One of the first modern glimpses into this mysterious place was, interestingly, supplied by a one-time British spy and advisor to Arabian rulers. Harry St. John Philby, who fell in love with the land and the people on whom he was supposed to inform, wrote a number of books about the region between 1928 and 1957. These books provided some much needed insight into the land of date palms, camels, and sand dunes. Today, however, Saudi Arabia is less a mystery. It is very much in the international spotlight, holding a prominent place in world affairs. When journalists, historians, and teachers discuss recent history or current events of the Middle East, the talk frequently touches on Saudi Arabia. The desert country is strategically impor- tant, as its rich reserves of oil help many nations—including the United States—meet their energy needs. Saudi Arabia has made efforts to bring peace to the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, with varying success. It also has served as a base for American soldiers who protect the region from the threat of aggression from neighboring Iraq. How did this transformation take place? How did a remote desert land come to occupy such a visible place in international affairs? With no single overriding factor governing these changes, there isn’t a simple answer, though Saudi Arabia’s oil resources and its key role in the development of Islam are undoubtedly two of the more important factors of change.

Words to Understand in This Chapter

commodity— a natural product that a country has available to sell to other countries. ibn— literally, “son of.” Used in a man’s name to show that he is son of a particular father, as in, Muhammad ibn Saud. Used interchangeably with “bin.”

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