King Abdul Aziz

During this year of centennial celebrations, the nation's attention has naturally focused on the events of the past one hundred Hijrah years, and the momentous changes that the country has undergone. In this context, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud stands out as the dominant figure in the contemporary history of the nation. By recapturing Riyadh he reclaimed his patrimony and reinstituted the Saudi State that had ruled most of the peninsula since 1744, and began a 30-year campaign to form the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
But hidden behind the physical transformation that he initiated and which, in the past few decades, has led to the dramatic modernization and development the Kingdom has witnessed are perhaps even greater contributions that help define the nation's soul and ensure the long-term well-being of its people.
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King Abdul Aziz's greatest contribution to his people was the foundation upon which he established the modern Kingdom. As he was fond of saying, he was first and foremost a Muslim and second an Arab, and therefore the modern Kingdom he established reflected this belief. "I walk and believe just like any of my people," he once said, adding: "In ruling them, I do not follow anything but their interests in the light of the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah," the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad. By making the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah the basis of the state and emphasizing adherence to Arab cultural and social traditions, he ensured continuity in the heartland of Islam and the Arab nation. From this solid foundation the country could move forward.
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His next important gift to his nation was security and stability. Before he established the modern Kingdom in 1932, most of the peninsula was in a constant state of instability and war verging on chaos. The transformation brought about in this area was incomprehensible to foreign observers who had visited the Hijaz region in western Saudi Arabia - where Makkah and Madinah are located - before and after the extension of King Abdul Aziz's rule to the area. An article in the October 1936 issue of Contemporary Review spoke of the complete security that the inhabitants of Saudi Arabia enjoyed and noted: "To be able to properly understand the greatness of the change that [King Abdul Aziz] has wrought, it is necessary to have some idea of the state of the country" before it came under his protection. The article then reviewed the tyranny and instability rampant in the old days in the Hijaz, saying: "The country was overrun by thieves and brigands, and life and property were not safe."
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It then contrasted that state of affairs with the prevailing conditions by observing: "Today, the pilgrim may travel...safely even through inner Arabia...unarmed and even carrying great valuables, for Ibn Saud [the name by which King Abdul Aziz was widely known] is inexorable" when it comes to security and justice.
Justice was another gift of King Abdul Aziz to his people. "The doors of justice will be open to all people on an equal basis," he once told those present at a daily Majlis, where any citizen could approach the King and speak to him as an equal. "All people, the notable and the average, will have equal standing before justice," he told them. This was a novel concept in most of the modern Kingdom outside the ancestral lands of the Al-Saud in central Arabia. As one foreign visitor to the Hijaz wrote before the area came under King Abdul Aziz's protection: "Any individual disliked by a ruler is thrown in prison and his property confiscated without even the pretense ol a trial."
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The change that King Abdul Aziz brought in this respect was truly astounding to people unfamiliar with his rule. Speaking to a group of Makkah citizens, he once declared: "If someone comes to me and complains that my son Faisal has taken away his property and assailed him and he finds me ...turning a deaf ear to him and helping my son in his injustice, then he is in the right and I am wrong." Indeed, King Abdul Aziz's justice became legendary during his lifetime and any citizen could be confident of redress for whatever complaint against any other, even the King's own sons.
The Lebanese-American scholar Amin Rihani, who spent several months traveling with King Abdul Aziz in the 1920s, saw firsthand the ruler's justice in action and said the transformation he brought to areas that came under his control bordered on "a miracle." One night as they were camped in the desert, Mr. Rihani bluntly asked King Abdul Aziz why he believed he could succeed in uniting the people into a modern nation and serve them better than other rulers. The response was classic King Abdul Aziz, simple and from the heart: "I put my faith in God and my people." Later, he added: "The service of our people is our duty, and we will achieve this by all means."
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King Abdul Aziz also set an example for his family and his people to emulate. His piety and honesty, and the simplicity of his life-style were widely praised throughout the Kingdom and beyond. He possessed "all the characteristics of ethical leadership," wrote M. Y. B. Gavriel, one of the most famous observers of the Arab world, in 1936. "It is not his political and strategic success that distinguish him as a gigantic figure in the history of Arabia and that of the whole Orient," he wrote, "rather it is the moral greatness and the unyielding qualities of his character."
In short, King Abdul Aziz established the modern Kingdom on a sound basis and proceeded to set a moral and ethical example for his family and people to follow. His death in 1953 was widely grieved in the Kingdom and the Arab and Islamic worlds. An article in the Contemporary Review commented on his many accomplishments and concluded by asking: "Will the progress initiated by King Ibn Saud continue after his death? Will not the tribes start fighting one another...and plunge the country into its age-old anarchy and chaos?"
Those questions have been answered with the passage of time. The security and justice King Abdul Aziz introduced have solidified over the years, allowing his sons and successors to follow in his footsteps and continue the development and progress he initiated
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Astute enough to realize that for development to continue at a faster pace, the government would have to be modernized, King Abdul Aziz initiated a series of moves designed to make its workings more efficient. One of his important decisions in this regard was the establishment of the Council of Ministers system. Although King Abdul Aziz always had advisors he conferred with on important decisions, the formation of the council, which reflected the Kingdom's adherence to the concept of consultation, allowed the appointment of experienced individuals to take responsibility for development in various fields.
After his passing, his successors - King Saud, King Faisal and King Khalid - continued to expand and make the workings of the government more efficient. The most sweeping moves were made by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz. In an effort to further streamline the system to allow it to deal more effectively with the nation's requirements, in 1992 King Fahd introduced the Basic System of Government, which identifies the nature of the government and its objectives, and defines its relationship with citizens.
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The following year he introduced new bylaws for the Council of Ministers System, giving the Cabinet expanded responsibility. As Prime Minister and Chairman of the Council, King Fahd made further refinements, and by 1999 had increased the number of ministers with portfolio to 22, in addition to seven ministers of state who handle duties in specific areas.
King Abdul Aziz had established a Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council) in the mid-1920s in keeping with Islamic injunctions and Saudi tradition regarding the need for a ruler to consult with learned and experienced citizens. "We have to follow what is stated in the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah in implementation of God's orders to consult others in the affairs of the moment," he told a meeting of the Majlis Al-Shura in Makkah in 1926.
In order to give the Majlis Al-Shura a more formalized and efficient mechanism, King Fahd restructured the system in 1992. The following year, he inaugurated the first session of the council, which had 60 members and eight specialized committees. The growing work load and duties of the council required expansion of its membership to 90 in 1997.
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The fourth part of King Fahd's historic efforts to restructure the government and make it more efficient was the introduction in 1993 of the Provincial System. Designed to "enhance the efficiency of administration and development in the regions of the Kingdom [and] preserve security and order, and guarantee the rights of citizens and their freedom," the system divided the country into 13 provinces. It defined their administrative structure, the manner they should be administered and the responsibilities of governors and provincial officers. The system also formed a Provincial Council for each of the provinces, with a total of 210 members.
At the time of King Abdul Aziz's passing, Saudi Arabia was already producing oil and had taken the first tentative steps on the path of economic and social development. A country that at the turn of the century was largely reliant on rudimentary agriculture, animal husbandry and trade, and which lacked a modern economic infrastructure, was undergoing changes the pace of which would accelerate over the coming decades.
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While King Abdul Aziz was alive, the government had already begun establishing schools, hospitals, roads and other modern amenities. Development continued at a slightly faster pace in the remaining years of the 1950s and 1960s. In the final years of that period, the government began planning a long-term program that would marshal the country's human and material resources in a manner that would further accelerate development in all areas and also begin diversifying the economy away from reliance on oil revenues.
The result was the introduction of a series of five-year development plans in 1970 that embodied King Abdul Aziz's belief that "real development can only be achieved through education and hard work." These plans were part of a broad strategy that would ultimately bring about Saudi Arabia's social and economic transformation.
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The first phase of this process focused on establishing an infrastructure that could support a modern economic base. The next step was to help develop the human resources that would be needed in growing numbers as development continued. The last phase of this process would emphasize economic diversification by expanding the industrial, agricultural and other non-oil sectors, and encourage greater private sector economic activity.
The physical infrastructure was largely completed and functioning by the end of the Third Develop-ment Plan in 1984. While it was being established, the government was also working on expanding the industrial base. This was accomplished along two separate, but parallel, tracks: expanding the country's oil industry to provide revenues and raw materials, and establishing a modern non-oil industrial base, with the private sector playing a prominent role.
The success of the Kingdom's economic plans is reflected in the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) seven-fold between 1970 and 1997 to 145.9 billion U.S. dollars. The non-oil sector's share of the GDP rose from 41.1 percent to 63.2 percent over the same period. The private sector's share of the non-oil economy grew from 29.3 percent to 47.4 percent during this period.
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The growth of the non-oil economy and the private sector's contribution is largely due to a program introduced in the mid-1970s. It provided for the formation of the Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) in 1976. SABIC set up 16 industrial plants at the Jubail, Yanbu and Jeddah industrial cities to convert natural gas and other products of the Saudi oil industry into raw materials that would be used by a network of secondary industries, mostly private, to produce a variety of consumer goods. At the same time, the government set up a number of specialized funds to provide no-interest long-term loans and technical support and advice to help the private sector set up companies.
The result has been that today there are more than 3,100 industrial plants, representing investments of more than 61 billion dollars, employing over 300,000 people. These plants produce a wide range of industrial and consumer products. Most of these products are destined for the domestic market, with the rest being exported, earning more than six billion dollars in revenues in 1997.
Agriculture, which was limited to the production of dates, fruits and vegetables in oases, has witnessed a similar growth since 1970. The establishment of specialized funds to provide loans and support and the construction of 197 dams capable of storing 27 billion cubic feet of water for irrigation have helped the agricultural sector achieve spectacular growth. Today, Saudi farms produce millions of tons of cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables valued at more than nine billion dollars annually.

