King Fahd ruled Saudi Arabia from 1982 until his death in 2005. He was the son of King Ibn Saud, who unified the Arabian territories and founded the modern nation of Saudi Arabia in 1932. One of nearly forty sons, King Fahd was the fourth son of Ibn Saud to become king. He was also a member of the royal family’s powerful “Sudairi Seven” — a group of brothers united under the name of their mother, Hussa bint Ahmad Al-Sudairi.
After assuming power, King Fahd continued the rapid development of the kingdom’s infrastructure that was fueled by the oil boom of the 1970s. During this time, the construction of new highways, airports, universities, hospitals, and industrial complexes gave rise to gleaming metropolises that dotted the nation’s vast desert landscape. Spending decreased rapidly, however, when oil prices crashed in 1986 and the kingdom began a period marked by budget deficits. In matters of policy and ideology, King Fahd was one of the most pro-Western of Saudi Arabia’s rulers. During the Gulf War, the king allowed U.S. troops to be based within Saudi Arabia’s borders, a move that helped turn Osama bin Laden decisively against the royal family. But King Fahd’s Western sympathies and his reportedly decadent lifestyle were deemed inappropriate by some influential Muslim clerics. The resulting social and political tensions served to undermine the royal family’s power base.
In matters of succession, the House of Saud has traditionally elevated the eldest and most capable of Ibn Saud’s sons to become king. But in 1992 King Fahd issued an important royal decree that changed the rules of succession to the throne. The edict gave the king power to “choose” or “relieve” the crown prince, his designated heir, and also opened up the line of succession to the grandsons of King Ibn Saud, the so-called “second generation” princes. Though King Fahd’s declaration raised speculation about intensified struggles for the throne, his half-brother Abdullah assumed the duties of the king’s office without major incident after Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. Abdullah was offically named king after Fahd’s death in early August, 2005.