Except for a few major cities and oases, the harsh climate historically prevented much settlement of the Arabian Peninsula. People of various cultures have lived in the peninsula over a span of more than 5,000 years. The Dilmun culture, along the Gulf coast, was contemporaneous with the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians, and most of the empires of the ancient world traded with the states of the peninsula.
The Saudi state began in central Arabia in about 1750. A local ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, joined forces with an Islamic reformer, Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. Over the next 150 years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula. The modern Saudi state was founded by the late King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Ibn Saud). In 1902, Abdul Aziz recaptured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, the rest of Nejd, and the Hijaz between 1913 and 1926. In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Boundaries with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait were established by a series of treaties negotiated in the 1920s, with two "neutral zones"--one with Iraq and the other with Kuwait--created. The Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone was administratively partitioned in 1971, with each state continuing to share the petroleum resources of the former zone equally. Tentative agreement on the partition of the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone was reached in 1981, and partition was finalized by 1983. The country's southern boundary with Yemen was partially defined by the 1934 Treaty of Taif, which ended a brief border war between the two states. A June 2000 treaty further delineated portions of the boundary with Yemen. The location and status of Saudi Arabia's boundary with the United Arab Emirates is not final; a defacto boundary reflects a 1974 agreement. The border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was resolved in March 2001. The border with Oman also is not demarcated.
King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud, who reigned for 11 years. In 1964, Saud abdicated in favor of his half-brother, Faisal, who had served as Foreign Minister. Because of fiscal difficulties, King Saud had been persuaded in 1958 to delegate direct conduct of Saudi Government affairs to Faisal as Prime Minister; Saud briefly regained control of the government in 1960-62. In October 1962, Faisal outlined a broad reform program, stressing economic development. Proclaimed King in 1964 by senior royal family members and religious leaders, Faisal also continued to serve as Prime Minister. This practice has been followed by subsequent kings.
The mid-1960s saw external pressures generated by Saudi-Egyptian differences over Yemen. When civil war broke out in 1962 between Yemeni royalists and republicans, Egyptian forces entered Yemen to support the new republican government, while Saudi Arabia backed the royalists. Tensions subsided only after 1967, when Egypt withdrew its troops from Yemen.
Saudi forces did not participate in the Six-Day (Arab-Israeli) War of June 1967, but the government later provided annual subsidies to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria to support their economies. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Saudi Arabia participated in the Arab oil boycott of the United States and Netherlands. A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia had joined other member countries in moderate oil price increases beginning in 1971. After the 1973 war, the price of oil rose substantially, dramatically increasing Saudi Arabia's wealth and political influence.
In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by a nephew, who was executed after an extensive investigation concluded that he acted alone. Faisal was succeeded by his half-brother Khalid as King and Prime Minister; their half-brother Prince Fahd was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Khalid empowered Crown Prince Fahd to oversee many aspects of the government's international and domestic affairs. Economic development continued rapidly under King Khalid, and the kingdom assumed a more influential role in regional politics and international economic and financial matters.
In June 1982, King Khalid died, and Fahd became King and Prime Minister in a smooth transition. Another half-brother, Prince Abdullah, Commander of the Saudi National Guard, was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Fahd's brother, Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, became Second Deputy Prime Minister. Under King Fahd, the Saudi economy adjusted to sharply lower oil revenues resulting from declining global oil prices. Saudi Arabia supported neutral shipping in the Gulf during periods of the Iran-Iraq war and aided Iraq's war-strained economy. King Fahd played a major part in bringing about the August 1988 cease-fire between Iraq and Iran and in organizing and strengthening the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six Arabian Gulf states dedicated to fostering regional economic cooperation and peaceful development.
In 1990-91, King Fahd played a key role before and during the Gulf war. King Fahd's action also consolidated the coalition of forces against Iraq and helped define the tone of the operation as a multilateral effort to reestablish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait. Acting as a rallying point and personal spokesman for the coalition, King Fahd helped bring together his nation's GCC allies, Western allies, and Arab allies, as well as nonaligned nations from Africa and the emerging democracies of eastern Europe. He used his influence as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to persuade other Arab and Islamic nations to join the coalition.
