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Saudi Arabia - GOVERNMENT

Saudi Arabia - Government

Saudi Arabia

ABD AL AZIZ IBN ABD AR RAHMAN AL SAUD, who had begun conquering territory in the Arabian Peninsula in 1902, proclaimed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. It was then, and remained sixty years later, the only nation to have been named after its ruling family. Fahd ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud, who in 1992 had been ruling for ten years, was the fourth son of Abd al Aziz to become king since his father's death in 1953. Although the Al Saud kings ruled as absolute monarchs, their power was tempered by Islamic law (sharia) and by the custom of reaching consensus on political issues among the scores of direct adult male descendants of Abd al Aziz.

Islam was a pervasive social and political force in Saudi Arabia. Because there was no separation of religion and state, the political role of religious scholars, or ulama, was second in importance to that of the ruling Al Saud family. The close association between the ulama, advocating the strict Islamic interpretations of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, and the Al Saud originated in the eighteenth century and provided the dynasty with its primary source of legitimacy. The ulama acted as a conservative force in maintaining the traditional social and political values that characterized Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s.

Although Saudi Arabia was established as a country based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, the discovery of vast petroleum deposits led to significant changes in the role of religion. Since the 1950s, when oil revenues became abundant, Saudi rulers have sought to reap the economic benefits derived from oil resources while trying to minimize the political and social impact of change. Nevertheless, the transformation of Saudi Arabia from a relatively isolated, predominantly rural country into a wealthy, urbanized nation hosting tens of thousands of foreign workers inevitably produced tensions. From a political perspective, the most significant development was the emergence of a group of middle-class professionals. This important and highly educated group of Saudis generally resented the lack of opportunities for citizen participation in politics. Beginning in the 1960s, they tried to pressure the monarchy into creating an elective representative assembly. Saudi kings resisted demands for political liberalization by strengthening regime ties with the ulama, who tended to distrust the notion of popular government because of the implicit assumption that manmade legislation could be equal to sacred law.

Islam also was a significant factor in Saudi Arabia's foreign relations. The very close relationship that developed between the kingdom and the non-Muslim United States after 1945, for example, was partly a result of Saudi antipathy to the former Soviet Union's espousal of atheism. Beginning in the late 1950s, Riyadh and Washington shared similar misgivings about the ties that secular, republican regimes in the region established with Moscow. During the 1980s, the Saudis tried to counteract Soviet influence by providing military aid to Islamic groups that opposed secular governments in such countries as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). In addition, the kingdom gave generous economic assistance to the predominantly Muslim states of Africa and Asia in the expectation that recipient countries would support its overall policy goals. Despite this largess, however, Jordan, Sudan, and the Republic of Yemen (a merger of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and the Yemen Arab Republic, North Yemen), three of the countries most dependent on Saudi foreign aid, failed to back the kingdom during its 1990-91 conflict with Iraq after the latter invaded Kuwait.

Saudi efforts to use Islam as a vehicle for rallying diplomatic support met with indifferent results because other Muslim countries generally did not base their foreign policies on religion. A notable exception was Iran, the kingdom's neighbor on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf. The shared Islamic heritage was not, however, a basis for Saudi-Iranian cooperation. On the contrary, the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution had brought to power Muslim clergy who espoused a version of Islam that Saudi ulama considered heretical. Moreover, Iranian officials throughout the 1980s denounced the Al Saud as corrupt and the institution of monarchy as un-Islamic. Consequently, the government of Saudi Arabia perceived Iran as a major threat to both domestic tranquility and regional security. Although Saudi Arabia remained officially neutral during the protracted IranIraq War (1980-88), it supported the war aims of its former political rival, the secular government of Iraq, by providing Baghdad with loans and grants totaling several billion dollars.

Saudi financial assistance neither defeated Iran nor won Iraq's gratitude. In 1984 Iran initiated attacks on tankers carrying Saudi and Kuwaiti oil, justifying its actions on grounds that the monetary aid extended to Iraq had made both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait de facto Iraqi allies. As the war spread to the Persian Gulf, Riyadh began to perceive that the continuation of the conflict posed a major security threat. The government thus felt relieved in 1988 when both belligerents, weary of fighting, agreed to accept a United Nations-mediated cease-fire. However, the cessation of Iran-Iraq hostilities provided the Saudis only a brief respite from concerns about regional security. Iraq soon turned on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia's close ally and neighbor. After Kuwait had resisted Iraqi demands for more than a year, Baghdad retaliated in August 1990 by dispatching its army to occupy and annex the small, oil-rich state. King Fahd's government, shocked and frightened, called upon the United States for help. In an unprecedented development, thousands of United States troops, under authority of several United Nations resolutions, were deployed to the kingdom beginning in August 1990. The country's ulama tolerated their presence after receiving the king's assurances that the foreign military personnel, among whom were several thousand women, would have minimal contact with Saudi civilians and be required to obey Saudi laws such as the ban on consumption of alcohol.

