The History of the House of Saud: A Timeline of the Saudi Royal Family and Their Rise to Power

The history behind the family who have shaped the Middle East in their pursuit of power.


Unknown Author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

King Abdulaziz (seated), and his sons Saud (Right) and Faisal (Left) pose for a photo together, during Abdulaziz’s reign.

As a crucial player in Middle Eastern affairs and the most powerful Gulf state, Saudi Arabia is one of the most influential countries in the world. But who turns the gears that run the country and pulls the strings of the Middle East? 

The House of Saud has been influencing Gulf politics since its inception: setting oil prices through the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), competing for the control of the Middle East through proxy wars with Iran, and guarding Islam’s most holy sites. They have shaped decisions of Western powers, with cornerstone alliances with countries like the U.S.

There are numerous significant kings who have shaped the Saudi state and the House of Saud from their foundation to the present date.

Muhammad bin Saud Al Muqrin (Reign: 1727 – 1765):

Muhammad bin Saud Al Muqrin was the founder of the first Saudi State and the House of Saud, naming it after his father Saud bin Muhammad Al Muqrin. He solidified control of the region by allying with religious leader Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, to legitimize his expansion of the Saudi State in exchange for promoting the religion. A hyper conservative Sunni religious movement, Wahhabism emphasizes the literal interpretation of the Quran and follows Wahhab’s interpretation of scripture. 

This left a lasting impact on Islamic world, as the House of Saud would one day control Mecca and Medina, the holy cities of Islam. Muqrin’s alliance has lasted almost 300 years and shaped Saud Arabia from its creation to the present day. Wahhabism is the most prominent form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and the religious elites want to export Wahhabism as the proper form of Islam around the region. They initially did this through early expansion in the Arabian Peninsula and as time went on they eventually used their wealth and influence to spread their values in neighboring countries. 

After dominating neighboring states with religious zeal and his alliance with al-Wahhab, Muhammad bin Saud Al Muqrin founded the first Saudi state in 1774 – the Emirate of Diriyah. He handed the throne to his son without any interference, creating a precedent of a peaceful transition of power. This led to the House of Saud flourishing as an Arabian political dynasty. Although his descendants ruled with varying success, the Emirate remained stable until 1818, when the Ottomans destroyed the First Saudi State during their capture of the capital city of Diriyah . 


Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud) (Reign: 1932- 1953): 

The late 19th century marked the birth of Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, the first king of modern Saudi Arabia. Known to the West as Ibn Saud, he was born in Riyadh, located in the Emirate of Nejd, the second Saudi State, in 1876. After the rival Rashidi family seized Saudi lands, Ibn Saud escaped with his father to Kuwait to escape further persecution. Saud spent his youth consolidating power and demonstrating his military strength across the Arabian Peninsula. In 1902, he staged a recapture of Riyadh with the aid of his family as well as the Ikhwan warriors, a group of fervent Wahhabist fighters who aided him throughout his conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. They helped him conquer the surrounding territory of Riyadh and expanded the state’s borders east as Saud’s influence grew. 

Ibn Saud’s charismatic personality and use of Wahhab’s ideology were essential to his rise to power. Through this Saud was able to create a loyal military with him at the center and used religion to gain support from the people of the peninsula. Ibn Saud used his leadership and military status to regain the House of Saud’s legitimacy and solidify his place as the true ruler of the peninsula.

In 1904, rival Sheikh Ibn Rashid allied himself with the Ottoman Empire, bringing the House of Saud and the Sultan back into conflict with one another. With minimal Saudi losses, Ibn Saud’s army defeated and drove out the Ottomans from Saudi territory. This marked the beginning of a war that resulted in a decisive victory for the House of Saud in 1912.

By the dawn of the First World War (WWI), the House of Saud had become powerful players in the Middle East. The British wanted to sway Saudi support towards Allies due to their strategic location and prior military success against the Ottomans. In 1915, the British crafted the Treaty of Darin with Ibn Saud, which made his land a British protectorate in exchange for weapons and money to wage war against Rashid. As a protectorate, Saud could retain control of his territory while giving control of defense and foreign affairs to the British. Although WWI raged, the Saudis did not act, preparing for the perfect time to launch an attack. Saud contributed to minor battles which allowed him to remove himself from significant involvement in the conflict. 

