King Fahd, ‘a moderniser’

King Fahd, ‘a moderniser’

RIYADH – Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, who died yesterday, sought to modernise his desert kingdom while balancing change against tribal tradition and orthodox Islam, but a stroke a decade ago left him a ruler in name only during tumultuous times for the world’s biggest oil producer.

His death comes as the Saudi government pursues an aggressive clampdown on Islamic terrorism and unprecedented reforms. The portly, goateed Fahd inadvertently helped fuel the rise of Islamic extremism by making concessions to hard-liners in an effort to boost his Islamic credentials.But he also brought the kingdom closer to the United States and agreed to a step that enraged many conservatives: the basing of US troops on Saudi soil after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.In his last years, the sickly Fahd was mostly a figurehead as the close relationship he nurtured with the United States deteriorated after the Sept 11 terror attacks.Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and many in the US administration blamed the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi school of Islam for fuelling terrorism.It fell to Fahd’s half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah – who was appointed as the new monarch yesterday – to guide Saudi Arabia.Abdullah, who took on that role wary of close US ties, oversaw the crackdown on religious militants after followers of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden launched a wave of attacks in the kingdom two years ago.He also pushed a campaign against extremist teaching and preaching and introduced the kingdom’s first elections, for municipal councils earlier this year.King Fahd, once a stickler who took a hand in the smallest details of government activities, stayed on the sidelines as the kingdom dealt with those crises.Fahd, born in Riyadh in 1923, was proclaimed the fifth king of Saudi Arabia on June 13 1982.He assumed the throne just three years after two events in 1979 that would fuel extremism in Saudi Arabia: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini founded the strictly religious Islamic Republic in Iran just across the Persian Gulf, and radical Muslims briefly took over the holy mosque in Mecca, proclaiming the Saudi royal family not Islamic enough to rule.Those developments, coupled with Fahd’s reputation as a former gambler and womaniser, made the liberal-leaning king move toward appeasing the powerful Saudi religious establishment, including the morals police who enforce strict social codes that oblige women to wear veils and ban men and women from mingling.Saudi Arabia did not want Shi’ite Iran to be seen as more Islamic than the Sunni kingdom, birthplace of Islam.So Fahd took the title “custodian of the two holy mosques” – referring to Islam’s holiest shrines at Mecca and Medina – and he poured millions of dollars into the religious establishment and into enlarging fundamentalist universities.In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia, the US and Pakistan mobilised Muslims to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.Millions of Saudi riyals were donated to that effort and, encouraged by the government, thousands of Saudis joined the war, including Bin Laden.The king’s official biography described Fahd as “an ardent supporter” of the Afghan mujahedeen.But after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Fahd, like US and Pakistani leaders, gave little attention to the mujahedeen, who turned Afghanistan into a training ground for their attacks, including the 9/11 suicide hijackings.Earlier in his rule, Fahd was credited with turning Saudi Arabia into one of the Middle East’s most modern states despite tribal traditions and Islamic fundamentalists’ fears that the changes would dilute Muslims’ faith.When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, raising fears that he also might continue on into Saudi Arabia, Fahd was persuaded to let hundreds of thousands of US and other Western soldiers, including women, into his insular, rigidly Muslim kingdom to face the Iraqis.The move was sharply criticised by Islamic fundamentalists who oppose Western influence and spawned the first potent opposition to Fahd’s rule.Demonstrations were quelled and hundreds of clerics detained.Radicals set off bombs at two US military posts in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, killing 25 Americans.The Kuwait crisis also cost Saudi Arabia financially.The US$60 billion bill, coupled with lower oil prices, forced Fahd to scale back lavish benefits that maintained citizens’ loyalty – free education, free medical treatment, free lots for homes and businesses.It wasn’t until late 2004, amid high oil prices, that the Saudi Cabinet balanced the budget for the first time in nearly a decade.Fahd was the son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz, and got an elementary school education with a heavy emphasis on religion.In 1953, Fahd became the nation’s first education minister, laying the foundation for a nationwide school system that grew from 30 000 students to more than 3,2 million students today enrolled in seven universities, 83 colleges and over 18 000 schools throughout the country.He became crown prince in 1975 when King Faisal was slain by a deranged nephew.Fahd was de factor ruler during the seven-year reign of his brother Khaled, a devout and apolitical man, and assumed the throne formally at Khaled’s death in 1982.