By the beginning of 1991, it had become obvious that the massive United States military presence in Saudi Arabia would not persuade Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The Saudi government and its Arab allies consequently agreed to join the United States, which also had obtained support from its European allies, to force a withdrawal. Iraq's appeals for Arab and Islamic solidarity against the United States intervention failed to impress the Saudis, who noted that the sharing of similar religious traditions had not prevented Iraq from invading Kuwait nor threatening their country. During the forty-three-day Persian Gulf War, Iraqi missiles struck Riyadh and several other Saudi towns, and the Saudi armed forces participated with non-Muslims and non-Arabs in the fighting against Iraq. The war, which ended with Iraq's military defeat in February 1991, demonstrated to the Saudis the impracticality of trying to base foreign policy on their vision of Islam. Convinced that the kingdom's security interests required the long-term containment of Iraq and convinced that Iran had the same objective, Riyadh put aside its reservations about Iran's adherence to Shia Islam and began the process of normalizing relations with Tehran


Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was an absolute monarchy in 1992. The king was not constrained by a written constitution, a legislative assembly, or elections. Since 1962, Saudi kings periodically promised to establish a majlis ash shura, or consultative council, to advise them on governmental matters, but none of them undertook practical steps to establish such a body. In March 1992, King Fahd once again announced that a majlis ash shura would be appointed and specified its responsibilities. Fahd proposed a majlis of sixty-one members, all appointed by the king. The majlis would have limited authority to question ministers and propose legislation. The majlis would not have actual legislative powers but rather would serve as an advisory body that could make recommendations to the king.

As of the end of 1992, King Fahd had named only a single individual to the majlis ash shura that he had proposed ten months earlier. In appointing the speaker, the king made no promises as to when Saudi citizens could expect the convening of the full majlis. The International Committee for Human Rights in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula issued a public statement advising Saudis that the government had promised consistently for thirty years to establish a consultative council but never had fulfilled these promises.

Saudis considered the Quran, the holy book of Islam, their country's constitution. The Quran is the primary source of the sharia. Because the sharia does not specifically address the conduct of most governmental matters, Saudi rulers, beginning with Abd al Aziz, have promulgated numerous regulations pertaining to the functions of government. In early 1992, King Fahd became the first Saudi monarch to compile these regulations into a single document called the main code (nizam). Promulgated as a royal decree, this document codified bureaucratic procedures and prohibited government agencies from arbitrarily arresting citizens or violating their privacy. Although the main code was not a formal constitution, it fulfilled some of the same purposes of such a document. However, the main code lacked any explicit clause guaranteeing the basic rights of citizens to freedom of belief, expression, assembly, or political participation.

<> The King
<> The Royal Diwan
<> The Council of Ministers
<> The Civil Service and Independent Agencies
<> The Legal System
<> Local Government

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The King

Saudi Arabia

As one of world's last absolute monarchs, the Saudi Arabian king exercised very broad powers. He was both head of state and head of government. Ultimate authority in virtually every aspect of government rested with the king. All legislation was enacted either by royal decree or by ministerial decree, which had to be sanctioned by the king. In his capacity as prime minister, the king appointed all cabinet ministers, other senior government officials, and the governors of the provinces. In his capacity as commander in chief of the armed forces, the king appointed all military officers above the rank of lieutenant colonel. He also appointed all Saudi Arabia's ambassadors and other foreign envoys. All foreign diplomats in the country were accredited to the king. In addition, the king acted as the final court of appeal and had the power of pardon.

The legitimacy of the king's rule was based on the twin pillars of religion and the dynastic history of the Al Saud. The family's most important early ancestor, Muhammad ibn Saud (1710- 65), had been a relatively minor local ruler in Najd before establishing a political and family alliance with the puritanical Muslim preacher and reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703-87) in 1744. Muhammad ibn Saud and his descendants--the Al Saud-- ardently supported the preacher and his descendants--the Al ash Shaykh--and were determined to introduce a purified Islam, which opponents called Wahhabism, throughout Arabia. Religious fervor facilitated the conquest of Najd and at the height of their power in the early nineteenth century, the Al Saud had extended their control over most of the Arabian Peninsula. Subsequent conflict with the Ottoman Empire and dynastic rivalries both diminished and enhanced the political fortunes of the Al Saud throughout the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the Saudi alliance with the Al ash Shaykh endured.

The founder of the modern state of Saudi Arabia, Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud (1876-1953), was a grandson of the last effective nineteenth-century Saudi ruler, Faisal ibn Turki (1810- 66). Abd al Aziz restored the family from virtual political extinction by reintroducing the crusading zeal of Wahhabi Islam. By 1924, when the Ikhwan, a select force of beduin religious fighters created by Abd al Aziz, conquered the Hijaz, almost all the territory of the present-day Saudi state was under Abd al Aziz's authority. In 1932 he proclaimed this territory the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and himself its king.

Abd al Aziz ruled until his death in 1953. Although he had named his eldest son, Saud ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud (1902-69), crown prince, he had not instituted an mechanism for orderly succession. Because Abd al Aziz was survived by more than thirty sons, the lack of a process for passing on the mantle of kingship constituted a source of potential political instability for the country. Problems emerged soon after King Saud began his reign. Like his father, Saud had more than thirty sons, and he was ambitious to place them in positions of power and influence. The new king's numerous brothers, who believed their nephews were too young and inexperienced to head ministries and major government departments, deeply resented their exclusion from power. The political and personal tensions among the Al Saud, combined with the extravagance and poor judgment of Saud, climaxed in a 1964 family coup. A number of brothers joined together to depose Saud and install as king the next eldest brother, Faisal ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud (1904-75). The transfer of power was endorsed by Saudi Arabia's ulama, or religious authorities.