King Fahd suffered a stroke in November 1995. Since 1997, Crown Prince Abdullah has taken on much of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the government.
Today, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties. It is ruled by King Fahd bin Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, a son of King Abd Al-Aziz Al Saud, who unified the country in the early 20th century. Since the death of King Abd Al-Aziz, the King and Crown Prince have been chosen from among his sons, who themselves have had preponderant influence in the choice. A 1992 royal decree reserves for the King exclusive power to name the Crown Prince. Crown Prince Abdullah has played an increasing role in governance since King Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995. The Government has declared the Islamic holy book the Koran and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad to be the country's Constitution. The Government bases its legitimacy on governance according to the precepts of a rigorously conservative form of Islam. Neither the Government nor the society in general accepts the concept of separation of religion and state. The Government prohibits the establishment of political parties and suppresses opposition views. In 1992 King Fahd appointed a Consultative Council, or Majlis Ash-Shura, and similar provincial assemblies. The Majlis, a strictly advisory body, began holding sessions in 1993 and was expanded first in 1997 and again in May. The judiciary is subject to influence by the executive branch and members of the royal family.
Despite the political and military upheavals in surrounding countries, Saudi Arabia's internal situation appeared to be under control in early 1992. Most Saudis seemed to accept the authority of the Al Saud and strict observance of Islamic law to ensure domestic stability. However, the kingdom's sudden exposure to international scrutiny after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 brought into sharp relief the polarization between the two competing forces of society--the powerful religious establishment and the liberal reformist elements. The modern sector pressed for greater popular participation in decision making and for greater accountability by the government. Criticism and anger over corruption by members of the royal family and other members of the elite were more openly expressed than previously. King Fahd promised that he would create a majlis ash shura (consultative council) to respond to political grievances. Such promises had been made in the past, however, with little result.
Some potential for social instability arose from the modernists' belief that the ruling family remained too deferential to traditional Muslim interests. These liberal elements desired the opportunity for involvement in the political process and a share of political power. In May 1991, it was reported that even the conservative religious establishment had petitioned the government for a consultative assembly. This action was accompanied by demonstrations in several cities. Extremists accused the religious establishment of hypocrisy in adhering to Islamic practices and of the maldistribution of wealth, fueling resentments within broad segments of Saudi society.
Marginal political groups of the left and right were considered illegal and their members were subject to arrest and detention by government security organs. These groups included the Organization of Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula, the Arab Socialist Action Party, and the Party of God in the Hijaz. The sizable alien population, estimated at 4.6 million in 1992 and representing more than half the labor force, was feared as a possible source of divisiveness as well as a disruptive influence on the thinking and attitudes of the indigenous population. It was assumed that clandestine organs of external political movements such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were represented in the labor force. Among the most numerous of the foreign workers were Yemenis, who always tended to be regarded with suspicion. Because many of these workers were employed in strategic economic sectors and in the oil industry, strikes and sabotage were constant dangers. In 1990 the Saudi authorities took measures to identify illegal residents and to regularize their status or deport them. These efforts intensified after the Persian Gulf crisis began, and about 1 million Yemenis as well as Sudanese, Iraqis, and Palestinians were compelled to leave.
In the oil-rich Eastern Province (Al Ahsa) lived between 200,000 and 400,000 Shia. They had endured two centuries of Wahhabi subjugation and remained disaffected elements in Saudi society. Riots in late 1979 and early 1980 among the Shia were believed to have been inspired by taped messages of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Because Shia comprised possibly half of the labor force of the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), from 1988 called the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco), the government treated their presence as a security problem. During the 1980s, the government bolstered its security forces in the area, while at the same time attempting to allay Shia resentment by responding to their social and religious grievances. Among other groups with a distinct identity within the kingdom were the Hijazis, who lived along the mountainous western coast extending to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and the tribes of Asir Province just north of Yemen. Although both groups benefited from the rising wealth of the country, they lacked sympathy for the traditional royalist regime and for the strict religious leadership. Accordingly, questions of their fundamental loyalty to the Al Saud persisted.
