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SAUDI ARABIA, EGYPT, AND THE LONGUE DURÉE STRUGGLE FOR ISLAM'S HOLIEST PLACES

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Abstract

Scholars inquiring into Saudi–Egyptian or Hijazi–Egyptian relations, or the history of modern Saudi state formation, have been tempted to concentrate on the June 1926 attack by the tribal Ikhwan on the Egyptian Maḥmal, or pilgrimage caravan, as the key to understanding these relations. But such a courte durée, sometimes known as the événementielle approach, leaves out much rich depth. In fact, when placed within the wider time frame of the longue durée of relations between Egypt and the Hijaz, which is Arabia's western littoral region and home to Islam's holiest places, its historical significance becomes more about ending Egyptian claims of primacy in the Hijaz than achieving internal Saudi state consolidation. It is the longue durée that should command attention, for the only way that Ibn Saud could refashion to his own favour the historical connections that defined Islamic legitimacy in a political form was to cut the Gordian knot between Egypt and the Hijaz. He had to break up the Red Sea littoral system, and tie the holy places instead to the Saudi heartland of Najd. At the Red Sea's expense, the Arabian Peninsula, dominated by Saudi Arabia, became the new geo-political feature of the region.

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Friendship and cooperation treaty between the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the kingdom of Egypt May–November 1936
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