Ibn Saud grew to manhood first through living the harsh traditional life of the desert nomad, a life that had changed little since the days of Abraham, and then, through a careful study during his adolescence in Kuwait, of the ways of the great imperial powers such as Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire. Thus equipped, and endowed with immense physical courage, between 1902 and 1930 he fought and won, often with weapons and tactics not unlike those employed by the ancient Assyrians, a series of astonishing military victories over a succession of enemies much more powerful than himself. Over the same period, he transformed himself from a minor sheikh into a revered king and elder statesman, courted by world leaders such as Churchill and Roosevelt.
A passionate lover of women, Ibn Saud took many wives, had numerous concubines and fathered almost 100 children. Yet he remained an unswerving and devout Muslim, described by one who knew him well at the time of his death in 1953, as ‘probably the greatest Arab since the Prophet Muhammad’.
Saudi Arabia, the country Ibn Saud created is a staunch ally of the West but ironically it is also the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. The question that looms high in the minds of the vast majority of people is whether the Kingdom, as it now stands, will survive the vicissitudes of time.
Michael Darlow is a writer and award winning TV producer and director. He first got to know Arabia and the Middle East in the 1970s when he made a documentary film for the Sultan of Oman and wrote a book with Richard Fawkes, The Last Corner of Arabia. His other books include Terence Rattigan – The Man and His Work, which was read on BBC Radio 4’s “Book of the Week”, and Independence Struggle. His award winning TV programmes include The World At War – Genocide, Auschwitz: The Final Solution, Crime And Punishment with John Hurt, Little Eyolf with Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Dame Diana Rigg, The Winslow Boy with Emma Thompson and Johnny Cash in San Quentin. He is a Fellow of The Royal Television Society and was awarded its Silver Medal in 2000.
Barbara Bray was a university lecturer in Egypt before joining the BBC Radio Drama Department, where she became a distinguished producer, director and script editor followed by Head of Radio Drama Commissions. Among the writers she helped to bring to prominence at the BBC were Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Marguerite Duras, with all of whom she continued to collaborate after she moved to Paris in 1961 to become a freelance writer, critic, translator and broadcaster. Barbara won numerous prizes for translation, including the Scott-Moncrieff prize four times, the French-American Foundation Prize, and the P.E.N. Award.