Structure of Government
Saudi Arabia was an absolute monarchy in 1992. The king was not constrained by a written constitution, a legislative assembly, or elections. Since 1962, Saudi kings periodically promised to establish a majlis ash shura, or consultative council, to advise them on governmental matters, but none of them undertook practical steps to establish such a body. In March 1992, King Fahd once again announced that a majlis ash shura would be appointed and specified its responsibilities. Fahd proposed a majlis of sixty-one members, all appointed by the king. The majlis would have limited authority to question ministers and propose legislation. The majlis would not have actual legislative powers but rather would serve as an advisory body that could make recommendations to the king.
As of the end of 1992, King Fahd had named only a single individual to the majlis ash shura that he had proposed ten months earlier. In appointing the speaker, the king made no promises as to when Saudi citizens could expect the convening of the full majlis. The International Committee for Human Rights in the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula issued a public statement advising Saudis that the government had promised consistently for thirty years to establish a consultative council but never had fulfilled these promises.
Saudis considered the Quran, the holy book of Islam, their country's constitution. The Quran is the primary source of the sharia. Because the sharia does not specifically address the conduct of most governmental matters, Saudi rulers, beginning with Abd al Aziz, have promulgated numerous regulations pertaining to the functions of government. In early 1992, King Fahd became the first Saudi monarch to compile these regulations into a single document called the main code (nizam). Promulgated as a royal decree, this document codified bureaucratic procedures and prohibited government agencies from arbitrarily arresting citizens or violating their privacy. Although the main code was not a formal constitution, it fulfilled some of the same purposes of such a document. However, the main code lacked any explicit clause guaranteeing the basic rights of citizens to freedom of belief, expression, assembly, or political participation.
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