King Faisal strengthened the powers of the monarchy during his eleven-year reign. Although he had acted as prime minister during most of Saud's rule, he issued a royal decree stipulating that the king would serve both as head of state and as head of government. Faisal also increased central control over the provinces by making local officials responsible to the king, creating a Ministry of Justice to regulate the autonomous religious courts, and establishing a national development plan to coordinate construction projects and social services throughout the country. Faisal's concern for orderly government and durable institutions extended to the monarchy. In 1965 he persuaded his brothers to observe the principle of birth order among themselves to regulate the succession, although the next eldest brother, Muhammad (born 1910), voluntarily stepped down in favor of Khalid (1912-82).

Faisal's rule ended abruptly in 1975 when he was assassinated by one of his nephews. A meeting of senior Al Saud princes, the sons and surviving brothers of Abd al Aziz, acclaimed Crown Prince Khalid the new king. Because some of Khalid's brothers, who would have been next in line of succession according to age, renounced their right to the throne, the king and the princes designated a younger brother, Fahd (born 1921), crown prince. Fahd ascended to the throne in 1982 after Khalid suffered a fatal heart attack. In consultation with his brothers, Fahd named Abd Allah (born 1923) crown prince and Sultan (born 1927) third in line of succession. The relatively smooth transitions following the deaths of Faisal and Khalid thus seemed to have resolved the issue of succession among the sons of Abd al Aziz. In 1992, however, Fahd altered the procedure for designating future kings. In the same royal decree that announced the impending appointment of a majlis, Fahd declared that the king would henceforth name and could remove the crown prince. Furthermore, the crown prince would not automatically succeed on the death of the king, but serve as provisional ruler until he, or a descendant of Abd al Aziz deemed more suitable, was enthroned.

Fahd's decree on succession established two precedents: a royal prerogative to choose and to withdraw approval for the crown prince; and an acknowledgement that the more than sixty grandsons of Abd al Aziz were legitimate claimants to the throne. Previously, Saudi kings had not asserted the right to dismiss a designated crown prince. By proclaiming such a right, Fahd revived persistent rumors originating in the 1970s that he and his half brother Abd Allah disagreed on many political issues. To forestall speculation that his intent was to remove Abd Allah as crown prince and replace him with his full brother Sultan, Fahd reaffirmed Abd Allah's position. However, in declaring that successor kings would be chosen from the most suitable of Abd al Aziz's sons and grandsons, Fahd implied that Abd Allah or any future crown prince was not necessarily the presumed heir to the throne. The decision to include the grandsons in the selection process and as potential candidates for the throne symbolized the readiness of Fahd and his surviving brothers to pass substantive decision-making responsibilities to a younger generation of the Al Saud. However, this decision also introduced more uncertainty into the succession process. At least a dozen men of this Al Saud younger generation, including sons of Faisal, Fahd, Abd Allah, and Sultan, were actively involved in the Saudi government and presumably had a personal interest in the question of succession.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Royal Diwan

Saudi Arabia

The primary executive office of the king is the Royal Diwan. The king's principal advisers for domestic politics, religious affairs, and international relations have offices in the Royal Diwan. The king's private office also is in the Royal Diwan. The king conducts most routine government affairs from this office, including the drafting of regulations and royal decrees. In addition, the heads of several government departments have their offices in the diwan. These include the chief of protocol, the Office of Beduin Affairs; the Department of Religious Research, Missionary Activities, and Guidance; and, as well, the mutawwiin or Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (popularly known as the Committees for Public Morality). The Department of Religious Research, Missionary Activities, and Guidance is headed by the most senior of the country's ulama. In 1992 this person was the blind religious scholar Shaykh Abd al Aziz ibn Baz, who spent much of his time in Medina, where he was in charge of the Prophet's Mosque.

The king also held his regular majlis, or court, in the Royal Diwan. The purpose of the majlis was to provide Saudi citizens an opportunity to make personal appeals to the king for redress of grievances or assistance in private matters. Plaintiffs typically sought the king's intervention with the state's bureaucracy. During the reigns of King Khalid and King Fahd, it was customary for each person attending the majlis to explain his complaints and simultaneously present a written petition, which the monarch would later study and answer in a subsequent session.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Council of Ministers

Saudi Arabia

The Council of Ministers, created in 1953 by King Abd al Aziz shortly before his death, was the principal executive organ of the government. The Council of Ministers had authority to issue ministerial decrees, but it had no power separate from the king, who approved all its decisions. The office of prime minister had been abolished by royal decree in 1964, but the king, in his capacity as president of the Council of Ministers, served as the de facto prime minister. The crown prince was designated the first deputy prime minister, and the next prince in the line of succession was the second deputy prime minister. In 1992 the Council of Ministers consisted of the king, the crown prince, three royal advisers who held official positions as ministers of state without portfolio, five other ministers of state, and the heads of the twenty ministries, including Minister of Defense and Aviation Amir Sultan, who also served as second deputy prime minister. The ministries included agriculture and water; commerce; communications; defense and aviation; education; finance and national economy; foreign affairs; health; higher education; industry and electricity; information; interior; justice; labor and social affairs; municipal and rural affairs; petroleum and mineral resources; pilgrimage affairs and religious trusts; planning; post, telephone, and telegraph; and public works and housing. In addition to these ministries, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which was headed by Crown Prince Abd Allah, was similar in status to a ministry. The governors of Medina, Mecca, Riyadh, and the Eastern Province, as well as the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) and the head of the General Petroleum and Mineral Organization (Petromin) also held ministerial rank.

