As one of the social sciences, politics has made it possible to analyze the various styles of governance around the world. It involves the study of political situations in relation to culture, power, and policies. Different governing styles have unique influences on the state (Garner, Ferdinand, Lawson & MacDonald, 2012).
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The current paper is written against this background. To this end, the author provides a critical analysis of the influence of Saudi Arabia’s monarch on the country’s power, politics, and culture. In this review, various aspects of the king’s rule are put into perspective. The issues addressed include, among others, the king himself, the country’s constitution, the royal family, and the national government. The role of the monarch in these institutions will be analyzed. The author will review the leader’s participation in regional politics, as well as his cultural powers. In a nutshell, the political influence and powers of the monarch will be highlighted. The author will start by analyzing the relationship between culture, politics, and the king of Saudi Arabia. It is a fact that the Saudi Arabian ruler has significant influence on the country’s politics, power, and culture.
An Overview of Saudi Arabian Governance with Special Focus on the King
The King’s Family and Saudi Arabian Politics
The politics of Saudi Arabia (SA) are entirely based on absolute monarchy (Garner et al., 2012). They are anchored on Islamic foundation, the dominant religion in the region. The king heads the state and the government. Decision making is based on religious doctrines in the country. In addition, it involves consultations with senior members of the royal family. The Quran is regarded as the constitution of the land. As a result, governance in Saudi Arabia is based on Islamic law or what is famously referred to as Sharia law (Jackson & Jackson, 2010). As such, it appears that the country is governed through an interesting combination of the king’s decrees and the Quran.
Majority of people working in government are drawn from the royal family. The group is referred to as the Al Saud. In light of this, a review of the country reveals that the principle actors in the political domain are derived from the Al Saud or the royal family. Political participation from agents outside the group is limited. However, pressure is piling up to expand the political space to accommodate individuals from outside the royal family. The recent increase in cases of Islamic activism and Islamic terrorism is an example of this pressure (Bowen, 2007).
The king is the head of the Al Saud. As such, he has to approve the political participation of members of his family. The royal political class influences power and culture in the country with the blessings of the king.
Constitution of the Country and the Place of the King
The Quran is synonymous with Saudi Arabia’s constitution. Principles of political governance are stipulated in the Basic Law of SA that was put in place by the royal assent in 1992. According to this provision, the king must rule the country in accordance with the Sharia law and the Quran. The doctrines of Quran and Shunnah (Muhammad traditions) are proclaimed as the laws of the land. There are no other legally binding principles in the land.
Political analysts are of the view that the doctrines play a key role in the interpretation of the ulema. The latter is a bench of Islamic religious heads and jurists (Bowen, 2007). From the above analysis, it is apparent that the place of the king in the country’s political landscape is firmly cemented in the constitution. The law and Quran play an important role in the influence that this monarch has on the country’s power, politics, and culture.
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The National Government and the Place of the King
The national government in SA does not allow for the registration or existence of political parties. In addition, the government structure does not provide for national elections. The monarchical leadership is the only source of power in controlling the national government. Economists are of the opinion that Saudi Arabia represents one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. It ranks position 7 out of 167 (Garner et al., 2012). As already indicated, the royal family dominates most of the government positions in SA. The king plays an important and largely monopolistic role in the national government.
The Royal Family
The number of royal princes in Saudi Arabia is believed to be over 7,000. The large number of these ‘kinglets’ makes it possible for them to dominate the country’s leadership positions. Out of the total 7,000, 200 of them are very powerful and influential. They are the immediate descendants of the current king (Al-Rasheed, 2010).
There are thirteen regional governorships and a number of important ministries in SA. All of them are reserved for members of the royal family. The long term appointments have resulted in what scholars refer to as power fiefdom (Jackson & Jackson, 2010). In this context, senior princes have remained in office until their death. For example, from 1975 to his death in 2012, Prince Nayef was the Minister for Interior. In addition, Crown Prince Sultan was the Minister of Defense and Aviation for over 50 years (Al-Rasheed, 2010). The royal family and its prominence in the political arena is an indication of the king’s influence on the country’s political and cultural framework. The family gives him the clout he needs to rule.
The Political Influence and Power of the King
Saudi Arabia’s King: The Head of State
The king is regarded as the head of the House of Saud. In addition, he is regarded as the head of the state and the leader of the monarch. He holds absolute power in the kingdom. For example, he has the power to appoint ministers and cabinet secretaries to carry out duties in his name. The key ministries, which include Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Interior, are held by members of the Al Saud. Ultimate power in the monarch rests with the royal family under the auspices of the king. Other government portfolios like Planning, Information, Finance, and Petroleum are given to commoners and the junior members of the Al Saud. Key military positions are held by members of the royal family. They operate in these positions on behalf of the king. The Ulema, the merchant community, and the citizens are expected to help the Al Saud (and the king) to mould the country’s political and cultural destiny (Al-Rasheed, 2010).
