Status: Absolute Monarchy
Population: 34,783,757 (2021 est)
Area: 2,149,690 sq. miles
Currency: 100 Halala = 1 Saudi Riyal (after 1963) US$1 = 3.75 SAR (2021)
In 1902, a 21-year old Arab prince – Abdulaziz Al Saud – led a force of about 50 men in an early morning raid on the central Arabian town of Riyadh to regain control of his family’s ancestral home. The young prince, who the western world knows as Ibn Saud, had spent most of his life as an exile in Kuwait. His daring raid succeeded and he had soon expanded the House of Saud’s dominion over the entire central Arabian area of Nejd.
Saudi Arabia Scott 100,189, and L7
His success gained little international attention. Arabia was the birthplace of Islam, but after Muhammad’s death the political center of Islam moved further afield. Arabia remained a backwater. Even the Ottomans, who had claimed suzerainty over the region for 300 years, gave his victory little notice. To them, the Red Sea coastal region of Hejaz, which contained Mecca and Medina, the two most sacred sites of Islam, and the commercial port of Jeddah, was more important.
Not surprisingly, it was Hejaz that got Arabia’s first post office in 1865 when Egypt opened an office in Jeddah primarily to serve the needs of Egyptian pilgrims. The post office, using un-overprinted Egyptian stamps, operated until 1881 when it was replaced by the Ottoman post. In addition to Jeddah, the Ottoman Post had offices in Mecca, Medina and, later, in several small towns along the famous Hejaz Railroad.
During World War I, the British attempted to gain the support of Arab leaders against the Ottoman forces. After protracted secret negotiations, Sharif Hussein declared Hejaz independent on June 27, 1916. Hussein’s son, Faisal, worked with the famous Lawrence of Arabia to expand the independent Hejaz up the Red Sea coast as far as Aqaba.
Saudi Arabia Scott C5, 682, and 933
A set of three postage stamps, printed in Cairo, went on sale in the Hejaz in October 1916. While the stamps were expressly designed for Hejaz, they were based on ornamental features found by the designers in Cairo. In 1922, the State Printing Works in Mecca produced the first locally printed stamps.
Meanwhile, Ibn Saud, who had consolidated control of Nejd, attacked Hejaz. Hoping to regain prestige after territorial losses to Ibn Saud’s forces, Hussein proclaimed himself Caliph of all Muslims. This inflamed Ibn Saud’s puritanical Wahhabi allies. Hejaz was overrun and the king abdicated in December 1925. A month later Ibn Saud assumed the titles King of Hejaz and Sultan of Nejd.
A variety of Hejaz stamps including postage dues and revenues were overprinted for use in the Nejd administered territories in March 1925. A few Ottoman stamps found in Mecca were also overprinted. Stamps ordered from Alexandria for the combined Hejaz and Nejd were released in February 1926. The British recognized the kingdom in 1927. On September 22, 1934, its name was changed to Saudi Arabia. Oil was discovered in 1938.
The country name appeared on Saudi stamps in French or English (1934-75). After 1975, it was generally abbreviated as KSA. Since 1982, foreign spellings have mostly been dropped in favor of the Saudi national symbol of a palm atop crossed swords.