Faisal I al-Saud
Faisal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (in Arabic: فيصل بن عبدالعزيز آل سعود) was born in 1903, in Riyadh, Nefd (present day Saudi Arabia). He was the third son of the emir (later sultan and king) Abdul Aziz al-Saud and his first wife, Tarfa.
Faisal was, during his childhood, an intelligent, talkative and persuasive child, also tending to be a bit rebel.
Being one of the Abdul Aziz eldest sons, Faisal was delegated several responsibilities after he reached majority. At that time Abdul Aziz hadn’t decided yet who would succeed him so these responsibilities could be excellent to choose a possible heir among his many sons.
In 1926 Nefd attacked Hijaaz with the goal of conquering the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina but was defeated by hijaazi-syrian Hashemite coalition forces better armed with European weapons. Faisal was in command of the nefdi army and such defeat putted him far away from the throne. But even so the now sultan Abdul Aziz still considered Faisal as one of his most capable sons and delegated him diplomatic tasks. Faisal became ambassador in Judea (1927-28), in Egypt (1928-31) and finally in Xliponia (1931-33). While he was abroad Faisal was able to learn much about the outside world, as his own country was then much closed to foreign influences. Faisal also learned several languages, notably judajca, xliponian and english.
When he finally returned to his country, now renamed Saudi Arabia, the king appointed him as Minister of Foreign Affairs, position he held for the next ten years. Together with his father, Faisal worked to keep Saudi Arabia neutral during the Second Great War and the Great Oriental War which permitted the kingdom to sell oil to all parts in conflict and having enormous profits.
In 1943 Faisal decided to leave government, due to some problems between him and some of his brothers and half brothers who were ministers at Saudi government. In his opinion some of them were conspiring against him as Faisal was much admired by his father the king although the crown prince was already chosen by then, Faisal’s half-brother Said. In fact Crown Prince Said was feeling surpassed by his half-brother and thought his position was in danger.
Prince Faisal left once again his country, this time not for diplomatic tasks but for his own studies. He studied at Harvard University, in NAL, where he got a degree on economics. Then returned to Saudi Arabia as the most academic graduated prince in his country, in fact he was then the only one. King Abdul Aziz made him Minister of Oil Industry in 1950, position he kept until the king’s death in 1953. Since then he kept a low profile life and left to the Republic of the Two Crowns to study International Relations at the University of Łódź.
Saudi Arabia during the 1950’s
Crown Prince Said became, as expected, the new king. Soon he replaced everyone from government by his own sons, which annoyed everyone else at the al-Saud royal family. They considered Said’s sons too inexperienced to hold government positions. For the next years king Said acted not as a good king as the previous one but as a real kleptocrat. His (and his son’s) wastes became well known in a time that Saudi Arabia wasn’t yet totally economically stable. The king and government members became extremely wealthy and neglected the rule of the kingdom. They spent millions in luxury goods and were often absent, many times in expensive vacations in Monaco and Xliponia spending millions of dinars in parties where it was said there weren’t ever any lack of alcohol, gambling and women.
Although Saudi Arabia was saved from bankruptcy by the increase of the oil prices during the Suez Crisis (1956) its economical situation was terribly bad even if the kingdom was still the largest oil producer and exporter in the world. Things got worst during the Hajji War against Hijaaz, in 1959.
Discontentment rapidly arose among the population so as within the royal family members. To deal with that discontentment among the average people Said answered with high repression while conspiracies started to be made within the al-Saud family in order to dethrone the king.
Route to power
Among those conspirers there was Prince Faisal who finally deposed the king with the support of other members of the al-Saud royal family and wahhabi clerics who were for a long time scandalized by the king’s and his son’s behavior.
Prince Faisal was crowned surpassing Said’s crown prince Muhammad. Said and the crown prince were sent to exile in Lebanon.
Faisal inherited the kingdom on a delicate economical situation, with a large external debt, and a discontent people with a growing influence of revolutionary ideals. The overthrown of the royal families in Egypt (1952) and Iraaq (1958) were on his memory and he didn’t want such could happen in Saudi Arabia.
