State and politics
Saudi Arabia is a non-constitutional absolute monarchy.
The King, who since 1986 also bears the title "protector of
the two sacred mosques", holds the position of prime
minister and usually commander-in-chief. The King leads the
country together with the Crown Prince, who is the Deputy
Head of Government and Deputy Commander-in-Chief.
On January 23, 2015, King Abdullah died and was succeeded
by Salman, half-brother to Abdullah and crown prince since
2012. New crown prince was appointed Muqrin ibn Abd al-Aziz,
former head of the intelligence service and deputy prime
minister, also half brother to Abdullah.
The monarchy in its present form was founded in 1932 by
Ibn Saud. The Qur'an and Islamic law, Sharia, form the basis
for the regime, but through a royal decree in 1992, the
so-called Basic Laws, a basic constitutional system of rules
for state government, were introduced, in which new
administrative forms were adopted as well as rules for the
exercise of authority and the introduction of consultative
councils. local, regional and national level. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how SA can stand for Saudi Arabia.
The executive and legislative power rests with the
Council of Ministers, whose members are appointed by the
King, as a rule for four years. The king leads the Council
of Ministers and several of the ministers belong to the
royal family. A national consultative council (Majlis
ash-shura) was created in 1993, originally with 60
seats. The members are appointed by the king for four years.
Both the number of members of Majlis ash-shura and its
mandate have expanded over time. In 2005, the number was
150, and the Council now has the opportunity to submit its
own proposals, including budget proposals, as well as to
provide views on how different ministries manage their areas
of activity. The Council's meetings are broadcast on TV and
submitted proposals are presented in the media, which gives
citizens the opportunity to follow the Council's work.
Although the king formally appoints all members of Majlis
ash-shura, proposals for candidates from private and public
institutions are obtained. Until 2013, there were no female
members in the council, but the most important female
networks received all suggestions and acted as informal
referral bodies. A royal decree in 2013 stipulated that at
least 20 percent of the council members would be women, and
30 women would be sworn in. In light of the women's actual
influence in the country, partly based on their financial
assets, which today correspond to half of the private wealth
in the country, it is logical that they also have a
political influence. In the chambers of commerce, women have
gained a rapidly growing influence as well as within the
banking system. The same applies to developments at regional
and local level.
Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 provinces, which in turn
are divided into 103 regional boards that provide various
services to citizens; In addition, there are district
councils as well as councils at village and tribal level.
The 13 provinces are governed by members of the royal family
or relatives. However, it should be noted that members of
all major tribes are inducted into the royal family, which
is why a certain power dissemination exists.
In 2005, municipal elections were held. Half of the seats
would be selected as before, while the remainder would be
selected. According to the Election Act of 2004, Saudi women
and men should be able to vote and stand, but in that
election, women were not allowed to exercise these rights.
Neither political parties, political meetings nor in-house
demonstrations are allowed. The Saudi regime, on the other
hand, has organized many and large conferences in which the
country's reform policy is discussed and proposals from
citizens are presented. What is being sought is a consensus
to modernize and open up the rigid society formed by
Wahhabism and traditional Bedouin culture. Getting a
peaceful and smooth transition is a piece of art in light of
the existing al-Qaeda-related networks and generally
conservative sympathizers in the country.
Saudi Arabia has a leading role in the Arab world and
seeks to actively participate in resolving the conflicts
that exist throughout the Middle East. The country assisted
Iraq with large arms purchases during the Iraq-Iran war of
1980-88 and together with Kuwait provided the bulk of the
financing of Kuwait's liberation from Iraq's occupation of
the country from 1990-91. Since 1981, Saudi Arabia has
played a leading role within the Gulf Cooperation Council
(GCC), which also includes Bahrain, the United Arab
Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. These six states have
established a free trade area, which since 2003 has
gradually developed into a customs union. The purpose of the
GCC is also to have a coordinated foreign and defense policy
as well as oil and energy policy, but as in the EU, there
are contradictions between the states.
There have been numerous border conflicts on the Arabian
Peninsula. It was not until 2008 that a definitive border
was established between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Although
there is a border agreement between Saudi Arabia and Yemen
since 2000, there were again clashes in the buffer zone in
On a global level, Saudi Arabia has always been seen as a
close ally to the United States, but the September 11
attacks in 2001 in the United States came to complicate
relations. Saudi Arabia opposed the US-led occupation of
Iraq in 2003 and remains critical of US support for Israel.
