More than 30 years after his assassination, King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud fascinates and bewilders as few Arab leaders have. Having spent a year of my life writing a new study on his rule, March 25, 1975 was a painful day, but worthy of remembrance. What is his legacy for Saudi Arabia and the Arab World?

Faisal ruled Saudi Arabia for a mere nine years (1964-1975) although his active participation in the Kingdom's decision-making process started in 1919. A representative of his father to the British Crown at the tender age of 13, Faisal captivated and astonished his countrymen, as well as most individuals he encountered, through statesmanship and poise.

His determination to look after the interests of his country drew admirers and detractors alike although neither group impressed the Najdi. Simply stated, Faisal was destined for greatness because he was a dreamer with a vision, one that drew succour from faith and wisdom not adulation.

Over a relatively short period of time, the third Saudi ruler in the 20th century adopted specific policies that became the norm for each of his successors who, in turn, built on his many accomplishments.

In fact, it may be accurate to write that Faisal's overall accomplishments - ranging from education for both boys and girls to the reliance on oil as a political weapon - were so ample and varied that few absorbed their full meanings during his lifetime.

What was defined, argued, defended and implemented in a largely tribal environment with pragmatic traditions in place was nothing short of phenomenal.

Few of his contemporaries believed that he could reform the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and embark a relatively isolated society on the change bandwagon. Many were truly surprised that he succeeded even if most internal critics rejected his overtures.

Faisal may well have been inspired by Mohammad Bin Zafar Al Siqilli who, in the 12th century, penned a critical study known as the Sulwan Al-Muta'fi Udwan Al Atba [Consolation for the Ruler During the Hostility of Subjects].

Written three centuries before Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince, the Sulwan commended a sovereign to be a "just prince", to rule with an unwavering belief in God, display the courage to conquer evil, exercise patience to persevere regardless of costs or consequences, submit to the will of God against hardships, and consider the burdens of rule with exuberance.

Although few recall Faisal's numerous accomplishments, his genuine contributions to the advancement of Arab and Muslim interests, were legendary. He stood with and against Jamal Abdul Nasser, and even if some of his policies were not universally praised, few were indifferent to them. Even fewer could doubt his sincerity in advancing Saudi and core Arab interests.

Keen sense of fairness

World leaders who dealt with Faisal appreciated his keen sense of fairness because he could forgive his enemies. That, ultimately, was a characteristic of a great leader, one who understood that justice was a double-edged sword, that its exercise was seldom free of heavy costs, and that its permanence necessitated mercy.

By associating Riyadh with core Arab causes, Faisal empowered Saudi rulers to defend Arab ideas, political parties, beleaguered governments, or disparate groups. He mediated whenever necessary to settle intra-state disputes, for example, between Morocco and Mauritania over the Sahara conflict and in the Lebanon Civil War, just to name two cases.

This characteristics has been freely emulated by his successors. Likewise, Faisal intervened to settle personal quarrels among Arab heads of state, several of whom took on legendary proportions during his lifetime.

The animus that developed between presidents Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Hafeez Assad of Syria, Assad and Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and King Hussain of Jordan and Arafat were confirmed and, in each instance, Faisal expanded both time and treasure to impose civility. This established tradition has also evolved into a feature of Saudi diplomacy with relative success.

In the end, Faisal's most enduring legacy was his successful defence of faith, which empowered Riyadh and legitimised the Al Saud. It may be said that this characteristics of Saudi foreign policy featured both moral as well as pragmatic aspects.

To be sure, and while it was true that Saudi rulers always relied on Islam to rule with justice, Faisal elevated the trait to new heights. Faith and its defence became the essence of his behaviour and most of his policies.

He lived the moral example and insisted that those around him conduct themselves impeccably. More specifically, it may be said that Riyadh experienced post-asabiyyah attributes under Faisal, in order to defend the Ummah materially as well as spiritually.

As Ibn Khaldun's asabiyyah (solidarity) implied group consciousness, under Faisal, raising one's consciousness was no longer limited to blood relatives or narrow tribal outfits.

On the contrary, Faisal insisted that new institutions be created, to allow for the development of Muslim societies that encompassed a vast array of people spread over large distances in many countries. Muslims were called upon to eliminate national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries, and to initiate intra-faith dialogues.

Even if some of these preferences were idealistic, Faisal believed that they were essential for the Ummah, though it fell on one of his successors to make the necessary leap.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.