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Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (1906 – 1975)

Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was King of Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975. As king, he is credited with rescuing the country’s finances and implementing a policy of modernization and reform, while his main foreign policy themes were pan-Islamism, anti-Communism, and pro-Palestinian nationalism. He successfully stabilized the kingdom’s bureaucracy and his reign had significant popularity among Saudis. In 1975, he was assassinated by his nephew Faisal bin Musaid.

Early life

Faisal bin Abdulaziz was born in Riyadh on 14 April 1906. He is the third son of Saudi Arabia’s former king, King Abdulaziz. His mother was Tarfa bint Abdullah bin Abdullatif Al Sheikh,[8] 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 maternal grandfather, Abdullah bin Abdullatif, was one of Abdulaziz’s principal religious teachers and advisers.

Faisal’s mother died in 1912 when he was quite young, and he was raised by his maternal grandfather, who taught him the Quran and the principles of Islam, an education which left an impact on him for the remainder of his life.

Faisal had only one sister, Nurah. She was married to her cousin, Khalid bin Muhammad bin Abdul Rahman, son of Muhammad bin Abdul Rahman.

Faisal was raised in an atmosphere in which courage was extremely valued and reinforced, unlike that of most of his half brothers. He was motivated by his mother to develop the values of tribal leadership.

 

Early experience

As one of King Abdulaziz’s eldest sons, Prince Faisal was delegated numerous responsibilities to consolidate control over Arabia. After the capture of Hail and initial control over Asir in 1922, he was sent to these provinces with nearly six thousand fighters.  He achieved complete control over Asir at the end of the year.

In 1925, Prince Faisal, in command of an army of Saudi loyalists, won a decisive victory in the Hejaz. He and Prince Mohammad were given the responsibility for the Ikhwan. Then, Prince Faisal was appointed viceroy of Hejaz in 1926. He often consulted with local leaders during his tenure.

In 1930, Prince Faisal became minister of foreign affairs, a position he continued to hold even as King.[21] Prince Faisal visited Europe several times in this period, and also Poland in 1932 and Russia in 1933.

Upon the accession of Prince Faisal’s elder brother, King Saud, to the throne in 1953, Prince Faisal was appointed Crown Prince. King Saud, however, embarked on a lavish and ill-considered spending program that included the construction of a massive royal residence on the outskirts of the capital, Riyadh. He also faced pressure from neighboring 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 was inept, senior members of the royal family and the ulema (religious leadership) pressured Saud into appointing Faisal to the position of prime minister in 1958, giving Faisal wide executive powers.

A power struggle ensued thereafter between King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal, and on 18 December 1960, Prince Faisal resigned as prime minister in protest, arguing that King Saud was frustrating his financial reforms. King Saud took back his executive powers and, having induced Prince Talal to return from Egypt, appointed him as minister of finance. In 1962, however, Prince Faisal rallied enough support within the royal family to install himself as prime minister for a second time.

It was during this period as head of the Saudi government that Prince Faisal, though still not king, established his reputation as a reforming and modernizing figure.[1] He introduced education for women and girls despite the consternation of many conservatives in the religious establishment. To appease the objectors, however, he allowed the female educational curriculum to be written and overseen by members of the religious leadership, a policy which lasted long after his death.

Struggle with King Saud

The struggle with King Saud continued in the background during this time. Taking advantage of the king’s absence from the country for medical reasons in early 1963, Faisal began amassing more power for himself. He removed many of Saud’s loyalists from their posts and appointed like-minded princes in key military and security positions, such as his brother Prince Abdullah, to whom he gave command of the National Guard in 1962. Upon King Saud’s return, Prince Faisal demanded that he be made regent and that King Saud be reduced to a purely ceremonial role. In this, he had the crucial backing of the ulema (elite Islamic scholars), including a fatwa (edict) issued by the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, a relative of Prince Faisal on his mother’s side, calling on King Saud to accede to his brother’s demands.[28] In other words, Prince Faisal was backed by the religious establishment, which is headed by the Al-Shaykh, the descendants of Muhammad bin Abd al Wahab. In addition, Prince Faisal sought authority through significant Sudairi backing which he cemented by his marriage to a Sudairi.

King Saud refused, however, and made a last-ditch attempt to retake executive powers, leading Prince Faisal to order the National Guard to surround King Saud’s palace. His loyalists outnumbered and outgunned, King Saud relented, and on 4 March 1964, Prince Faisal was appointed regent. A meeting of the elders of the royal family and the ulema was convened later that year, and a second fatwa was decreed by the grand mufti, calling on King Saud to abdicate the throne in favor of his brother. The royal family supported the fatwa and immediately informed King Saud of their decision. King Saud, by now shorn of all his powers, agreed, and Prince Faisal was proclaimed king on 2 November 1964. Shortly thereafter, Saud bin Abdulaziz went into exile in Greece.

King of Saudi Arabia

In an emotional speech shortly after he came to power on 2 November 1964,[30] Faisal said: “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.” However, it was King Abdulaziz who used family royal titles and his son King Faisal expanded them. Indeed, regulations about royal titles instituted by the Saudi civil service during his reign required that all the direct descendants of King Abdulaziz should be referred to as “His Royal Highness”. Those of his brothers and some of his uncles should be referred to as “His Highness”, and members of other recognized branches of the Sauds as “His Excellency”, a title they share with commoners who held senior governmental positions.

In 1967, King Faisal established the post of second prime minister and appointed Prince Fahd to this post.

Modernization

Early in his rule, he issued an edict that all Saudi princes had to school their children inside the country, rather than sending them abroad; this had the effect of making it “fashionable” for upper-class families to bring their sons back to study in the Kingdom. King Faisal also introduced the country’s current system of administrative regions, and laid 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.

