Innlegg merkte med ‘Arabia’

The Thief and the Orphan

Posta: Tysdag, 31 mars, 2009 under Ymse
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A British observer, a Mr. C. C. Lewis, tells us two stories from Arabia in the early 1930s, a few years after Ibn Saud conquered the Holy Cities Mecca and Medina. The two stories are supposed to be examples of «punishments ferocious to European eyes»:

«Not long ago a wretched Hadhrami stole a piece of the black stone from the Ka’ba in Mecca, because he thought that it would be lucky, but he discovered that any luck coming his way would have to be in Paradise, as his head was chopped off.»

«A Hejâzi who murdered his father and mother and then appealed to the King [Ibn Saud] for clemency on the ground that he was an orphan, was executed at the same time.»

[Source: «Ibn Sa’ûd and the Future of Arabia», an article by C. C. Lewis, July 1933]

In a continuation of my post from yesterday, Travelling with loaded rifles, here is a new entry from Clayton’s diary. It is five days later, 15th of October 1925, and he is well settled in Ibn Saud’s camp that is situated right outside Mecca. Every evening he, his aide (George Antonius) and their personal bodyguard provided by Ibn Saud, takes a walk outside the camp to see the sunset. Here is Clayton’s description of the daily walk and their escort:

We usually start shortly before sunset, so as to get to some hill before the sun goes down. We then get a very delightful view, as the bare hills begin to take on a soft-purple light, and every night there is to the east over Mecca a great bank of cloud which reflects the setting sunlight and becomes a great welter of rosy flame. At the actual moment when the sun sets we always have to stop in order to allow our escort to say his prayers, which he does with great devotion and a lack of self-consciousness which Christians might well copy. He is a Sudanese slave, by the name Idris, who has been made specially responsible for our safety and who never leave us. He is always armed, sometimes with an Enfield rifle, sometimes with a curved sword in a heavily silver-mounted scabbard, sometimes with a heavy mace studded with nails, and occasionally with all three. He is a capital fellow. When I call «Ya Idris,» he always replies «Ay wallah» (Yes, by God). Then I tell him to do something or ask for something, to which he always replies by one of three ejaculations: «Inshallah» (God willing) or «Marhabba» (Everything is open to you) or «Ma yekhalif» (There is no objection).

– From An Arabian Diary by Gilbert Clayton

On the 10th of October 1925 Gilbert Clayton was travelling to Ibn Saud’s camp outside of the besieged city of Jeddah in present-day Saudi Arabia. The road to the camp at Bahra was not an easy ride and in his diary Clayton describes the road itself like this:

Hereafter, the road became very bad – indeed it was practically non-existent – and we ploughed laboriously through deep sand, over boulders and stones, and through low but tenacious bush.

Clayton travelled by car through what then was a war front between Ibn Saud and the Hashemite King Ali, the son of the more famous Sharif Hussein (This was the Nejd-Hejaz war of 1924-1925). Clayton’s mission was to negotiate two agreements with Ibn Saud concerning the southern frontiers of the British mandates of Transjordan and Iraq. This was, however, not his main worry during the bumpy car ride through the desert, that belonged to the loaded rifles in the front seat:

I was not sorry to get out of the car, as our escort had insisted on placing their loaded rifles beside the chauffeur, and I therefore found myself most of the time gazing into the muzzles of no less than five loaded rifles which might have been exploded by any of the numerous and hearty bumps which our car indulged in.

– From An Arabian Diary by Gilbert Clayton (edited and introduced by Robert O. Collins) [1969]

In the early 1920’s the power balance in Arabia changed. Sultan Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Nejd was expanding his realm in all directions and defeated longstanding enemies. Ibn Saud was supported to a certain degree by Great Britain, but one of his main rivals, Hussein b. Ali, Sharif of Mecca and King of the Hejaz, was also supported by the British. A former British Agent once said that «ours is a Hussein policy» and there was no doubt that Britain focused most of their energy on Hussein. Britain’s ideas on Arabia, however, slowly changed as Ibn Saud grew more and more powerful and as Britain found Hussein more as a burden than a valuable ally. The same Agent, Col. Vickery, spoke of this growing power in November 1922:

I see also in Arabia, a growing power, a power not of our forging, a power which will eventually overrun the very homes of these we have so openly and so prodigally supported … The custodianship of the holy places lies now with the Sharif of Arabia [sic], but I feel that peace will not descend on Islam till the cities of the Prophet are once again under the aegis of a Mohamadan nation which unites both spiritual and temporal power.

Three years later the Hejaz fell to Ibn Saud’s fanatic fighting force, the Ikhwan, and thereby ending Hashemite rule over the holy cities of Islam. Hussein fled to Aqaba and was then «invited» by the British to Cyprus.

(The quote is from Randall Baker’s book King Husain and the Kingdom of Hejaz.)