The House of Saud (Arabic: آل سعود Āl Saʻūd IPA: [ʔæːl saʕuːd]) is the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia. The family has thousands of members. It is composed of the descendants of Muhammad bin Saud, founder of the Emirate of Diriyah, known as the First Saudi state (1744–1818), and his brothers, though the ruling faction of the family is primarily led by the descendants of Ibn Saud, the modern founder of Saudi Arabia.
The most influential member of the Royal family is the King of Saudi Arabia, currently King Salman. The succession to the Saudi Arabian throne was designed to pass from one son of the first king, Ibn Saud, to another. The next in line, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, is the son of King Salman, and thus from the ruling House of Saud. The king-appointed cabinet includes more members of the royal family. The monarchy was hereditary by agnatic seniority until 2006, when a royal decree provided that future Saudi kings are to be elected by a committee of Saudi princes. Although current King Salman first choose his nephew and then his son as a crown prince without any consulation with Allegiance Council.
The House of Saud has gone through three phases: the Emirate of Diriyah, the First Saudi State (1744–1818), marked by the expansion of Wahhabism; the Emirate of Nejd, the Second Saudi State (1824–1891), marked with continuous infighting; and the Third Saudi State (1902–present), which evolved into Saudi Arabia in 1932 and now wields considerable influence in the Middle East. The family has had conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, the Sharif of Mecca, the Al Rashid family of Ha'il and their vassal houses in Najd, numerous Islamist groups both inside and outside Saudi Arabia and Shia minority in Saudi Arabia.
House of Saud is a translation of Al Saud. The latter is an Arabic dynastic name formed by adding the word Al, meaning "family of" or "House of", to the personal name of an ancestor. In the case of the Al Saud, this is Saud ibn Muhammad ibn Muqrin, the father of the dynasty's 18th century founder, Muhammad bin Saud (Muhammad, son of Saud).
Today, the surname "Al Saud" is carried by any descendant of Muhammad bin Saud or his three brothers Farhan, Thunayyan, and Mishari. Al Saud's other family branches like Saud al-Kabir, the Al Jiluwi, the Al Thunayan, the Al Mishari and the Al Farhan are called cadet branches. Members of the cadet branches hold high and influential positions in government though they are not in line of succession to Saudi throne. Many cadet members intermarry within the Al Saud to reestablish their lineage and continue to wield influence in the government.
All members of the royal family have the title of Emir (Prince) but sons, daughters, patrilineal granddaughters and grandsons of Ibn Saud are referred to by the style "His Royal Highness" (HRH), differing from those belonging to the cadet branches who are called "His Highness" (HH), and in addition to that a reigning king has the title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
The earliest recorded ancestor of the Al Saud was Mani' ibn Rabiah Al-Muraydi who settled in Diriyah in 1446–1447 with his clan, the Mrudah. Although the Mrudah are believed to be descended from the Rabi'ah tribal confederation, it is unclear whether they trace their ancestry to the Banu Hanifa or the 'Anizza branches of the Rabi'ah. Mani was invited by a relative named Ibn Dir. Ibn Dir was the ruler of a set of villages and estates that make up modern-day Riyadh. Mani's clan had been on a sojourn in east Arabia, near al-Qatif, from an unknown point in time. Ibn Dir handed Mani two estates called al-Mulaybeed and Ghusayba. Mani and his family settled and renamed the region "al-Diriyah", after their benefactor Ibn Dir.
The Mrudah became rulers of al-Diriyah, which prospered along the banks of Wadi Hanifa and became an important Najdi settlement. As the clan grew larger, power struggles ensued, with one branch leaving for nearby Dhruma, while another branch (the "Al Watban") left for the town of az-Zubayr in southern Iraq. The Al Migrin became the ruling family among the Mrudah in Diriyah.
The First Saudi State was founded in 1744. This period was marked by conquest of neighboring areas and by religious zeal. At its height, the First Saudi State included most of the territory of modern-day Saudi Arabia, and raids by Al Saud's allies and followers reached into Yemen, Oman, Syria, and Iraq. Islamic Scholars, particularly Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and his descendants, are believed to have played a significant role in Saudi rule during this period. The Saudis and their allies referred to themselves during this period as the Muwahhidun or Ahl al-Tawhid ("the monotheists"). Later they were referred to as the Wahhabis, a group of particularly strict, puritanical Sunni sect, named for its founder.
