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King Faisal ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud

King Faisal was the third King of Saudi Arabia, reigning from 1964 to 1975. In 1919, King Abdulaziz sent his son Faisal - who was to rule as King in the 1960s and 1970s - as his representative on an extended visit to the capitals of Europe. On that visit Prince Faisal attended the Peace Conference in Versailles, where the European powers were discussing the future of the Ottoman domains in the Middle East and North Africa. In 1925, Faisal, in command of his father's arms, won a decisive victory in the Hijaz. Faisal became viceroy of the Hijaz, thus extending King Abdul Aziz's remit to the west of the peninsula. Following the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Faisal was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1932. Prince Faisal, accompanied by his younger brother Prince Khaled, met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, DC, in 1943.

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. Because of fiscal difficulties, King Saud had been persuaded in 1958 to delegate direct conduct of Saudi Government affairs to Faisal as Prime Minister. 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 countryís currency at 4.5 rials to the dollar, had replenished the countryís 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 Faisalís budget proposal, which led to Faisalís resignation from the government. Saudís repudiation of Faisalís budget undermined the countryís financial stability.

In October 1962, Faisal was urged by the ulama and many princes to accept the kingship, but he declined, citing his promise to his father to support Saud. Instead Faisal again became prime minister, named Khalid deputy prime minister, and formed a government. Faisal reshuffled the cabinet to increase his own authority and the stability of the monarchy. He put three half-brothers, all a half-generation younger, in key positions: Prince Sultan in charge of the Ministry of Defense, Prince Fahd in charge of the Ministry of the Interior, and Prince Abdullah in command of the military unit that became the Saudi Arabian National Guard in 1963. Within weeks, Faisal completed his reorganization of the cabinet and launched a ten-point governmental reform program. Having vested new elements of the princely family with a share in governmental authority and power, Faisal created a cadre of leadership that continued to govern Saudi Arabia over the next thirty years, providing an exceptional degree of continuity and consistency in policy.

In March 1964, after months of internal but bloodless struggle among factions of the royal family, Saud was forced to renounce his powers in favor of Faisal; in November 1964, the countryís leaders proclaimed Faisal king. On November 2, 1964, the ulama issued a final fatwa, or religious decree on the matter. Saud was deposed, and Faisal was declared king. This decision terminated almost a decade of external and internal pressure to depose Saud and to assert the power and integrity of conservative forces within the Al Saudi.

King Faisal strengthened the powers of the monarchy during his eleven-year reign. Although he had acted as prime minister during most of Saud's rule, he issued a royal decree stipulating that the king would serve both as head of state and as head of government. Faisal also increased central control over the provinces by making local officials responsible to the king, creating a Ministry of Justice to regulate the autonomous religious courts, and establishing a national development plan to coordinate construction projects and social services throughout the country.

Troubled by the spread of republicanism in the Arab world that challenged the legitimacy of the Al Saud, Faisal called an Islamic summit conference in 1965 to reaffirm Islamic principles against the rising tide of modern ideologies. Faisal proceeded cautiously but emphatically to introduce Western technology. He was continually forced to deal with the insistent demands of his Westernized associates to move faster and the equally vociferous urgings of the ulama to move not at all. He chose the middle ground not merely in a spirit of compromise to assuage the two forces but because he earnestly believed that the correct religious orientation would mitigate the adverse effects of modernization. In 1965 the first Saudi television broadcasts offended some Saudis. One of Faisal's nephews went so far as to lead an assault on one of the new studios and was later killed in a shoot-out with the police.

Faisal's concern for orderly government and durable institutions extended to the monarchy. In 1965 he persuaded his brothers to observe the principle of birth order among themselves to regulate the succession, although the next eldest brother, Muhammad (born 1910), voluntarily stepped down in favor of Khalid (1912-82).

Faisal was assassinated on March 25, 1975. He was shot by his nephew, a disgruntled brother of the nephew killed in the 1965 television station incident. The nephew was executed after an extensive investigation concluded that he acted alone.

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Page last modified: 11-01-2013 17:20:08 ZULU