Saudi Arabia Overview
Saudi Arabia is a country in the Middle East with (2018) 33.7 million residents; The capital is Riyadh.
Politics and law
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and Islam is the state religion. Head of state, supreme legislator and spiritual leader is the king, since 2015 Salman Ibn Abd al-Asis al-Saud (* 1935). He also chairs the Council of Ministers, whose members are appointed by him for a four-year term. In fact, however, Crown Prince Mohammed Ibn Salman has been in charge since 2017(* 1985), a son of the king, the government. Instead of a parliament, there is a consultative council (Madjlis asch-Shura) with 150 members appointed by the king for four years, including 30 women. He may not pass laws, but make legislative proposals. Political parties and trade unions are not permitted. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are restricted. Oppositionists are persecuted and little space is given to civil society. On the other hand, the royal family has been pursuing a social modernization for almost two decades, which accelerated under Crown Prince Mohammed.
According to carswers, there is no such thing as a written constitution. The basis of the state and legal system are the Koran, the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed and the Sharia. The death penalty threatens not only for murder and armed robbery, but also for drug trafficking, adultery and apostasy (only for men).
Saudi Arabia is a founding member of various Arab and Islamic organizations such as the Arab League. As a strong regional power in the Middle East, the country competes with Iran and Turkey in terms of foreign policy. This is particularly evident from Saudi Arabia’s military engagement in the wars in Syria and Yemen. Important allies of the kingdom are Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as the USA.
Saudi Arabia has a sixth of the world’s oil reserves and is the second largest oil producer in the world after the USA. The raw material is mainly extracted in the east of the country and in the Persian Gulf. The majority is exported or processed in large refinery centers. The revenues from the oil sector made Saudi Arabia one of the richest countries in the world from the 1970s onwards. Many services for the population are free, such as drinking water as well as medical care and school attendance (elementary, middle and secondary schools). There is no income tax and no sales tax.
With the help of cheaply available energy, Saudi Arabia is trying to put the economy on several legs. To this end, the chemical and construction industries, food processing and the manufacture of consumer goods are to be expanded. The largest trading ports are Dammam on the Persian Gulf with a connection to the main railway line to Riyadh and Jeddah on the Red Sea. The road network and more than 200 airports and airfields form the backbone of traffic.
Modern irrigation methods allow large-scale cultivation of fruit and vegetables as well as livestock (sheep and goats) for the production of milk and meat. However, more water is used than there is groundwater. That is why natural gas is not only used to generate electricity in thermal power plants, but also to obtain fresh water in seawater desalination plants.
Already in the 1st millennium BC there existed on the Arabian Peninsula. Independent empires. The political unification of the Arab tribes in the 7th century AD under the sign of Islam was short-lived. It was not until the 18th century that the Saud family created a state in close association with the Islamic reform movement of the Wahhabis. The Saud lost their territory in the 19th century, but recaptured it in 1902. Abd al-Asis III. Ibn Saud (* 1880, † 1953) was proclaimed king after conquering the Kingdom of Hidjas with Mecca and proclaimed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
Ibn Saud and his successors tried to combine the strictly Islamic order with economic modernization. The money for this came from the sale of oil. Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has been putting its economic and financial strength in the balance in terms of foreign policy and using oil exports as a weapon against the countries of Europe and the USA, which are considered to be Israel-friendly. The country later took a moderate position in the Middle East conflict and also tried to act as a mediator.
In the 1st Gulf War it supported Iraq (1980-88) against the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the 2nd Gulf War in 1991, Saudi Arabia was a staging area of a multinational armed forces for the liberation of Kuwait. For the first time, the kingdom also allowed armed forces from non-Islamic states into the country, which challenged the resistance of radical Islamic forces. This also gave rise to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. In the Syrian conflict, Saudi Arabia joined the US-led alliance against the ” Islamic State “.
Domestically, there were limited reforms, including the establishment of a consultative council in 1993. A National Human Rights Commission was established in 2004 and local elections were held for the first time in 2005. Protests in the context of the Arab Spring (2011) tried to counteract King Abdallah (* 1924, † 2015) with social improvements, among other things. In 2016, the government presented a plan (»Vision 2030«) designed to reduce economic dependence on oil. The killing of the regime critic Jamal Khashoggi (* 1958) on October 2, 2018 in Istanbul (Turkey) brought the state leadership, especially the Crown Prince, into political distress.