The Ministry of Interior, which was responsible for domestic security, was second in overall political influence to the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. Since 1975 Amir Nayif ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud (born 1933), who was a full brother of King Fahd, has been minister of interior. In 1992 Nayif ranked as the fourth most powerful person in the country after Fahd, Abd Allah, and Sultan. Nayif supervised the expansion of the ministry into an organization that exercised considerable influence over the daily lives of Saudi citizens.

As crown prince under King Khalid and as king in his own right since 1982, Fahd brought into the government many talented men from families other than the ruling Al Saud. In 1992 about 75 percent of the Council of Ministers were of commoner backgrounds. Nevertheless, the key ministries of defense, foreign affairs, interior, and public works continued to be headed by Saudi princes. In addition, several of the king's younger brothers and nephews were deputy ministers in these same ministries, in effect acquiring on-the-job training to help ensure Al Saud control for another generation.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Civil Service and Independent Agencies

Saudi Arabia

The nine-member Civil Service Board, responsible to the Council of Ministers, exercised formal authority over the employees of all ministries, government organizations, and autonomous agencies. It presided over the Civil Service Bureau, which implemented the decisions and directives of the Civil Service Board that pertained to grade classification, pay rates, recruitment and personnel needs, and personnel evaluation. Beginning in the early 1970s, the number of civil service employees in Saudi Arabia increased dramatically as the government expanded its social services. By 1992 an estimated 400,000 persons were government employees, including about 100,000 foreign nationals.

During the 1970s, the number of autonomous agencies also expanded. Although most of these agencies were under the administrative auspices of a particular ministry, each agency had its own budget and operated with considerable independence. Several agencies, including the General Audit Bureau, the Grievances Board, the Investigation and Control Board, and the Organization for Public Services and Discipline, were not attached to any particular ministry. The latter three agencies were responsible, respectively, for hearing complaints of misconduct by civil service employees, investigating complaints against government officials, and dispensing disciplinary action against civil servants judged guilty of malfeasance in office.

Civil servants were classified either as government officials (professionals who comprised three-quarters of total government employees in 1992) and lower-paid employees. All civil servants were ranked according to grade, and advancement depended on merit and seniority. Training was provided within each ministry and at the Institute of Public Administration, an autonomous government agency with its main training center in Riyadh, and at branches in Jiddah and Ad Dammam.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Legal System

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabian legal system in 1992 was based on the sharia, or Islamic law. The sharia was applied throughout the kingdom in strict accordance with the interpretation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. Because pious Muslims believed that the sharia was sacred law, they accepted as judges, or qadis, only men who had spent a number of years studying the accepted sources of the sharia: the Quran and the authenticated traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad's rulings and practices. Historically, the decisions of qadis were subject to review by the ruler, whose primary role was to ensure that the Islamic community lived in conformity with the sharia. In effect, the judiciary was not an independent institution but an extension of the political authority. This traditional relationship between qadis and the king still prevailed in Saudi Arabia.

The Ministry of Justice, established by King Faisal in 1970, was responsible for administering the country's more than 300 sharia courts. The minister of justice, appointed by the king from among the country's most senior ulama, was the de facto chief justice. He was assisted by the Supreme Judicial Council, a body of eleven members chosen from the leading ulama. The Supreme Judicial Council supervised the work of the courts, reviewed all legal decisions referred to it by the minister of justice, expressed legal opinions on judicial questions, and approved all sentences of death, amputation (of fingers and hands as punishment for theft), and stoning (for adultery). Since 1983, the minister of justice has also served as chief of the Supreme Judicial Council, a position that further enhanced his status as chief justice.

Sharia courts included courts of first instance and appeals courts. Minor civil and criminal cases were adjudicated in the summary courts of first instance. One kind of summary court dealt exclusively with beduin affairs. A single qadi presided over all summary court hearings. The general courts of first instance handled all cases beyond the jurisdiction of the summary courts. One judge usually presided over cases in the general courts, but three qadis sat in judgment for serious crimes such as murder, major theft, or sexual misconduct.

Decisions of the summary and general courts could be appealed to the sharia appeals court. The appeals court, or court of cassation, had three departments: penal suits, personal status suits, and all other types of suits. The appeals had two seats, one in Riyadh and one in Mecca. The chief justice and a panel of several qadis presided over all cases. The king was at the pinnacle of the judicial system, functioning as a final court of appeal and as a source of pardon.