The threat from groups associated with al-Qaeda is
occasionally mentioned. In 2009 and 2010, at least 200
militant al-Qaeda supporters were arrested. However, this
does not interfere with the arms dealings with the United
States, which in 2010 confirmed a new agreement on the sale
of military equipment for 60 billion US dollars to Saudi
Arabia, which was the largest single business conducted by
the US arms industry to date.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has widened and deepened
its cooperation with the Russian Federation, India and
The Arab Spring has affected Saudi Arabia in several
ways. In early 2011, King Abdullah made the decision to
increase welfare policy initiatives in the country. Saudi
Arabia sent troops to Bahrain in 2011 to help the regime
there to regain control. Within the GCC there is mutual
defense and security policy cooperation, which Bahrain could
rely on. However, the Saudi intervention in the Bahrain
conflict sparked protests from mainly Saudi Shi'ites in the
eastern province. Protests in the eastern province erupted
again in 2012 demanding the release of a Shiite religious
leader. In the conflict between the Syrian Assad regime and
the Sunni Muslim Syrian rebel forces, Saudi Arabia's support
for the rebel forces has been significant.
The basis of the legal system in Saudi Arabia is Islamic
law, more specifically, the Han Balitic School of Law.
However, the country also has extensive modern legislation,
not least in the area of commercial law. The judiciary
consists mainly of Islamic sharia courts (compare
Islamic law), supplemented by a number of specialized courts
for commercial purposes. The death penalty is punished for
some serious crimes.
In recent years, the Saudi state has shown no relief in
its authoritarian stance and intolerance of dissent.
Peaceful demonstrations are often met with violence and
arbitrary detention as well as inadequate trials are the
norm. The authorities also continue to suppress the
protection of women and guest workers.
According to Human Rights Watch, the number of lawsuits
against human rights defenders is steadily increasing,
requiring reform of the justice system as a result of the
country's lack of respect for human rights.
Guest-working migrants make up half the workforce in
administration and service occupations in the country. Many
are subjected to abuse and exploitation. In some cases,
their relationship can be described as slave-like. Their
rights are heavily circumscribed and employers often abuse
their position towards this group. Many immigrant domestic
workers face the death penalty after barely accessing legal
advice or translators during court hearings.
The authorities have a strong influence over the
newspaper editorials and the state approves the new
editor-in-chief and can dismiss them. Blogs, internet cafes
and social media are constantly monitored. According to
Reporters Without Borders, over 400,000 web pages are
blocked and in the 2015 Press Freedom Index, Saudi Arabia is
ranked 164 out of 180 countries.
Neither political parties, trade unions nor opposition
groups are allowed.
Although the country has ratified the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, it
is not complied with when it contrasts with the
interpretation of Sharia in Saudi Arabia. Girls and women
are prohibited from traveling, working, going to hospital or
undergoing certain medical procedures without the permission
of their male guardians, and in court a woman's testimony
weighs half as heavy as a man's. The Morality Police monitor
women's strict dress code and women were not allowed to
drive a car until 2018.
Domestic violence is common and not prohibited by law.
However, in December 2015, women were allowed for the first
time to participate both as candidates and voters in local
elections. More than 2,100 representatives in local councils
would be elected, and the election resulted in about 20
female candidates being voted in.
Interns in prisons, including children, are subject to
systematic violations and are often denied the right to a
fair trial. Arbitrary arrests, torture and mistreatment are
common, and Saudi judges routinely convict prosecution.
Cross amputation, that is, amputation of the right hand and
left foot, also occurs as punishment in robbery and theft.
Other offenses that may result in corporal punishment are
theft, drug possession, homosexual acts and rape.
The death penalty can be imposed in accordance with the
country's sharia laws for, among other things, murder, rape,
drug-related crimes and witchcraft. Children convicted of
crimes can receive a death penalty when they turn eighteen.
There have also been reports of children found illegally in
the country who have been deported to conflicting countries
such as Yemen and Somalia.
Heads of State