Netflix documentary criticized for saying Saudi Arabia gained independence in 1932

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Netflix’s “History 101” documentary has come under criticism for saying that Saudi Arabia gained independence in 1932, falsely implying that it had been under colonial rule up until that date.

In the fifth episode of the series “Oil and the Middle East,” the narrator says, “Saudi Arabia has been independent since 1932,” before describing how Syria and Lebanon freed themselves from French colonial rule in 1946.

Unlike most Middle Eastern countries, however, Saudi Arabia, was never a European colony.

“Dear @netflix .. In your show History 101 (season 1, episode 5, titled Oil & the Middle East) you claim that #Saudi Arabia has been “independent” since 1932. Would you care to share with us, Saudis, who we gained our independence from? Because it’s news to us,” wrote Talal Mohamed Al Abdullah Al Faisal on Twitter.

Several Twitter users agreed with al-Faisal's post.

“I was just watching that documentary right now which full of falsifications and thinking about that point exactly! Thank you Talal,” wrote Ghaith Alshaia.

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The establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

King Abdulaziz ibn Saud declared the foundation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on September 23, 1932.

The declaration was the culmination of a process of expansion and consolidation in the Arabian Peninsula led by King Abdulaziz, beginning with his reconquest of the Al Saud family’s ancestral capital Riyadh in 1902.

In 1915, King Abdulaziz – then the Amir of Nejd – did sign a protection treaty with Great Britain, the dominant power in the region at the time. However, his realm was never a formal colony that then gained independence from European rule, as the Netflix documentary has been seen to imply.

King Abdulaziz in 1930. (File Photo: AP)
King Abdulaziz in 1930. (File Photo: AP)

Instead, in 1927 Abdulaziz became King of Hejaz-Nejd, having expanded Saudi Arabian rule in Hejaz and unified it with other regions of Arabia including al-Ahsa that now make up most of Saudi Arabia. In the same year, the British belatedly recognized complete Saudi Arabian independence from their side in the Treaty of Jeddah.

The 1932 declaration of Saudi Arabia unified this dual Kingdom into one monarchy, changing the name of the country to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. King Abdulaziz ruled the Kingdom until his death in 1953, when he was succeeded by his son Saud.

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Other errors criticized

The Netflix episode has also been accused of including other historical inaccuracies.

The show states that oil was first discovered in 1938 in Saudi Arabia, overlooking the fact that an oil well was struck in Jebel Dukhan, Bahrain, in 1931.

On Twitter, Saudi Arabian petroleum engineer Al Mohannad al-Hashboul criticized the show’s historical accuracy.

“I just watched it, along with the wrong political interpretations, the episode failed to mention fundamental facts such as Bahrain being the first Arabian gulf country to discover oil and not Kuwait and Saudi. Mediocre at best,” he wrote.

“History 101” contains 10 episodes exploring a range of historical topics and premiered on Netflix on May 22.

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