Khalid bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (1912-1982) was Saudi Arabia's fourth king, reigning from 1975 to 1982. Like his brother, King Faisal, whom he succeeded to the throne, Khalid was most at home in the desert. His prior government service included positions as Governor of the Hijaz (from 1932 to 1934) and Minister of the Interior, starting in 1934.
The stability of Saudi Arabia derives largely from its ruling Al-Saud family. Although outsiders have no way of knowing how large the family actually is, estimates have placed its size at between five and eight thousand adults. The size and wealth of the Al-Saud family have created a system of family politics quite unlike any previously known.
The modern history of Saudi Arabia dates to 1747 when Muhammad Bin Saud, who ruled the Arabian peninsula, allied himself with the Muslim scholar Muhammad Bin Abdul Wahhab to found the modern state. For most of the nineteenth century, control of the Arabian peninsula was in the hands of the Al-Saud family. In 1902, Abdul Rahman captured Riyadh, which marked the beginning of the unification of the region's diverse tribes into one nation that would take 30 years to achieve.
The current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had its beginnings on September 23, 1932, when one of Abdul Rahman's sons, Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud (hereafter called Abdul Aziz Al-Saud), declared himself king. The kingdom's sovereignty was recognized by most of the nations of the world. In 1933, the king commissioned a survey aimed at identifying Saudi Arabia's natural resources, and four years later, oil was discovered. Commercial oil production began in 1938. Revenues from the country's oil resources drove subsequent efforts to modernize Saudi Arabia through a series of five-year development plans.
Under Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the order of royal succession remained in question. As a result of his attempts to unify the various tribes on the Arabian peninsula, he had married many women from important tribes, and fathered 36 sons. At the time of his death, his oldest surviving sons were Saud bin Abdul Aziz and Faisal bin Abdul Aziz. The next two sons, in order of seniority, were Muhammad bin Abdul Aziz (born 1910) and Khalid bin Abdul Aziz (born 1912).
In May 1933 Saud was designated heir apparent, even though the Saudi system of succession was not based on primogeniture. Khalid, meanwhile, was acquiring authority under Faisal's supervision in the Hijaz. Starting in 1943, Saud, Faisal, Muhammad, and Khalid began assuming joint control of Saudi Arabia's destiny.
Following the death of King Abdul Aziz in 1953, his son Saud Bin Abdul Aziz inherited the throne. During his eleven-year reign, King Saud established Saudi Arabia's welfare programs and contributed to Islamic causes.
By 1960, Khalid was effectively next in line in succession to the throne, after his brother Faisal. Muhammad's health problems had kept him out of the line of succession. Khalid was by then known to have a heart problem, but he did not appear to have any interest in becoming king.
Saud was deposed by his brother Faisal in 1964, after health problems made it difficult for him to continue on the throne. Under Faisal, the country achieved sustained economic stability and growth. Faisal also instituted a major national development program based on Saudi Arabia's enormous oil revenues.
Upon becoming king, Faisal named Khalid heir designate. In 1967, Faisal appointed Interior Minister Fahd second in line to the throne after Khalid.
In March 1975, Faisal was shot to death at a reception in the royal palace. The assassination did not seem in any way related to a dispute about succession, however.
Following Faisal's death, a new Council of Ministers was announced in March 1975. Khalid assumed the posts of both prime minister and foreign minister. One of Faisal's sons became minister of state for foreign affairs. Fahd, meanwhile, was appointed first deputy prime minister and minister of the interior.
Khalid had the immediate advantage of being a descendant of the royal family through both parents. His mother, Jawharah bint Musa'id, was a granddaughter of Jalwi b. Turki, who was a son of the sixth Saudi emir.
In May 1975, the government announced its second five-year plan (covering 1975 to 1980), a move that required some government reorganization. Then in September, the last brother of King Abdul Aziz retired as finance minister, altering the political composition of the Council of Ministers. That October, to accommodate these developments, a major reshuffling in the Council took place. Some have speculated that Khalid and his heir apparent Fahd sought through the reshuffle to purge the council of those loyal to Faisal, and instead advance their own favorites.
Khalid had already had some training in Saudi political affairs. He had made his first appearance on the military and political stage when his father sent him on an observation mission along the Trans-Jordanian border during the Ikhwan rebellion. At the age of 19, he had stood in for his brother Faisal as acting viceroy of the Hijaz. He represented Saudi Arabia in 1934 when he signed an agreement ending war between Yemen and his country. And in 1939, he traveled with Faisal to London. He was appointed by Saud as acting prime minister in 1960, at a time when Saud was battling his half-brothers for power; although the appointment meant very little in terms of a transfer of power, it established Khalid's position in the line of succession.
