In 1745 the House of Saʿud, based in the central region of the Arabian Peninsula called the Najd, allied itself with a religious leader by the name of Shaykh Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab (1703–1792) beginning a politico-religious merger that persists today. This alliance produced the first Saudi state, which continued in power, with some struggles, until it was defeated and forced into exile in Kuwait by a rival clan in 1891. It was from his exile that a young ʿAbd al-ʿAziz ibn ʿAbd al-Rahman Al Saʿud (1880–1953), also known simply as Ibn Saʿud, the founder of the modern state of Saudi Arabia, recaptured the Najd in a legendary raid in 1902. Saudi success partly resulted from British intervention during and after World War I when London, which at first supported the rival Hashemite clan, turned more to the increasingly powerful Saudis. With British power behind him, Ibn Saʿud consolidated his position to the point where in 1932 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was officially declared. The next year Standard Oil of California (SOCAL) discovered oil in the kingdom; in 1944 SOCAL formed a consortium with other U.S. oil companies called the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO). Today Saudi Arabia possesses 25 percent of the world's proven oil reserves and is the largest producer and exporter of oil. Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities, are also located in Saudi Arabia, making the country the epicenter of Islam. Ibn Saʿud and his sons, who have succeeded him one after the other since his death in 1953, have leveraged these two assets to build a modern infrastructure, to assume a leading voice in global Islamic affairs, to emerge as the dominant force in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to become one of the world's largest arms buyers, and to successfully seek close diplomatic ties with the United States.
Abir, Mordachai. Saudi Arabia: Government, Society, and the Gulf Crisis. London; New York: Routledge, 1993.
David W. Lesch