Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
: فيصل بن عبدالعزيز آل سعود
Fayṣal ibn ʿAbd al ʿAzīz Āl Suʿūd
; 14 April 1906 – 25 March 1975) was a Saudi statesman and diplomat who ruled as King of Saudi Arabia
from 2 November 1964 until his assassination
Faisal was the third son of King Abdulaziz
His mother, Tarfa
, was a member of the Al ash-Sheikh
family which has produced many prominent Saudi religious leaders. Faisal emerged as an influential royal politician under his father and his half-brother King Saud
. He was the Saudi foreign minister from 1930 and prime minister from 1954 until his death, except for a two-year break (1960–1962) in both positions. Faisal was crown prince of Saudi Arabia
after Saud's accession in 1953, and in that position he outlawed slavery in Saudi Arabia. He persuaded King Saud to abdicate in his favour in 1964 with the help of other members of the royal family
and his relative, Grand Mufti Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Al ash-Sheikh
Faisal implemented a policy of modernization and reform. His main foreign policy themes were pan-Islamism
, anti-communism,[note 2]
He attempted to limit the power of Islamic religious officials. Protesting against support that Israel
received from the West, he led the oil embargo which caused the 1973 oil crisis
. Faisal successfully stabilized the kingdom's bureaucracy, and his reign had significant popularity among Saudi Arabians despite his reforms facing some controversy. In 1975, he was assassinated by his nephew Faisal bin Musaid
. He was succeeded by his half-brother Khalid bin Abdulaziz
Early life and education
Tarfa bint Abdullah died in 1906 when Faisal was six months old.
He then began to live with his maternal grandparents, Abdullah bin Abdullatif and Haya bint Abdul Rahman Al Muqbel,
and Abdullah educated his grandson.
According to Helen Chapin Metz, Faisal, and most of his generation, was raised in an atmosphere in which courage was extremely valued and reinforced.
From 1916 he was tutored by Hafiz Wahba
who later served in various governmental posts.
In 1919 the British government invited Abdulaziz to visit London
He could not go, but he assigned his eldest son Prince Turki
as his envoy.
However, Prince Turki died due to Spanish flu
before the visit.
Therefore, Prince Faisal was sent to London instead, making him the first ever Saudi Arabian royal to visit England
His visit lasted for five months, and he met with British officials.
During the same period, he also visited France
, again being the first Saudi Arabian royal to pay an official visit there.
Early political experience
As one of Abdulaziz's eldest sons, Prince Faisal was given 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.
Prince Faisal was appointed viceroy of Hejaz on 9 February 1926 following his father's takeover of the region.
He often consulted with local leaders during his tenure.
In addition, Prince Faisal was the president of the consultative assembly and the minister of interior
In December 1931 following the announcement of the constitution of the council of deputies (Majlis al Wukala) he became the president of the four-member council and minister of foreign affairs, and continued to hold his previous titles, viceroy of Hejaz, the president of the consultative assembly and the minister of interior.
He would continue to oversee Saudi foreign policy until his death—even as king, with only a two-year break
between 1960 and 1962.
As King Abdulaziz neared the end of his life, he favored Prince Faisal as a possible successor over his eldest living son, Crown Prince Saud, due to Faisal's extensive knowledge, as well as his years of experience. Since Faisal was a child, Abdulaziz recognized him as the most brilliant of his sons and often tasked him with responsibilities in war and diplomacy. In addition, Faisal was known to embrace a simple Bedouin
lifestyle. "I only wish I had three Faisals", King Abdulaziz once said when discussing who would succeed him.
However, King Abdulaziz made the decision to keep Saud as crown prince in the fear that otherwise would lead to decreased stability.
Crown prince and prime minister
King Abdulaziz died on 9 November 1953, and Prince Faisal was at his side.
Prince Faisal's elder brother, Saud, became king. Faisal was then appointed crown prince. On 16 August 1954 he was made prime minister.
