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Saudi Arabia

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The politics of Saudi Arabia takes place in a framework of a particular form of absolute monarchy whereby the King of Saudi Arabia is both head of state and the head of government, but where decisions are to a large extent made on the basis of consultation among the senior princes, with the King functioning as primus inter pares and ultimate arbiter. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the male descendants of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud, and that the Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a).


Central government

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud 1 August 2005

The central institution of the Saudi Arabian Government is the Saudi monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the male descendants of the first king, Abd Al Aziz Al Saud (or Abdulaziz Al Saud), and that the Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a). On 20 October 2006 the creation of a committee of princes to vote on the eligibility of future kings and crown princes was set up. The committee, to be known as the Allegiance Institution, includes key sons and grandsons of King Abdul Aziz. Under the new rules, the committee can vote for one of three princes nominated by the king. In the event that neither the king nor the crown prince is deemed fit to rule, a five-member transitory council would run state affairs for a maximum of one week.

There are no recognized political parties or national elections, except the local elections which were held in the year 2005. The king's powers are theoretically limited within the bounds of Shari'a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders (ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society.

Different Saudi kings have exerted different levels of dominance among the senior princes, dependent on their own character, skills, and alliances within the Al-Saud family. King Abdulaziz and King Faisal, as well as King Fahd before his stroke in 1995, were more forceful; by contrast, King Khaled (preceding King Fahd) showed relatively little interest in exterting his full powers. The current king, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, is both forceful and, at the same time, without the advantage of full brothers of his own, relatively hemmed in by a set of powerful full brothers including Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz (minister of defence) and Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz(minister of Interior and, since 2009, second deputy prime minister).[1]

Saudi kings gradually have developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by and responsible to the king, has advised on the formulation of general policy and directed the activities of the growing bureaucracy. This council consists of a prime minister, the first and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense also is the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major, autonomous organizations.


Saudi Arabia has little formal criminal code, and instead criminal laws largely come out through the kingdom's adherence to a conservative form of Sunni Islam commonly known as Wahhabism and the desire of the royal family to prevent any type of political opposition. The kingdom does have an extensive civil and commercial code, mainly to encourage economic development and foreign investment.

National legislation comes from the Saudi Council of Ministers, but must be ratified by royal decree and be found to be fully compatible with the kingdom's conservative interpretation of Shari'a law. Justice is administered according to Shari'a by a system of religious courts whose judges are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council, composed of 12 senior jurists. In theory, the independence of the judiciary is protected by law. The king acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon. Access to high officials (usually at a majlis, or public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established Saudi traditions.

The country has been in a state of war with Israel since May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence.

Enforcement of Shari'a

"Religious police" (Mutaween) are employed by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, a government bureaucracy in Saudi Arabia, to enforce Shari'a Law, including banning the practice (in public) of religions other than Islam.

Consultative assembly

A Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia (Majlis as-Shura) (150 members and a chairman appointed by the monarch for four-year terms) exists.

e • d  Composition of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia
Members Seats
Appointed members 150
Total 150

Political parties and elections

Saudi Arabia has no parliament, instead there is a national "Consultative Council", which is composed of 150 Saudi citizens who are appointed by the king for a period of four years to serve in an advisory role. The size of the council has been increased steadily over the years, and it does have its own committees and a limited ability to discuss proposed legislation, but its primary function is to advise the king.

No political parties or labor unions are permitted to exist. In the 1990s the Arab Socialist Action Party and the Communist Party of Saudi Arabia were disbanded and their members were released from jail, after agreeing to cease and desist their political activities.

The Green Party of Saudi Arabia, founded in 2001, appears to be the only active political party in the kingdom, but they are an illegal clandestine organization. The party supports the government's attempts to gradually reform Saudi political and social life. It envisions a constitutional monarchy and a bicameral parliament under a secular constitution. They support the principles of grassroots democracy, social justice, equal opportunity, ecological awareness, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics, respect for women and gender equity, respect for multicultural diversity and biodiversity, personal and global responsibility, and sustainability.[2][3]

In 2005, the first Saudi Arabian municipal elections were held, but as they were non-partisan elections, no political parties were allowed.

