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Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia (1904 —March 25, 1975) ( ) was the King of Saudi Arabiamarker 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-Islamic, anti-Communism, and anti-Zionism.


Faisal was born in Riyadhmarker, the third son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Ibn Saud. Faisal's mother was Tarfa bint Abdullah ibn Abd al-Latif Aal ash-Shaykh,Winder, R. Bayly. "Fayṣal b. ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd al- Raḥman āl Suʿūd (ca. 1323–95/ca. 1906–75)." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 28 March 2007 /> whom Ibn Saud had married in 1902 after capturing Riyadh. She was a descendent of Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, and her father was one of Ibn Saud's principal religious teachers and advisers.

Being one of Ibn Saud's eldest sons, Faisal was delegated numerous responsibilities during Ibn Saud's quest to consolidate control over Arabia. In 1925, Faisal, in command of an army of Saudi loyalists, won a decisive victory in the Hijaz. In return, he was made the governor of Hijaz the following year. After the new Saudi kingdom was formalized in 1932 Faisal received the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position which he continued to hold until his death, even during his reign as king. Faisal also commanded a section of the Saudi forces that took part in the brief Saudi-Yemeni War of 1934, successfully fighting off Yemeni claims over Saudi Arabia's southern provinces.

Crown Prince and Prime Minister

Upon the ascension of Faisal's elder brother, Saud, to the throne in 1953, Faisal was appointed Crown Prince. 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 Egyptmarker, where Gamal Abdel Nasser had overthrown the monarchy in 1952. Nasser was able to cultivate a group of dissident princes led by Talal ibn Abdul Aziz who defected to Egypt (see Free Princes). Fearing that 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 religious leadership (the "ulema") pressured Saud into appointing Faisal to the position of prime minister in 1958, giving Faisal wide executive powers. In this new position, Faisal set about cutting spending dramatically in an effort to rescue the state treasury from bankruptcy. This policy of financial prudence was to become a hallmark of his era and earned him a reputation for thriftiness among the populace.
Prince Faisal (circa 1941)

A power struggle ensued thereafter between Saud and Faisal, and on 18 December, 1960, Faisal resigned as prime minister in protest, arguing that Saud was frustrating his financial reforms. Saud took back his executive powers and, having induced Talal to return from Egypt, appointed Talal as minister of finance. In 1962, however, 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 Faisal, though still not king, established his reputation as a reforming and modernizing figure. 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 Faisal's death. It was also during this time that Faisal formally abolished slavery.

In 1963, Faisal established the country's first television station, though actual broadcasts would not begin for another two years. As with many of his other policies, the move aroused strong objections from the religious and conservative sections of the country. Faisal assured them, however, that Islamic principles of modesty would be strictly observed, and made sure that the broadcasts contained a large amount of religious programming.

Struggle with Saud

The struggle with Saud, the king, 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 Abdullah, to whom he gave command of the National Guard in 1962. Upon Saud's return, Faisal demanded that he be made regent and that Saud be reduced to a purely ceremonial role. In this, he had the crucial backing of the ulema, including an edict (or fatwa) issued by the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, a relative of Faisal's on his mother's side, calling on Saud to accede to his brother's demands. Saud refused, however, and made a last-ditch attempt to retake executive powers, leading Faisal to order the National Guard to surround Saud's palace. His loyalists outnumbered and outgunned, Saud relented, and on March 4, 1964, 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 Saud to abdicate the throne in favor of his brother. The royal family supported the fatwa and immediately informed Saud of their decision. Saud, by now shorn of all his powers, agreed, and Faisal was proclaimed king on November 2, 1964. Shortly thereafter, Saud left into exile in Greecemarker.

King of Saudi Arabia

Upon his ascension, Faisal still viewed the restoration of the country's finances to be his main priority. He continued to pursue his conservative financial policies during the first few years of his reign, and his aims of balancing the country's budget eventually succeeded, helped by an increase in oil production.

Faisal embarked on a modernization project that encompassed vast parts of the kingdom and involved various public sector institutions. The pinnacle of his achievements in modernizing the Kingdom was the establishment of a judicial system, a project lead and executed by International Lawyer and Judge, the former Syrian Minister of Justice, Zafer Moussly.

The improved financial situation allowed Faisal to pursue various reforms and modernization projects. Several universities were established or expanded during his rule, and he continued to send a great number of students to foreign universities, especially in the United Statesmarker. These students would later form the core of the Saudimarker civil service

Many of the country's ministries, government agencies, and welfare programs were begun during Faisal's reign, and he invested heavily in infrastructure.Kostiner, J. "al- Suʿūdiyya , al- Mamlaka al- ʿArabiyya." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 28 March 2007 /> He also introduced policies such as agricultural and industrial subsidies that were later to reach their height under his successors, Khalid and Fahd. 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.Kostiner, J. "al- Suʿūdiyya , al- Mamlaka al- ʿArabiyya." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 28 March 2007 />

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, Faisal continued to pursue modernization while always making sure to couch his policies in Islamic terms.

The 1950s and 1960's saw numerous coup d'etats in the region. Muammar al-Gaddafi's coup that overthrew the monarchy in oil-rich Libyamarker in 1969 was especially ominous for Saudi Arabia due the similarity between the two sparsely-populated desert countries. As a result, Faisal undertook to build a sophisticated security apparatus and cracked down firmly on dissent. As in all affairs, Faisal justified these policies in Islamic terms. Early in his reign, when faced by demands for a written constitution for the country, Faisal responded that "our constitution is the Quran." In 1969, Faisal ordered the arrest of hundreds of military officers, including some generals, alleging that a military coup was being planned. The arrests were possibly based on a tip from American intelligence, but it is unclear how serious the threat actually was.

