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A Guide to Saudi Arabia Politics: 1.Government of Saudi Arabia

Subject Guide

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Carol Moon
Professor Carol Ann Moon
Reference and Instructional Outreach Librarian
Saint Leo University
Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library
33701 S.R. 52,
Saint Leo, FL 33574


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 and until recently it remained an absolute monarchy. The king of the state did not have any limitations of power, such as parliament or laws. Since 1962 one could observe some progress in establishing the system of checks and balances when Saudi kings first mentioned about consultative council (majlis ash shura) that would advise them how to rule the country. In 1992 King Fahd offered the 61-member model of consultative council and specified their responsibilities (Metz), however, it was not until 2005 when the first Consultative Council of 150 members was formed by the King. Although the authority of the King remains undisputable and the King power is hereditary, one can distinguish between three branches of government in Saudi Arabia: legislative, executive, and judicial.

            The Consultative Council that consists of 150 members and allows women to be its member represents legislative branch. The Council plays only consultative role and helps the King with state-important issues. The Council consists of 12 committees that deal with variety of important spheres, such as human rights, foreign affairs, health, education, public services, security, Islamic affairs, economy, finance, administration, culture (Ziegler). There are no elections for the Consultative Council since the King personally appoints its members for a 4-year term.

            The King and Council of Ministers represent the executive branch. King is the prime minister, chief of the state and commander in chief of the military in Saudi Arabia (Ziegler). The Cabinet consists of 22 ministries, the members of which are appointed by the King. Starting from 2009, women can be appointed to the minister’s position as well. King Abdullah made Narah Al-Fayez the first female cabinet-level official (Ziegler).

            The judicial branch is subordinated to the Islamic Law and consists of three main parts: Courts of the First Instance, Courts of Cassation, and the Supreme Council of Justice (Ziegler). The Shari’ah courts process the majority of cases in the legal system. The Board of Grievances processes cases where government is involved. It makes a supplemental body to the Shari’ah courts. The Supreme Council of Justice, made of 12 jurists, represents a judicial branch of the government. The jurists are appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council (Ziegler).

            There is no constitution in our modern understanding in Saudi Arabia. Quran, the sacred book of Islam, is considered to be the constitution. Quran becomes the main source of the King’s authority and the sharia laws. The governmental structure presented above enhances and specifies the main provisions of Quran. In addition, the King addresses multiple regulations that deal with governmental matters. In 1992, King Fahd united these regulations in a single document called nizam (Metz).