T he past 20 years during which the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz has ruled Saudi Arabia has been one of the most important periods in the history of the modern Kingdom, a time of tremendous socioeconomic development and the country’s emergence as a leading political and economic force in the region and the world.

During this period King Fahd has been the central figure in Saudi Arabia’s successful efforts to establish a modern infrastructure of roads, airports, factories, hospitals, schools, universities and other facilities; to diversify its economy away from sole reliance on oil; to implement major initiatives to promote private enterprise and investment; to introduce measures to reform and streamline the government, as well as to increase its efficiency; to provide massive assistance to countries in need; to help mediate crises facing peoples in the immediate region and beyond; and to deal with major challenges to regional peace and stability.

King Fahd (fifth from left) witnesses the signing of the United Nations Charter by
 Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz in San Francisco in 1945.

While dealing with the challenges and opportunities facing his nation during these 20 years, King Fahd has been more than the head-of-state: to his people he has been a father figure — a man who despite his busy and demanding schedule — has always been accessible to his people, meeting with petitioners at his weekly majlis sessions not only to address their individual concerns, but also to keep his finger on the pulse of the nation to better understand its needs and aspirations.

That King Fahd has managed to successfully perform his many functions and roles in Saudi society has for the most part been due to the extensive experiences he has acquired over the course of more than half a century of involvement in public affairs and government.

King Fahd with the heads-of-state of the five other member countries

 of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1992

Born in Riyadh in 1923, he grew up in a tumultuous era of history. At the time, his father, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud, was engaged in an epic struggle to unify the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula into a modern nation state, one that he successfully concluded with the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.

As a young man, then-Prince Fahd (fifth from right) 

represented the Kingdom at important events abroad.

As a young man, Prince Fahd attended the many daily meetings his father had with visitors from across Saudi Arabia, the Arab world and beyond. It was at his father’s side that he learned about religion, history, Arab culture and other issues that would serve him well in the future.

Prince Fahd’s first involvement in world affairs was at the age of 22 when he accompanied his elder brother Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz to the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco in 1945. This was the prince’s first official visit abroad, and it triggered a deep interest in international affairs.

In his capacity as Saudi Arabia's first Minister of Education between 1953 and 1960, then-Prince Fahd visits a women's school.

Working as an advisor to his father and his elder brothers in the following years, he continued to amass vital experience. In 1953, King Abdulaziz chose Prince Fahd to represent Saudi Arabia at the coronation of Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, giving him an opportunity to meet heads-of-state from around the world.

After the death of his father in 1953, Prince Fahd assumed the portfolio of Minister of Education in the government of his elder brother King Saud bin Abdulaziz. Serving as his country’s first Minister of Education involved the complex task of establishing the foundations of a modern educational system in a country with no universities and only 30,000 students attending the few schools in existence.

True to his character, Prince Fahd approached the task with energy and enthusiasm. During his tenure at the Ministry of Education, which lasted until 1960, Prince Fahd opened hundreds of primary and secondary schools throughout the Kingdom, making education available to all Saudis.

Meanwhile, Prince Fahd continued his involvement in foreign affairs and took on greater diplomatic responsibilities. In 1959 and 1960, he led the Saudi delegations to meetings of the League of Arab States, held in Morocco and Lebanon, respectively.

King Fahd has overseen the Kingdom's dramatic development of the past two decades 

with the assistance of Crown Prince Abdullah (left) 

and Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Sultan (right).

Appointed to the important position of Minister of Interior in 1962, Prince Fahd continued to build upon his growing experience in domestic and foreign affairs by meeting with Saudis from throughout the Kingdom, as well as with heads-of-state and diplomats from around the world.

Upon becoming Second Deputy Prime Minister in 1967, Prince Fahd’s responsibilities grew on both the domestic and international fronts. Already a recognized figure in the world of international diplomacy, his extensive travels abroad further deepened his involvement in global affairs. In 1967, he met with French President Charles DeGaulle to discuss bilateral relations. In 1970, he led a Saudi delegation to London where he met with British leaders and discussed regional developments at an important juncture in Middle East history, when  Britain was ending its military presence in the region.