Faisal also put down protests by Saudi workers employed by the international oil company, Aramco, in the Eastern Provincemarker, and banned the formation of labor unions in 1965. In compensation for these actions, however, Faisal introduced a far-reaching labor law with the aim of providing maximum job security for the Saudi workforce. He also introduced pension and social insurance programs for workers despite objections from some of the ulema.

Foreign relations

As king, Faisal continued the close alliance with the United Statesmarker begun by his father, and relied on the U.S. heavily for arming and training his armed forces. Faisal was also 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, and associating Communism with Zionism, which he also criticized sharply.

Faisal also supported monarchist and conservative movements in the Arab world, and sought to counter the influences of socialism and Arab Nationalism in the region by promoting pan-Islamism as an alternative.Winder, R. Bayly. "Fayṣal b. ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd al- Raḥman āl Suʿūd (ca. 1323–95/ca. 1906–75)." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 28 March 2007 /> To that end, he called for the establishment of the Muslim World League, visiting several Muslim countries to advocate the idea. He also engaged in a propaganda and media war with Egyptmarker's pan-Arabist president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and engaged in a proxy war with Egypt in Yemenmarker that lasted until 1967 (see Yemeni Civil War). Faisal never explicitly repudiated pan-Arabism, however, and continued to call for inter-Arab solidarity in broad terms.

Following the death of Nasser in 1970, Faisal drew closer to Egyptmarker's new president, Anwar Sadat,Winder, R. Bayly. "Fayṣal b. ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd al- Raḥman āl Suʿūd (ca. 1323–95/ca. 1906–75)." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 28 March 2007 /> who himself was planning a break with the Soviet Unionmarker and a move towards the pro-American camp. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, launched by Sadat, Faisal withdrew Saudi oil from world markets, in protest over Western support for Israelmarker during the conflict. This action quadrupled the price of oil and was the primary force behind the 1973 energy crisis. It was to be the defining act of 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 aid and subsidies to Egypt, Syriamarker, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had begun following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It is a commonly-held, but so far unsubstantiated popular belief in Saudi Arabia and the Arab World that Faisal's oil boycott was the real cause of his assassination, via a Western conspiracy.

Faisal also forged a close alliance with Pakistanmarker, where his foreign policies remain popular, and where he is still praised in history textbooks. Lyallpur, which was then the third largest city and currently is the fifth largest, was renamed Faisalabadmarker (lit. "City of Faisal") in 1979 in his honor. The Faisal Mosquemarker in Islamabadmarker is named after him as well. The main highway in Karachimarker was renamed Shahrah-e-Faisal and a suburb close to Karachi Airportmarker was also renamed Shah Faisal Colony. A PAF Base in Karachi has been named as Faisal Base in the honour of King Faisal.


On March 25, 1975, Faisal was shot point blank and killed by his half-brother's son, Faisal bin Musa'id, who had just come back from the United States. The murder occurred at a majlis, (Arabic for "a place for sitting") an event where the king or leader opens up his residence to the citizens to enter and petition the king. The stated reason was revenge for Faisal bin Musa'id's brother Khaled, who had been killed by Saudi Defense Force members while taking part in a demonstration in 1965.

Prince Faisal Bin Musa'id was captured directly after the attack and declared officially insane. He was later found guilty of regicide and in June 1975 he was beheaded in the public square in Riyadhmarker.

Faisal was buried in Riyadh, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Khalid.


Faisal married several times, but his most prominent wife was Iffat Al-Thuniyyan, raised in Turkeymarker, though a descendant of the members of the Al Saud clan who were taken to Istanbulmarker or Cairomarker by Egyptianmarker forces in 1818 (see First Saudi Statemarker). Iffat is credited with being the influence behind many of her late husband's reforms, particularly with regards to women.Winder, R. Bayly. "Fayṣal b. ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd al- Raḥman āl Suʿūd (ca. 1323–95/ca. 1906–75)." Encyclopaedia of Islam. Edited by: P. Bearman , Th. Bianquis , C.E. Bosworth , E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill, 2007. Brill Online. 28 March 2007 />

The late King's sons have held and continue to hold important positions within the Saudi government. Khalid was the governor of Asir Provincemarker in southwestern Saudi Arabia for more than three decades before becoming governor of Makkah Provincemarker in 2007, while another son, Saud Al-Faisal, has been the Saudi foreign minister since 1975. A third son, Turki bin Faisal Al Saud served as head of Saudi intelligence, ambassador to the United Kingdommarker, and later ambassador to the United States, a post he held from July 2005 until December 2006.

His sons received exceptional education compared to other princes born to Saudi monarchs. Turki received formal education at prestigious schools in New Jerseymarker, and later attended Georgetown Universitymarker, while Saud is an alumnus of Princetonmarker.

Faisal's daughter, Haifa, is married to his nephew Bandar ibn Sultan, the former long-serving Saudi ambassador to the United States and current Saudi national security advisor. Bandar, the son of an African concubine, had been all but disowned by his father Sultan at the time, due to his perceived inferior lineage. Faisal, however, forced Sultan to recognize Bandar as a legitimate prince by giving Bandar his own daughter's hand in marriage, thus breaking a major taboo in Saudi society at the time.

After his death, Faisal's family established the King Faisal Foundation.

See also


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