The likelihood of schisms within the royal family arising from policy differences or personal rivalries seemed remote but could not be completely discounted. Factional disputes could arise over such issues as the closeness of ties with the United States or curbing the power of the religious establishment. For the most part, the informal assembly of princes has succeeded in keeping rivalries within bounds and has prevented internal differences from becoming public issues.
In view of elaborate security measures, such as the division of armed power between the regular military and the national guard, and the substantial benefits enjoyed by both officers and enlisted personnel, the possibility of an insurrection emerging from the armed forces was regarded as highly unlikely. Nevertheless, in 1991 leaflets critical of royal princes were reportedly distributed in garrisons. The influence of radical Islamists among soldiers and lower ranking officers was said to be growing.
The military leadership has been free from serious conspiracies against the regime except for an abortive coup by air force officers in 1969. About 300 air force personnel were arrested even before the plot was set in motion. The dissidents were tried and sentenced to prison, but by the mid-1970s all had been released. High wages and privileges tended to keep discontent among the officer corps to a minimum. The appointment of many members of the royal family to military positions also provided a measure of protection against intrigue. The separate national guard, with its tribal roots, provided an additional safeguard against any threat from the military.
The prestige of the House of Saud was closely associated with the protection of the holy places. When, in 1979, an armed group of about 500 religious extremists occupied the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the standing of the royal family was seriously affected. The insurgent leader condemned the Al Saud for corruption, declaring that the kingdom's rulers had forsaken the primary tenets of Islam. Security forces did not immediately respond to the occupation because of the Quran's strictures against shedding blood in the holy place. Partly as a result of lack of coordination and poor discipline, it took troops, national guard, and security forces fourteen days of heavy fighting to oust the insurgents. Many people were killed. The occupation of the Grand Mosque inspired riots and demonstrations by Shia dissidents, which were answered by the liberal use of firearms and the sealing off of major trouble spots by the national guard.
Followers of Ayatollah Khomeini tried to stir up trouble by disrupting the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, on several occasions during the 1980s, but heavy security controls usually succeeded in preventing major incidents. In July 1987, however, more than 400 people died as a result of a serious riot instigated by thousands of Iranian pilgrims. Khomeini called for the overthrow of the Saudi royal family to avenge the pilgrims' deaths. Saudi Arabia, in turn, accused Iran of staging the riots to support its demands that Mecca and Medina be internationalized as pan-Islamic cities. Several Saudi Shia were tried and executed for exploding bombs at Saudi oil facilities in 1988, probably as retaliation by Iran and its sympathizers against restrictions on Iranian attendance at the annual pilgrimage after the 1987 riots. A number of bomb attacks were made on Saudi agencies abroad--primarily offices of the national airline, Saudia. Saudi diplomats were assassinated by groups calling themselves the Party of God in the Hijaz, Soldiers of the Right, and Arab Fury. Both types of attack were thought to be the work of Saudi Shia instigated by elements of the Iranian government. Saudi Arabia accused Iran in connection with two bomb incidents during the 1989 hajj in apparent retaliation for Saudi restrictions against Iranian pilgrims. Sixteen Kuwaiti Shia were executed for these attacks.
Some easing of relations with Iran occurred after Khomeini's death in 1989. During the 1990 pilgrimage, more than 1,400 pilgrims were trampled to death or suffocated after they were stampeded in an underground tunnel. The incident, however, was not linked to Iran. Disputes over the size of the Iranian contingent and rules governing their conduct prevented Iranians from participating in the hajj for three years. In 1991 the Saudis accepted a quota of 115,000 Iranian pilgrims and allowed political demonstrations in Mecca. Although peaceful, the demonstrations included strident attacks on the United States and Israel.
