How Government Works

This page provides an overview of the organizational structure of the government of Saudi Arabia, the basic law of governance, and information on the operational processes and cooperative efforts used to carry out the necessary responsibilities. It also sheds insight on the executive authority and how its various components function together, as well as the Judiciary Authority, its courts, and the Regulatory Authority.

Basic Law of Governance

Monarchy is the system of rule in Saudi Arabia. Rulers of the country are the descendants of the founder King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud; the most upright amongst them shall receive allegiance per the book of Allah (Quran), and the teachings (Sunnah) of Prophet Muhammad may peace be upon him.

The king is the head of state and government. He oversees the execution of regulations, directs the state's general policy, guarantees coordination and collaboration among government agencies, and promotes unity and continuity in fulfilling government responsibilities. The king receives recommendations from Saudi Arabia's ultimate governing council, the Council of Ministers, composed of prominent officials and specialists. Several governmental agencies and councils help the Council of Ministers, including the Shura Council, an advisory body that plays a role in the legislative process.

The king appoints the crown prince who devotes himself solely to his duties as the crown prince and carries out any other responsibilities delegated to him by the king. When the king passes away, the crown prince assumes the royal  powers until a pledge of allegiance is given.

Saudi Arabia consists of three authorities: the executive authority, the regulatory authority, and the judiciary authority. These authorities work together to carry out their duties per the Basic Law of Governance and other rules, with the King as their reference point.

The Executive Authority

The executive authority is vested in the king. He is responsible for the administration of the country and is advised by the Council of Ministers, which is responsible for implementing government policies and overseeing the various departments of the government. The council's headquarters are in Riyadh. It comprises the President of the Council of Ministers (the king), his deputies, active ministers, and the king's counselors and Ministers of State appointed by royal decree.

The Council of Ministers formulates domestic and foreign policy, financial and economic policy, educational policy, defense policy, and all public affairs of the State, as well as review Shura Council decisions. The Council of Ministers is the point of contact for all financial and administrative matters in all ministries and government bodies. The council, as the executive authority, has complete power over implementation and administration. The following are included in the council’s executive powers:

  • Monitor the implementation of laws, regulations and decisions
  • Developing and organizing public interests
  • Follow up on the implementation of the general development plan
  • Establishing committees to investigate the work progress of government agencies or a specific issue, and these committees shall submit the investigation results the council at the time specified for them. The council shall consider the result of their investigations, taking into account the provisions of the laws and regulations

All members of the council of ministers are appointed, relieved from office, as well as their resignations, are accepted by a royal decree; the king is entitled to dissolve and reconstitute the council of ministers. Members of the council of ministers shall be a Saudi national by descent and upbringing, well known for being upright and competent, and have never been convicted of a crime against religion and honor.

The term of the council of ministers shall not exceed four years, during which a royal decree shall reconstitute a new council. If the period expires before the reconstitution of a new council, the current council shall continue performing its duties until a new one is reconstituted.

The administrative composition of the council of ministers includes the General Secretariat, the Council of Ministers and the Bureau of Experts of the Council of Ministers. The rules of procedure of the Council of Ministers shall specify its administrative formations, competencies and manner in which they carry out their work.

Political and Security Affairs Council
The Council is concerned with political and security matters in Saudi Arabia. Board members are as follows:
  1. Chairman of the Council
  2. Minister of Interior
  3. Minister of Foreign Affairs
  4. Minister of Information
  5. Chief of General Intelligence
  6. Head of State Security
  7. National Security Advisor
  8. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs - Mr. Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir
Economic and Development Affairs Council

The council is concerned with economic and development matters in Saudi Arabia. Board Members are as follows:

How Does The Executive Authority work?

Meetings of the council of ministers are held under the chairmanship of the king (President of the Council of Ministers), or one of his deputies, and the resolutions of the council shall become final upon the king’s approval.

The minister is the direct head and the final reference for the affairs of his ministry. The council of ministers shall not take a decision on a matter related to the work of a ministry except in the presence of its minister or his representative unless the need arises.

The meetings of the council of ministers shall not be considered valid unless attended by two-thirds of its members, and its decisions shall not be valid unless they are passed by the majority of those present. In the event of a tie, the president shall have the casting vote. In exceptional cases, council meetings may be considered valid with half of the members present, and the decisions of such cases will be valid by the approval of two-thirds of its members present, and the president of the council of ministers shall assess such cases.

All decrees approved in the Council shall be published in the Official Gazette and take effect from their publication date unless another date is stated.

  • To view the list of the Saudi Ministries, click here.

