King Fahd’s US ties fuelled Muslim anger
RIYADH: King Fahd bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, who died on Monday, forged strong ties with Washington to steer his conservative kingdom through two turbulent decades but a violent Islamist backlash clouded his final, ailing years.
Fahd ascended one of the world’s richest thrones in June 1982 during a petrodollar boom which transformed Saudi Arabia from a poor desert country into a global economic power and pushed its isolated tribal society into the modern world.
He used the huge oil revenues to back Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its eight-year war with Shia Muslim Iran, but when Saddam invaded neighbouring Kuwait, Fahd invited US forces to Saudi Arabia to launch their recapture of the tiny emirate in 1991.
His decision to let half a million non-Muslim fighters into Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to its holiest sites, angered Saudi scholars and a Saudi-born mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden turned against the royal family and its US allies. Ten years later his Al Qaeda network, using mainly Saudi hijackers, carried out the Sept 11, 2001, attacks which plunged Saudi-US ties, a cornerstone of Fahd’s reign, into crisis.
The attacks revealed strains between Fahd’s foreign policy, which linked his country inextricably to the world’s sole superpower, and the royal family’s alliance with largely anti-American and ultra-conservative religious scholars at home.
In 2003, Al Qaeda launched a violent campaign inside Saudi Arabia, targeting Westerners, security forces and oil sites.
By then an ailing King Fahd, weakened and wheelchair-bound after a stroke in 1995, had already passed day-to-day control of the kingdom to his younger half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah.
His declining health sparked frequent talk of palace power struggles between Abdullah and Fahd’s six full brothers, who include the powerful ministers of defence and interior.
Shortly after the government announced Fahd’s death, Abdullah was declared monarch and Sultan his crown prince.
Born around 1921, according to Saudi official records, Fahd was a power behind the scenes long before he succeeded King Khaled in 1982, becoming Saudi Arabia’s fifth leader since the state was founded by his father Abdul-Aziz al-Saud in 1932.
Fahd’s early image as a womaniser and his pro-Western style led sceptics at first to question his ability to rule.
He bolstered the royal family’s religious credentials by restyling himself Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to the shrines of Mecca and Medina where Islam emerged 14 centuries ago in what is now western Saudi Arabia.
At home Fahd channelled billions of dollars into building up the infrastructure and armed forces. Critics said vast sums were wasted on guns and planes, even though Riyadh still depended on the US military to defend the world’s biggest oil reserves. Fahd’s autocratic style and pro-US stance, combined with accusations of royal corruption and a lengthy downturn in oil prices, stirred domestic discontent in the 1990s. reuters