The Persian Gulf War placed new strains on the government's efforts to maintain the allegiances of both the modern, secular segments of Saudi society and the traditional, religious elements. Although it offered some conciliatory gestures to the modernists, the government appeared adamant and ready to respond forcefully to any dissent against the authority of the Al Saud.
The existence of a large and diffuse royal family, the vast territorial extent of the kingdom, and its widely scattered population centers reduced the likelihood that an attempt to overthrow Saudi rule could succeed. Still, the government continued to exercise control over the information media and strictly supervised or prohibited independent interest groups such as political parties or labor unions.
Islamic radicals were few in number but had undeniable influence, projecting their messages from the public mosques and university classrooms. Their criticism that the government under King Fahd had weakened in its devotion to Islamic principles was difficult to silence because it was offered in an Islamic context. Islamist pressure for greater Islamization in education, the press, and foreign policy appeared to strengthen after the Persian Gulf War.
The population is approximately 22.1 million with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $7,564. The oil industry has been the basis of the transformation of Saudi Arabia from a pastoral, agricultural, and trading society to a rapidly urbanizing one, characterized by large-scale infrastructure projects, an extensive social welfare system, and a labor market comprised largely of foreign workers. Oil revenues account for approximately 55 percent of the GDP and 80 percent of government income. Agriculture accounts for only about 6 percent of GDP. Government spending, including spending on the national airline, power, water, telephone, education, and health services, accounts for 24 percent of GDP. About 40 percent of the economy is nominally private, and the Government is promoting further privatization of the economy. In 1995 the Government began an aggressive campaign to increase the number of Saudi nationals represented in the public and private work forces.
The vast majority of the people of Saudi Arabia are Sunni Muslims. Islam is the established religion, and as such its institutions receive government support. In the early seventh century, Muhammad, a merchant from the Hashimite branch of the ruling Quraysh tribe in the Arabian town of Mecca, began to preach the first of a series of revelations that Muslims believe were granted him by God through the angel Gabriel. He stressed monotheism and denounced the polytheism of his fellow Meccans.
Because Mecca's economy was based in part on a thriving pilgrimage business to the Kaaba, the sacred structure around a black meteorite, and the numerous pagan shrines located there, Muhammad's vigorous and continuing censure eventually earned him the bitter enmity of the town's leaders. In 622 he was invited to the town of Yathrib, which came to be known as Medina (the city) because it was the center of his activities. The move, or hijra, known in the West as the hegira, marks the beginning of the Islamic era. The Muslim calendar, based on the lunar year, begins in 622. In Medina, Muhammad--by this time known as the Prophet--continued to preach, defeated his detractors in battle, and consolidated both the temporal and spiritual leadership of all Arabia in his person before his death in 632.
After Muhammad's death, his followers compiled those of his words regarded as coming directly from God into the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. Other sayings and teachings of his and his companions as recalled by those who had known Muhammad, became the hadith. The precedent of his personal deeds and utterances was set forth in the sunna. Together the Quran, the hadith, and the sunna form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social life of an orthodox Sunni Muslim.
During his life, Muhammad was both spiritual and temporal leader of the Muslim community; he established Islam as a total, all-encompassing way of life for individuals and society. Islam traditionally recognizes no distinction between religion and state, and no distinction between religious and secular life or religious and secular law. A comprehensive system of religious law (the sharia--see Glossary) developed during the first four centuries of Islam, primarily through the accretion of precedent and interpretation by various judges and scholars. During the tenth century, however, legal opinion began to harden into authoritative doctrine, and the figurative bab al ijtihad (gate of interpretation) gradually closed, thenceforth excluding flexibility in Sunni Islamic law.
