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Sa῾ūd, Fayṣal Ibn ῾Abd Al‐῾azĪz Āl

By:
Joseph A. Kechichian
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World What is This? Provides global coverage of the Muslim experience from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century

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Sa῾ūd, Fayṣal Ibn ῾Abd Al‐῾azĪz Āl

(1906–1975), king of Saudi Arabia during the crucial period between its unification and its transformation into one of the world's most influential oil‐producing powers. Fayṣal was born on 9 April 1906, at a time when his father, ῾Abd al‐῾Azīz ibn ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān Āl Sa῾ūd, was unifying the Najdī tribes. Because Fayṣal's mother, Tarfah, died in 1912, the young prince's education was entrusted to his maternal godfather, Shaykh ῾Abdullāh ibn ῾Abd al‐Laṭīf Āl al‐Shaykh. The latter, a grandson of Muḥammad ibn ῾Abd al‐Wahhāb, the founder of the Muwaḥḥidūn (Unitarian) movement that gave religious legitimacy to Saudi rule, was a leading ῾alim (religious scholar) who instilled in Fayṣal strong religious beliefs. At the age of fourteen, Fayṣal commanded his father's forces in ῾Asīr Province (he also distinguished himself militarily by leading an assault on Yemen in 1933). In 1930, Fayṣal became Saudi Arabia's first foreign minister and held the office until his death in 1975, save for a two‐year period during King Sa῾ūd's rule. He led the Saudi delegation to the April 1945 San Francisco conference that established the United Nations, and signed the UN Charter on 26 June 1945, making Saudi Arabia a founding member of the world body.

Fayṣal shaped Saudi foreign policy by giving it an ideological base, insisting on a strict balance with internal developments and adopting a level of consistency unparalleled throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. This consistency was amply visible throughout the 1960s and early 1970s when the kingdom faced the Nasserist challenge. Riyadh responded to the rising wave of Arab nationalism by emphasizing Islamic values. Rejecting both secularism and socialism, Fayṣal supported Yemeni tribes who favored the monarchy and, in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab‐Israeli War, sought a rapprochement with Egypt to end the Arab Cold War (1957–1967). By early 1973, however, Fayṣal perceived the need to link the kingdom's oil power to the unending Arab‐Israeli conflict, especially as Washington failed to note Saudi pleas. Following the outbreak of the 1973 war, and the U.S. decision to create a weapons air‐bridge to Israel, Fayṣal authorized an oil embargo against both the United States and the Netherlands. But ever the astute statesman, the king rescinded his decision when Washington reactivated its moribund peace efforts. However, his lifelong wish to pray at Jerusalem's al‐Aqṣā Mosque never materialized.

Although few members of the Āl Sa῾ūd ruling family challenged Fayṣal on foreign policy questions, his rule was not free from turmoil. The most significant conflict was the rivalry between then Crown Prince Fayṣal and King Sa῾ūd (r. 1953–1964). The king was inward looking, and chiefly interested in tribal affairs, whereas Fayṣal was outward looking, aiming to enhance the kingdom's position on both the regional as well as world scenes. Fayṣal perceived his brother's accommodation with revolutionary Egypt to be ill advised and, at a time when regional upheavals—including the 1956 Suez crisis, the Egyptian‐Syrian union, the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, and the civil war in Yemen—threatened the kingdom, he considered Sa῾ūd's positions to be intolerable. Such policies, coupled with disastrous financial mismanagement, encouraged Fayṣal to take over. In November 1963, the Council of Senior Princes, supported by a fatwā (formal legal opinion) from the ῾ulamā', called on Sa῾ūd to abdicate in favor of Fayṣal, who acceded to the throne on 2 November 1964. Fayṣal's ten‐point reform program to abolish slavery, modernize the administration, reorganize the country's religious and judicial institutions, revamp labor and social laws, utilize natural resources soundly, build efficient infrastructures, and establish consultative as well as local councils, won him widespread praise. Many reforms were gradually introduced and others were implemented by successor rulers. When, for example, the grand muftī died in 1970, Fayṣal abolished the post, replacing it with two separate and less‐autonomous institutions. The Ministry of Justice was established to integrate the Saudi judiciary into the government, and the Council of Senior ῾Ulamā', comprising seventeen members appointed by the king, was created to provide the ruler with appropriate religious opinions and approvals. Significant socioeconomic reforms were embodied in the first five‐year development plan, which was followed by a second, more ambitious, plan in 1975. Assassinated by a nephew on 25 March 1975, Fayṣal died before the actual implementation of his second plan, but he left his successors effective institutions to carry on his legacy.

See also Saudi Arabia; and the biography of the elder Sa῾ūd.

Bibliography

  • Beling, Willard A., ed. King Faisal and the Modernisation of Saudi Arabia. Boulder, 1980. Thirteen essays covering the creation of the Saudi state, its modernization, currents of social change, and the role of Islam in the conduct of its foreign policy.
  • Benoist‐Méchin, Jacques. Fayçal, roi d'Arabie: L'homme, le souverain, sa place dans le monde, 1906–1975. Paris, 1975. Classic work by an “insider.”
  • Bligh, Alexander. From Prince to King: Royal Succession in the House of Saud in the Twentieth Century. New York, 1984. Thorough academic examination of political participation in the kingdom's decision‐making process.
  • De Gaury, Gerald. Faisal, King of Saudi Arabia. New York and Washington, D.C., 1967. Thought‐provoking essay on Fayṣal's remarkable accomplishments.
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