Late Fahd of Saudi Arabia: A Look into Glorious Era of Renaissance
By: Salem Saheen
King Fahd was the first son of Hassa Sudairi after her remarriage to the founder of the kingdom, Abdulaziz Al- Saud. He was court-educated in religion, chivalry, and politics.
Born in 1923 King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud was the fourth son of Abdulaziz Al- Saud and ruled over Saudi Arabia from 1982 until his death from a long-term illness in 2005.
King Fahd’s early education took place at the prestigious Princes’ School in Riyadh, a school established by Ibn Saud specifically for members of the Royal House.
Whilst reading at the Princes’ School the young Fahd excelled in his studies, under tutors including the renowned Sheikh Abdul-Ghani Khayat. Following his education at the Princes’ School, Fahd moved on to the Religious Knowledge Institute in Mecca.
Upon graduating from his studies Fahd took an active role in the political life of his country. Fahd served under his brother, King Faisal who was at that time Saudi Arabia’s acting foreign minister.
When King Khalid passed away on June 13, 1982, Fahd succeeded to the throne. After assuming power, King Fahd continued the rapid development of the kingdom’s infrastructure fueled by the oil boom of the 1970s; constructing new highways, airports, universities, hospitals.
Saudi Arabia which was governed by King Fahd is one of the top twenty economies in the world, and the largest economy in the Arab world and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is part of the G20 group of countries.
With a total worth of $34.4 trillion, Saudi Arabia has the second most valuable natural resources in the world. The country has the second-largest proven petroleum reserves. And is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world. It also has the fifth-largest proven natural gas reserves and is considered an “Energy Superpower.”
King Fahd Facing Challenges
In 1980, the price of oil peaked, and demand began to fall as a result of recessions in industrialized nations and more efficient use of oil which produced surpluses. This created a worldwide oil glut, with the price of oil dropping from approximately $36 per barrel in 1980, to approximately $14 by 1986.
As a result of the oil glut and the pressures of declines in production, after 1985 Saudi Arabia began enforcing production quotas more harshly for OPEC members.
Saudi oil production, which had increased to almost 10 million barrels per day during 1980–81, dropped to about 2 million barrels per day in 1985. Budgetary deficits developed, and the government drew down its foreign assets.
Tensions between Iraq and Iran were fuelled by Iran’s Islamic revolution and its appearance of being a Pan-Islamic force, in contrast to Iraq’s Arab nationalism.
Despite Iraq’s goal of regaining the Shatt al-Arab the Iraqi government initially seemed to welcome the Iranian Revolution, which overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
There were frequent clashes along the Iran–Iraq border throughout 1980, with Iraq publicly complaining of at least 544 incidents and Iran citing at least 797 violations of its border and airspace.
Iranian Evil during King Fahd Era
In 1987, the events began on a Friday afternoon, when groups of Iranian pilgrims formed a tumultuous procession that spread chaos and turmoil among the pilgrims who came from different parts of the Islamic and non-Islamic world, and their number is estimated at 2.1 million.
It was natural for the citizens whose interests ceased to intervene and urged them in their hope to clear the way for the women and children detained in their cars, but the Iranians insisted on continuing the march amid chants.
The demonstrators went to the sacred house of God, the Kabba, and began to push the citizens with force and violence, as they tried with their fellow pilgrims to prevent the continuation of the march.
The Saudi security forces, who were monitoring the situation and exercising restraint, standing on both sides of the road protestors were marching in, tried to prevent citizens and the rest of the pilgrims from clashing with the demonstrators, in order to ensure their safety and to ward off negative consequences.
So the demonstrators attacked the security men with sticks and stones. Then orders were issued to the security authorities to immediately confront the march to gain control.
However, beginning in late 1997, Saudi Arabia again faced the challenge of low oil prices. Due to a combination of factors—the East Asian economic crises, a warm winter in the West caused by El Niño, and an increase in non-OPEC oil production—demand for oil slowed and pulled oil prices down by more than one-third.
