CHAPTER 3
Government and Politics

The Saudi Arabian government is a dynastic and hereditary monarchy headed by the al-Sa‘ud family. Sources critical of the kingdom claim it is an absolute monarchy because political parties are not permitted and it lacks an elected legislative body. Others contend that the king’s power is limited, and the government relies on the creation of consensus, “not authoritarianism,” and on “pragmatism, rather than ideology” (Cordesman 2003, 132). Under the first three kings since the modern nation’s foundation (‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Sa‘ud, Sa‘ud ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, and Faysal ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz), ultimate power was wielded by the ruler and a group of senior princes, who weighed in on, or initiated, action. An informal structure, the ahl al-hal wa-l­‘aqd, composed of the senior princes of the different branches of the al-Sa‘ud family, sometimes met as a larger council, as they did during the crisis of 1964 (Lacey 1981, 354). This type of decision making still functions, but all areas of government have expanded, and the matter of succession was regulated and delegated to a new body, the Bay‘ah, or Allegiance, Council. Even with the rise of “royal technocrats”—junior princes serving in government and nonroyal professional advisers—Gerd Nonneman (2005, 337), a scholar of Saudi Arabia, believes that the senior royal princes exercise the strongest decision-making role in Saudi Arabia, including that of the king.

Since the creation of the Majlis al-Shura, the Consultative Council, the government may be characterized as a consultative monarchy. Shura (consultation) is an Islamic requirement of government; it is also an Arab and bedouin tradition. Through consultation, the ruler better serves the ruled. Many key governmental positions are held by members of the royal family, and a primary root of political and governmental actions is to ensure the continuing primacy of the royal family.

-79-

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Saudi Arabia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • About the Author xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Chapter 1 - Geography 1
  • Chapter 2 - History 17
  • Chapter 3 - Government and Politics 79
  • Chapter 4 - Economy 137
  • Chapter 5 - Society 175
  • Chapter 6 - Culture 245
  • Chapter 7 - Contemporary Issues 355
  • Glossary 385
  • Facts and Figures 399
  • Major Saudi Arabian Holidays 415
  • Country-Related Organizations 419
  • Annotated Bibliography 445
  • Thematic Index 495
  • Index 519
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