Television broadcasts officially began in 1965. In 1966, an especially zealous nephew of Faisal attacked the newly established headquarters of Saudi television but was killed by security personnel. The attacker was the brother of Faisal’s future assassin, and the incident is the most widely accepted motive for the murder. Despite the opposition from conservative Saudis to his reforms, however, King Faisal continued to pursue modernization while always making sure to couch his policies in Islamic terms.

Religious inclusiveness

King Faisal seemed to hold the pluralist view, favouring limited, cautious accommodation of popular demands for inclusive reform, and made repeated attempts to broaden political representation, harking back to King Faisal’s temporarily successful national integration policy from 1965 to 1975. King Faisal acknowledged his country’s religious and cultural diversity, which includes the predominantly Shia Ahsa in the east; the Asir in the southwest, with tribal affinities to Yemen, especially among the Ismaili tribes of Najran and Jizan; and the Kingdom of the Hejaz, with its capital Mecca. He included non-Wahhabi, cosmopolitan Sunni Hejazis from Mecca and Jeddah in the Saudi government. However, after his reign, discrimination based on sect, tribe, region and gender became the order of the day and has remained as such until today.

Corruption in the royal family was taken very seriously by a religious group which had its basic orientation in the Islamic theological colleges and which challenged some of the accepted theological interpretations adopted by the Saudi regime. One such influential figure was Shaykh bin Baz, then rector of the Al Medina college of theology. King Faisal would not tolerate his criticism and had him removed from his position. But his teachings had already radicalized some of his students. One of them was Juhayman al-Otaybi.

Abolition of slavery

Slavery did not vanish in Saudi Arabia until King Faisal issued a decree for its total abolition in 1962. Peter Hobday stated that about 1,682 slaves were freed at that time, at a cost to the government of $2,000 each.[42] It is argued that the US began to raise the issue of slavery after the meeting between King Abdulaziz and US president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 and that John F. Kennedy finally persuaded the House of Saud to abolish slavery in 1962.

Personal life

King Faisal married four times.Three of his spouses were from powerful families; Sudairi, Al Jiluwi and Al Thunayan.

His first wife, Sultana bint Ahmed Al Sudairi, was the mother of his eldest son Prince Abdullah whom King Faisal fathered when he was just fifteen. From the Sudairi family, she was younger sister of Hassa bint Ahmed who was the mother of the Sudairi brothers.

His second, and most prominent, wife was Iffat Al-Thuniyyan. She was born and raised in Turkey and was a descendant of the Al Saud family who were taken to Istanbul or Cairo by Egyptian forces in 1818 . They first met in Istanbul around 1932 while he was officially visiting Turkey. Prince Faisal took Iffat to Jeddah where they wed in 1932.  Iffat is credited with being the influence behind many of her late husband’s reforms, particularly with regards to women.

His third wife was Al Jawhara bint Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Al Kabir, and they had a daughter, Munira. She was the daughter of his aunt, Nuora bint Abdul Rahman. They married in October 1935.

His fourth wife, who is the mother of Prince Khalid, was Haya bint Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Turki, a member of the Al Jiluwi clan.

Faisal’s sons received exceptional education compared to other princes born to Saudi monarchs. Prince Turki received formal education at prestigious schools in New Jersey, and he later attended Georgetown University, while Prince Saud is an alumnus of Princeton University. King Faisal’s sons have held, and continue to hold, important positions in the Saudi government. His eldest son Prince Abdullah was born in 1922 and held some governmental positions for a while. Prince Khalid was the governor of Asir Province in southwestern Saudi Arabia for more than three decades before becoming governor of Makkah Province in 2007. Prince Saud was the Saudi foreign minister between 1975 and 2015. Prince Turki served as head of Saudi Intelligence, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and later ambassador to the United States.

King Faisal’s daughter, Haifa bint Faisal, is married to Bandar bin Sultan. Prince Bandar had been all but disowned by his father Prince Sultan at the time due to his perceived inferior lineage. King Faisal, however, forced Prince Sultan to recognize Bandar as a legitimate Prince by giving Prince Bandar his own daughter’s hand in marriage. Another daughter, Lolowah bint Faisal is a prominent activist for women’s education in Saudi Arabia. In 1962, his daughter Princess Sara founded one of the first charitable organizations, Al Nahda, which won the first Chaillot prize for human rights organisations in the Gulf in 2009. One of his daughters and Prince Khalid’s full sister, Princess Mishail, died at the age of 72 in October 2011.

Assassination

On 25 March 1975, King Faisal was shot point-blank and killed by his half-brother’s son, Faisal bin Musaid, who had just come back from the United States. The murder occurred at a majlis (literally ‘a place for sitting’), an event where the king or leader opens up his residence to the citizens to enter and petition the king.

In the waiting room, Prince Faisal talked to Kuwaiti representatives who were also waiting to meet King Faisal.When the Prince went to embrace him, King Faisal leaned to kiss his nephew in accordance with Saudi culture. At that instant, Prince Faisal took out a pistol and shot him. The first shot hit King Faisal’s chin and the second one went through his ear.  A bodyguard hit Prince Faisal with a sheathed sword. Oil minister Zaki Yamani yelled repeatedly to not kill Prince Faisal.

King Faisal was quickly taken to the hospital. He was still alive as doctors massaged his heart and gave him a blood transfusion. They were unsuccessful and King Faisal died shortly afterward. Both before and after the assassination the prince was reported to be calm. Following the killing, Riyadh had three days of mourning and all government activities were at a standstill.

 

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