Said bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (in Arabic: سعيد بن عبدالعزيز آل سعود) was born in 1902 at an unknown location deep in Arabian Desert. He was the first son of Abdul Aziz, future king of Saudi Arabia.
On that same year Abdul Aziz conquered the semi-independent state of the Rashidi Arabia, an emirate ruled by the Rashidi royal house (loyal to the Ottoman Turks) in Central Arabia, and proclaimed the Saudi Emirate of Nefd. Then moved with his family to their new capital city, Riyadh, abandoning their nomadic life.
Said grew up with the expectation of one day becoming the future emir of Nefd as he was the emir’s eldest son. But the emir hadn’t decided yet who would succeed him and things wouldn’t be so simple to Said.
Route to power
In 1923 the now Sultan Abdul Aziz announced that he would chose his successor among the most capable sons and not according their age. Such disliked Prince Said, who saw in risk what he considered as his right, and pleased his brothers and half-brothers.
This caused a strong rivalry and competition among the young princes and several of them died in strange circumstances during the next years.
Said was always a flattering son to his father, the sultan, and was able to be given positions of responsibility within the Saudi government notably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for two periods (1928-1933 and 1943-1952) and was ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Hijaaz (1927-28) and Turkey (1938-1943). During these years Prince Said was able to achieve a certain amount of reconciliation between the Hashemite and Saudi royal houses which permitted both to be founding partners in the Arab Community (1949) and COPEN (1951).
Since the beginning Said found his younger half-brother Faisal the most dangerous competitor to the throne and was pleased that his military campaign against Hijaaz (in 1926) failed. But Abdul Aziz, now titled king, always gave important positions to Prince Faisal, which annoyed Prince Said.
The crown prince was finally chosen in 1943. Although everyone was expecting Prince Faisal to be chosen as crown prince, the position ultimately went to Prince Said, which was a surprise to everyone. Historians studying Saudi Arabia unanimously consider Faisal to have been the King’s favourite son, thus the reasons for choosing Prince Said are highly contested in the historical community. Some say that Abdul Aziz committed an evaluation mistake, others say the King’s mind was starting to be damaged with age (by then he was 63 years old). A third theory tells that there were pressures from the Wahhabi clergy for Abdul-Aziz to favour Prince Said as Faisal was considered by them as too influenced by foreign ideas and they disliked his European manners.
When King Abdul Aziz passed away, on the 9th November 1953, Said became the new king without any surprises or incidents.
With the King and Father of the Nation dead, Said worried that the other princes might not respect Abdul Aziz’s will and might attempt to plot against him. He needed to consolidate his power.
King Said staged a self-coup and dismissed the entire government, composed of brothers and sons of the deceased King. In replacement he gave all the ministries to his own sons. This annoyed the royal family who considered the King’s sons as too young and inexperienced to hold government positions. Muhammad, Said’s oldest son, also became the new crown prince and prime minister, a newly created position in government.
Said also instituted the Royal College, in 1954, in which all the sons of the princes were required to study. In reality this college, located by the side of the royal palace, was intended as a place where the King could have the sons of the royal family near in order to pressure them not to attempt any action against his rule. Here the princes’ sons were easily reachable and any action would be paid by their death.
During the next years the king and his sons ruled over Saudi Arabia as real kleptocrats and spent most of the national wealth on luxury goods and building palaces. They acted as if their country was their own private property.
Their wastes became well known, such as their extremely expensive vacations in Monaco and Xliponia. Rumours were often told that they threw huge parties full of gambling, women and alcohol. The wahhabi clergy, initially neutral on government matters, started to become upset with the King’s and his sons' behaviour.
The rule of the kingdom was often neglected and by 1956 Saudi Arabian economy was near bankruptcy. The economy was saved by the Suez Crisis, when oil prices reached historical maximums; however, this did not result in any change of behaviour in King Said and his sons and during their rule there were only two real improvements in Saudi development: the founding of the first Saudi university, King Said University (1957), and the abolishment of slavery (1962).