The Regulatory Authority

The Consultative Assembly, known as the Shura Council, is the regulatory authority of the government of Saudi Arabia. It has the power to review and discuss draft laws and make recommendations to the king and the Council of Ministers – who has executive power. It shares its opinion on the general policies of the state that are shared with it by the President of the Council of Ministers, and in particular the following:
  • Discusses and shares viewpoints about the general economic and social plan
  • Reviews regulations and bylaws, evaluates international treaties and agreements, and gives recommendations
  • Interprets regulations
  • Assesses the annual reports set forth by ministries and other government agencies and provides feedback
Decisions made by the Shura Council shall be submitted to the king and he shall decide what shall be referred to the Council of Ministers. If the views of the Council of Ministers and the Shura Council are in agreement, they will be issued after the king's approval. If the views of the two differ, the matter shall be returned to the Shura Council, which shall outline what it deems appropriate and submit it to the king, who shall take what he deems appropriate.

The Shura Council consists of a president and 150 members; they are appointed by the King based on knowledge, experience, and competence, provided that the representation of women in the membership of the Shura Council shall not be less than 20%. The rights, duties, and affairs of the members are determined by a royal decree. A member of the Shura Council shall be a Saudi national by descent and upbringing, well known for being upright and competent, and not be less than 30 years old.

The Shura Council Law governs the competencies of the First Officer of the Shura Council, his deputy, his assistant, the Council's Secretary-General, the members of the council, the manner in which its sessions are managed, the conduct of its operations and the work of its committees, and the method of voting. It also governs the rules of discussion and argument, as well as other topics that would give discipline and control within the Council, so that it uses its powers for the good of Saudi Arabia the welfare of its people, and this regulation shall be issued by Royal Order.

The term of the Shura Council is 4 Hijri years, starting from the date specified in the royal decree of its formation. The new council is formed at least two months before the end of its predecessor. In the event of the end of the term before the formation of a new council, the previous council shall continue to perform its work until the new council is formed. It must be acknowledged that the new Council must be made up of new members who will hold at least 50% of the seats.
  • For more information about the Shura Council, Click here.

The Judiciary Authority

The Judiciary is an independent authority, distinct from the executive and legislative branches of government. Judges' decisions are not subject to any authority other than the authority of Islamic law. The judiciary is responsible for ensuring that the rule of law is upheld and that the rights of individuals and organizations are protected as in the country's legal system. The country's legal system is based on Islamic law, known as shari’ah; the holy book of God Almighty (Qur'an) and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Sunnah) are the main sources of legislation. The king appoints judges, and they are required to have a thorough knowledge of Islamic law and are expected to interpret and apply the law fairly and impartially.

Supreme Judicial Council

The Supreme Judicial Council consists of ten members: the President of the Supreme Court, four full-time Judges with the rank of Appellate Court President, three Appellate Court members, a Deputy of the Ministry of Justice, and the Head of Investigation and Prosecution Circuit.

The Supreme Judicial Council is in charge of various duties, including the functional affairs of judges, such as appointment, promotion, discipline, training, transfer, termination of services,…etc., as well as issuing regulations related to these functional affairs. It also prepares a comprehensive report at the end of each year that includes the achievements, obstacles, and proposals.

Courts

The judicial system is made up of several courts, including specialized courts that handle cases related to civil and criminal issues. The highest court in the country is the Supreme Court, which is the final court of appeal for all cases.

1. The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is positioned on the top of the judicial hierarchy, and is entitled to evaluate any complaint filed against the court making the contested decision without being a party to the litigation - in other words, the court acts as a contention court rather than an enforcement court. Its primary goal is to assess the procedures used in the trial and the decision in terms of correct interpretation and application of Islamic laws, without regard for portraying the facts or judging the evidence.
2. First Instance Courts
There are two grounds on which jurisdictional rules between Courts of First Instance are based: 
  • Qualitative Jurisdiction: The Courts of First Instance adopt jurisdiction rules based on the nature of the issue, whether it is commercial, criminal, as well as urgent, and so on, independent of the case's value.
  • Territorial Jurisdiction: The pertinent court has a focus on the legal issues that arise in its geographic circuit.
3. Appellate Courts
After hearing the litigants' statements, the Courts of Appeal review the judgments issued by the Courts of First Instance in accordance with the measures described in Shari'ah Law and Criminal Procedure Regulations.
4. Enforcement Courts
The Enforcement Courts settle execution disputes regardless of their monetary value. It also has the authority to compel and supervise compliance. It is based on specialized circuits, each of which contains at least one judge.

Judges

To be appointed as a judge, the candidate shall fulfill the following requirements: 
  • He shall be a Saudi national by descent.
  • He shall be of good character and conduct.
  • He shall be fully qualified to hold the position of judge in theaccordance with the Shari’ah provisions.
  • He shall hold a degree in Shari’ah from a college in Saudi Arabia or an equivalent certificate from abroad, provided that, in the latter case, he shall pass a special examination prepared by the Ministry of Justice.
  • His age shall not be less than forty years.
  • He shall not have been condemned to a Qur’anic prescribed punishment, discretionary punishment, or for a crime damaging honor, or penalized by disciplinary action dismissing him from a public post (even if he was rehabilitated).

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