12th JULY 2015 FOREIGN MINISTER SHEIKH SAUD DIED OF UAE
Prince Turki bin Mohammed Al Faisal (R), a relative of the late prince Saud Al Faisal, is comforted as his coffin is unloaded from a plane in Jeddah on July 11, 2015, a few hours before a funeral ceremony held in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. STR/AFP Photo
Saudi Arabia buries world’s longest serving foreign minister
The news that Saudi Arabia’s long-time foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal passed away on Thursday was a shock to many in the diplomatic community and in the world of politics. Although Prince Saud was 75 and had suffered from health problems for some years, he was, for many decades, the Arab world’s omnipresent diplomat, there at the most crucial moments of Middle Eastern history.
When Prince Saud started his career as foreign minister in 1975, the Middle East – and the world – looked very different. The oil embargo had ended a year previously. Iran still had a shah. Afghanistan had only just become a republic – its long descent into war was still some way off. The same was true of Lebanon – a conflict that Prince Saud would later play a pivotal role in ending.
So many of the political forces that currently shape, or seek to shape, the Middle East had not yet been birthed. Modern jihad, formed in the crucible of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, did not exist. Iran’s revolution had not yet taken place and the Islamic Republic that followed, along with its habit of interfering in Arab affairs and its regional rivalry with Saudi Arabia, was still to come.
Prince Saud was foreign minister through all of that, seeking to chart a course for Saudi Arabia through a tumultuous period of Middle Eastern history. A cautious man at a chaotic time, Prince Saud was always very close to the United States, always of the opinion that America and Saudi Arabia’s relationship was mutually beneficial and definitely positive for the region.
That belief was tested many times in 40 years. Most notoriously, it was tested over Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which Prince Saud tried many times to end. He stood shoulder-to-shoulder with America after September 11, only to have his counsel rejected over the Iraq war.
When Prince Saud left the foreign ministry in April 2015, it was the beginning of a change in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. A new king wanted a more assertive Saudi Arabia and the US president wished to be less involved. The result was a sea-change in Riyadh, which has resulted in a more determined role in the region such as in Yemen.
Prince Saud was a consummate diplomat and will be remembered fondly by all who worked with him. It was his misfortune, and the misfortune of the Middle East, that he lived in such terribly interesting times.