Saudi Arabia is a country located in the region of Western Asia.All political power in Saudi Arabia lies with the royal family of Al Saud. The several thousand princes dominate both business and public office at all levels. Political parties are banned and literal Islam is a foundation for the state. In practice, the country is today ruled by the aged King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. With him, a modernization has been launched, while democracy activists have been imprisoned and disappeared.
The royal house is backed by the officially recognized religious leadership (see Political system). Both the religious elite and the royal house are challenged by radical Islamic opposition – and by popular dissatisfaction with political oppression and major social injustices. Armed Islamists are being hunted as terrorists, but even peaceful dissidents risk persecution and harsh punishment.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Saudi Arabia, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Salman’s representatives on the throne of King Abdullah (2005–2015) made certain attempts to meet demands for social and political reform. After the change of belief, the accusations against regime critics have increased. At the same time, Mohammed bin Salman, who was elevated to crown prince in the summer of 2017, has launched a reform program which he himself called a “shock therapy” to modernize the country. In examples of eased social restrictions, women are now allowed to take a driver’s license and visit sports arenas, and regular cinemas have opened for the first time in several decades.
Mohammed bin Salman is the chief architect of the economic reform plans called Vision 2030. The reforms aim to reduce oil dependency, among other things, the state has sold part of the state oil company Aramco (see Calendar) to finance the transformation.
Fight against corruption
The Crown Prince quickly blew into the fight against corruption, which he has called a cancer on the body of society. In November 2017, a large number of princes, ministers and ex-ministers were arrested in what was described as a comprehensive anti-corruption effort. The proposal broke a tradition within the royal house to act outwardly in consensus and has been interpreted by many as a way for Mohammed bin Salman to consolidate his position of power. Several hundred high-ranking people were kept locked up – admittedly in a luxury hotel – until they “voluntarily” gave up assets. After two months, the state had raised over $ 100 million.
Many people assume that Mohammed bin Salman, through the effort, has challenged powerful opponents and created risks for foreign investors to pull their ears. In March 2020, he struck again, in what was perceived as a power demonstration. Several princes who previously held prominent roles were deprived of liberty.
The Crown Prince is further considered to be behind the decision to attack the Shi’ite Muslim Hire Rebels in Yemen, who rebelled against the regime there. The airstrikes launched by Saudi Arabia in 2015 were likely to constitute a relatively quick and uncomplicated intervention in the neighboring country. That was not the case, instead, Saudi Arabia, along with several allied countries, is stuck in a prolonged war with very great suffering for the civilian population. In the outside world, many perceive it as an indirect war against Iran, which supports the Huthir rebels. The two rivals simultaneously support opposite parties in the war in Syria. Saudi Arabia has condemned the Islamic State (IS) extremist group and joined the alliance of countries that, under US leadership, have succeeded in pushing back IS in Syria and Iraq (see also Foreign Policy and Defense).
At the same time, many point to ideological similarities between the Saudi abi and the IS, for example when it comes to women’s views, sentencing and all who are considered to deviate from the right belief. Thousands of Saudis joined forces to fight IS when the movement was gaining momentum. Some observers believe that the Saudi regime has, to some extent, been forced to deal with Sunni extremism that the country itself has been instrumental in inspiring.
Mohammed bin Salman’s first place in the queue for the royal title came earlier than many reviewers expected. When King Salman took office in January 2015, the former Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin became the new Crown Prince. After only three months, Salman changed the order of the throne when he deposed his half-brother Muqrin. New Crown Prince now became Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew who also held the heavy post of Minister of the Interior (a post his father held for 37 years, until his death in 2012). Mohammed bin Nayef is seen as a US friend and had made himself known for the fight against Islamists in al-Qaeda. Still, he was simply in the battle for power in the royal house (see Political system).
When Salman deposed Muqrin, it was the first time in the country’s history that a crown prince was deprived of the title of throne. But that would happen again just over two years later: in June 2017, the king’s nephew Mohammed bin Nayef stepped aside in favor of the king’s own son, Mohammed bin Salman. The change in the succession means that Mohammed bin Salman, just 31 at the turn of the year, is in turn also formally taking over power in the world’s leading oil nation. The father is over 80 and reported to be frail.
The Crown Prince has been described as consummate ever since he took office. The case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi threw the country into a serious crisis, which has jeopardized Saudi Arabia’s relations with the outside world, although few opponents dare raise the voice within the country. Khashoggi, who first stood close to the royal family but later went into exile as a regime critic, visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in a private matter on October 2, 2018. He did not come out alive. After lying about his fate for several weeks, the Saudi government was forced to admit that Khashoggi was no longer alive. The many questions about his fate, and whether the crown prince was the one who made the decision, can be supported not only by the crown prince’s own position but also by Saudi Arabia’s choice of major political issues.
In two noteworthy aspects of justice, Saudi Arabia later changed its footing: no more executions of minors should be made and the penalty imposed abolished (see Calendar). Refined assessors said in connection with the message that a state-owned Saudi investment fund, controlled by the Crown Prince, was at the same time becoming a major owner of the English elite football club Newcastle. The deal was surrounded by criticism from other human rights organizations.
READING TIPS – read more about Saudi Arabia in UI’s web magazine Foreign Magazine :
Jamal Kashoggi – More important than dead than alive (2019-01-31)
FACTS – POLITICS
al-Mamlaka al-Arabiyya al-Saudi Arabia / Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
monarchy, unitary state
Head of State
King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (2015–)
Head of government
King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (2015–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
no political parties are allowed
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
no political parties are allowed
47% in the 2015 municipal elections
there are no general elections at national level, only local elections
The Morality Police must not arrest suspects
The religious morality police, al-mutaww’in, are deprived of the right to arrest suspects. It has received criticism for overenitic behavior that has caused several deaths in detention.
Suspected terrorists arrested
Authorities state that 172 suspected terrorists have been arrested, several of whom must have been trained to become suicide pilots.
Frenchmen killed in assaults
Four Frenchmen are killed in the terrorist attack north of Medina.