Living in the Middle East / Saudi Arabia

Government and National Symbols

Date Posted: February 16, 2016      

Saudi Arabia is a hereditary monarchy and the Al Saud royal family governs the state and its people. Although there are no political parties, municipal elections are held to elect local counsillors. Women were given the right to vote in 2015 and are able to run in local elections.

The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 by King Abd Al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud) after a 30-year campaign to unify most of the Arabian Peninsula. One of his male descendants rules the country today, as required by the country’s 1992 Basic Law. King Salman bin Abd al-Aziz ascended to the throne in 2015, and placed the first next-generation prince, Muhammad bin Nayif bin Abd al-Aziz, in the line of succession as Crown Prince.

The country is divided into 13 provinces, with a governor and a deputy governor in each one. These are: Al Bahah, Al Hudud ash Shamaliyah (Northern Border), Al Jawf, Al Madinah (Medina), Al Qasim, Ar Riyad (Riyadh), Ash Sharqiyah (Eastern), ‘Asir, Ha’il, Jazan, Makkah (Makkah), Najran, and Tabuk.

As Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, its judicial system is based on Islamic law (Shari’ah). The King heads the legal system and acts as the final court of appeal and can issue pardons. There are smaller Shari’ah courts throughout the country, which hear most cases in the Saudi legal system.

Saudi Arabia’s flag uses green to honor the country’s Muslim Wahabi influence, and also because green is widely believed to be the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite color and that of his daughter, Fatima. Green is also mentioned several times in the Holy Qur’an, in relation to paradise. The white, centered script, is the Shahada or Islamic declaration of faith, written in the Thuluth script of Arabic language, and says “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. The sword of Abd-al-Aziz stands for the House of Saud, the founding ruling family of the country, and symbolizes the military strength and prowess of Saudi Arabia. Owing to its religious symbolism, the Saudi flag is typically not used on official football shirts or other items. In these cases, the Saudi Arabian official emblem, a date palm, representing vitality and growth, with two crossed swords, symbolizing justice and strength, is used. For the same reason, the flag itself is never flown vertically or at half-mast. (Interestingly this is one of only three national flags that differ on their obverse and reverse sides – the others are Moldova and Paraguay).