The Hajji War
See main article: Hajji War
In 1958 General Abdul Karim Qassim deposed the Hashemite rule in Iraaq in a bloody coup, with most of that royal family being executed. The new Hashemite King, Hussayn I, instituted the Iraaqi Government in Exile but was not recognised by the Saudi government.
Hussayn I, King of Hijaaz and pretender to the throne of Iraaq, reacted by forbidding the Saudi people to perform the pilgrimage to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina, the Hajj. For the wahhabi clergy and conservative Saudi Arabians this was considered a high insult. The clergy organised their Hajj for 1959 even if the Hashemites, the traditional keepers of the Holy Cities, wouldn’t allow it.
On the 23rd May 1959 Saudi pilgrims were arrested by Hijjazi forces, resulting in widespread confusion. Over 200 Saudi pilgrims were killed. Five days later King Said declared war against Hijjaz under pressure from the wahhabi high leaders. It was a short war which the Saudi expected to easily win. Ultimately, however, the war became a stalemate and Saudi Arabia was forced to accept peace as the kingdom was once again nearly bankrupted.
The King’s fall
The economical situation in Saudi Arabia resulted in generalised discontent both among the common people and the royal family. King Said responded with terrible repression against the common people, who were increasingly embracing ideologies such as communism and Pan-Arabism.
King Said and his sons kept their wasteful life style and the clergy became openly critical of the regime. Their relations reached their worst when the King decided to celebrate, in 1963, his tenth anniversary in the throne. An impressive celebration was held in Riyadh and it is said that one fifth of the national budget for that year was spent there.
The King and his government were more and more isolated, without the support of the clergy, most of the royal family or the common people. Soon a coalition of clerics and princes started a conspiracy to end Said’s rule.
The leader of such conspiracy was Prince Faisal, who stayed abroad during Said’s rule. On the 4th March 1964 King Said was finally deposed on a bloodless coup. Faisal became the new King of Saudi Arabia and Said and his sons were forced to flee for exile.
Life on exile
Said and his sons left first to Lebanon and then to Xliponia where they had a palace.
Following the example of King Hussayn I of Hijaaz Said proclaimed the Saudi Government in Exile, but its existence was brief. No state recognised his pretensions as former King Said did not have any international sympathisers. Also King Luc VII of Xliponia considered that such an "exiled government” was against the traditional principles of Xliponian neutrality. Said had to give up his exiled government or be expelled from Xliponia.
Said spent the last years of his life at his palace in Bovlai. He kept his wasteful life style as much as possible using the money he had in accounts in tax havens.
He died of a heart attack on the 23rd of February 1969 at his palace. He was buried at the Foreigners’ Quarter at Bovlai Cemetery. There was no state ceremony.
- At the time of his rule King Said was the wealthiest ruler in the world. He also had the largest private airship fleet, a total of eight built by Rolls-Royce Limited according to his commands. Some were huge and luxurious, real flying palaces. After his fall just two survived, one which took him and his sons, wives and grandsons to exile, and another kept in Saudi Arabia for royal transportation. All other six were dismantled, sold as junk and the money made used to build schools, as an act of populism by his successor, King Faisal I al-Saud.
- During Said’s rule more than twenty palaces were built for him or his government members (i.e. his sons). After the king was deposed several of these palaces were used as government buildings. At least eight were demolished and their stones used in public works, again as a result of his successor's populist policies.
- At the time of his deposition another palace was being built deep in the desert. After his fall construction was abandoned and it took just two months for the desert sands to swallow it.
- One of the passions of the king was automobiles. He had over 500 which are nowadays property of the Saudi Automotive Museum in Riyadh, the largest of its kind in the Middle East. Most of those cars were luxury or sporty models, some were unique which included several Rolls-Royce, Mercedes Benz, Astra, and ALFA Lorena models built according to his commands and specifications. At the time, few cities in the kingdom were connected by paved roads and most did not have paved streets.
- Said had a huge number of offspring. In total he had 45 sons and 50 daughters from several wives.
- In Arabic countries the word saidcracy, usually transliterated as saidqrati, is synonymous with kleptocracy. Outside Saudi Arabia King Said was almost forgotten although his life and excesses contributed much to the widespread Western stereotype of the wealthy oil sheikh with lots of wives and sons.