King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud


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King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is credited with rescuing the country’s finances and also implementing a policy of modernization and reform. He successfully stabilized the kingdom’s bureaucracy and his reign had popularity amongst Saudis. In 1975, he was assassinated by Faisal bin Musaid, his nephew.

Faisal bin Abdulaziz was born in Riyadh in April 1906. He is the third son of the former Saudi king and founder of the modern kingdom, King Abdulaziz Al Saud. His mother was Tarfa bint Abdullah bin Abdullatif Al Sheikh, whom Abdulaziz had married in 1902 after capturing Riyadh. She was from the family of the Al ash-Sheikh, descendants of Muhammad bin Abdul-Wahhab. Faisal’s grandfather, Abdullah bin Abdullatif, was one of Abdulaziz’s primary religious teachers and advisers.

Faisal’s mother passed away in 1912 whilst he was still quite young. Responsibility fell upon his grandfather to raise him. Due to his grandfathers background he was taught the Quran and the principles of Islam, an education which left an impact on him for the remainder of his life. Faisal was raised in an atmosphere in which courage was extremely valued, unlike that of most of his half brothers. He was motivated by his mother to develop the values of a tribal leader.

As one of King Abdulaziz’s eldest sons, Prince Faisal was delegated numerous responsibilities. One being consolidating control over Arabia. Examples of achievements include the capture of Hail and Asir in 1922. There he was sent with nearly six thousand fighters. He achieved complete control over Asir at the end of the year. In 1925, whilst in command of an army of Saudi loyalists, he won a decisive victory in the Hejaz. With such successes Prince Faisal became minister of foreign affairs in 1930, a position he continued to hold throughout his reign.

Upon the accession of Prince Faisal’s elder brother to the throne Prince Faisal was appointed Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. However, King Saud disappointingly embarked on a flamboyant and ill-judged spending program that included the construction of a grand royal residence on the outskirts of Riyadh. He also faced pressure from Egypt, where Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown the monarchy in 1952. Nasser was able to cultivate a group of dissident princes led by Prince Talal who defected to Egypt (see Free Princes). Fearing that King Saud’s financial policies were bringing the state to the brink of collapse, and that his handling of foreign affairs were inadequate, senior members of the royal family and the religious leaders pressured Saud into appointing Faisal to the position of prime minister in 1958 with the intention of giving Faisal executive powers. In this new position, Faisal set in place austerity measures cutting spending dramatically in an effort to rescue the state treasury from bankruptcy. This policy of financial prudence became a hallmark of the era and earned him a reputation for thriftiness among the populace.

A power struggle ensued thereafter between King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal. Prince Faisal resigned as prime minister in protest, arguing that King Saud was frustrating his financial reforms. However, Prince Faisal was later reappointed prime minister for a second time after he rallied enough support from within the royal family.
It was during this period whilst leader of the Saudi government that Prince Faisal established his reputation for reforming and modernizing. He established education for women and girls. This was introduced despite the objections of many conservatives in the religious establishment. To appease the objectors he allowed the curriculum to be written and overseen by members of the religious leadership. This policy ws maintained long after his death. In 1963, Prince Faisal established the country’s first television station. As with many of his policies, the move aroused objections. Faisal assured all that Islamic principles of modesty would be observed throughout broadcasting, and made sure that the broadcasts contained a large amount of religious programming. Crown Prince Faisal helped establish the Islamic University of Madinah and then assisted foundered the Muslim World League in 1961 and 1962 respectively. To this worldwide charity the Saudi royal family has reportedly since donated more than one billion dollars.

Slavery was also a key concern to the King. It did not vanish in Saudi Arabia until King Faisal issued a decree. He lead the policy for the establishment of slavery in 1962 freeing approximately 10,000 from captivity.

The crown prince became king in November 1964. In an emotional speech shortly after the new found king was appointed, he implored: “I beg of you, brothers, to look upon me as both brother and servant. ‘Majesty’ is reserved to God alone and ‘the throne’ is the throne of the Heavens and Earth.” Upon his ascension, King Faisal still viewed the reestablishment of the country’s finances as his primary focus. He continued his conservative financial policies during the first few years of his reign, and his aims of balancing the country’s budget eventually succeeded, helped by increased oil revenues.

Early in his rule, he established a policy that all Saudi princes had to school their children inside the country; this had the effect of making it “fashionable” for upper-class families to bring their sons back to study within the Kingdom. King Faisal also introduced the country’s current system of administration laying the foundations for a modern welfare system. In 1970, he established the Ministry of Justice and inaugurated the country’s first “five-year plan” for economic development.

King Faisal maintained the close alliance with the United States initiated by his father. He relied heavily on the U.S. for arming and training the Saudi forces. King Faisal was also strictly against communist regimes. He refused any political ties with the Soviet Union and other Communist bloc countries, professing them to have a complete incompatibility between Communism and Islam. King Faisal also supported monarchist and conservative movements in the Arab world. To that end, he called for the establishment of the Muslim World League, visiting Muslim countries to advocate the ideology.

During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War King Faisal withdrew Saudi oil from global markets, in protest over Western support for Israel during the conflict. This action exaggerated oil prices and was the primary force behind the 1973 energy crisis. It was to be the defining act of King Faisal’s career gaining him lasting prestige globally amongst those of the Arab community. In 1974, he was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year, and the financial windfall generated by the crisis fueled and economic boom that occurred in Saudi Arabia after his death. The new oil revenues allowed Faisal to greatly increase the aid and subsidies to Egypt, Syria and Palestine following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

On 25 March 1975, King Faisal was assassinated. Shot point-blank and killed by Faisal bin Musaid.