In 1974, Prince Fahd embarked on an official visit to the United States. Coming as it did shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the upheavals in the world oil market, Prince Fahd’s visit provided an opportunity for important discussions with President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other leading personalities in the administration and the U.S. Congress. During those discussions, Prince Fahd and Secretary Kissinger negotiated an agreement that led to the establishment of the U.S.-Saudi Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation. This was the first of many agreements initiated by the Saudi leader to strengthen relations with the United States.

In his capacity as Prime Minister, King Fahd chairs

the weekly meetings of the Council of Ministers.

Upon the investiture of King Khaled bin Abdulaziz, Prince Fahd was appointed Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister on March 25, 1975. Assuming the chairmanship of various state councils and committees, Crown Prince Fahd expanded his involvement in the running of the nation at an important juncture in its modern history: a time when the vast industrial, agricultural, commercial and social development of the Kingdom had just begun under the Five-Year Development Plans, and would accelerate in coming years.

King Fahd opens a new session of Majlis Al-Shura 

(Consultative Council) in January 1997.

During his tenure at King Khaled’s right hand, Crown Prince Fahd would play a growing role in regional and international diplomacy at a critical time in world history. In 1977, he met with President Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in Washington, D.C., and helped chart the course for closer ties with the U.S. Crown Prince Fahd met again with President Carter in Riyadh in 1978, and with other world leaders in the years to follow.

Crown Prince Fahd’s stature as a respected statesman allowed him to introduce an eight-point plan for a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1981. The plan, considered one of the first attempts to find a just and lasting settlement of the conflict taking into consideration the needs of both the Arabs and Israel was unanimously adopted by the League of Arab States at a summit conference in Fez, Morocco, in 1982. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always believed that no real peace can prevail in the Middle East unless a just and permanent resolution is found to the Palestinian problem,” he said in the initiative. “Peace is the genuine, desire of all states in the region which have greatly suffered from the wars and their tragedies.” The initiative is widely acknowledged as the first serious step on the elusive road to Middle East peace and formed the basis of future efforts.

Crown Prince Fahd played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The OIC’s inaugural meeting, attended by 38 Muslim heads-of-state, was held in the Kingdom in January 1981. The organization was designed to unify the Islamic world and allow it to more effectively take collective action against challenges it faced.

King Fahd hosts a summit meeting of the

Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Riyadh

The GCC was established later in 1981, at a time when the security and stability of the Arabian Gulf region and the free flow of oil to international markets was being threatened by the Iran-Iraq War. The GCC is dedicated to strengthening relations and promoting cooperation among Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in all fields, including defense, security, finance, commerce, education, culture, health, science and technology. “We are of the opinion that what we have planned for is conducive to the enhancement of actual unity that already exists between Gulf Arab states and to making it a reality for the well-being of our peoples and for the benefit of all Arab countries,” he explained after the formation of the GCC.

King Fahd has personally supervised and launched 

hundreds of development projects in his first 20 years of rule.

On June 13, 1982, Crown Prince Fahd became the fifth king to rule the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He took the helm at a time of accelerating socioeconomic development designed to take advantage of opportunities and successfully meet the challenges of the future. The development plans first introduced in 1970 were entering a new phase. Whereas the focus in the first years of the development plans was on establishing the basic infrastructure, the emphasis had now switched to developing manpower, diversifying the economy away from oil and promoting the activities of the private sector (see story, Page 15).

King Fahd has led the Saudi Arabian delegation to many meetings of the 

League of Arab States, the OIC, and other international organizations.

One of Crown Prince Fahd’s first acts was to supervise a massive project to expand Islam’s two holiest sites, the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, and establish airports, ports and roads, as well as housing and health facilities for the millions of pilgrims who visit the Kingdom every year.

King Fahd, Crown Prince Abdullah and Prince Sultan in a commemorative photo

 taken after the signing in Riyadh in June 2001 of the historic agreement 

for the development of the gas industry by American and European oil companies.

Concurrent with his efforts to ensure sound economic development and the provision of the educational, health and other needs of his people, King Fahd was also involved in momentous events in the region and the world. One of his successful campaigns, carried out in cooperation with the Reagan Administation, provided support for the cause of the Afghan freedom fighters during the years of Soviet occupation of their country. After the successful completion of this effort, the Interim President of Afghanistan Sibghatullah Mojaddidi said that the people of Afghanistan would never forget King Fahd’s role in their country’s liberation. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that same year that King Fahd’s efforts were the driving force behind the victory of the Afghan people.