Leadership of the Al Saud during the time of their first state passed from father to son without incident. The first imam, Muhammad ibn Saud, was succeeded by his eldest son Abdulaziz in 1765. In 1802, Abdulaziz led ten thousand Wahhabi soldiers into an attack on the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala, in what is now southern Iraq and where Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad is buried. Led by Abdulaziz, the Wahhabi soldiers killed more than two thousand people, including women and children. The soldiers plundered the city, demolishing the massive golden dome above Hussein's tomb and loaded hundreds of camels with weapons, jewelry, coins and other valuable goods.
The attack on Karbala convinced the Ottomans and the Egyptians that the Saudis were a threat to regional peace. Abdulaziz was killed in 1803 by an assassin, believed by some to have been a Shi'ite seeking revenge over the sacking of Karbala the year before. Abdul-Aziz was in turn succeeded by his son, Saud, under whose rule the Saudi state reached its greatest extent. By the time Saud died in 1814, his son and successor Abdullah ibn Saud had to contend with an Ottoman-Egyptian invasion in the Ottoman–Wahhabi War seeking to retake lost Ottoman Empire territory. The mainly Egyptian force succeeded in defeating Abdullah's forces, taking over the Saudi capital of Diriyyah in 1818. Abdullah was taken prisoner and was soon beheaded by the Ottomans in Constantinople, putting an end to the First Saudi State. The Egyptians sent many members of the Al Saud clan and other members of the local nobility as prisoners to Egypt and Constantinople, and razed the Saudi capital Diriyyah.
A few years after the fall of Diriyah in 1818, the Saudis were able to re-establish their authority in Najd, establishing the Emirate of Nejd, commonly known as the Second Saudi State, with its capital in Riyadh.
Compared to the First Saudi State, the second Saudi period was marked by less territorial expansion (it never reconquered the Hijaz or 'Asir, for example) and less religious zeal, although the Saudi leaders continued to go by the title of imam and still employed Salafi religious scholars. The second state was also marked by severe internal conflicts within the Saudi family, eventually leading to the dynasty's downfall. In all but one instance, succession occurred by assassination or civil war, the exception being the passage of authority from Faisal ibn Turki to his son Abdullah ibn Faisal ibn Turki.
After his defeat at Mulayda, Abdul-Rahman ibn Faisal went with his family into exile in the deserts of eastern Arabia among the Al Murra bedouin. Soon afterward, however, he found refuge in Kuwait as a guest of the Kuwaiti emir, Mubarak Al Sabah. In 1902, Abdul-Rahman's son, Abdul Aziz, took on the task of restoring Saudi rule in Riyadh. Supported by a few dozen followers and accompanied by some of his brothers and relatives, Abdul Aziz was able to capture Riyadh's Masmak fort and kill the governor appointed there by Ibn Rashid. Abdul Aziz, reported to have been barely 20 at the time, was immediately proclaimed ruler in Riyadh. As the new leader of the House of Saud, Abdul Aziz became commonly known from that time as "Ibn Saud".
Ibn Saud spent the next three decades trying to re-establish his family's rule over as much of the Arabian Peninsula as possible, starting with his native Najd. His chief rivals were the Al Rashid clan in Ha'il, the Sharifs of Mecca in the Hijaz, and the Ottoman Turks in al-Hasa. Ibn Saud also had to contend, however, with the descendants of his late uncle Saud ibn Faisal (later known as the "Saud al-Kabir" branch of the family), who posed as the rightful heirs to the throne. Though for a time acknowledging the sovereignty of the Ottoman Sultans and even taking the title of pasha, Ibn Saud allied himself to the British, in opposition to the Ottoman-backed Al Rashid. From 1915 to 1927, Ibn Saud's dominions were a protectorate of the British Empire, pursuant to the 1915 Treaty of Darin.
Ibn Saud won final victory over the Rashidis in 1921, making him the ruler of most of central Arabia. He consolidated his dominions as the Sultanate of Nejd. He then turned his attention to the Hijaz, finally conquering it in 1926, just months before the British protectorate ended. For the next five and a half years, he administered the two parts of his dual realm, the Kingdom of Hijaz and Nejd, as separate units.
By 1932, Ibn Saud had disposed of all his main rivals and consolidated his rule over much of the Arabian Peninsula. He united his dominions into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that year. Ibn Saud's father, Abdul Rahman retained the honorary title of "imam." In 1937 near Dammam, American surveyors discovered what later proved to be Saudi Arabia's vast oil reserves. Before the discovery of oil, many family members were destitute.