King Saud embarked on a 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 bin Abdulaziz
, 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 between King Saud and Crown Prince Faisal, and on 18 December 1960, Crown 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 July 1958.
In 1962, however, Crown Prince Faisal rallied enough support within the royal family to install himself as prime minister for a second time.
Less than a month before this event Crown Prince Faisal and US President John F. Kennedy
held a secret meeting in Washington, D.C.
on 4 October 1962.
The same year Crown Prince Faisal announced a plan, known as Ten Point Program, which included the economic, financial, political, and judicial principles that Saudi Arabia should follow to be a developed industrial country.
Crown Prince Faisal founded Economic Development Committee in 1958.
He was instrumental in the establishment of the Islamic University of Madinah
in 1961. In 1962 he helped found the Muslim World League
, a worldwide charity to which the Saudi royal family has reportedly since donated more than a billion dollars.
In 1963 he established the country's first television station, though actual broadcasts would not begin for another two years.
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, Crown 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 fatwā
(edict) issued by the grand mufti
of Saudi Arabia, a relative of Crown Prince Faisal on his mother's side, calling on King Saud to accede to his brother's demands.
King Saud refused, however, and made a last-ditch attempt to retake executive powers, leading Crown 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, Crown 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 fatwā was decreed by the grand mufti, calling on King Saud to abdicate the throne in favor of his brother. The royal family supported the fatwā and immediately informed King Saud of their decision. King Saud, by now shorn of all his powers, agreed, and Faisal was proclaimed king on 2 November 1964.
Saud then went into exile, finding refuge in Egypt before eventually settling in Greece
King of Saudi Arabia
In a speech shortly after he came to power on 2 November 1964, 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.
One of the earliest actions Faisal took as king was to establish a council to deal with future succession issues.
The members were two of his uncles, Prince Abdullah
and Prince Musaid
, and five of his half-brothers, Crown Prince Khalid, Prince Fahd, Prince Abdullah, Prince Sultan
and Prince Nawwaf
In 1967 King Faisal established the post of second prime minister and appointed Prince Fahd to this post.
The reason for this newly established body was Crown Prince Khalid's request and suggestion.
The most senior adviser of King Faisal during his reign was Rashad Pharaon
who was his father's private physician.
Another one was Mohammad ibn Ibrahim Al Sheikh who was influential in shaping his political role in the Arab world
Early in his rule, King Faisal 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 popular 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.
One of his modernization attempts was the new laws on media, publishing, and archiving and bilateral
cultural cooperation protocols with foreign and corporate archives
that kept records about mid-twentieth century Arabia.
Television broadcasts officially began in 1965. In 1966 a 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.
Steps against coups d'état
King Faisal with Muammar Gaddafi in the early 1970s
The 1950s and 1960s saw numerous coups d'état in the region. Muammar Gaddafi
's coup that overthrew the monarchy in oil-rich Libya
in 1969 was especially threatening for Saudi Arabia due to the similarity between the two sparsely-populated desert countries.
As a result, King Faisal undertook to build a sophisticated security apparatus and cracked down firmly on dissent. As in all affairs, King Faisal justified these policies in Islamic terms. Early in his reign, when faced with demands for a written constitution for the country, King Faisal responded that "our constitution is the Quran".
In the summer of 1969 King Faisal ordered the arrest of hundreds of military officers, including some generals,
alleging that a military coup d'état was being planned. The coup
was planned primarily by air force officers and aimed at overthrowing the monarchy and founding a Nasserist regime in the country.
The arrests were possibly based on a tip from American intelligence.
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 his temporarily successful national integration policy from 1965 to 1975. King Faisal acknowledged his country's religious and cultural diversity, which includes the predominantly Shia Al Ahsa
in the east; the Asir in the southwest, with tribal affinities to Yemen, especially among the Ismaili
tribes of Najran
; 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.