Saudi Arabia's judicial code stipulated that specialized courts may be established by royal decree to deal with infractions of government regulations not covered by the sharia. Since the reign of Abd al Aziz, kings have created various secular tribunals outside of the sharia court system to deal with violations of administrative rules. The Grievances Board, for example, operated under the authority of the Bureau of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. It reviewed complaints of improper behavior brought against both government officials and qadis. The Ministry of Interior was in charge of the special police who enforced motor vehicle regulations. The Ministry of Commerce supervised arbitration and appeals boards established to settle commercial disputes, especially those involving foreign businesses. Decrees pertaining to labor were enforced by special committees within the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Local Government

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia consisted of fourteen provinces, or amirates, each governed by an amir (governor) appointed by the king. In 1992 these amirates included Al Banah, Al Hudud ash Shamaliyah, Al Jawf, Al Madinah, Al Qasim, Al Qurayyat, Ar Riyadh, Ash Sharqiyah, Asir, Hail, Jizan, Makkah, Najran, and Tabuk. The larger, more populous amirates were subdivided into districts and subdistricts.

In theory, the governors were responsible to the minister of interior. In practice, however, the governors usually reported directly to the king. In 1992 all amirate governors and most of their deputies were members of the Al Saud. King Fahd's brothers, sons, and nephews ruled the most politically important amirates; other kin ruled the smaller amirates. The governors maintained administrative offices in the principal cities of their respective amirates, although none of these cities was designated a capital. The governors' principal responsibility was to oversee the work of both central government and municipal officials within the amirates. The governors also served as commanders of the local police and Saudi Arabian National Guard units and supervised the recruitment of local men for these security forces. In addition, each governor followed the example of the king and held a public majlis, often on a daily basis, at which he heard petitions from local residents. Typically, the petitions pertained to local disputes, which the governor either arbitrated or referred to an appropriate court. Some governors considered the majlis an important link between the people and government and employed several special assistants who investigated local disputes and grievances.

The governors were assisted by one, or sometimes two, deputies and, in some amirates, by one or more deputy assistant governors. In amirates that were subdivided into districts, the district officials were subordinate to the amirate governors. The mayors of each city, town, and village within an amirate were formally responsible to the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, although in practice they also were subordinate to the governor. Since the 1960s, the Al Saud princes have discussed the merits of creating amirate councils, elected or appointed bodies of local men to advise and assist the governors. In early 1992, King Fahd announced that he would appoint councils in each amirate; these councils would assume limited local authority over some central government functions.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - POLITICS

Saudi Arabia

Although the Saudi king in 1992 was an absolute monarch in the sense that there were no formal, institutionalized checks on his authority, in practice his ability to rule effectively depended on his astuteness in creating and maintaining consensus within his very large, extended family. The king was the patriarch of the Al Saud, which, including all its collateral branches, numbered about 20,000 people. These persons traced their patrilineal descent to Muhammad ibn Saud, the eighteenth- century founder of the dynasty. The most important branch of the Al Saud family was known as Al Faisal. The Al Faisal branch consisted of the patrilineal descendants of Abd al Aziz's grandfather, Faisal ibn Turki. Only males of the Al Faisal branch of the family, estimated at more than 4,000 in 1992, were considered royalty and were accorded the title of amir (prince).

Even within the Al Faisal branch of the Al Saud family, the princes did not enjoy the same degree of influence. The several lineages within the Al Faisal branch derived from the numerous sons and grandsons of Faisal ibn Turki. His most important grandson, Abd al Aziz, married several women, each of whom bore the king one or more sons. The sons of Abd al Aziz by the same mother (full brothers) inevitably felt more affinity for one another than for their half brothers, and thus political influence within this patrilineal family actually tended to be wielded on the basis of matrilineal descent. Since Fahd's ascent to the throne in 1982, the most influential clan of the Al Faisal branch of the Al Saud family has been the Al Sudairi, known by the patronymic of Fahd's mother. Fahd had seven full brothers, including Minister of Defense Sultan, who was second in the line of succession, Minister of Interior Nayif, and Governor of Riyadh Salman. Sultan and Salman were considered to be Fahd's closest political advisers. In 1983 Fahd appointed one of Sultan's sons, Bandar, to be the Saudi ambassador to the United States. Another of Sultan's sons, Khalid, was the de facto commander of Saudi armed forces during the Persian Gulf War. At least once a week, the king and his full brothers met for a family dinner at which they shared perspectives about national and international politics. In addition to his full brothers, seven of Fahd's half brothers were sons of other Al Sudairi women whom his father had married. As the sons of Fahd and his brothers matured and assumed government responsibilities during the 1980s, some Saudis began to refer to the clan as Al Fahd instead of Al Sudairi.

The Al Thunayyan clan was closely allied to the Al Sudairi. King Faisal's favorite wife had been from the Al Thunayyan, a collateral branch of the Al Saud family that had intermarried with the Al ash Shaykh ulama family. During the Al Saud crisis that culminated in the 1964 deposition of King Saud, the Al Sudairi consistently supported Faisal. Because Faisal had no full brothers, he tended to favor those of his half brothers who had backed him during the prolonged political struggle with Saud. For example, Fahd, Sultan, and Nayif all received important ministerial positions from Faisal when he was crown prince (1953- 64) and for much of that period Saud's prime minister. Following Faisal's assassination in 1975, Fahd, the eldest of the Al Sudairi brothers, was named second in the line of succession. Before becoming king in 1982, Fahd served as King Khalid's de facto prime minister and used his influence to obtain ministerial-level appointments for Faisal's sons. One son, Saud ibn Faisal, was named minister of foreign affairs in 1975.

