Of all the uncertainties in the incendiary Middle East, none was the object of such fevered speculation last week as the personality of Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, King Khaled ibn Abdul Aziz. Named to the throne after the shocking assassination of his half brother King Faisal, the ailing Khaled was virtually unknown outside his native land. That, apparently, was just the way he wanted it. He once rebuked an aide for attempting to get him publicity, and, as crown prince, he never displayed the slightest craving for power.
The fifth oldest son of the prolific King Ibn Saud, the tough Muslim chief who sired some 40 princes and created the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Khaled is known within his oil-rich royal family as “the quiet man.” Married, he is the father of nine children. Born in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and tutored privately in his father’s palace, he has always preferred the life of the desert to the political career of a prince. Though heart disease has restricted his movements, the 62-year-old Khaled is an expert hunter and falconer whose walls are hung with tiger heads and elephant tusks—trophies of safaris to India and Africa. Like Faisal, he is a conscientious Wahhabi Muslim who neither smokes nor drinks. But when he was younger, he often slipped away for camel milk-drinking contests with Bedouin tribes in the desert.
Faisal’s trusted associate for more than 40 years, Khaled traveled with him to the U.S. in 1943 on a visit to President Roosevelt. (Khaled last visited the U.S. in 1974 for open-heart surgery in Cleveland.) On Faisal’s recommendation, he was named crown prince in 1965, leapfrogging over his free-spending older brother Mohammed (who was reportedly compensated with $1 million). Shy and retiring, he is expected to be strongly influenced by two younger brothers, Prince Fahd and Prince Sultan, both members of Faisal’s cabinet. But for the moment he remains an enigma. “He talks little,” comments one Middle East observer, “and listens a lot.”