{short description of image}King Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud with Aramco officals during a visit to the oil facilities at Ras Tanurah in 1948. Present at the event were his sons, King Faisal, prince Muhammad, King Khalid and king Fahd.

Similar growth was achieved in the health sector, which now boasts 303 hospitals with 44,533 beds, plus 2,337 health care centers; in transportation, with 44,100 miles of roads, 26 airports and 186 wharves at seaports along the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf; and in many other areas.
Much of the Kingdom's achievement in recent years is attributable to the development of the nation's human resources. Some 40 years ago there were only about 30,000 students in the entire country. In the current academic year more than five million students are enrolled at over 24,000 schools at all levels of education. There are more than 300,000 students at the Kingdom's eight universities, numerous colleges and institutes of higher education, and more than 60,000 at 334 vocational training schools. After completing their studies, these students fill positions in government and private organizations, helping make possible the continued social and economic development of their country.
Major programs introduced in recent months promise continued achievements in the future. One provides for the privatization of the telecommunications, power generation, port services and other sectors. The other, introduced by King Fahd in August, provides for the formation of the Higher Economic Council, which will take over some of the responsibilities of the Council of Ministers in the economic sector.
By focusing exclusively on the economy, and assisted by a Consultative Commission to be made up of experts in various fields, the new body is expected to represent another successful step in the Kingdom's ongoing efforts to achieve social and conomic development while safeguarding its values and heritage. {short description of image}
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