During the era of King Fahd, Saudi Arabia was a key player in coordinating the successful 1999 campaign of OPEC and other oil-producing countries to raise the price of oil to its highest level since the Persian-Gulf War by managing the production and supply of petroleum.
Despite this, spending decreased rapidly when oil prices crashed during the mid-80’s. After that a period marked by budget deficits began.
In matters of policy and ideology, King Fahd was one of the most pro-Western Arab rulers. Fahd’s lifetime witnessed a transformation of Saudi Arabia. From a collection of Bedouin desert tribes to the modern, high-tech world economic leader.
Fahd also tried to demonstrate goodwill through humanitarian aid to certain causes. Fahd furthermore continued to conduct friendly relations with a succession of American presidential administrations.
During the Gulf War the U.S. were given state permission to base troops within Saudi Arabia’s borders.
King Fahd and Education Development
Fahd was named minister of education in 1953 and established a system of public elementary and secondary education.
Later he undertook an earnest program of self-improvement, making up for his lack of formal schooling.
Education in Saudi Arabia has taken great strides from the era of the simple Qur’anic schools (Katateeb), established by individual efforts or through support from Kingdom’s founder King Abdul Aziz.
Today the Kingdom boasts more than 30,000 schools covering all cities, towns, villages, hamlets and remote areas, and there are six million boys and girls enrolled in general education.
Initially, the idea of girls’ education faced strong resistance from the conservative society and it became a hotly contested issue with both sides advancing their logic and reason with force.
King Fahd established thousands of schools for both boys and girls. He brought thousands of expatriate teachers from many countries to teach the new generation. He aimed at modernizing the Saudi society.
During the reign (1964–75) of his half-brother King Faisal, Fahd chaired several supreme councils dealing with such matters as national security, educational policy, and oil affairs.
After Faisal’s assassination, Khalid became king but left much of the country’s administration to Fahd, whom he named crown prince.
Fahd traveled extensively as a spokesman for the Arab world, and, in a highly publicized trip to the United States in 1977, he met with former President Jimmy Carter to discuss peace in the Middle East and the Palestinian problem. In 1982 he succeeded Khalid as King.
Fahd was a consistent advocate of modernization and established a corps of Western-trained technicians to oversee the country’s industrial diversification.
In the 1970s and ’80s he was also the principal architect of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, which sought to counterbalance Soviet influence in the Middle East by providing financial aid to moderate states, notably Egypt.
In 1990, after Iraq’s invasion of neighboring Kuwait, Fahd reversed a long-standing policy and invited Western and Arab forces to deploy in Saudi Arabia in support of the Saudi defense forces.
The reconstruction of Al-Masjid an-Nabawi
The area of the an-Nabawi mosque (The Prophet’s Mosque) was also expanded during the reign of King Fahd in 1985. Bulldozers were used to demolish buildings around the mosque. In 1992, when it was completed, the mosque took over 160,000 square meters of space. Escalators and 27 courtyards were among the additions to the mosque.
King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud visited Medina in 1403 AH and stayed there for about a month and a half to see the building of the Prophet’s Mosque in its two previous expansions and decide on the new expansion and its size.
He ordered the doubling of the mosque’s area ten times in order to accommodate the largest number of worshipers, and make the Mosque one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world.
By the early 1990s aging Fahd was in poor health. Overweight for many years, the king suffered from diabetes and both back and knee problems.
Unfortunately in 1995 the King suffered a stroke plunging the royal family into a crisis.
King Fahd’s Death
On the first of August 2005 Saudi TV interrupted its regular broadcasting to read a statement issued by the Saudi Royal Court, announcing the King’s death. He died in a hospital in Riyadh, where he was taken more than two months ago for unspecified medical tests.
“King Fahd was a man of great vision and leadership who inspired his countrymen for a quarter of a century as king and for many more years before that,” the statement said.
At that time several countries announced periods of mourning and flew flags at half-staff. The Secretary General of the Arab League ordered three days of mourning throughout the Arab world for the late king. The Arab League also postponed the start of its summit, set to begin in Sharm-el-Sheikh.