- Nampa-APThe portly, goateed Fahd inadvertently helped fuel the rise of Islamic extremism by making concessions to hard-liners in an effort to boost his Islamic credentials.But he also brought the kingdom closer to the United States and agreed to a step that enraged many conservatives: the basing of US troops on Saudi soil after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.In his last years, the sickly Fahd was mostly a figurehead as the close relationship he nurtured with the United States deteriorated after the Sept 11 terror attacks.Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, and many in the US administration blamed the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi school of Islam for fuelling terrorism.It fell to Fahd’s half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah – who was appointed as the new monarch yesterday – to guide Saudi Arabia.Abdullah, who took on that role wary of close US ties, oversaw the crackdown on religious militants after followers of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden launched a wave of attacks in the kingdom two years ago.He also pushed a campaign against extremist teaching and preaching and introduced the kingdom’s first elections, for municipal councils earlier this year.King Fahd, once a stickler who took a hand in the smallest details of government activities, stayed on the sidelines as the kingdom dealt with those crises.Fahd, born in Riyadh in 1923, was proclaimed the fifth king of Saudi Arabia on June 13 1982.He assumed the throne just three years after two events in 1979 that would fuel extremism in Saudi Arabia: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini founded the strictly religious Islamic Republic in Iran just across the Persian Gulf, and radical Muslims briefly took over the holy mosque in Mecca, proclaiming the Saudi royal family not Islamic enough to rule.Those developments, coupled with Fahd’s reputation as a former gambler and womaniser, made the liberal-leaning king move toward appeasing the powerful Saudi religious establishment, including the morals police who enforce strict social codes that oblige women to wear veils and ban men and women from mingling.Saudi Arabia did not want Shi’ite Iran to be seen as more Islamic than the Sunni kingdom, birthplace of Islam.So Fahd took the title “custodian of the two holy mosques” – referring to Islam’s holiest shrines at Mecca and Medina – and he poured millions of dollars into the religious establishment and into enlarging fundamentalist universities.In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia, the US and Pakistan mobilised Muslims to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.Millions of Saudi riyals were donated to that effort and, encouraged by the government, thousands of Saudis joined the war, including Bin Laden.The king’s official biography described Fahd as “an ardent supporter” of the Afghan mujahedeen.But after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Fahd, like US and Pakistani leaders, gave little attention to the mujahedeen, who turned Afghanistan into a trainin
g ground for their attacks, including the 9/11 suicide hijackings.Earlier in his rule, Fahd was credited with turning Saudi Arabia into one of the Middle East’s most modern states despite tribal traditions and Islamic fundamentalists’ fears that the changes would dilute Muslims’ faith.When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, raising fears that he also might continue on into Saudi Arabia, Fahd was persuaded to let hundreds of thousands of US and other Western soldiers, including women, into his insular, rigidly Muslim kingdom to face the Iraqis.The move was sharply criticised by Islamic fundamentalists who oppose Western influence and spawned the first potent opposition to Fahd’s rule.Demonstrations were quelled and hundreds of clerics detained.Radicals set off bombs at two US military posts in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, killing 25 Americans.The Kuwait crisis also cost Saudi Arabia financially.The US$60 billion bill, coupled with lower oil prices, forced Fahd to scale back lavish benefits that maintained citizens’ loyalty – free education, free medical treatment, free lots for homes and businesses.It wasn’t until late 2004, amid high oil prices, that the Saudi Cabinet balanced the budget for the first time in nearly a decade.Fahd was the son of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul-Aziz, and got an elementary school education with a heavy emphasis on religion.In 1953, Fahd became the nation’s first education minister, laying the foundation for a nationwide school system that grew from 30 000 students to more than 3,2 million students today enrolled in seven universities, 83 colleges and over 18 000 schools throughout the country.He became crown prince in 1975 when King Faisal was slain by a deranged nephew.Fahd was de factor ruler during the seven-year reign of his brother Khaled, a devout and apolitical man, and assumed the throne formally at Khaled’s death in 1982.- Nampa-AP

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