The man whose hand is on the valve of Middle East oil has whipped fine Arabian horses into desert battles and is said to have killed other men in close combat. Today he is guiding Saudi Arabia toward wealth and prominence, and doing much to mold the destiny of the oil-thirsty world. Perhaps more than any other ruler, King Feisal ibn Abdul Aziz al Saud, 67, is a living symbol of the idiosyncracies and aspirations of his country. To the Saudis, he is a kind of Winston Churchill or Sun Yat-sen and, in the best sense, a godfather.
Feisal is the third of more than 40 sons of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, a tough Moslem chief who created the kingdom of Saudi Arabia by subjugating and uniting desert tribes and kingdoms. As a boy, Feisal was taught to read the Koran by private tutors, became an expert horseman and joined his father's military campaigns. In 1931, after Ibn Saud had consolidated his kingdom, Feisal was named Foreign Minister and began to travel extensively in Europe and the U.S. After his father died in 1953, Feisal's oldest brother Saud became King; but he proved inept, squandering oil revenues on monumental palaces, flashy Cadillacs and grafting relatives. By 1958 the royal treasury was scraping absolute bottom, and Saud asked Feisal to become Prime Minister. In 1964 more responsible family leaders finally forced Saud to step down in favor of Feisal, who reluctantly accepted.
The difference between the two Kings could hardly be greater. A man of severely modest tastes and frugal habits, Feisal smokes cigarettes only in private, never drinks and apparently has no leisure-time activities. Islamic law permits polygamy, but he had two wives at one time only briefly in the 1940s, and then only to help cement a political alliance for his father. In all, Feisal has been married four times, divorced twice and widowed once. His present wife of nearly 40 years has borne him four daughters and five sons. The daughters are rarely heard of; the sons, along with three others from previous marriages, were almost all educated abroad (Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Whittier College) and hold high-and middle-level jobs in business, government and the military.
Feisal must be the world's hardest-working King. Like many executives, he suffers from ulcers, which have forced him to pare his workday from 18 hours to 14 hours. When asked about his health, he sometimes replies: "Still living." He rises at dawn, praysone of five daily prayer sessionsand rides in the front seat of a Chrysler New Yorker from his unostentatious villa to his small, paneled office in the green-roofed presidential palace in Riyadh. He never uses the sprawling $60 million palace built by the profligate Saud. When an interior decorator had a sumptuous bath installed just off Feisal's bedroom in the villa, the King ordered it replaced with a less lavish model. "We are a simple family," he explained.