Ibn Saud sired dozens of children by his many wives. He had at most only four wives at one time. He divorced and married many times. He made sure to marry into many of the noble clans and tribes within his territory, including the chiefs of the Bani Khalid, Ajman, and Shammar tribes, as well as the Al ash-Sheikh (descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab). He also arranged for his sons and relatives to enter into similar marriages. He appointed his eldest surviving son, Saud as heir apparent, to be succeeded by the next eldest son, Faisal. The Saudi family became known as the "royal family," and each member, male and female, was accorded the title amir ("prince") or amira ("princess"), respectively.
Ibn Saud died in 1953, after having cemented an alliance with the United States in 1945. He is still celebrated officially as the "Founder," and only his direct descendants may take on the title of "his or her Royal Highness." The date of his recapture of Riyadh in 1902 was chosen to mark Saudi Arabia's centennial in 1999 (according to the Islamic lunar calendar).
Upon Ibn Saud's death, his son Saud assumed the throne without incident, but his lavish spending led to a power struggle with the new crown prince, Faisal. In 1964, the royal family forced Saud to abdicate in favor of Faisal, aided by an edict from the country's grand mufti. During this period, some of Ibn Saud's younger sons, led by Talal ibn Abdul Aziz defected to Egypt, calling themselves the "Free Princes" and calling for liberalization and reform, but were later induced to return by Faisal. They were fully pardoned but were also barred from any future positions in government.
Faisal was assassinated in 1975 by a nephew, Faisal ibn Musaid, who was promptly executed. Another brother, Khalid, assumed the throne. The next prince in line had actually been Prince Muhammad, but he had relinquished his claim to the throne in favor of Khalid, his only full brother.
Khalid died of a heart attack in 1982, and was succeeded by Fahd, the eldest of the powerful "Sudairi Seven", so-called because they were all sons of Ibn Saud by his wife Hassa Al Sudairi. Fahd did away with the previous royal title of "his Majesty" and replaced it with the honorific "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques", in reference to the two Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina, in 1986.
A stroke in 1995 left Fahd largely incapacitated, and the crown prince, Abdullah, gradually took over most of the king's responsibilities until Fahd's death in August 2005. Abdullah was proclaimed king on the day of Fahd's death and promptly appointed his younger brother, Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the minister of defense and Fahd's "Second Deputy Prime Minister," as the new heir apparent. On 27 March 2009, Abdullah appointed Prince Nayef Interior Minister as his "second deputy prime minister" and Crown Prince on 27 October. Sultan died in October 2011 while Nayef died in Geneva, Switzerland on 15 June 2012. On 23 January 2015, Abdullah died after a prolonged illness, ending his nine-year rule as the King of Saudi Arabia, and Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was declared the new King.
The head of the House of Saud is the King of Saudi Arabia who serves as Head of State and monarch of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The King holds almost absolute political power. The King appoints ministers to his cabinet who supervise their respective ministries in his name. The key ministries of Defence, the Interior, and Foreign Affairs are usually held by members of the Saud family, as are most of the thirteen regional governorships. Most portfolios, however, such as Finance, Labor, Information, Planning, Petroleum Affairs and Industry, have traditionally been given to commoners, often with junior Al Saud members serving as their deputies. House of Saud family members also hold many of the Kingdom's critical military and governmental departmental posts. Ultimate power in the Kingdom has always rested upon the Al Saud, though support from the Ulema, the merchant community, and the population at large has been key to the maintenance of the royal family's political status quo.