In 1920, Ibn Saud and his forces finally marched into Rashid’s territory and claimed his land. After effectively doubling the size of his territory, Ibn Saud set his eyes on the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. 

Rival emir Hussein bin Ali, the King of Hejaz, held significant power as the guardian of the holy cities and leader of the Arab Revolt during WWI. After the war, he named himself Caliph, the King of the Arab countries. In December of 1924, Ibn Saud defeated Ali in the Battle of Mecca and took the holy cities, establishing Saudi Arabia’ Wahhabist rulers as the protectors of the birthplace of Islam. In 1927, he incorporated them into his territory and changed his title to the King of Hejaz and Nejd. Saud’s territory ceased being a British Protectorate following the Treaty of Jeddah, which established Saud sovereignty over the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd and prevented Saud from attacking other British protectorates. Although Saud gained his independence, he remained allies with Great Britain.

Simultaneously, the radical Ikhwan became insubordinate and far more violent, raiding and attacking all non-Wahhbist Muslims in the region. In November, they defied Ibn Saud’s will and invaded Iraq. The British intervened to repel the Ikhwan invasion, learning the militia had completely split from Ibn Saud’s faction. The Ikhwan began to fight against Saud’s forces across the Arabian Peninsula. Two years after the Ikhwan rebellion, the radicals he trained fell by his hand in the Battle of Sibilla, and Ibn Saud permanently destroyed the militia in order to consolidate control of his military. Ibn Saud set an example to those who dared to stand against him, executing Ikhwan leaders and incorporating the survivors into general military units.

After Ibn Saud conquered the larger Arabian Peninsula and established his control over its territories, he declared the lands the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Naming the country after his dynasty, Ibn Saud formed the modern Saudi state with the support of the British Government, on September 23rd, 1932.

Early into Ibn Saud’s reign as King of Saudi Arabia, he began to cultivate a corporate relationship with the United States. In 1933, he gave the first general oil rights to U.S. company ARAMCO. Five years later the biggest development in Saudi History occurred—oil. On March 3rd, 1938, an American oil company drilled into a well in Dammam and discovered the world’s largest oil reserve. The discovery instantly made the newly formed Saudi Arabia one of the world’s richest countries. The Saudis continued to ramp up oil production, making the nation — and by extension the King through a system of stipends — very affluent. 

World War II (WWII) started a year later. Despite being officially neutral, Saudi Arabia supported the Allied powers. In 1945, following peace talks, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met King Ibn Saud and laid the foundation for U.S. diplomatic relationships with the Saudis. FDR and Ibn Saud discussed issues of the creation of Israel and the balance of power in the Middle East post-WWII. Despite the leaders’ disagreements on both topics, they remained civil and began strengthening economic ties with one another.

In 1948, Saudi Arabia would re-enter conflict in the Arab-Israeli War on the side of Palestine and sent divisions to fight under Egyptian command. This would be the first war the kingdom entered and the first time it received international pressure for their military intervention from the U.S. and the West.

As King, Ibn Saud spent his life establishing diplomatic relationships and creating government administration offices, many of which were filled by his sons. Late in his life, Ibn Saud established agnatic succession, dictating that the throne would go down the eldest of his sons until the first generation cycled through. Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud died on November 9th, 1953. At the time of his death, he had fathered 45 sons and was succeeded by his eldest son Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. 

Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reign: 1953-1964)

On his deathbed, Ibn Saud wished for all the sons to cooperate for the country’s sake. However, there was an immediate power struggle between Saud – the firstborn and regent – and his half-brother Faisal. 

Saud continued his father’s policies of domestic progress. He wished to bring Saudi Arabia into the future and modernize the country while continuing religious tradition. Saud used the country’s wealth to improve his people’s quality of life through founding educational and medical institutes. 

The oil industry grew increasingly tied to the personal wealth of the King; the royal family received government stipends and allowances paid for by nationalization of oil fields. Consequently, by Saud’s reign, the oil industry was so vast it could not be handled by him alone. However, the sheer amount of wealth Saud was charged with led to his mismanagement of state money. Due to his maladministration of state wealth, Fasial’s supporters forced Saud to restore the Council of Ministers and give executive power to Faisal. 

