The Political System of Saudi Arabia

What is the political system of KSA?

The modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was founded in 1932 by Abdulaziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud), is a monarchy. Saudi Arabia is a hereditary monarchy.

Ibn Saud's son, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has been the ruler since 2005, though he had been regent from 1996, due to the illness of his brother King Fahad. The King's heir apparent (as of June 2012) is Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who also holds the title of Deputy Prime Minister, and who is a half-brother of the King.

The document known as the Basic Law of Governance, which articulates the government's rights and responsibilities, was established by royal decree in 1992.

Executive Branch:

The King is also the prime minister, chief of state, the head of government, and commander in chief of the military of Saudi Arabia.

The monarchy is hereditary, so there are no elections for the role.

The King's Cabinet, or Council of Ministers, is appointed by the King every four years, and includes many family members. There are 22 government ministries that are part of the Cabinet.

In February 2009, King Abdullah appointed Norah Al-Fayez to be the first female cabinet-level official, a deputy minister for women's education. She had formerly had worked as an official in the Saudi Institute for Public Administration.

Legislative Branch:

This is made up of a Consultative Council (also known as Majlis as-Shura or Shura Council) advises the King on issues that are important to Saudi Arabia.

The Consultative Council currently consists of 150 members appointed by the King for a four-year renewable term. Based on their experience, members are assigned to committees. There are 12 committees that deal with human rights, education, culture, information, health and social affairs, services and public utilities, foreign affairs, security, administration, Islamic affairs, economy and industry, and finance.

In October 2003, the Council announced its intent to start elections for half of the members of the local and provincial assemblies (there are 13 provinces, each with a governor and deputy and its own council made up of at least 10 citizens), and one-third of the members of the Consultative Council incrementally over a period of four to five years. No elections have yet been announced.

In September 2011, King Abdullah announced that women would have the right to be appointed to the Consultative Council. And, in January 2013, the King appointed 30 women to serve four-year terms on the Council, following passing of a law stating that women should constitute at least 20% of the Council's membership.

Judicial Branch:

The country is governed and justice is administered according to Islamic law.

As reported on the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia (Washington, DC) website:

The Saudi court system consists of three main parts. The largest is the Shari’ah Courts, which hear most cases in the Saudi legal system. The Shari’ah courts are organized into several categories: Courts of the First Instance (Summary and General Courts), Courts of Cassation and the Supreme Judicial Council.

Supplementing the Shari’ah courts is the Board of Grievances, which hears cases that involve the government. The third part of the Saudi court system consists of various committees within government ministries that address specific disputes, such as labor issues.

The Supreme Council of Justice, which is comprised of 12 senior jurists, represents the judicial branch of government. Justice is administered by a system of religious courts whose judges are appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council. The independence of the judiciary is protected by law. The King acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon.

On October 1, 2007, a royal order approved changes to the judicial system. The changes included the establishment of a Supreme Court and special commercial, labor and administrative courts.

Other:

Local elections in 178 municipalities were first held in 2005, and only male citizens over 21 were allowed to vote.

In September 2011, shortly before the municipal elections, King Abdullah announced that in subsequent municipal elections, women would be allowed to run and to vote. The next municipal elections are scheduled for 2015.

There are no political parties in Saudi Arabia.

For more information, see:

The CIA World Factbook (Saudi Arabia)

The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington

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