The Al Jiluwi was a third influential clan of the Al Saud family. The Al Jiluwi were descended from a brother of Faisal ibn Turki, the grandfather of Abd al Aziz. The mother of the late King Khalid and his only full brother, Muhammad (born 1910), had been an Al Jiluwi. In the early 1960s, Khalid and Muhammad had shared the critical views of their half brothers Faisal and Fahd with respect to Saud's style of rule, and they were among the select group of princes and ulama who joined to depose Saud in 1964. The following year Muhammad, who was older than Khalid and thus next in line of succession, renounced his right to the throne in favor of his brother. After Faisal's assassination, Muhammad was instrumental in persuading two younger brothers, whose birth order preceded that of Fahd, to defer and accept Fahd as crown prince. After Khalid's death in 1982, Muhammad remained one of the senior Saudi princes whom Fahd routinely consulted before making major political decisions. The sons of Khalid and Muhammad, however, have not demonstrated much interest in or aptitude for politics, and none of them held an important government position in 1992.

Unlike the Al Sudairi, Al Thunayyan, and Al Jiluwi, the fourth influential Al Saud clan, the Al Kabir, was not patrilineally descended from Abd al Aziz but from his first cousin, Saud al Kabir. Thus, the Al Kabir princes were not in the line of succession. Their influence actually derived from their matrilineal descent: they were the sons and grandsons of Saud al Kabir's wife Nura, the favorite sister of Abd al Aziz. The patriarch of the Al Kabir clan, Muhammad ibn Saud (born 1909, not to be confused with Muhammad ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud), was considered one of the senior Al Saud princes and was widely respected for his intimate knowledge of tribal genealogies and oral histories. Muhammad ibn Saud's eleven adult sons were active in business and politics.

In addition to the clans, the Al Saud had numerous political factions. The factions tended to be centered on a brother or coalition of brothers. For example, Fahd and his six full brothers have been known as the "Sudairi Seven" since the late 1970s. When Fahd became king in 1982, the Sudairi Seven emerged as the most powerful of the family factions. Five of Fahd's brothers held important government positions in 1992. Outside the royal family, the Sudairi Seven were regarded as the faction most favorably inclined toward economic development, political and social liberalization, and a close relationship with the United States.

In 1992 the second most important family faction centered on Crown Prince Abd Allah, who headed the national guard. Abd Allah had no full brothers, but he cultivated close relationships with half brothers and nephews who also lacked family allies because they either had no full brothers or were isolated for some other reason. For example, in 1984 Abd Allah had appointed one of the sons of deposed King Saud as commander of the national guard in the Eastern Province. Prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Abd Allah faction had a reputation as traditionalists who opposed many of the domestic and foreign polices favored by the Al Sudairi. In particular, the Abd Allah faction criticized the kingdom's military dependence on the United States. The Abd Allah faction also was a proponent of closer relations with Iran and Syria. During the Persian Gulf War, however, Abd Allah supported the decision to permit stationing of United States troops in the country. Since then, foreign policy has receded as a divisive issue within the House of Saud.

The more than sixty grandsons of Abd al Aziz constituted a third discernible faction within the Al Saud. Among this generation, the sons of King Faisal and King Fahd have assumed the most important positions. The principal characteristic of the junior princes was their high level of education, often including graduate studies in the United States or Europe. In fact, during the 1980s, education, rather than seniority based on age, appeared to be the major source of influence for members of this generation. Fahd appointed many of them to responsible posts as ambassadors, provincial governors, and deputy ministers. Nevertheless, in terms of family politics, it was not clear whether the junior princes constituted a unified group, and if so, whether they were more favorably inclined toward the Al Sudairi faction or the Abd Allah faction.

King Fahd usually consulted with several dozen senior princes of the four principal Al Saud clans before making major decisions. These influential princes, together with a score of leading ulama, comprised a group known as the ahl al hall wa al aqd (literally, "those who loose and bind"). The ahl al hall wa al aqd numbered 100 to 150 men, but it was not a formal institution. The most important function of the group seemed to be to provide a broad elite consensus for government policy initiatives. Nevertheless, few analysts understood the precise nature of the relationship between the monarchy and the ahl al hall wa al aqd. In the past, the group had deposed one king (Saud in 1964) and had provided the public acclamation necessary to ensure the smooth accession to the throne of Faisal, Khalid, and Fahd.

<> The Ulama
<>Beduin Tribes and Merchant Families

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - The Ulama

Saudi Arabia

The ulama, or Islamic religious leaders, served a unique role by providing religious legitimacy for Saudi rule. Except for Iran, where the ulama participated directly in government, Saudi Arabia was the only Muslim country in which the ulama constituted such an influential political force. The kingdom's ulama included religious scholars, qadis (judges), lawyers, seminary teachers, and the prayer leaders (imams) of the mosques. As a group, the ulama and their families included an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 persons. However, only the thirty to forty most senior scholars among them exercised substantive political influence. These prominent clergy constituted the members of the Council of Senior Ulama, an official body created by Faisal in 1971 to serve as a forum for regular consultation between the monarch and the religious establishment. Fahd continued the precedent set by Faisal and Khalid of meeting weekly with Council of Senior Ulama members who resided in Riyadh.