King Fahd visits an exhibit at the Jenadriyah National Culture and Heritage Festival, 

a two-week annual event dedicated to preserving the nation's rich culture and heritage.

Following the expulsion of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992, factional fighting broke out among the various Afghan tribes and ethnic groups, and King Fahd stepped in to help mediate a national reconciliation agreement between the leaders of the Afghan factions. He hosted a peace conference held in Makkah, which resulted in an accord signed on March 12, 1993. However, the factional fighting continued, opening the door to the push by the Taleban to take power in Afghanistan. While supervising extensive relief operations to ease the suffering of Afghan refugees, King Fahd continued to urge the factional leaders to halt the fighting for the sake of their nation.

King Fahd with former presidents Gerald Ford (left) and Jimmy Carter (right).

During the 1980s, King Fahd was actively working with the other countries of the GCC, the League of Arab States and the United Nations to seek a peaceful settlement of the bloody war between Iran and Iraq, a conflict that threatened regional security, as well as global economic stability arising from the disruption of oil supplies. The end of fighting in 1988 removed a major source of instability in the Gulf region.

King Fahd and President Ronald Reagan at the White House in February 1985.

Among the other crises that King Fahd helped resolve was the intensifying civil war in Lebanon, which had brought about the loss of tens of thousands of lives, population dislocation and immense damage to the country. King Fahd had dedicated years of diplomacy to resolving this crisis, and his tireless efforts finally bore fruit in 1989 when he hosted a meeting of Lebanese parliamentarians in Taif, Saudi Arabia. The national reconciliation accord signed in Taif brought an end to the fighting and opened the way for rebuilding the war-shattered country, with help from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

King Fahd and President George Bush led the international coalition 

to confront Iraqi aggression against Kuwait.

Perhaps the greatest international crisis of King Fahd’s rule occurred when  Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. In an attempt to defuse the looming tragedy, King Fahd hosted a meeting of senior Kuwaiti and Iraqi officials on July 28 to resolve their differences. The effort failed to head off the crisis, and Iraq attacked and occupied Kuwait within days of the meeting.

With a belligerent Iraqi military force occupying Kuwait and poised within striking distance of Saudi urban and economic centers, King Fahd and U.S. President George Bush jointly led a diplomatic effort to condemn Iraqi aggression at the United Nations, the GCC and other international and regional organizations. Faced with Baghdad ’s intransigence and its refusal to abide by UN Security Council resolutions calling for withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, King Fahd and President Bush rallied a coalition of Arab, Islamic and European countries to confront the Iraqi aggression. An allied coalition led by the United States and Saudi Arabia liberated Kuwait on February 27, 1991.

King Fahd then turned his attention to another emerging crisis in the region, this time in Somalia, where famine caused by civil war and drought had resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands and the displacement of millions. Despite the best diplomatic efforts of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations to mediate a halt to the fighting, Somali factions continued to battle for power. In December 1992, King Fahd ordered a contingent of Saudi troops to Somalia under the auspices of the UN Security Council to participate in the international effort to help secure the delivery and distribution of tens of thousands of tons of relief supplies from Saudi Arabia and other countries.

King Fahd welcomes President Bill Clinton to Saudi Arabia in October 1994.

King Fahd also played a leading role in the resolution of another crisis, this time in Europe, where Serbian forces of the former Yugoslavia had unleashed a bloody campaign of ethnic cleansing against the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Working on the international diplomatic scene, King Fahd helped formulate a broad-based strategy to condemn and halt the naked aggression. Beginning in June 1992, King Fahd issued instructions for the formation of committees throughout Saudi Arabia to collect donations from citizens for the people of Bosnia. The first shipment of relief supplies was sent on July 19, to be followed by hundreds of others. King Fahd’s diplomatic campaign to halt the Serbian aggression helped mobilize international efforts that led to an end to the bloodshed.

The ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict is a source of great tension and instability in the Middle East and beyond. Dedicated to securing a just and lasting peace that would end the suffering of the Palestinian people, King Fahd has been personally involved in the resolution of this conflict. In 1991, Saudi Arabia participated in the Madrid peace talks co-sponsored by the United States and the former Soviet Union. It welcomed the signing of the declaration of principles between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in Washington, D.C., on September 13, 1993, and the subsequent efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Shortly after the signing of the accord, Saudi Arabia pledged 100 million dollars to support development in the occupied territories.

Most recently, with King Fahd’s blessing and guidance, in February 2002 Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz unveiled a bold initiative for resolving the crisis on the basis of Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories it occupied in the 1967 war in return for full normalization of relations between the two sides. This plan was adopted by the summit meeting of the League of Arab States in Beirut in March and is supported by the United States and the international community.

King Fahd meets Vice President Dick Cheney in Jeddah in March 2002 

to discuss the U.S.-led effort to confront terrorism.

King Fahd has also worked to improve Saudi Arabia ’s relations with all countries, especially with its neighbors. During his first 20 years of rule, the Kingdom has finalized border agreements with Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen, helping further promote stability and cooperation.

Domestically, King Fahd’s first two decades of rule will always be remembered for not only the massive socioeconomic development he supervised, but also for the measures he has taken to revitalize and streamline government and the economy to allow the Kingdom to better deal with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

In 1992, he introduced the new Basic Law for the System of Government, which identifies the nature of the state, its goals and responsibilities, and the relationship between the ruler and citizens, emphasizing the equality of all citizens before the law. 

King Fahd and the Emir of Bahrain Shaikh Issa bin Salman Al-Khalifah.

That same year, the King restructured Majlis Al-Shura (the Consultative Council), to give it a more formal and efficient mechanism. The new system required a council with a chairman and 60 members, and outlined its main responsibility as discussion of regulations, domestic and international issues, and all other matters of public interest, and advising the King. In 1997, King Fahd increased the number of council members to 90, and in 2001 to 120 to better deal with its growing responsibilities.

Also in 1992, King Fahd introduced the new bylaws for the Provincial System to make the administration of the country’s 13 provinces more efficient and help promote their development.

 In 1993, King Fahd introduced new bylaws for the Council of Ministers, under which the council has been made responsible for drafting and overseeing implementation of the internal, external, financial, economic, educational and defense policies, as well as the general affairs of the state.

King Fahd then turned his attention to introducing measures to allow the Saudi economy to continue to grow in new directions. With the basic infrastructure in place and traditional economic activities booming, he formed the Supreme Economic Council in September 1999. Giving the council responsibility for economic growth that was previously assigned to a range of diverse government ministries and agencies, the measure allows for the formation of a cohesive economic policy. It also gives the council responsibility for coordinating the activities of various government organizations and formulating general economic policy.

In January 2000, King Fahd ordered the formation of the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals to facilitate the process of formulating policy and decision making with a view to further develop the petroleum and minerals sector.

King Fahd and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In April 2000, King Fahd introduced three other initiatives to promote economic development. First was the establishment of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority to encourage greater    foreign and domestic investment in the economy by eliminating red tape and providing incentives. Second was the formation of the Supreme Commission for Tourism to expand the tourist industry and facilitate private investment in this field. Third was the introduction of the new Foreign Investment Law that gives foreign investors the same benefits, incentives and guarantees that are offered to Saudi individuals and companies, and allows foreign investors full ownership of projects and their related property.

King Fahd and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

Another bold step designed to further enhance economic growth was taken in June 2001 when Saudi Arabia opened its huge energy sector to foreign oil companies. Saudi Arabia signed agreements with American and European oil companies for billions of dollars of investments in the gas sector, as well as for the implementation of projects for electric power generation, water desalination and the development of the natural gas and petrochemical sectors.

Meeting with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

The inhuman terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, constitute the last major event of the first 20 years of King Fahd’s rule.  Saudi Arabia immediately condemned the tragedy, and King Fahd put his considerable prestige behind the campaign to forge an international coalition to help prevent future incidents. He also supported the U.S.-led international effort to oust the Taleban regime from Afghanistan and restore normalcy to that battered country.

King Fahd and former South African President Nelson Mandela.

The legacy of King Fahd’s first 20 years of rule is one of prosperity and stability. During that period, he has dedicated his life to ensuring the well-being of his people, to helping resolve regional and international crises, and to alleviating the sufferings of people everywhere.

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