Saudi Arabia - Political background



The central institution of Saudi Arabian government is the monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abdul al Aziz al Saud and that the Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law ( shariah ). There are no political parties or national elections. The king's powers are limited because he must observe the shariah 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. The leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema .

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 advisors and heads of major autonomous organizations.

Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'ah. Justice is administered according to the Shari'ah 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. 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 traditions.

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

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