The Council of Senior Ulama had a symbiotic relationship with the Saudi government. In return for official recognition of their special religious authority, the leading ulama provided tacit approval and, when requested, public sanction for potentially controversial policies. Because Saudi kings esteemed their Islamic credentials as custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, they considered ulama support critical. For example, in 1979 members of the Council of Senior Ulama signed the religious edict (fatwa) that sanctioned the use of force to subdue armed dissidents who had occupied the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest shrine. In 1990 the decision to invite thousands of United States military personnel to set up bases in the northeastern part of the country alarmed some devout Muslims who believed that the presence of so many non-Muslims on Saudi soil violated the sanctity of the holy land. Fahd defused such concerns by obtaining ulama approval for the United States military presence.

Historically, the royal family maintained close ties with the ulama, especially with members of the Al ash Shaykh. The Al ash Shaykh included the several hundred direct male descendants of the eighteenth-century religious reformer Abd al Wahhab. The Al Saud dynastic founder, Muhammad ibn Saud, had married a daughter of Abd al Wahhab, and subsequent intermarriage between the two families reinforced their political alliance. The mother of King Faisal, for example, was the daughter of an Al ash Shaykh qadi who was a direct descendant of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab. The preeminence of the Al ash Shaykh thus derived not only from its reputation for religious erudition but also from its position as part of the country's ruling elite. In 1992 most of the Al ash Shaykh men were not members of the clergy but held key positions in government, education, the security services, the armed forces, and private business. Nevertheless, the Al ash Shaykh ulama dominated the kingdom's influential clerical institutions such as the Council of Senior Ulama, the Higher Council of Qadis, and the Administration of Scientific Study, Legal Opinions, Islamic Propagation, and Guidance. In addition, the most senior religious office, the grand mufti (chief judge), was traditionally filled by a member of Al ash Shaykh.

Not all of the kingdom's ulama belonged to the Al ash Shaykh. Ulama from less prominent families tended to criticize, usually privately, the senior clergy, especially after 1975. The increase in numbers of students in seminaries led to a larger number of clergy willing to challenge the senior ulama's role and to criticize their support of government policies. In December 1992, a group of ulama associated with the conservative Salafi religious trend signed a public letter criticizing King Fahd personally for failing to understand that the clergy had a religious duty to advise all believers--including the royal family--of their obligation to abide by God's principles. This unprecedented action caused a major stir in Saudi Arabia. The king rebuked the ulama establishment and dismissed several senior clergy from their official positions.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - Politics - Beduin Tribes and Merchant Families

Saudi Arabia

The hereditary leaders of important beduin tribes and several merchant families have wielded political influence in the kingdom since its establishment. The principal tribes were the Anayzah, Bani Khalid, Harb, Al Murrah, Mutayr, Qahtan, Shammar, and Utaiba. In addition, there were at least fifteen minor tribes, including the predominantly urban Quraysh, the ancient Hijaz tribe to which the Prophet Muhammad belonged. The national guard, which has been headed by Crown Prince Abd Allah since 1963, recruited its personnel mostly from among the beduin tribes and its units were organized by tribal affiliation. Abd Allah's family ties to the tribes were also strong because his mother was the daughter of a shaykh of the Shammar, a Najdi tribe with clans in Iraq and Syria. Although the king and senior Al Saud princes did not usually consult with the tribal shaykhs before making decisions affecting national policy, the royal family routinely sought their advice on provincial matters. Consequently, tribal leaders still exercised significant influence in local politics.

The traditional merchant families, whose wealth rivaled that of the Al Saud, included the Alireza, Ba Khashab, Bin Ladin, Al Qusaibi, Jamjum, Juffali, Kaki, Nasif, Olayan, Al Rajhi, and Sulayman. During the long reign of Abd al Aziz, the royal family depended on these commercial families for financial support. After oil revenues became a steady source of government income, the relationship between the Al Saud and the merchant families began to change. Significantly, the monarchy no longer needed monetary favors from the merchants. Nevertheless, the families that had complied with Abd al Aziz's repeated requests for loans were rewarded with preferential development contracts. In addition, the post-1973 development boom led to the emergence of new entrepreneurial families such as Kamil, Khashoggi, Ojjeh, and Pharaon. The sons of Abd al Aziz continued to consult regularly with business leaders and appointed members of their families to government positions, including the Council of Ministers and the diplomatic corps.

The social changes resulting from government-sponsored development projects helped to create a new class of Saudi professionals and technocrats. These men comprised an urbanbased , Western-educated elite that emerged from both the traditional merchant class and low-status families. The technocrats have had responsibility for implementing the country's economic development programs. Since the mid-1970s, a majority of the cabinet appointees to the Council of Ministers have been members of this group. Saudi kings recruited technocrats to high government positions on the basis of their demonstrated competency and loyalty to Al Saud dynastic rule. However, involvement with the extensive Al Saud carried political risks because implementation of economic policies inevitably interfered with the privileges or business interests of one or more princes. For example, Fahd summarily dismissed three of the country's most respected technocrats, former Minister of Health Ghazi al Qusaibi, former Minister of Oil Ahmad Zaki Yamani, and former Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency head Abd al Aziz Qurayshi after their advocacy of specific policies had alienated several Saudi princes.

