By the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was the “sick man of Europe”, increasingly under the financial control of the European powers. Domination soon turned to outright conquest. The French annexed Algeria in 1830 and Tunisia in 1878. The British occupied Egypt in 1882, though it remained under nominal Ottoman sovereignty. The British also established effective control of the Persian Gulf, and the French extended their influence into Lebanon and Syria. In 1912 the Italians seized Libya and the Dodecanese islands, just off the coast of the Ottoman heartland of Anatolia. The Ottomans turned to Germany to protect them from the western powers, but the result was increasing financial and military dependence on Germany.
During World War I the British government attempted to cultivate favor with Ibn Saud, but generally favored his rival Sherif Hussein ibn Ali, leader of Hejaz, whom the Sauds were almost constantly at war with. Despite this, the British entered into a treaty in December of 1915 making the lands of the House of Saud a British protectorate. In exchange, Ibn Saud pledged to again make war against Ibn Rashid, who was an ally of the Ottomans.
Ibn Saud did not, however, immediately make war against Ibn Rashid, despite a steady supply of weapons and cash (£5,000 Sterling per month) supplied by the British. He argued with the British that the payment he received was insufficient to adequately wage war against an enemy as powerful as Ibn Rashid. In 1920, however, the House of Saud finally marched again against the Rashidi, extinguishing their dominion in 1922. The defeat of the Rashidis doubled the territory of the House of Saud, and British subsidies continued until 1924.
In 1925 the Sauds captured the holy city of Mecca from Sherif Hussein ibn Ali ending 700 years of Hashemite tutelage of the Islamic holy places.
In 1927, following the defeat of Husayn, the British government recognized the power of the Saud family, led by Ibn Saud, over much of what is today Saudi Arabia. The Treaty of Jedda was signed on May 20. At this time he changed his own title from Sultan of Nejd to King of Hejaz and Nejd.
From 1927 to 1932 Ibn Saud continued to consolidate power throughout the Arabian Peninsula. In 1932, having conquered most of the Peninsula, Saud renamed the area from the lands of Nejd and Hejaz to Saudi Arabia. He then proclaimed himself King of Saudi Arabia, with the support of the British government
When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the Arabs found they had been betrayed, indeed doubly betrayed. For not only had the British and the French concluded a secret treaty (the Sykes-Picot Agreement), to partition the Middle East between them, but the British had also promised via the Balfour Declaration the international Zionist movement their support in creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which was the site of the ancient Kingdom of Israel but had had a largely Arab population for over a thousand years. When the Ottomans departed the Arabs proclaimed an independent state in Damascus, but were too weak, militarily and economically, to resist the European powers for long, and Britain and France soon established control and re-arranged the Middle East to suit themselves.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Middle Eastern rulers tried to modernise their states to compete more effectively with the European powers. Reforming rulers such as Muhammad Ali in Egypt, the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and the authors of the 1906 revolution in Persia all sought to import versions of the western model of constitutional government, civil law, secular education and industrial development into their countries. Across the region railways and telegraphs lines were built, schools and universities were opened, and a new class of army officers, lawyers, teachers and administrators emerged, challenging the traditional leadership of Islamic scholars.
Unfortunately, in all these cases the money to pay for the reforms was borrowed from the west, and the crippling debt this entailed led to bankruptcy and even greater western domination, which tended to discredit the reformers. Egypt, for example, fell under British control because the ambitious projects of Muhammad Ali and his successors bankrupted the state.