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Basic Law of Saudi Arabia

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The Basic Law of Saudi Arabia (Alternative name: Basic System of Governance) is a constitution-like charter divided into nine chapters, consisting of 83 articles.[1] The constitution of Saudi Arabia is "the Holy Qur'an, and the Sunna (Traditions)" of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, (as stated in Article One of the Basic Law), but the Basic Law contains many characteristics of what might be called a constitution in other countries ("The Law of Governance", "Rights and Duties"). The Basic Law is in accordance with the Salafi understanding of Sharia and does not override Islamic laws.


Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the First Gulf War, late King Fahd issued a royal decree that was officially published in official television channels and newspapers on the 31st of January 1992.[2][3] The Decree stated the following:

Royal Decree No. A/90
27/8/1412 AH
By the Help of Allah,
We, Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, the King of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, consistent with the public interest, and in view with the development of the State in different fields, in addition to our enthusiasm to achieve our prospected objectives, we ordered the following:
First: Issue the Basic System of Governance according to the context herein below.
Second: Act in accordance with all the systems, orders, and resolutions that are currently adopted, until they are amended pursuant to the Basic System of Governance.
Third: The Basic System of Governance shall be published in the official journal and shall be enforceable as of the date of its publication.[4]

The Consultative Council also came to life about a year after in the light of the emerging conditions affecting the country after the war.

The Saudi cultural and religious views stigmatize any reference to "Constitution" other than the Qur'an itself and the practice of Muhammad. Article 1 of the Basic Law emphasize that "God's Book (Qur'an) and the Sunnah of His Prophet (Muhammad), are its (Saudi Arabia) constitution".[5] As the prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz puts it, who's referred to as the "red prince" and the "free prince" among other nicknames for his liberal views, there cannot be "a constitution, a regulation, or a law that runs counter to the Islamic Shari'a" in Saudi Arabia[6]

Articles of the Basic Law of Governance

Basic Law of Saudi Arabia

Chapter 1: General Principles

Article 1 states that "God's Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet" are the country's constitution and Arabic is the official language with the capital at Riyadh.

Chapter 2: Monarchy

Article 7 proclaims the rights of the monarch. Next, per Article 8, "justice, consultation, and equality" shall be in accordance with Shari'ah.

Chapter 3: Features of the Saudi Family

Article 9 states that all members of each family in Saudi Arabia shall be reared "on the basis of the Islamic faith."

Chapter 4: Economic Principles

Article 18 guards the private property of citizens.

Article 21 calls for an "alms tax".

Chapter 5: Rights and Duties

Article 27 establishes a "system of social security"; It has become feasible without expropriation and high taxes due to the large supplies of oil and a population of fewer than 30 million people.

Chapter 6: The Authorities of the State

Islam as cornerstone of governance

Article 45 affirms that religious rulings must be in accordance with the " Holy Qur'an and the Prophet's Sunnah." To this end, a panel of Islamic clergy and research group shall be established.

According to Article 55, the king has to "rule according to the rulings of Islam and shall supervise the application of Shari'ah." Article 56 states that the king is the prime minister as well. Article 57 makes it clear that the king's cabinet and other lower-ranking officials must follow Islam. Those who deviate from this can be dismissed or punished.


Articles 60-62: The king is the commander-in-chief and is endowed with powers concerning war and the national security of the country

Chapter 7: Financial Affairs

Article 71 specifies that revenue is entered and spent according to rules of statutes which will be published regularly in the Official Gazette per Article 70.

Chapter 8: Control Bodies


Chapter 9: General Provisions

Article 82 makes it clear that a temporary state of emergency during turmoil cannot violate Article 7 (Quran and sunnah).


The Basic Law was drafted by an ad hoc committee of the interior ministry, which Human Rights Watch accuses of egregious violations of human rights.[7]

In the eighteenth century Muhammad bin Saud and Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab integrated all the political and religious institutions into one governing body.[8] The government of Saudi Arabia reserves numerous jobs for the clergy that range from preaching to judgeships.

Islamic clergy (ulema) like muftis and sheikhs who dominate the Saudi Arabian legal positions make use of the Basic Law in addition to the Quran,[9] hadith, sunnah, and Islamic jurisprudence which all falls within sharia.

The Basic Law makes no mention of women; Amnesty International write in their 2000 report on Saudi Arabia:

Discussion of discrimination against women and their status as second class citizens has for a long time been a taboo, untouchable even by the highest of state authorities in the country despite all the misery and suffering of women for no reason other than their having been born female.[10]

Saudi writer and journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider writes that "Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status, even the 'pampered' ones among them - because they have no law to protect them from attack by anyone. The oppression of women and the effacement of their selfhood is a flaw affecting most homes in Saudi Arabia."[11]


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