Long-term political and government appointments, such as those of King Faisal, who was Foreign Minister almost continuously from 1932 to 1975, King Abdullah, who was Commander of the National Guard from 1963 to 2010, former Crown prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, who was Minister of Defence and Aviation from 1962 until his death in 2011, Prince Mutaib Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs from 1975 to 2009, former Crown Prince Nayef who was the Minister of Interior from 1975 to 2012, and the current King Salman, who was governor of the Riyadh Region from 1963 to 2011, have perpetuated the creation of fiefdoms where senior princes have, often, though not exclusively, co-mingled their personal wealth with that of their respective domains. They have often appointed their own sons to senior positions within their own fiefdom. Examples of these include Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah as assistant commander in the National Guard until 2010; Prince Khalid bin Sultan as assistant minister of defence until 2013; Prince Mansour bin Mutaib as assistant minister for Municipal and Rural Affairs until he replaced his father in 2009; and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef as assistant minister in the Interior Ministry. In cases, where portfolios have notably substantial budgets, appointments of younger, often full, brothers have been necessary, as deputies or vice ministers, ostensibly to share the wealth and the burdens of responsibility, of each fiefdom. Examples of these include Prince Abdul Rahman who was vice minister of defence and aviation under Prince Sultan; Prince Badr, deputy to King Abdullah in the National Guard; Prince Sattam, who was Deputy Riyadh Governor during King Salman's term; and Prince Ahmed, who held the deputy minister's portfolio under Prince Nayef's interior ministry.
Unlike Western royal families, the Saudi Monarchy has not had a clearly defined order of succession. Historically, upon becoming King, the monarch has designated an heir apparent to the throne who serves as Crown Prince of the Kingdom. Upon the King's death the Crown Prince becomes King, and during the King's incapacitation the Crown Prince, likewise, assumes power as regent. Though other members of the Al Saud hold political positions in the Saudi government, technically it is only the King and Crown Prince who legally constitute the political institutions.
Succession has been from brother-to-brother since the death of the Founder of modern Saudi Arabia. Ibn Saud was succeeded by his son Saud. Saud was succeeded by his brother Faisal. Faisal was succeeded by his brother Khalid who, in turn, was succeeded by his brother Fahd. Fahd, as before, was succeeded by his brother Abdullah and Abdullah succeeded by his brother Salman, the current King. Salman appointed his half-brother Muqrin as Crown Prince in January 2015 and removed him in April 2015. Even Abdulaziz's youngest son was to turn 70 in 2015. Abdulaziz, in 1920, had said that the further succession would be from brother-to-brother not from father-to-son.
King Salman ended the brother-to-brother succession and appointed his 56-year-old nephew Muhammad bin Nayef as Crown Prince in April 2015, thus making the next succession from uncle-to-nephew. At the same time King Salman appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman, as Deputy Crown Prince, thus making the following succession from cousin-to-cousin, as Mohammad bin Salman is the cousin of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef.
King Salman elevated his son Mohammad bin Salman to Crown Prince in June 2017, following his decision to depose Muhammad bin Nayef of all positions, making his son heir apparent to the throne; and making the next succession father-to-son, for the first time since 1953 when Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud succeeded his father, the founder of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud.
In June 2015 Forbes listed Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal as the 34th-richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of US$28 billion. Prince Al-Waleed had a net worth of $20.4 billion in 2014. King Salman had a net worth estimated at US$17 billion in 2016.
Due to its authoritarian and quasi-theocratic rule, the House of Saud has attracted much criticism during its rule of Saudi Arabia. There have been numerous incidents, from the Wahhabi Ikhwan militia uprising during the reign of Ibn Saud to various coup attempts by the different branches of the Kingdom's military.
On 20 November 1979, the Grand Mosque seizure saw the al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca violently seized by a group of 500 heavily armed and provisioned Saudi dissidents led by Juhayman al-Otaybi and Abdullah al-Qahtani, consisting mostly of members of the former Ikhwan militia of Otaibah but also of other peninsular Arabs and a few Egyptians enrolled in Islamic studies at the Islamic University of Madinah. The Saudi royal family turned to the Ulema who duly issued a fatwa permitting the storming of the holy sanctuary by Saudi forces, aided by French and Pakistani special ops units, although officially, non-Muslims may not enter the city of Mecca. According to Lawrence Wright, the GIGN commandos did convert to Islam. All surviving males, including Al-Otaybi himself, were beheaded publicly in four cities of Saudi Arabia.
In January 2016, Saudi Arabia executed the prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr, who had called for pro-democracy demonstrations, along with forty-seven other Saudi shia citizens sentenced by the Specialized Criminal Court on terrorism charges.
Since May 2017 in response to protests against the government, the predominantly Shia town of Al-Awamiyah has been put under full siege by the Saudi military. Residents are not allowed to enter or leave, and military indiscriminately shells the neighborhoods with airstrikes, mortar and artillery fire along with snipers shooting residents. Dozens of Shia civilians were killed, includinga a three year old and a two year-old children. The Saudi government claims it is fighting terrorists in al-Awamiyah.