Divisions of the kingdom

The kingdom is divided into 13 provinces governed by princes or close relatives of the royal family. All governors are appointed by the King.

Political reform

In March 1992, King Fahd issued several decrees outlining the basic statutes of government and codifying for the first time procedures concerning royal succession. The King's political reform program also provided for the establishment of a national Consultative Council, with appointed members having advisory powers to review and give advice on issues of public interest. It also outlined a framework for councils at the provincial or emirate level.

In September 1993, King Fahd issued additional reform decrees, appointing the members of the national Consultative Council and spelling out procedures for the new council's operations. He announced reforms regarding the Council of Ministers, including term limitations of 4 years and regulations to prohibit conflict of interest for ministers and other high-level officials. The members of 13 provincial councils and the councils' operating regulations also were announced in September 1993.

The membership of the Consultative Council was expanded from 60 to 90 members in July 1997, to 120 in May 2001, and to 150 members in 2005. Membership has changed significantly during each expansion of the council, as many members have not been reappointed. The role of the council is gradually expanding as it gains experience.

Saudi Municipal elections took place in 2005 and some commentators saw this as a first tentative step towards the introduction of democratic processes in the Kingdom, including the legalization of political parties. Other analysts of the Saudi political scene were more skeptical. See [1]. Mildly Islamist candidates, often businessmen, had the best showing, but obtained little real power.[4] In 2009, promised new elections and hopes for female suffrage in them were postponed for at least two years[5].

On 15 February 2009, in a reshuffle King Abdullah removed Sheikh Ibrahim Bin Abdullah Al-Ghaith from his position as President of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. He also removed Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan as head of the Supreme Judicial Council and appointed the first female minister.[6][7][8]

Human rights

Saudi courts impose capital punishment and physical punishment, including amputations of hands and feet for serious robbery, and floggings for lesser crimes such as "sexual deviance" (e.g. homosexuality and drunkenness). The number of lashes is not clearly prescribed by law and varies according to the discretion of the presiding judges. The number ranges from dozens to several thousand, usually applied over a period of weeks or months. In 2002, the United Nations Committee against Torture criticized Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under the Shari'a. The Saudi delegation responded by defending "legal traditions" held since the inception of Islam in the region 1,400 years ago, and rejected outside interference in its legal system. [9]

Religious freedom

Saudi Arabia does not permit religious freedom and bans all visible forms of non-Muslim worship. Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims who do not adhere to the Sunni Islam, are advised by Mutawwa'in (the religious police) for acts considered offensive to state ideology. Citizenship is restricted to Muslims, but non-Muslims are allowed in many jobs across the country. However, Jewish people or persons with evidence of travel to Israel in their passport are not permitted to enter the kingdom.

The government maintains 50 Call and Guidance centers to encourage foreigners to convert to Islam. [2] Religious police enforce a modest code of dress and many institutions, from schools to ministries, are not co-educational.

International organization participation

Saudi Arabia is member of the ABEDA, AfDB, AFESD, AL, AMF, BIS, ESCWA, FAO, G-19, G-77, GCC, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IDB, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, International Maritime Organization, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, NAM, OAPEC, OAS (observer), OIC, OPCW, OPEC, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO (Applicant)

See also


  1. ^ See Paul Aarts & Gerd Nonneman (eds.), Saudi Arabia in the Balance: Politics, Economy and Society (New York University Press, 2006) pp. 443-455; greater detail in Madawi Al-Rasheed, 'Circles of Power: Royals and Society in Saudi Arabia' in ibid.,pp. 185-213; and Iris Glosemeyer, 'Checks, Balances and Transformation in the Saudi political system', in ibid., pp. 214-233. Also Joseph Kechichian, Power and Succession in Arab Monarchies (Boulder: Lynne Rienne, 2008).
  2. ^ "Green Party of Saudi Arabia". Retrieved 2009-05-23.  
  3. ^ "Saudi Arabia". Egyptian Export Promotion Center. Retrieved 2009-05-23.  
  4. ^ Aarts & Nonneman, op. cit., pp. 449-453.
  5. ^ Carnegie Endowment, Arab Reform Bulletin, May 2009, Accessed 8 June 2009
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Saudi 'torture' condemned by UN", BBC News Online, London, 16 May 2002.

External links



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