Regional Government and the Role of the King
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is stratified into 13 regions. The jurisdictions are commonly referred to as the manaiq. The regions are further subdivided into districts. Regional governors are mostly chosen from the royal family (by the king) to oversee the manaiq. The governors serve as “mini-kings”. They preside over the duties allocated to them by the king. Regional governance is characterized by consultations with the king and the larger royal family (Weston, 2008).
An Analysis of the King’s Participation in Local and Regional Politics
Politics outside the royal family can be examined from the perspective of the level of tolerance for individuals from outside the Al Saud. It includes tolerance for opposition, Islamist terrorism, and political resistance from the general public (Garner et al., 2012). Political resistance from the public is relatively dismal. As such, the influence of the king is largely unchecked. The agents involved in opposition include a small number of members of the royal family, ethnic sheikhs, and some business personalities. When consultations are conducted between these groups, the media is usually not involved. In theory, a person of legal mature age has the right to petition the king through the majlis. The majlis is a traditional meeting that involves tribal sheikhs (Weston, 2008). However, in reality, this rarely happens. The scenario is an indication of the king’s power in the region.
Opposition to the King
The Arabian monarch faces opposition from four major fronts. They include Sunni Islamist activism and liberal critics. Others are the Shia minority and the tribal regional opponents. Out of the four categories, the Islamist activist group is the most aggressive. It is considered the major threat to the regime. In recent years, the group has engaged in a number of violent and ‘terroristic’ activities. However, Al Saud does not allow any act of protest against its governance, whether peaceful or not. There is minor opposition from the royal family with regards to a number of ideologies. However, due to media censorship, the opposition is insignificant to the public (Weston, 2008).
Arab Spring Protests
Since 2011, Al Saud has faced a number of hostile demonstrations in the form of Arab Spring protests. In response, the king announced a number of policies meant to appease the citizens. More than $36 billion was allocated to these polices. Twenty nine percent of this allocation was meant for quality housing projects. However, political reforms were not discussed. The king appears intent on dominating the political and cultural domains in the country (Garner et al., 2012).
The Cultural Powers of the King
Religion, Culture, and the King of Saudi Arabia
Religion is considered as a way of life in Saudi Arabia. The residents contend that Islam is more than just a religion. As a result, the ulema play a very pervasive role in the country’s governance structure. The group approves all royal successions to the throne. In addition, it ensures that new laws are passed through a process known as royal decrees. The caucus also plays an important role in the making of executive decisions. For instance, ulemas facilitate the imposition of oil embargoes and the authorization of foreign troops into the country (Garner et al., 2012). The group operates with the approval of the king.
Culture plays an important role in Saudi Arabia. Almost all aspects of the social life are defined by the Quran. As such, cultural practices are intertwined with religion and modes of worship. For instance, the king is supposed to abide by all the doctrines of the Shunna and Quran. The people are also supposed to practice the same (Weston, 2008). What this means is that the monarch’s influence in the country is mediated by religion.
The Interplay between Culture, Politics, and King of Saudi Arabia
The link between culture, politics, power, and king of Saudi Arabia is very significant. The relationship revolves around Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his descendants. One of the immediate descendants of this patriarch is Al ash-Sheikh. He is the one who founded the Wahhabi doctrines, which resembles the values of Sunni Islam. The doctrines define the culture and religion of the region. The structure defines the powers held by the king.
Al ash-Sheikh’s family is the second prestigious institution in the country after Al Saud. The two groups formed a mutual pact over 300 years ago. The mutual agreement remains today. In the agreement, the king is expected to uphold Al ash-Sheikh’s doctrines. In return, Al ash-Sheikh supports the king’s rule. The patriarch uses his prowess in religious matters to legitimize Al Saud’s authority. As such, religion, culture, and governance are interrelated. The public has no choice but to embrace their king (Garner et al., 2012).
The royal family, through the king, controls the political and cultural arms of the country. The powers of the king leave little room for individuals from outside the family. The influence of this rule has resulted in opposition from different sectors of the country. However, due to the respect accorded to Al ash-Sheikh’s wahhabi doctrines and media censorship, the opposition is stifled. Political reforms are very rare. The senior prince rules through what is regarded as power of fiefdom. As a result, very little political developments have taken place. In most cases, the power of fiefdom is used to preserve the interests of the royal family, especially those of the king.
Al-Rasheed, M. (2010). A history of Saudi Arabia (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press. Web.
Bowen, H. (2007). The history of Saudi Arabia (1st ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. Web.
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Garner, R., Ferdinand, P., Lawson, S., & MacDonald, D. (2012). Introduction to politics (1st ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. Web.
Jackson, R., & Jackson, D. (2010). Canadian government in transition (5th ed.). Toronto: Pearson Education Canada. Web.
Weston, M. (2008). Prophets and princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the present (1st ed.). Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley Press. Web.