In particular it was said that he would not take any decision regarding Mecca without seeking the advice of the Alawi bin Abbas, the father of Muhammad bin Alawi
, and a descendent of Muhammad
Similarly in 1962, in promoting a broader, non-sectarian form of pan-Islamism, King Faisal launched the Muslim World League
where the Tijani
Sufi scholar Ibrahim Niass
Furthermore, he countered the outlook of certain prior Saudi rulers in declaring to the Saudi state clergy that, "All Muslims, from Egypt, India etc. are your brothers,"
However Mai Yamani argued that after his reign, discrimination based on sect, tribe, region, and gender became the order of the day and has remained as such until today.
The role and authority of the state clergy declined after the rise of King Faisal even though they had helped bring him to the throne in 1964. Despite his piety and biological relationship through his mother to the Al as Shaykh family, and his support for the pan-Islamic
movement in his struggle against pan-Arabism
, he decreased the ulema's power and influence.
Unlike his successor King Khalid, King Faisal attempted to prevent radical clerics from controlling religious institutions such as the Council of Senior Ulema, the highest religious institution in Saudi Arabia, or taking religious offices such as Grand Mufti, responsible for preserving Islamic law. But his advisers warned that, once religious zealots had been motivated, disastrous effects would result.
King Faisal rejected the ulema's opposition to aspects of his accelerated modernization attempts, sometimes even in matters considered by them to be major issues
such as education for women.
Corruption in the royal family was taken very seriously by religious figures in the Islamic theological colleges. They challenged some of the accepted theological interpretations adopted by the Saudi regime. One such influential figure was Shaykh Abdulaziz 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. However, his teachings had already radicalized some of his students one of which was Juhayman al-Otaybi
Abolition of slavery
did not vanish in Saudi Arabia until King Faisal issued a decree for its total abolition in 1962. BBC presenter Peter Hobday
stated that about 1,682 slaves were freed at that time, at a cost to the government of $2,000 each.
The political analyst Bruce Riedel
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.
As king, Faisal employed Islam
as one of Saudi Arabia's foreign policy tools which differentiated him from King Abdulaziz and King Saud.
However, he continued the close alliance with the United States begun by King Abdulaziz, and relied on the US heavily for arming and training his armed forces. King Faisal was anti-communist
. He refused any political ties with the Soviet Union
and other Communist bloc countries, professing to see a complete incompatibility between communism and Islam.
King Faisal's first official visit to the US was in June 1966.
In a correspondence with the Shah of Iran
, Faisal is said to have reminded the Shah that he was not "the Shah of France
", that he should not think himself in the Élysée
and that he should keep in mind that Iran was a majority Muslim country. This was in response to comments from the Shah asking Faisal to modernise, allow women to wear Miniskirts, permit the Disco etc. or else he felt he could not guarantee Faisal would stay on the throne.
Between 23 and 25 September 1969, King Faisal convened a conference in Rabat
, to discuss the arson attack on the Al Aqsa Mosque
that had occurred a month earlier. The leaders of 25 Muslim states attended and the conference called for Israel to give up territory conquered in 1967. The conference also set up the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
and pledged its support for the Palestinians.
Following the death of Nasser in 1970, King Faisal drew closer to Egypt's new president, Anwar Sadat
, who himself was planning a break with the Soviet Union and a move towards the pro-American camp. During the 1973 Arab–Israeli War
launched by Sadat, King Faisal withdrew Saudi oil from world markets, in protest over Western support for Israel during the conflict. This action increased the price of oil and was the primary force behind the 1973 oil crisis
. It was to be the defining act of King Faisal's career, and gained him lasting prestige among many Arabs
and Muslims worldwide. In 1974 he was named Time
magazine's Man of the Year
, and the financial windfall generated by the crisis fueled the economic boom that occurred in Saudi Arabia after his death. The new oil revenue also allowed Faisal to greatly increase the aid and subsidies begun following the 1967 Six-Day War
to Egypt, Syria
, and the Palestine Liberation Organization
It is a commonly-held belief in Saudi Arabia, and the wider Arab world
, that King Faisal's oil embargo was the real cause of his assassination, via a Western conspiracy.
