King Saud ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud
King Saud, who succeeded to the throne of the absolutist Saudi Arabian monarchy in 1953, proved a poor administrator. Even with steadily rising oil revenues, Saud provoked near bankruptcy for his country through financial mismanagement and lavish personal spending. Abd al Aziz ruled until his death in 1953. Although he had named his eldest son, Saud ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud (1902-69), crown prince, he had not instituted an mechanism for orderly succession. Because Abd al Aziz was survived by more than thirty sons, the lack of a process for passing on the mantle of kingship constituted a source of potential political instability for the country.
Amir Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman al Faisal Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, acted as Deputy to the King. He helped to lead his country in an unwavering course of support and encouragement to the cause of the Allies, a course which culminated in a declaration of war against the Axis in March 1945. In control of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, he skillfully carried out the policy of his government in keeping the land, sea and air routes open for use, and by his active support and cooperation, he greatly aided American forces in accomplishing a program of construction and resource development in the country that derived benefit of major proportions for the prosecution of the war.
King Saud was the second King of Saudi Arabia, reigning from 1953 to 1964. Saud became Crown Prince in 1933 and succeeded to the Saudi throne on the death of his father, King Abdul Aziz (Ibn Saud), in 1953. He established the Council of Ministers and set up the Ministries of Commerce, Education and Health. During his reign, the King Saud University was opened in Riyadh.
Problems emerged soon after King Saud began his reign. Like his father, Saud had more than thirty sons, and he was ambitious to place them in positions of power and influence. The new king's numerous brothers, who believed their nephews were too young and inexperienced to head ministries and major government departments, deeply resented their exclusion from power.
The new King Saud did not prove to be a leader equal to the challenges of the next two decades. He was a spendthrift even before he became king, and this became a more crucial issue when he controlled the kingdom's purse strings. Saud paid huge sums to maintain tribal acquiescence to his rule in return for recruits for an immense palace guard, the White Army, so-called because they wore traditional Arab dress rather than military uniforms. Revenues could not match Saud's expenditures for the tribes, subsidies to various foreign groups, and his personal follies.
Dissatisfaction grew over wasteful expenditures, the lack of development of public projects and educational institutions, and the low wages of the growing labor force. Citizens were becoming aware of the dual culture emerging in Saudi Arabia. Privileged classes had been unknown in the early days of Abd al Aziz's reign; his first palace was made of the same sun-dried mud bricks that the peasants used, shaykhs and beduin herdsmen called each other by their first names, and the clothing of rich and poor was quite similar.
Dissatisfaction came from many sources, chief of which were a few of the more liberal princes and the sons of the rising middle class educated abroad. In an effort to discourage the formation of critical attitudes, college students abroad were forbidden to major in law, political science, or related areas. In 1956 Aramco Saudi workers called a second strike, the first having occurred in 1953. Saud issued a royal decree in June 1956 forbidding further strikes under penalty of dismissal.
In foreign relations Saud followed the inclinations of his father and promoted Arab unity by demanding, in cooperation with Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt, the liberation of Palestine. Saudi Arabia's ties with Egypt had been strengthened by a mutual defense pact in October 1955. Together Nasser and Saud assisted in financing an effort to discourage Jordan from joining the Western-sponsored Baghdad Pact. When French, British, and Israeli forces invaded Egypt in 1956 as a result of Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal, Saud granted the equivalent of US$10 million to Egypt, severed diplomatic relations with Britain and France, and placed an embargo on oil shipments to both countries.
United States-Saudi relations also declined during the early years of Saud's reign. Nationalists criticized the leasing of the Dhahran air base to the United States, calling it a concession to American imperialism. In 1954 the United States Point Four mission was dismissed. A major reorientation of Saudi policy was initiated in 1957 after Saud's successful visit to the United States. In a conference with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Saud gave support to the Eisenhower Doctrine and agreed to a five-year renewal of the lease of the Dhahran air base.
But as Western relations improved, those with Egypt worsened. Egypt and Saudi Arabia had been drawn together because of their mutual interest in obtaining Arab independence from non-Arab foreign intervention. Beyond that point all similarity of objectives vanished. Nasser had deposed a king in Egypt and was encouraging revolutionary attitudes in other Arab countries. His notions of Arab unity and economic socialism were abhorrent to Saud and to many Saudis who wished to preserve an independent and capitalistically oriented kingdom. Furthermore, the Egyptians trafficked with the Soviet Union, from whom the Saudis had declined an arms offer and to whom they denied diplomatic recognition because of their fear of communism. The presence of large numbers of Egyptian military attachés and teachers in Saudi Arabia caused concern among the Saudis that, at the very least, unacceptable views would circulate. Saudi officials were aghast when Syria and Egypt merged in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic.
Yet the shock generated by news of the union paled before the subsequent disclosures of an alleged conspiracy by Saud to subvert the venture and to assassinate Nasser. Saud, who had been an early supporter of Nasser in his seizure of power in Egypt, now opposed the leader of secular pan-Arab nationalism. Nasser supported factions in Saudi Arabia that sought to overthrow the monarchy.
The embarrassed senior members of the royal family had also become increasingly unhappy over Saud's tendency to appoint his inexperienced young sons to major government positions rather than older, more seasoned family members. They feared that such appointments indicated a plan to transfer the succession to his offspring as opposed to the traditional practice of selecting the most senior and experienced family member as leader. These fears, combined with their concern over Saud's profligate spending and the alleged assassination plot, increased family dissatisfaction to the point that senior members of Al Saud urged Saud to relinquish power to Faisal.
The combination of political and economic tensions forced Saud to cede some of his powers to his brother, Crown Prince Faisal ibn Abdulaziz, who took over management of the government as prime minister and foreign minister. Faisal initiated a careful fiscal program, and by 1960 he had stabilized the country’s currency at 4.5 rials to the dollar, had replenished the country’s monetary reserves, and had placed the external and internal debt on a path to complete liquidation.
In December 1960, King Saud reasserted his absolutist prerogatives by refusing to approve Faisal’s budget proposal, which led to Faisal’s resignation from the government. Saud’s repudiation of Faisal’s budget undermined the country’s financial stability. In addition, political stability on the Arabian Peninsula broke down in 1962 with the outbreak of civil war in Yemen on Saudi Arabia’s southwestern border. Pro-Nasser military officers overthrew the Muslim ruler and declared a secular republic in North Yemen. Egypt openly supported the military junta and quickly had thirty-six thousand well-equipped troops and supporting air force elements in Yemen. Although Saudi Arabia and Jordan aided the deposed royalist faction, they could not match Egypt’s military presence. The entire Saudi Army numbered only about eighteen thousand troops, with another eighteen thousand men serving part- or full-time in the country’s national guard.
By October 1962, the overlapping crises of the government’s finances, the civil war in Yemen, and an intimidating Egyptian military presence on the southern Saudi border had led Saudi leaders and princes to insist that King Saud recall Prince Faisal and turn practical control of the government over to him.
The political and personal tensions among the Al Saud, combined with the extravagance and poor judgment of Saud, climaxed in a 1964 family coup. A number of brothers joined together to depose Saud and install as king the next eldest brother, Faisal ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud (1904-75). The transfer of power was endorsed by Saudi Arabia's ulama, or religious authorities. Saud died in exile in 1969.
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