SAUDI ARABIA: King of the Desert

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Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman al Faisal al Saud, son of the Sultan of Nejd, grew up lean and strong, ignorant of book learning, but a whirlwind in the saddle and a master of desert wile. As a boy, he was made by his father to ride bareback and walk the blistering desert rocks barefoot each midday to toughen himself for a career of revenge against the enemies of his line. At 20, he set out at the head of his Wahabi tribesmen to regain the sand and oases that had been wrested from his illustrious forebears, the Sauds, by the House of Rashid.

In one slashing night ride, he and a handful of followers recaptured the ancestral capital and palace of Riyadh. Soon after World War I, he had united all the tribes of the Nejd under his rule; next, he overthrew the Saud enemy, Sherif Hussein of Mecca, and blended the Hejaz into his domain.

By 1932, virtually all Arabia with its 6,000,000 citizens was recognized as his; he called it the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and pronounced himself King Ibn Saud. His prowess was legendary. One day of battle, so the story goes, he was wounded badly in the groin. Hearing that his followers feared for his future potency, he selected a maiden, married her on the spot and consummated the marriage that night.

Sons For a Nation. As the Koran allows, he took wives in rapid succession, perhaps 140 in all, but never more than the permissible four at one time, to seal bargains, make alliances and produce sons. There came 40 sons and an estimated 64 daughters (girls are not counted officially). "In my youth and manhood, I made a nation," he once said. "Now, in my declining years, I make men for it."

The kingdom provided riches out of the Arabian nights, some from the duties leveled on the annual torrent of Mohammedan pilgrims to Holy Mecca, but mostly from the vast oil deposits which the King leased to U.S. oil companies on a 50-50 basis. His present share: $200 million a year. A strict Moslem, who forbade smoking, drinking and even non-Moslem churches among the foreigners who came to draw his oil, he nevertheless took to modern inventions like a child let loose in Toyland, eventually had his palaces festooned with telephones and radios, his courtyards teeming with fleets of automobiles, including 20 sand-proof, peek-proof Cadillacs, equipped with electric fans, and a mahogany-paneled trailer, which boasts a throne room. He also acquired a DC-4, built to accommodate his custom-made wheel chair.

In one of his rare, brief journeys from his homeland, in 1945, to meet President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill, he sailed to Great Bitter Lake in imperial style on the deck of the U.S. destroyer Murphy, with his own tents, two of his sons, the royal astrologer, baaing sheep and dagger-bearing attendants.

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