Photo, early 1970s
King Faisal married many times concurrently.
His spouses were from powerful families: Al Kabir, Al Sudairi, Al Jiluwi and Al Thunayan.
His wives were:
(1916–2000), who was born and raised in Turkey
. Her ancestors were part of the Al Thunayan branch of the Al Saud family.
They first met in Istanbul around 1932 while he was in Turkey for an official visit.
They had nine children,
including Prince Mohammed
, Prince Saud
, and Prince Turki
Iffat was credited with being the influence behind many of her husband's reforms, particularly with regard to women.
Faisal also raised Iffat's younger brother, Kamal Adham
King Faisal later appointed Kamal as the first president of the Saudi intelligence agency Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah
He was also an advisor to his royal brother-in-law.
Hessa bint Muhammad bin Abdullah Al Muhanna Aba Al Khail, the mother of Princess Al Anoud (died June 2011) and Princess Al Jawhara (died April 2014).
Munira bint Suhaim bin Hitimi Al Thunayan Al Mahasher, the mother of Princess Hessa (died in December 2020).
Fatima bint Abdulaziz bin Mushait Al Shahrani, the mother of Princess Munira (died young).
Faisal's sons were all educated abroad.
Prince Turki received formal education at prestigious schools in New Jersey
, and he later attended Georgetown University
while Prince Saud was 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, held 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.
Prince Abdul Rahman
who was a graduate of Sandhurst Military Academy
died in March 2014. Prince Mohammed was a businessman who died in 2017. Prince Saad died in April 2017.
King Faisal's daughter Haifa
is married to Prince Bandar
, son of King Faisal's half-brother Prince Sultan. The marriage forced Prince Sultan to recognize his son Bandar as a legitimate prince. Another daughter of King Faisal, Lolowah
, 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.
Her spouse was Prince Muhammed
, one of King Saud's sons. One of his daughters, Princess Mishail, died at the age of 72 in October 2011.
His granddaughter Reem bint Mohammed
is a photographer and gallery owner based in Jeddah.
Unlike his brothers, King Faisal spoke fluent English
. However, he preferred to speak in Arabic
. When his translators made errors, Faisal would correct them.
Family tree of King Faisal
King Faisal met with US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
on 19 March 1975, six days before his assassination. With King Faisal and Secretary Kissinger are King Faisal's brother Prince Fahd
(far background, behind Faisal) and the king's brother-in-law, Kamal Adham
(second from the left).
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 custom. 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 not to kill the prince.
King Faisal was quickly taken to a hospital. He was still alive as doctors massaged his heart and gave him a blood transfusion. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and King Faisal died shortly afterward. Both before and after the attack the prince was reported to be calm. Following the killing, Riyadh had three days of mourning during which all government activities were suspended.
One theory for the murder was avenging the death of Prince Khalid bin Musaid, the brother of Prince Faisal bin Musaid. King Faisal instituted modern and secular reforms that led to the installation of television, which provoked violent protests, one of which was led by Prince Khalid, who, during the course of an attack on a television station in 1966, was shot dead by a policeman.
Prince Faisal, who was captured directly after the attack, was at first officially declared insane, but following the trial a panel of Saudi medical experts decided that he was sane when he shot the king. The nation's high religious court convicted him of regicide
and sentenced him to execution. He was beheaded
in the public square
The funeral service for King Faisal was performed in 'Id mosque in Riyadh,
and he was buried in Al Oud cemetery
on 26 March 1975.
His successor, King Khalid, wept over his body at his funeral.
Memorials and legacy
Following the reign of King Faisal Gerald de Gaury
published a biography of him entitled Faisal: King of Saudi Arabia
In 2013 Russian Arabist Alexei Vassiliev
published another biography, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia: Personality, Faith and Times
A movie directed by Agustí Villaronga
in 2019 entitled Born a King
is about the visit of King Faisal to London in 1919 when he was fourteen years old.
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