Saudi Arabia has a monarchial system of government with the king as head of state, leader of the national government and commander-in-chief of the nation's military. Islamic law is the Saudi Arabia's primary legal authority.
The House of Saud
Saudi Arabia is ruled by a hereditary monarchy, so there are no popular elections. The modern House of Saud was established in 1932 by Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud. Abd al-Aziz was a direct descendent of Muhammed ibn Saud, the last ruler of the family that controlled most of the Arabian peninsula for more than 300 years. Islam allows men to have multiple wives, and King Abd al-Aziz had at least 22. He married daughters of tribal chiefs in his realm to build loyalty. As of 2013, every Saudi Arabian king to follow Abd al-Aziz has been one of his sons. The king appoints a crown prince to assist him in his duties. Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud was named crown prince in 2012.
The Role of Religion
Religion played a major rule in legitimizing the rule of the House of Saud. Muhammed ibn Saud formed an alliance with Sheikh Muhammed ibn Wahhab, an Islamic reformer. Wahhab's teachings, with a focus on the purification of the religion, became the dominant interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism's take Islamic theology is notable in its focus on the complete fusion of state and religion. The king's official title is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and the royal family sees one of its important roles as safeguarding pilgrims to Mecca and Medina as paramount. Shari'ah, or Islamic law, is the foundation of Saudi Arabian government.
The Council of Ministers
The king is assisted in his executive duties by the Council of Ministers, who are the final authority for the administration and financing of the government. The king serves as prime minister and his crown prince as deputy prime minister. The rest of the council consists of 28 other ministers appointed by the king to four-year terms. Ministers are in charge of specific areas of government, such as education, foreign affairs or finance. Traditionally, many royal family members serve as ministers. However, in 2009 King Abdullah reshuffled the cabinet to add more moderate ministers, including the first-ever female minister. Resolutions of the council are not binding unless approved by a majority of the ministers.
Advising the King
The Consultative Council fulfills the role of the legislative branch of government, proposing new laws and amending new ones. The Council is intended to fulfill an Islamic tradition of hereditary rulers consulting with educated and experienced citizens before making decisions. The 150 members of the Council are appointed by the king to four-year terms. Originally, the members only discussed and debated issues of public interest and reported to the government. However, in 2004 the king expanded the role of the ministers to enable them to propose new laws and amend existing ones by majority vote without first seeking the king's approval.
- CIA World Factbook: Saudi Arabia
- PBS Frontline: House of Saud -- A Royal Family Tree
- PBS Frontline: House of Saud -- The Most Pivotal Issue
- Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia: Government
- Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia: Council of Ministers System
- Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia: Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council)
- Abid Katib/Getty Images News/Getty Images