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Historical Background

The Quran is the Constitution of Saudi Arabia. However, because its precepts are not specific in the day-to-day conduct of governmental matters, Saudi rulers have promulgated regulations to apply them to administration.

King Fahd compiled these regulations in 1992 for the first time into a single document called the Basic Law (nizam). As a series of royal decrees, the nizam codifies bureaucratic procedures and functions as a bill of rights, specifying the government's rights and responsibilities, prohibiting government agencies from arbitrarily arresting citizens, from violating their privacy, and increasing the powers of provincial governments. It also established the Consultative Council (Majlis ash-Shura) to advise the king. Although the nizam is not a formal constitution, it fulfills some of the purposes of such a document. It does not, however, include explicit guarantees of basic rights such as freedoms of belief, expression, assembly, or political participation.

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Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers

The king combines executive and legislative functions. The king is also the ultimate source of judicial power in the land. However, in performing these functions, the king is limited by Islamic law, consensus among royal family members, and the tradition of consultation. On important policy matters, the king seeks agreement among senior princes, religious leaders, and the political elite, including the leaders of important tribal families. By royal decree of November 27, 2003, the Consultative Council may propose legislation without the king’s approval, but the Council of Ministers must be in agreement with the Consultative Council for the legislation to gain royal approval.

The primary executive office is the Royal Diwan, in which the king also periodically convenes his majlis. The purpose of the majlis is to make the king accessible to Saudi citizens for personal appeals. Plaintiffs generally ask for the king's assistance with bureaucratic problems. The king drafts regulations and issues royal decrees from this office.

As the head of government, as well as the head of state, the king holds the post of the prime minister. He is assisted by two deputy prime ministers and the Council of Ministers, all appointed by him. He has the right to convene, dissolve, and reorganize the Consultative Council and the Council of Ministers. The judiciary is independent, but the courts must apply the rules of Islamic law.

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Main Provisions

The Basic Law (nizam) ties the very existence of Saudi Arabia to Islam. The king is referred to as the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.” The state is in charge of the protection of holy places and the armed forces are in charge, not only of the defense of the country, but of the Islamic religion as a whole. The government is based on justice, consultation, and equality, the main principles of the Islamic law. The Council of Senior Islamic Scholars is an important advisory body to the king and the cabinet.

Domestic laws, international treaties, agreements, regulations and concessions are all amended and approved by the king. If there is a danger threatening the safety of the kingdom or its territorial integrity, or the security of its people and its interests, or the functioning of the state institutions, the king may take urgent measures.

The Allegiance Institution, established on October 18, 2006, by royal decree consists of the surviving sons of King Abdulaziz Ben Abd al-Rahman Al-Saud and grandsons of deceased or incapacitated sons who, appointed by the king, “must be capable and known for their integrity.” The king also appoints one of his sons and a son of the Crown Prince on the basis of these criteria. The Allegiance Institution is to pledge allegiance to future kings and to nominate future crown princes by secret ballot. The Institution may also delegate five of its members to act as a "transitory ruling council" for a period of no more than 7 days and supervise a medical committee, consisting of the medical officer in charge of royal clinics, the medical director of King Faisal Specialist Hospital and 3 deans of medical colleges chosen by the "Homage Board," for determining the eligibility of the King and the crown prince to rule. The Allegiance Institution must approve any royal decree that amends these new provisions of the basic law.

The Basic Law (nizam) also establishes “control bodies” to check the Council of Ministers and investigate financial and administrative offenses. Their composition and functions are defined by law.

The state is in charge of protecting the family, consolidating national unity, preventing anything that may lead to disunity, sedition and separation, instilling the Islamic faith in the younger generations, and protecting human rights in accordance with Islamic law. The state guarantees a system of social security, provides job opportunities, and enacts laws that protect the employee and the employer. The state also takes care of health, education, and the environment.

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Constitutional Amendments and Procedures

Article 83 of the Basic Law states that no amendments to it may be made, “except in the same manner in which it has been issued,” that is, by royal decree.

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