At this time, Faisal held the position of Crown Prince and the country’s Prime Minister, the highest positions behind that of King. Given Saud’s poor leadership skills, the government gave Faisal executive powers in 1960, and reappointed as Prime Minister in 1962 after Saud regained executive control. 

Saud’s foreign relationship with the U.S. was heavily influenced by the state of the Arab World. Saud met with Eisenhower in 1957 to discuss issues regarding Israel and the spread of socialism in the Middle East. The U.S. wished to gain Saudi support during the Cold War while Saud wished to remain nonaligned and address regional issues. 

Saud believed it was Saudi Arabia’s place to lead the Arab World in foreign affairs. Meanwhile, Eisenhower wanted to use Saud to convince Arab countries to support the U.S. in exchange for using their influence to tell Israel to end Palestinian occupation and pressure the French to free Libya. The U.S. remained firm on their position, which contributed to Saud’s influence in the Middle East remaining non-aligned during the early years of the Cold War. Saud informed the Arab countries of Eisenhower’s plan and after deliberation the participating countries chose to reject the plan and remain nonaligned. This point of contention between the two countries would be one of the first examples of the two countries looking to work with each other for mutual gain.

Saud’s executive reign ended in 1964 when Faisal used his connections with the clergy to force Saud’s hand to pass over power to him. By November of the same year, Faisal officials forced Saud to abdicate the throne. Saud would eventually exile himself to Athens and pass away in 1969, his body would only return to Saudi Arabia to be buried next to his father. 

Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reign: 1964-1975)

Once Faisal took power, his style of ruling was a stark contrast to his half brother. Faisal was far more active in domestic affairs and wanted for Saudi Arabia to be a beacon for the future. Faisal wanted prosperity for the people of Saudi Arabia as he revamped and expanded social programs in the country to create change rooted in religious institutions and God. 

Faisal heavily invested in the education of Saudi people and worked to increase the national standards of Saudi Arabia. Speaking on the education reforms, Faisal said, “If I were not a king, I would be a teacher.” Faisal had introduced free public education to students, as well as financial grants to students to help them pursue higher education in various topics. His reforms helped to solidify public education for girls into the current day. Faisal also created vocational academies to teach special skills essential to the workforce and created a balance between academia and blue collar education. 

Faisal made significant strides in Saudi Arabia’s domestic development. He set out to make a unified law code, dictated by the Quran and Islamic belief, and promoted social well being and Islamic morality. His government created a social security system and abolished slavery. Slavery had been a significant issue as African slaves would be trafficked across the Red Sea in astonishing numbers. Due to pressures Faisal issued an executive order in 1967 abolishing slavery. However, this would be replaced with the Kafala System, highly regarded as a form of modern day slavery. He also established the judicial system through the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council.

Faisal, unlike Saud, used oil money effectively to develop the nation and initiate industrialization. Faisal used government funds to promote irrigation development as well as economic development through construction and excavating precious resources. 

Faisal was seen as a leader in the Arab world and made important decisions during his rule. Similar to his predecessors, his foreign policy was very anti-Israel and pro-Islamic. He advocated support for Palestine, even visiting its holy sites and supporting the cause. However, he disagreed on how to approach the Cold War. 

In contrast to Saud, Faisal was a staunch anticommunist and would not consider cooperation with any communist state. Instead, Faisal chose friendliness with the Western powers due to their opposition to communism, since communism was fundamentally opposed to Islam. However, he chose to support the interests of his country and Arabia over any Western anti-communist policies. Famously, Faisal helped to create the OPEC during the 1960s, a cartel to fix and regulate the oil market. 

During his rule, Faisal would lead Saudi Arabia in various wars in the region. Throughout the Yemeni Civil War, Faisal aligned himself with General Nasser of Egypt, the leader of Egypt and a Saudi opponent in battle for influence in the Middle East, to halt all aid by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Yemen. This was done to stop perpetuating the violence in North Yemen as the proxy war had proven to be ineffective for both countries and they left Yemen’s civil war to resolve itself. Consequently, the countries rebuilt their political relationship from the oppositional and sour political relationship that they had made when they broke ties years earlier.

In a matter of national security, Faisal took great interest during the Six Day War, placing Saudi soldiers on guard by the border and using Saudi Arabian wealth to create a fund to help the Arab forces and served as relief aid after the war. The loss of the war to the Israeli government devastated Faisal and changed how he approached foreign policy going forward. 

