no mention of King Saud, it was as if he never existed!

When I was about 9 or 10 years old in Riyadh I was sitting with my father in his library when I noticed a picture of a man hanging on the wall.  I asked him who that was,  was a he replied “King Saud.”

I remember thinking who’s King Saud? What we learned in school, was that after King Abdulaziz came King Faisal, King Khalid and then King Fahd.  Who was Saud??

Some years later the policy of trying to erase him from history was reversed.  This exhibit in the museum is done by his children and grand children.  I suppose it is an effort to exonerate him.

One of the things the exhibit mentions is that King Saud was the first person to mention the idea of a causeway between Bahrain and Saudi.  Another interesting thing about the late King was that he had more children than his father!  There was a family tree in the exhibit and I counted over 100 names!  Mashallah!

saud-family-tree

My father told me that my grandfather Abdulrahman was quite close to the king.  When he was deposed and exiled my grandfather wanted to send him a telegram.  I guess he wanted to be supportive and provide some encouragement.  Due to my father’s early talent in eloquent Arabic writing, he used to write his letters for my grandfather.  They had a conversation that went something like this:

Grandfather: “Come here son.  Let’s write a telegram to King Saud.”

Father:  “Yes sir.”

Grandfather:  “To His Majesty…”

Father: “Umm.. should we write ‘His Majesty’?  He’s no longer king.”

Grandfather: “Hmm, you’re right.  To His Royal Highness Prince Saud Ibn Abdulaziz…  Wait!  That doesn’t sound right either.  you know what son, let’s forget about the telegram, since we don’t want to offend anyone.”

And so the telegram was never sent.

Well, the exhibit is on until the 31st of March 2009.  If you’re into the history of the region, then I recommend you go see it.

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