The Three Leaps Forward
To fight discontentment he decided not to use the usual repressive means which didn’t solve the problems in Iraaq and Egypt. He decided avoid the causes so he wouldn’t have to fight against the consequences later. As he considered a good king should rule for the people and not against them Faisal announced then his plan which he called “The Three Leaps Forward” which had a strong inspiration on other contemporary reformative programmes made then in the Middle East, notably the reforms held by Nasser in Egypt, Qassim in Iraaq and Shah Aryamehr’s “White Revolution” in Persia. He described it as a “quiet and bloodless revolution which would take Saudi Arabia to modern and developed world” and to achieve it he surrounded himself with loyal and open minded relatives so as with people with no connections with the royal family. This was the less Saudi of all Saudi governments. In order Faisal could control better the situation he abolished the position of prime minister. From now on he would supervise directly the government.
The Three Leaps Forward would be a succession of thematic five-year plans (the leaps, as he called it) to develop the country in a sustainable way. These should be firstly the development of infrastructures, secondly the development of national economy and finally the development of civil and political rights.
The first leap
Using his diplomatic skills he was able to negotiate with the foreign banks the delay of paying the national debt. With the oil benefits King Faisal started a huge programme of building infrastructures. Impressive irrigation works were made in the most fertile provinces (Al-Hasa and Asir) and there was the promotion of settlement of the nomadic Bedouins who should turn to agriculture. Somekind of land reform was made and modern agriculture machinery was given to the settled Bedouins. Oil benefits also financed the creation of the Saudi public schools (previous were all dependent to the clerics), building hospitals and the national money funds were used to help poorer people. Also transportation wasn’t forgotten and new roads and railroads were built so as new aerodromes and the port facilities were increased.
By the end of the first leap, in 1969, Faisal had already recovered the popularity of the royal family among the average people although some of the princes disliked these reforms as they considered those as wasteful so as disliked so few members of the royal family were at government. These reforms left the country with its treasure even poorer as they were expensive but by then discontentment existed only among the powerful and among those the clerics still could manipulate. But the king remained highly popular among much of the poorer classes.
Reactions and repression
“The quiet and bloodless revolution” wasn’t so quiet and bloodless in reality. Many of the nomadic Bedouins didn’t want to change their traditional way of living so they had to be forced to act the way the king wanted. To help things happen the army was called several times to pacify the Bedouins.
Also King Faisal knew about possible conspiracies within the royal family. As result some of his relatives were imprisoned and others forced to flee to exile. The king also surrounded himself by a new elite personal guard to protect him.
At first the wahhabi clerics supported the king as they expected the return of the royal family to morality. But as soon Faisal told about his plans and reforms the clerics became untrustful and started to try to manipulate the popular masses against the king. They were seeing him as a danger to the established order and were afraid the changes could turn Saudi Arabia into chaos. The king reacted by imprisoning hundreds of clerics nationwide and replacing them by others more loyal. Since then government would take a strong intervention into clerical life through the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
As result to all this the new Saudi regime was turning contradictory as repression wasn’t on first plans and the number of political prisoners grew fast.
The second leap
National wealth was the theme of the second leap. King Faisal gave special conditions to foreign multinational companies to be installed in Saudi Arabia. Factories were built so as new oil refineries (previously most of Saudi oil was processed abroad). But Faisal didn’t allow the multinationals to move influences within the government. Some tried and were simply expelled; their goods confiscated so as forbidden to sell their products in Saudi Arabia. Non-Muslim immigrants (especially from India) were allowed to work in the kingdom causing critics from the clerics.
By 1972 Saudi Arabia had already paid its debt and the success was known worldwide and called “the Saudi economical miracle”. The League of Nations then advised other developing countries to follow the Saudi Arabian example.
Oil policies and arab nationalism
By the year Faisal arrived to the throne (1964) only three Arab countries (Saudi Arabia and Iraaq as founding members and Kuwayt since 1953) were at COPEN among nine members (others were then the founding members Persia and Tejas plus Venezola, Russia, Gabon and Gold Coast which were admitted during the 1950’s and 1960’s). King Faisal considered himself as an arab nationalist (but not pan-arabist) so as considered the Arab Community wasn’t strong enough to defend arab interests around the world. So he pressured the other COPEN member states to admit more arab countries to the organization which at that time was one of the most powerful in the world. Thanks to him Libya, the Thousand Emirates and Maghreb joined COPEN in 1965, 1967 and 1972 respectively making a stronger presence of Arab nation. But he failed on the admission of Syria which wasn’t considered an oil producer bigger enough.
During the height of Saudi Arabian prosperity King Faisal offered COPEN, on its twentieth anniversary (1971), the building which is today the headquarter of the organization, in Beyrut, Lebanon, after years of rotative headquarter localization. Also using the oil profits offered the construction of several mosques around the world which made him well known worldwide among common people. He was also the founder of the Muslim University, in 1972, an international university with branches in Riyadh, Cairo and Hyderabad at first.
