Obituary: Ex-Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal

In his role as foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal was the key architect of Saudi diplomacy for the past 40 years.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud al-Faisal, who was appointed as foreign minister in 1975, was the world’s longest serving foreign minister when he was replaced on April 29.

He had served under four Saudi kings, advancing the Kingdom’s foreign policy, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States.

It is difficult to even think of Middle East foreign policy without referencing Saud al-Faisal.

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center in Washington

“After almost 40 years in service, Prince Saud al-Faisal will be remembered as the key architect of Saudi diplomacy whose relentless efforts have ensured the protection of Saudi interests,” Christian Koch, director of the Gulf Research Center Foundation, told Al Jazeera.

Although the Saudi King ultimately determines foreign policy, Saud played an important role in shaping the country’s response to the many crises affecting the Middle East.

The former foreign minister’s tenure was marked by the Israeli invasions of Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 2006, the Palestinian intifadas that erupted in 1987 and 2000, Iraq invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990, and a US-led coalition’s occupation of Iraq in 2003.

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The son of former King Faisal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Prince Saud was born in 1940, and was among Saudi Arabia’s first generation to receive a Western education. He received a degree in economics from Princeton University in the US.

In 1970, Saud was appointed as deputy governor of Petromin, the former state-owned natural resources company, and the following year was appointed deputy minister of petroleum and mineral resources.

His knowledge of Western politics and his solid command of the English language made him the natural choice of representing Saudi Arabia on the international stage. In 1975 he became the country’s minister of foreign affairs, a position he would go on to occupy until April this year.

I think it is fair to say that Prince Saud al-Faisal was considered by many to be the consummate diplomat.

Fahad Nazer, former political analyst at Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Washington

“His eloquence and reassuring demeanor was admired by Saudis as well as many of his counterparts in the international diplomatic community,” he added.

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center in Washington, told Al Jazeera that Saud’s legacy witnessed some of the “most dramatic and contentious events and developments” in the modern history of the region.

“It is difficult to even think of Middle East foreign policy without referencing Saud al-Faisal,” he said.

A royal decree issued in April by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud forced Prince Saud, and other ageing royal members, to retire in favour of much younger royals. Al-Jubeir, the former Saudi ambassador in Washington replaced him, becoming only the second civilian to ever take on the role of foreign minister.

“Al-Jubeir’s appointment is reflective of the intention of Saudi Arabia to maintain close security ties with the United States. Al-Jubeir was a top advisor to former King Abdullah and he was also involved in many multilateral meetings and initiatives across a broad spectrum of international relations,” said Karasik.

“Al-Jubeir represents the new generation of Arab diplomats. His appointment does not necessarily represent a shift in the international relations of the kingdom as much as a generational shift in the leadership,” Jahshan told Al Jazeera.

At the age of 74, Prince Saud faced many health problems. Despite suffering from chronic back pain and having various surgeries, he maintained his challenging role.

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He has said that his biggest disappointment as foreign minister has been the failure of the establishment of a Palestinian state during his career.

“We have not yet seen moments of joy in all that time,” the prince said in a 2009 interview with the New York Times. “We have seen only moments of crisis; we have seen only moments of conflict, and how can you have any pleasure in anything that happens when you have people like the Palestinians living as they are?”

Theodore Karasik, said that Saud’s legacy will be remembered as much for the disappointments compared the successes.

“Prince Saud al-Faisal’s legacy is mixed. Even the Prince himself said that he will not be remembered for many successes. But Prince Saud’s direction of the foreign ministry leaves a lasting impression of his four decades of international experience. He is a part of Saudi history during wars with Israel, trying to help the Palestinian cause, and outlasting the Soviet empire,” Karasik told Al Jazeera.

Nazar, the former Saudi diplomat, told Al Jazeera the news of Prince Saud’s passing would undoubtedly a large impact in Saudi Arabia and in the West.

“The news of his resignation alone marked an end of an era in Saudi politics and was met with sadness by many Saudis. I have no doubt that there will be a tremendous outpouring of emotion by Saudis of all stripes following his passing and were are already seeing it on social media,” Nazar said.

Source: Al Jazeera


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Published On 2 May 2015
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