Other than the Council of Ministers, the new class of technocrats had no institutional base from which to express its views. Even within the Council of Ministers, the influence of this new class was circumscribed; they provided advice when the king solicited it, but ultimate decision-making authority remained within the royal family. Because political parties and similar associations were not permitted, there were no legal means by which like-minded persons might organize. Nevertheless, evidence suggested that the Saudi professionals and technocrats were dissatisfied both with their exclusion from the political process and their expected conformity to rigid standards of social behavior. Periodically, individuals of this class petitioned the king, asking him to permit broader political participation. On the most recent occasion, at the end of 1990, several technocrats signed a petition asking for the creation of an elected majlis, a judiciary independent of the ulama, and a review of the restrictive codes that applied to women. One of the boldest public protests was staged by more than forty educated women who drove their cars through the streets of Riyadh in the fall of 1990 in violation of an unofficial but strictly enforced ban on women driving automobiles.

The ulama, tribal leaders, wealthy merchants, and technocrats constituted the four major groups that enjoyed varying degrees of access to political influence. The major group excluded was the Shia minority concentrated in and near the towns of Al Hufuf and Al Qatif in the Eastern Province. Most of Saudi Arabia's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Shia believed that the government, and especially the Sunni ulama, discriminated against them. Shia resentment exploded in a series of violent demonstrations in 1979 and 1980; at least twenty people were killed in these incidents. Since 1980 the government has tried to reconcile the disaffected population through development projects in Shia communities. However, in 1992 the Shia minority still had no means of participating in the political process, and most held low-status jobs. Saudi Shia, in fact, comprised virtually the only indigenous members of the country's working class. Foreign laborers, who had obtained temporary permits to reside in the kingdom, performed almost all manual labor.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia - MEDIA

Saudi Arabia

In 1992 a total of ten daily newspapers, all privately owned, were published in Saudi Arabia. Seven were printed in Arabic and three in English. The most widely read Arabic dailies were Ar Riyadh (circulation estimated at 140,000), published in Riyadh, and Al Jazirah (circulation 90,000), published in Jiddah. Smaller-circulation papers were published in both cities. The cities of Ad Dammam, Mecca, and Medina also had daily newspapers. All three English-language dailies were published in Jiddah. The largest of these was Arab News with an estimated circulation of 110,000. The smaller Saudi Gazette (circulation 17,400) and Saudi News (circulation 5,000) were specialized publications that emphasized economic news and press releases from the state-owned Saudi Press Agency. In addition to the daily papers, there were fourteen weekly magazines, of which eight were published in Arabic and six in English, and twelve periodicals.

Although there was no prepublication censorship of Saudi newspapers, editors understood that articles expressing opposition to the government or its policies were unacceptable, and they thus exercised self-censorship. The Ministry of Information effectively supervised all periodicals through the Press Law of 1964. This law required the formation of a fifteenmember committee to assume financial and editorial responsibility for each privately owned newspaper. The members of these committees had to be approved by the Ministry of Information. In contrast to the local press, the foreign press was heavily censored before being permitted into the kingdom. The objective of the censors was not only to remove politically sensitive materials but also to excise advertisements deemed offensive to public morality.

Since 1990 several editors, reporters, and photojournalists have been suspended, dismissed, fired outright, or detained by Saudi security authorities for violating the unwritten press censorship code. In February 1992, the respected editor in chief of the English-language daily, Arab News, Khaled al Maeena, was fired for reproducing an Associated Press wire service report that featured an interview with the Egyptian cleric Shaykh Umar Abd ar Rahman, then residing in exile in New Jersey. In December 1992, the editor in chief of the Arabiclanguage daily An Nadwah also was fired summarily after his paper featured an article about Islamic groups in the kingdom.

As of 1991, the most recent year for which statistics were available, there were an estimated 4.5 million television sets in Saudi Arabia and an estimated 5 million radio receivers. One hundred twelve television stations throughout the country broadcast both Arabic and English programs. There were fortythree AM radio stations and twenty-three FM stations. The Saudi Arabian Broadcasting Service transmitted programs overseas in Arabic, Farsi, French, Indonesian, Somali, Swahili, and Urdu.

Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia

Since at least the late 1950s, three consistent themes have dominated Saudi foreign policy: regional security, Arab nationalism, and Islam. These themes inevitably became closely intertwined during the formulation of actual policies. For example, the preoccupation with regional security issues, including concern for both regime stability and the safety of petroleum exports, resulted in the kingdom's establishing a close strategic alliance with the United States. Yet this relationship, which remained strong in 1992, often had complicated Saudi efforts to maintain solidarity with other Arab countries, primarily because many Arabs, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, believed United States support for Israel was detrimental to their national interests. The close ties with the non-Muslim United States also contrasted with the strained relations that existed between Saudi Arabia and certain predominantly Muslim countries that challenged the kingdom's efforts to portray itself as the principal champion of Islamic causes.

<> Regional Security
<> Relations with the United States
<> Arab Nationalism
<> Islam

Saudi Arabia

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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