During Khalid's reign, he was assisted by Fahd, his first deputy prime minister. In May 1975, a royal decree assigned Fahd full responsibility for daily management of Saudi Arabia. Khalid retained the powers of king, as well as the support of the family.
But Khalid's absences from Saudi Arabia to deal with his health problems eventually cut into his authority. In 1972, he underwent open-heart surgery in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1977, he had hip surgery in London. Rumors eventually began to circulate that he would abdicate. Finally, in 1978, he was hospitalized in Cleveland for further heart surgery. While there seemed to be general agreement that Fahd would step in should Khalid leave the throne, there was no consensus about who would be Fahd's heir apparent. But when the king's health improved following his open-heart surgery in 1978, the issue was set aside.
Under Khalid, Saudi Arabia weathered several major political shake-ups. With the signing of the Camp David agreement in 1979, Saudi Arabia cut off its financial aid to Egypt. In November of that year, a group of Sunni Muslims barricaded themselves inside the Holy Mosque of Mecca. Although they held out for 15 days, eventually as many as 200 were killed. In 1980, Saudi Arabia assumed full control of Aramco.
King Khalid and his half-brother and heir apparent Fahd shared power in a more fluid way than had Khalid and his brother, King Faisal. Like his brother, Khalid assumed the roles of both prime minister and king, but unlike King Faisal, Khalid chose to delegate many of the ministerial responsibilities to his heir apparent. But the extent of Khalid's delegation of responsibility to Fahd also fluctuated with the king's health and the political standing of Fahd.
During Khalid's reign, family rivalries were more subdued than under his predecessors. Instead, Saud family politics became characterized by the presence of multiple centers of influence. As a result, in spite of Khalid's recurring health problems, he was able to counter Fahd's political ambitions. Other centers of power, including the National Guard and the Royal Intelligence, reported directly to the king. Many government ministers refused to keep Fahd advised of their activities, frustrating Fahd's attempts to become the country's de facto prime minister.
Also contributing to the decentralization of power was the continuation in office under Khalid of princes who had built up entrenched bureaucracies during King Faisal's reign. The splitting of power between Khalid and Fahd contributed to the independence of these princes. But as older princes left their government positions, and were replaced by younger ones, the internal politics within the Saud family became complicated by the presence of shifting allegiances.
Khalid's achievements in domestic and foreign policy were not inconsiderable, despite his suffering from a serious heart condition. As already noted, shortly after coming to the throne, Khalid initiated Saudi Arabia's second Five Year Plan, which established the infrastructure for the future prosperity of his country.
On the foreign policy front, Khalid played a role in attempting to resolve the Lebanese civil war. An Arab peace conference was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October 1976. This conference, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo the same month, temporarily brought hostilities in the Lebanese Civil War to a halt. In 1981, Khalid convened a historic summit of Arab nations.
The Iran-Iraq war erupted in September 1980. Iraq had long posed a threat to the monarchies of the Arabian peninsula. After Iran recovered from the attack by Iraq, the threat of Islamic revolution seemed to replace any threat posed by Iraq. The Persian gulf principalities that had traditionally served as buffer states between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Iraq had, meanwhile, begun experiencing increased subversive activity within their borders by Iranian and Iraqi agents. After Saudi citizens were arrested in Bahrain in 1981, Saudi Arabia increased its cooperation with the mini states, and eventually formed the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) was founded in 1981 with the signing of the organization's constitution by the kings and princes of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Sultanate of Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Its goal included achieving unity between member states and enhancing co-operation between peoples of the region. The GCC also set out to bring into conformity laws in the member countries pertaining to economics and financial affairs; commercial, customs and transportation affairs; education and cultural affairs; social and health affairs; and communication, informational, political, legislative and administrative affairs. In addition the organization sought to encourage joint progress in science and technology.
Under Khalid, Saudi Arabia's standard of living rose considerably, and the country achieved enhanced economic and political strength in the international arena. Khalid actually oversaw the implementation of two of the country's five-year development plans, the first of these being the one that lasted from 1975 to 1979, and another that lasted from 1980 to 1984. During Khalid's reign, the country began to diversify its economy and made progress toward the completion of its infrastructure.
Khalid died on June 13, 1982, one week after civil war broke out in Lebanon. Fahd subsequently ascended to the throne.
Bligh, Alexander, From Prince to King: Royal Succession in the House of Saud in the Twentieth Century, New York University Press, 1984.
Kechichian, Joseph A., Succession in Saudi Arabia, Palgrave, 2001.
"King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz," http://www.saudinf.com/main/b45.htm (January 2003)."Saudi Arabia, History," http://www.the-saudi.net/saudi-arabia/history.htm (January 2003).
"Saudi Arabia, Modern History," http://www.saudiembassy.org.uk/profile-of-saudia-arabia/history/modern-history.htm (January 2003).