The Ramadan/Yom Kippur War would be the most important war Faisal would oversee. Faisal notoriously levied his position to force OPEC to embargo all Western countries who provided aid to Israel. Countries such as the US had provided weapons and aid to Israel which shifted favor away from the Arab forces, as a result Faisal used OPEC as a tool against the West to stop aid to Israel. The decision drove the 1973 Oil Crisis and was the defining moment of his rule. Although this decision soured relations with the West, specifically the U.S. who were supplying Israel with weapons, they made Faisal a hero in the Arab and Muslim world. 

King Faisal met his fateful end on March 25, 1975 when his nephew, Faisal bin Musaid Al Saud assassinated him. The Saudis initially claimed the nephew was insane but later declared him sane enough to stand trial. In June of the same year, the court executed the nephew hours after the guilty verdict. King Faisal had an extravagant funeral with leaders of the Arab World paying their respects to the fallen king. As the Arab World mourned, his half-brother King Khalid took power. 

Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reign: 1975-1982)

As the country and his family mourned his brother’s death, King Khalid faced the aftermath of leading Saudi Arabia. His government presided over the trial and execution of Faisal bin Musaid. Sharply differing from Faisal, Khalid was a soft-spoken man uninterested in foreign affairs. 

From a young age, Khalid had been invested in Saudi Arabia’s domestic affairs, specifically the Bedouin tribes. Khalid used his power to focus on building up Saudi Arabia for the people, as opposed to making them a big player on the international stage. While Khalid was king, Saudi Arabia experienced a period of previously unseen economic growth and innovation. He created industrial cities, which grew into major centers for economic growth in the country by the 21 century. His impact on the Saudi’s economic power has created lasting impacts still seen today.

As a part of his domestic policies, Khalid focused heavily on improving educational standards so that Saudi citizens could compete with foreigners in international markets. Khalid spent much time and interest in desert reclamation programs where he worked to use water under the ground to reclaim desert land, a process which current Saudi Kings continue to use. This would be a sign of the country benefiting from the economic and scientific educational reforms. 

Khalid was deeply invested in the lives of his subjects and led the country through significant domestic developments. The first was the Grand Mosque seizure of 1979, a violent and armed takeover of the Grand Mosque. Led by Juhayman al-Utaybi, a 40-year-old radical spiritual leader, 200 men smuggled rifles and weapons through coffins into Mecca on November 20. With the first gunshot came unrest with many people trying to escape the mosque. Khalid immediately wanted to use military force, but the Ulama — the religious advisors to the King — hesitated. 

After insurgents held Mecca for 36 hours, the Ulama approved military intervention, and Khalid responded swiftly. The National Guard infiltrated the mosque and faced difficulty, but, by December 4, they regained the holy city. Khalid, with the blessing of the Ulama, executed the rebels on January 9, 1980. This led Saudi Arabia further toward religious conservatism, a path for more fundamental religious law, since this event gave more power to the Ulama and strengthened its relationship with the House of Saud. 

The second event was the 1979 Qatif Uprising. After the release of the Saudi annual budget, the finances revealed the House of Saud was benefiting the most. The Qatif people protested the lack of money for national services. Khalid, in an effort to calm the protests, visited town to town and began changing policy to appease the protests, eventually his change in policy ended protests and brought protesters over to his side. However, Qatif remains an area of Shia protests even today. 

Khlalid continued his relations with the West, visiting President Jimmy Carter and Queen Elizabeth in the late 1970s. Suffering cardiac issues for years, King Khalid suffered a heart attack in 1970 and two surgeries in 1972 and 1978 before passing away from heart failure on June 13, 1982. He was succeeded by his half-brother Fahd.

Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reign: 1982-2005)

The eldest of the Sudairi Seven, the seven sons of Hussa Sudairi and the largest group of brothers in the line of inheritance, Fahd led an important faction within the Saudi Royal family. He used his education to continue his brother’s policies to modernize Saudi Arabia using the West as a tool to facilitate that. For instance, Fahd allowed Western technicians to oversee industrial diversification and development in the country. 

