King Saud: A warrior and a generous leader
Last week, the editor of the Saudi-US Relations Information Services (SUSRIS), Patrick Ryan, sent me a short documentary movie about King Saud bin Abdulaziz’s visit to the United States in 1957.
King Saud ruled from November 1953 until November 1964. This period was one of the most difficult times in the Middle East. During that time, many wars, coups and civil disturbances took place in neighboring countries. Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia was very stable and was able to build many mega projects.
After watching the movie and reading additional notes about King Saud’s visit, I decided to write an article about King Saud and his role in the international arena of diplomacy. King Saud’s oldest daughter, Princess Nourah bint Saud, died last Wednesday a day after I drafted the article’s broader outlines.
Later that day, I told my sister, Jawharah, about the movie and Princess Nourah’s death. My sister spoke of some of the things they did around the same period of King Saud’s visit to the United States in 1957.
We spoke about the time my mother told us about Princess Nourah’s suggestions to King Saud to establish a charity organization, which would concentrate on educating Saudi women. King Saud gave them the green light and donated SR50,000 in 1956 to the charity establishment.
We also spoke about how women, including my mother, took pride in wearing the dera’ah (dress), which was made of an exquisite fabric called “Sifrat Saud,” the royal cut. That was my sister’s most valuable wedding present at the time. “Sifrat” is a mat that you use as a floor or table cloth when serving food. This fabric is named after King Saud for his well-known generosity.
The fabric is still being used by Saudi women to this day, 60 years after it was introduced.
This is a simple example of how close relations prevailed between the rulers and the ruled in Saudi Arabia. Now, let us talk about King Saud bin Abdulaziz and his visit to the United Sates.
King Saud was born in Kuwait on Jan. 15, 1902. On the day he was born, one of the most important cornerstones was laid in establishing modern-day Saudi Arabia. On that day, King Abdulaziz bin Saud recaptured the Saudi capital Riyadh.
King Saud was put to the test in political and social management at a very early age. He helped his father unite the Kingdom as a true desert warrior. When King Saud became king on Nov. 9, 1953, the Middle East saw many events that influenced the area in later decades.
Saudi Arabia withstood the violent winds of change that took place at the time. There was political unrest in Iran because of a coup staged by Mohammed Mosaddegh in the early 1950.
And there was a violent overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy by Abdulakarim Qasim on July 14, 1958.
Egypt saw the departure of King Farouk after a coup by Gen. Mohammed Nagib on July 23, 1952, and later on the overthrow of Gen. Nagib by Gamal Abdul Nasser. At that time the area saw Sudan break away from Egypt. And in 1956, the Middle East saw one of the biggest battles when Israel, France and England attacked Egypt. The Saudi southern borders saw the Egyptian Army invade Yemen where bloody civil war broke out.
Because of the Egyptian invasion of Yemen, hostilities and military confrontation broke out between Saudi Arabia and Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser. The area also saw Egypt and Syria unite under the name of the United Arab Republic. In the early 1960s Iraq invaded Kuwait.
These are few examples of the events that took place when King Saud ruled Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia steered its political and social developments out of harm’s way. And when many countries in the area were busy with their internal struggles, King Saud was developing Saudi Arabia.
When King Saud visited Washington in 1957, his arrival was one of the most important events at the time. His speech at the United Nations to more than 2,400 world political figures marked an important call for peace in the regions.
And when he flew to Washington D.C., he was met by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. The king’s arrival carrying his very young son, Prince Mash’hour, reflected the human and compassionate nature of King Saud. The American public not only saw King Saud as a political figure, but also a compassionate father.
He carried his sick child wherever he went. The visit had many heartbreaking events. President Eisenhower tasked his personal physician to look after the 3-year-old prince at Walter Reed Hospital. When the American media and American public heard about the little prince’s hospitalization, many American well-wishers sent get-well cards. After the little prince left the hospital, he wrote an appreciation and thank you card to the American public.
One day later, the Saudi Embassy in Washington threw a party for the children in the Washington D.C. area. To the surprise of the little prince at the party, he was given a bicycle by the chauffeur who was assigned to drive King Saud’s official limousine during his visit to the American capital.
In later days, King Saud attended big political gatherings for all the diplomatic and financial circles.
One of the most interesting parts of King Saud’s visit was when he was taken on a tour to Annapolis, Maryland. He visited the United States Naval Academy. He met the academy’s top commanders and chatted with them about the academy’s routines. Some academy midshipmen had been disciplined and grounded at the academy for previous poor conduct. They were not allowed to go out and meet their families. But on that day, the students discovered that in honor of the king, all military disciplines were dropped.
The academy students couldn’t be any happier. King Saud saved them from weekend grounding and in return, the King was invited to watch a basketball game at the academy gymnasium between the Naval Academy team and Duke University.
King Saud’s visit to America remained forever in the hearts of Americans who met him there.