On the 17th October 1973 (20th Ramadan 1393 for Moslem) oil prices felt almost 20% in a single day due to iraaqi oil high producing policies. It was the start of the Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393. As result the oil producing countries went to a serious economical crisis due to the massive loss of profits. Faisal saw his plan in risk of failure. To avoid that he used once again the national money reserves to reverse the crisis so as reduced the oil production hoping to make higher oil prices. But it didn’t work as the oil world needs were becoming smaller due to the generalization of the Tesla Generators in most developed countries. To take the more possible profits from oil extraction Saudi oil industry was nationalized in 50% which disliked much the multinationals. They accused Faisal of being a communist and this gave more strength to those who were against the reforms. Also the establishment of diplomatic relations with countries such as the CSDS or Bavaria didn’t help.
The third leap
1974 was the year of the third leap devoted to civil and political rights. King Faisal announced that until 1979 all political parties without exception would be legalized, an elected parliament would be created so as everyone (including women) would have the right to vote and the kingdom would have a written constitution inspired on the egyptian one of 1961. Also announced that state would be more separate from religion although he kept Islam as official religion. This left in shock all conservative sectors, from the royal family to the wahhabi clerics (especially those) and even among part of the average people.
Soon riots occurred, often instigated by the clerics. Even the most loyal ones were thinking the king’s policies were going too far. The state was forced to react with repressive means to restore order which made the situation get even worst. It was the end of the Faisal’s benevolent dictatorship as the government started to lose control of the situation.
While much of the masses still supported the king’s policies the powerful ones and the most conservative average people were feeling terribly annoyed by all changes operated. The wahhabi clerics were much worried by the growing civil rights of the population and the so-called “infection of infidels within Saudi Arabia”, as they used to refer to the non-Muslim immigrants. Members of the royal family wanted to return to full control of the kingdom’s affairs as now most of the government members had no royal ties. Finally the international oil business didn’t forgive the 1973’s nationalizations. In time a secret coalition made by all these forces started a conspiracy to turn the kingdom back to their wanted order.
The king’s fall
To avoid what they called “the triumph of subversion” the wahhabi clerics together with the oil multinationals and discontent princes gave support to an ambitious Faisal’s nephew, colonel Faisal Bin Musad al-Saud who on the 25th March 1975 deposed the king. Faisal died on that day during the assault and bombing against the royal palace and the crown prince, his half brother Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (an intellectual), fled to exile firstly in Iraaq and later in NAL where he became a university teacher. The colonel was proclaimed by the clerics new king as Faisal II (first and only Saudi king who wasn’t a son of King Abdul Aziz) and no national mourning for Faisal I was permitted. Curiously other arab countries made national mourning (Iraaq, Libya and Egypt) as the deposed Saudi king was then considered one of the most important and respected arab leaders and his policies were much admired worldwide.
The new political power soon instituted a highly repressive state controlled by the wahhabi clerics and other conservative forces which survives until our days and has only parallel in modern history to Iraaq during Saddaam Hussayn theocratic regime (1979-2003).
The new Saudi regime didn’t spare efforts to make King Faisal fall in complete oblivion. His name almost disappeared from official records which made the old king to become almost unknown among the younger generations in Saudi Arabia (that means most of the country’s population). His name just appears full of negativity as result of a long-lasting defamation campaign held by Saudi propaganda. Also all places named after him, such as the King Faisal University for example, were renamed.
Worldwide were built mosques all called King Faisal during the height of Saudi prosperity, which help to perpetuate his name. In 1975 COPEN Building was renamed for a short time as King Faisal Building but due to pressures from new Saudi government this name was abandoned soon. The building was named then Ibrahim bin Hussayn Building until Iraaq returned to COPEN and since then it remains simply as COPEN Building. The Muslim University still exists today and has even more branches. It’s considered one of the most important universities in the Moslem countries.
Faisal’s ideals also influenced a whole new generation of arab politicians which helped to create a new political ideology known as Islamic Democracy, considered often as the Muslim counterpart of the Christian Democracy.
King Faisal I al-Saud is nowadays recognized not only as one of the greatest 20th century arab leaders so as one of the most important developing countries leaders. Although the regime turned to repression during its last times its actions are still considered much more positive than negative. His ambition to reform Saudi Arabia is still considered visionary and ahead in time so as an example of sustainable progress and development.