During his rule, Fahd incorporated his religious upbringing into his life and Islam into his rule. In 1986, Fahd took up the old religious title of the “Custodian of the Two Holy Cities” to convey the importance of Islam in his authority. He facilitated pilgrims on Hajj to journey to the holy city, expanding airports, naval ports, roads, and improved general transportation in and out of major cities. His rule was also marked with the decrease of oil prices and increased measures of austerity compared to the wealth of previous Kings. 

One of his final great achievements was the restructuring of the Saudi government in 2005. The most notable of his restructuring measures was allowing the first nationwide municipal elections with the help of King Abdullah who then finalized and oversaw the elections after Fahd’s death. King Fahd’s time as king encompassed the largest developmental growth of Saudi Arabia, leading it into the 21st century.

King Fahd focused on Saudi foreign policy and shaped how Saudi Arabia interacted with the world till the current day. During his time as the Crown Prince, Fahd had reframed Saudi foreign policy by creating the Fahd Plan: eight distinct points to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and gain Palestinian independence. This policy was unanimously approved by the Arab League in 1982 and is still revised and updated by the Arab League.

During his reign, King Fahd worked to keep the Middle East at peace and used his experience in foreign affairs to his benefit. He spent many years attempting to resolve the Lebanese Civil War, including hosting a convention of members of the Lebanese Parliament in 1989. The meeting resulted in a peace agreement, leading to a period of reconstruction funded by the Saudi Arabian government and other Arab states. 

The most significant foreign affair of his tenure would be his part in the coalition of the Gulf War. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait in order to seize their oil fields. In opposition to both previous policy and the wishes of the more religious members of the House of Saud, King Fahd allowed coalition forces to deploy in Saudi territory. He played a key role in the resolution of the Gulf War and helped establish many diplomatic relations with key geopolitical players such as the Soviet Union, Iran and China. 

Following Saudi Arabia’s participation in the Gulf War came a period of political divide, with calls for modernization and a heavy Islamic opposition to more Western values developing in the country. Fahd was pressured by radical Islamic groups which wanted for the country to avoid fraternization with sinful Western countries and embrace full Islamic conservatism in every aspect of Saudi Arabian law and life. While many of the regular citizens enjoyed many of the pro-Western policies and Saudi Arabia modernizing and expanding citizens rights. 

King Fahd continued to advance the country into a more modern state while trying to balance the wants of the Islamic sect. Despite Fahd’s pro-Western policies, the 2001 September 11 attacks caused a fracture in U.S. and Saudi Arabia relations. Many of the terrorists were of Saudi citizenship, and the Saudi government had inadvertently fostered the environment for radical Islamic groups to appear in their country. The Saudi government did little to repair relations as they did not apprehend terrorists fleeing the country and refused to join the Iraq War, which was seen as an effort to appease the Islamic opposition. These policies showed restraint when cooperating in Western affairs in the Middle East especially when the U.S. invaded a neighboring country. Due to the nature of their political alliance, however, U.S.-Saudi relations would naturally repair in the following years. Since the U.S. sees the alliance as a necessary evil, due to their reliance on Saudi oil. Post 9/11 the U.S. would make certain demands from Saudi Arabia in their War on Terror, but would return to business as usual with the Saud family. 

King Fahd died on August 1st, 2005 at the age of 84 and was the longest ruling King with a reign of 23 years. He had a stroke a decade prior and his health deteriorated until he passed away at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh. He was succeeded by his younger half brother, Abdullah. 

Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reign: 2005-2015)

King Abdullah differed tremendously from King Fahd in his position on Saudi Arabia’s place in the world. Abdullah entered kingship at a time of turmoil in the Middle East, due to the War on Terror and led the country through some of the most important developments in the Muslim World. During his time as Crown Prince, King Abdullah had seen the unpopularity of Fahd’s pro-Western relations and the impact on the outcry from radical Islamic groups in the country. As a result, Abdullah chose to focus on domestic affairs while still maintaining a key relationship with the West. 

Abdullah addressed the Saudi State’s overreliance of oil and introduced many reforms to diversify the country’s economy. He limited deregulation of oil in the country, and also introduced foreign investment into the country in an effort to create revenue outside of oil. He also promoted the privatization of state owned oil industries to stimulate the Saudi economy instead of reliance on the government’s wealth.

