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SAUDI ARABIA
Society

Society

State structure

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. Since 1 August 2005, the country has been led by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. The King rules through a Council of Ministers, whose most important posts are held by prominent members of the royal family. The Koran is considered to be the constitution of Saudi Arabia. The only source of law is the 'Sharia' and the Hadith, the sayings and precepts of the Prophet Mohammed. In 1992, King Fahd accepted the Basic Law, which introduced an advisory council, the Majlis al-Shoura, and a number of provincial councils. This advisory council acquires increasing powers. It consists of 120 members, appointed by the king. Political parties and opposition groups are banned.

Politics

The influence of the royal family of the House of Al-Saud is all-encompassing. All key positions in the government are held by relatives of the king. This political system came under pressure in the 1990s from criticism from reformist liberals, but also from fundamentalists. The lack of access to political and economic power played a major role in this. This would have contributed to the rise of extremist organisations and individuals. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 appeared to have been carried out mainly by persons of Saudi nationality. Western pressure for reform in the country increased under the influence of this development.

Furthermore, because of the explosive population growth, the rapidly increasing lack of employment opportunities for young people is a major problem. The government is trying to tackle this issue by "saudising" the business sector. Employers are thereby gradually forced to employ more Saudis. One problem with this is that the Saudi education system does not succeed sufficiently in supplying the labour market with qualified workers. The system is highly focused on learning from the Koran and does not provide enough basic training to prepare students for the positions in a modern society.

With the accession of King Abdullah, who already had the reputation as a crown prince of reform, the country seems to be moving further in the direction of democratisation. The authorities are convinced of the need for reform, but differ on the pace at which it should be carried out. It is important for the stability of the country that the royal family does not alienate the clergy. Interference and pressure from outside is not appreciated either. In the last two years, for example, there have been reforms concerning a) the extension of the powers of the Majlis al-Shoura (consultative assembly), b) the holding of municipal elections for the first time, c) the granting of rights to women, in particular the independent right to an identity card and combating domestic violence and d) the organisation of a national dialogue on reforms.

The current political situation is described in the history section.

Economy

The economy is dominated by the oil sector. It accounts for about 42% of GNP, 87% of government revenues and over 90% of export earnings. The petrochemical industry is expanding steadily and is mainly fuelled by gas released from oil production. The industrial sector is mainly based on the abundant availability of cheap energy.

The government is using oil revenues to finance a programme of infrastructure in the broad sense, as well as for the industrial and agricultural sectors. At the same time, massive investments are being made in the education and health sectors and part of the oil revenues are being spent on building up the armed forces. After the oil crises in 1973 and 1979, thanks to the oil price increases, the financing of these objectives was not hindered. However, the falling oil price since the mid-1980s has led to budgetary problems and rising debts.

Due to the strong price fluctuations on the oil market, the policy for many years has been to diversify the economy and control fluctuations in oil prices. The low price level of crude oil and increasing expenditure on the welfare state and defence led to a stagnation of economic growth in the 1990s. With the high oil prices since 2003 and the accompanying sharp increase in revenues for the treasury, growth has picked up dramatically. Trade also brings considerable benefits to the country. Thanks to oil, there is also a GDP of $54,500 per capita per year (2017).


Sources

Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info