King Abdullah was an ascetic man despite his luxurious lifestyle, displaying a desire to humble himself and connect with his desert roots. Abdullah reportedly refused to be called “your Majesty” and discouraged commoners from kissing his hands. He also reduced the allowance of 7000 Saudi princes and princesses. However, Abdullah would still indulge in the lavish lifestyle fit for a king while limiting his family from doing the same. This made him a very controversial and divided figure as he attempted to make a balance act of two separate worlds, causing a divisive image of Abdullah to emerge. 

After backlash to Fahd’s reforms by radical Islamic groups, he reformed the country with caution while still trying to modernize, since the country was stuck alternating between a conservative Islamic state and an attempt for modern society. In an attempt to quell the radical groups, he ordered the use of Saudi security forces to use violent force if necessary. 

After decades of succession crises, Adullah established a council to ease the transition of power. He created the Allegiance Commission, a council of princes charged with aiding the selection of the crown prince, a task previously handled by the King alone. He also replaced hardline religious officials with moderate candidates. 

Furthermore, Abdullah was the first King to take the first step in expanding women’s rights, appointing the first female deputy minister, Norah bint Abdullah Al Faiz. He charged her with the task of overseeing women’s education, representing the beginning of liberalizing women’s rights reforms. She would go on to be Vice Minister of Education from 2009-2015 and would use her education background to attempt to reform women’s education despite the controversy surrounding her position. 

Abdullah’s foreign policy marked a drastic shift from Fahd’s and was incredibly important as the twenty-first century brought great change to the Middle East. Abdullah was more willing to negotiate and accept the terms of the Islamic opposition in the country, which was something his brother had not been as keen on. Although Abdullah realized that the U.S. was a powerful ally, he also understood that they would continue to support his reign out of necessity of Saudi resources. As a result, Abdullah had more leeway in his domestic and foreign policy without facing much repercussions from the U.S For example, during his time as Crown Prince, Abdullah increased relations with Iran and dealt with Yemeni border disputes on his own terms. 

However, after the U.S. overthrew Saddam’s dictatorial regime in 2003 they established the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq. Iran and Saudi Arabia saw a chance for competition of power, and relations quickly broke down. Tensions rose after the Arab Spring, as revolutions sprung up across Arabia at the beginning of the 2010s. Abdullah feared that the revolts would upset the balance of power in the Middle East. Abdullah and the Saudi government ordered the use of any means necessary to suppress revolutions in the region and, most importantly, prevent any kind of domestic unrest. 

In 2011, Saudi Arabia led other gulf troops into Bahrain to suppress and prevent protests in Bahrain. He sent money to fellow monarchs in Jordan, Morocco and Oman to help them suppress protests in their respective nations. As the head of the Saudi government, Adbullah provided support to oppose the oppressive regimes such as the Assad regime in Syria and Qaddafi in Libya. The Saudi Royal family attempted to play the puppet master that led Arabia into the 21st century and preserve the institutions that propped up their power. 

Syria would signal the beginning of a new Arabian Cold War. The instability in the region would be the beginning of proxy conflicts between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the 21st century in a challenge to be the dominant player in the region. In Syria, Iran supports Assad, often being called their closest ally, and Saudi Arabia supports many rebel groups in Syria, both contributing money, weapons and resources to prolong the fighting and have their desired outcome for Syria. The war in Syria was another reinforcement of the U.S.’ alliance of convenience through the countries shared interest in opposing Iran.

King Abdullah passed away on January 23rd, 2015, likely due to lung infection complications. He was succeeded by his half brother Salman, leaving behind a different Saudi Arabia than he found. He established a controversial legacy as a moderate reformer, while still holding on to the past through the oppressive policies the country is known for. This led to a legacy none knew how to convey, with the New York Times identifying him as a “shrewd force who reshaped Saudi Arabia”

Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Reign: 2015- )

Salman was the second son of the Sudairi seven to become King. The 25th son of King Abdulaziz, he is the current head of the House of Saud and leader of Saudi Arabia. Salman’s government has made several developments to Saudi Arabia’s domestic state, yet many discredit Salman for these reforms. Salman’s early years would see the most changes in the position of the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia’s history. He initially placed his half brother Muqrin bin Abdulaziz in the role of the Crown Prince but, after three months, removed him from power in favor of his nephew Muhammed bin Nayef. Muhammed bin Nayef became the first grandson of Abdulaziz to enter the line of inheritance. Then again, in 2017, Salman replaced Muhammed bin Nayef with his son Mohammed bin Salman. 

Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, has been widely considered to be the true power behind his father’s rule. Many of Salman’s liberal reforms have been attributed to his son, the TIME Person of 2017, who was seen as the reformer Saudi Arabia needed. With his son they had streamlined the government. His reforms included the renaming, replacing, merging, eliminating and creating of key ministries to make the government run more efficiently and address key sectors. As well as appointing and replacing advisors in his court, as well doing the same for certain government ministers. Through this restructuring, MBS gave himself and the Sudairis power over the government to a degree they had never had before. 

In 2018, Saudi Arabia made history for lifting the ban on women’s driving, which had been protested for years. The King and MBS had also created a plan to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economic portfolio, named Vision 2030. Vision 2030 is meant to remove Saudi Arabia’s oil dependence and diversify in areas such as the housing market, bring in foreign investment, increase people’s quality of life, attract tourism and make religious pilgrimages easier. 

Salman is not seen as the real leader of the country since MBS has consolidated so much power in the government. Salman and MBS have brutally cracked down on dissidents through turning a Ritz Carlton, formerly a luxury hotel in Riyadh, into a high end prison for members of the House of Saud accused of corruption. 

Furthermore, in 2018, allegedly by order of MBS, the House of Saud killed Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey’s Saudi Consulate. The brutal murder permanently changed the western perception of MBS, from the reformer he appeared into one of a violent dictator like his predecessors. 

In his first year of Salman’s regency, he authorized a bombing campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The conflict in Yemen has become another proxy war with Iran, a battleground for the two powers to compete for influence in the Middle East. As a result, throughout the last eight years, Saudi Arabia has carried out thousands of bombings in Northern Yemen. Human rights organizations state that Saudi Arabia has “committed egregious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, forced disappearances and torture,” and has exacerbated the crisis in Yemen.

Salman had made an effort to improve relations with the U.S., becoming more cooperative with President Obama in the last months of his term. Saudi Arabia and U.S. relations grew even closer during the Trump administration where President Donald Trump provided intense personal and professional relations with the House of Saud. During Trump’s administration, his son in law Jared Kushner personally handled relations with the kingdom and frequently met with the royal family. After meeting with Kushner, MBS claimed that “Kushner was in his pocket.”

Salman’s official foreign affair concerns are an effort to deter Iran’s influence. A notable Saudi led initiative was a complete Gulf State blockade of Qatar, lasting 3 years and ending in 2021. Saudi Arabia claimed Qatar violated the Gulf Cooperation Council’s terms and trumping up terrorist charges. The Saudis ended the blockade to appease the U.S. who brokered the deal with Kuwait. As part of the 2030 initiative, Salman continues to meet with foreign dignitaries and generate foreign investment in Saudi Arabia. 

Only time will tell how King Salman will continue to rule and the role MBS will play in the management of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. MBS remains the most influential figure in Saudi politics, and if he becomes King, he will have full control to shape the country.

Depicted here is the Royal Standard of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, representing the sovereign and the state – which means, by extension, that it is the official symbol of the House of Saud. ( Coat of arms of Saudi Arabia.svg: SALEM, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Despite the controversies surrounding the House of Saud, it is important to recognize their history and how they rose to the level of power they have today. As one of the most powerful families who dictate the oil industry, OPEC, and our own government’s foreign policy, we must understand how they have shaped history for better or for worse. To properly understand the current policies of the Saudi government is essential to understand their past and how the family will try to preserve their power no matter the cost.

Despite only having seven kings in the country’s modern history, they have been a part of some of the largest developments of the 20th century, turning a few small tribes into a G20 country. They are not merely U.S. allies, but also a powerful family with unimaginable wealth and resources. Time will tell the legacy left behind the House of Saud in the next century, but we must carefully watch Saudi Arabia’s position on the Arabian and world stage.

Despite the controversies surrounding the House of Saud, it is important to recognize their history and how they rose to the level of power they have today. As one of the most powerful families who dictate the oil industry, OPEC, and our own government’s foreign policy, we must understand how they have shaped history for better or for worse. To properly understand the current policies of the Saudi government is essential to understand their past and how the family will try to preserve their power no matter the cost.