After Muhammad's death, the leaders of the Muslim community chose Abu Bakr, the Prophet's father-in-law and one of his earliest followers, as caliph, or successor. At the time, some persons favored Ali, the Prophet's cousin and husband of his daughter Fatima, but Ali and his supporters (the so-called Shiat Ali or Party of Ali) eventually recognized the community's choice. The next two caliphs--Umar, who succeeded in 634, and Uthman, who took power in 644--were acknowledged by the entire community. When Ali finally succeeded to the caliphate in 656, Muawiyah, governor of Syria, rebelled in the name of his murdered kinsman Uthman. After the ensuing civil war, Ali moved his capital to Mesopotamia, where a short time later he, too, was murdered.
Ali's death ended the period in which the entire community of Islam recognized a single caliph. Upon Ali's death, Muawiyah proclaimed himself caliph from Damascus. The Shiat Ali, however, refused to recognize Muawiyah or his line, the Umayyad caliphs; in support of a caliphate based on descent from the Prophet, they withdrew and established a dissident sect known as the Shia.
Originally political in nature, the differences between the Sunni and Shia interpretations gradually assumed theological and metaphysical overtones. Ali's two sons, Ahsan and Husayn, became martyred heroes to the Shia and repositories of the claims of Ali's line to mystical preeminence among Muslims. The Sunnis retained the doctrine of the selection of leaders by consensus, although Arabs and members of the Quraysh, Muhammad's tribe, predominated in the early years.
Reputed descent from the Prophet continued to carry social and religious prestige throughout the Muslim world in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, disagreements among Shia over who of several pretenders had a truer claim to the mystical powers of Ali produced further schisms. Some Shia groups developed doctrines of divine leadership far removed from the strict monotheism of early Islam, including beliefs in hidden but divinely chosen leaders with spiritual powers that equaled or surpassed those of the Prophet himself. The main sect of Shia became known as Twelvers because they recognized Ali and eleven of his direct descendants.
The early Islamic polity was intensely expansionist, fueled both by fervor for the new religion and by economic and social factors. Conquering armies and migrating tribes swept out of Arabia, spreading Islam. By the end of Islam's first century, Islamic armies had reached far into North Africa and eastward and northward into Asia.
Although Muhammad had enjoined the Muslim community to convert the infidel, he had also recognized the special status of the "people of the book," Jews and Christians, whose scriptures he considered revelations of God's word that contributed in some measure to Islam. Inhabiting the Arabian Peninsula in Muhammad's time were Christians, Jews, and Hanifs, believers in an indigenous form of monotheism who are mentioned in the Quran. Medina had a substantial Jewish population, and villages of Jews dotted the Medina oases. Clusters of Christian monasteries were located in the northern Hijaz, and Christians were known to have visited seventh-century Mecca. Some Arabic-speaking tribal people were Christian, including some from the Najdi interior and the well-known Ghassanids and Lakhmids on the Arabian borderlands with Constantinople. Najran, a city in the southwest of present-day Saudi Arabia, had a mixed population of Jews, Christians, and pagans, and had been ruled by a Jewish king only fifty years before Muhammad's birth. In sixth-century Najran, Christianity was well established and had a clerical hierarchy of nuns, priests, bishops, and lay clergy. Furthermore, there were Christian communities along the gulf, especially in Bahrain, Oman, and Aden (in present-day Yemen).
Jews and Christians in Muslim territories could live according to their religious law, in their communities, and were exempted from military service if they accepted the position of dhimmis, or tolerated subject peoples. This status entailed recognition of Muslim authority, additional taxes, prohibition on proselytism among Muslims, and certain restrictions on political rights.
The decade of the 1980s was characterized by the rise of ultraconservative, politically activist Islamic movements in much of the Arab world. These Islamist movements, labeled fundamentalist in the West, sought the government institutionalization of Islamic laws and social principles. Although Saudi Arabia already claimed to be an Islamic government whose constitution is the Quran, the kingdom has not been immune to this conservative trend.
In Saudi Arabia, the 1960s, and especially the 1970s, had been years of explosive development, liberal experimentation, and openness to the West. A reversal of this trend came about abruptly in 1979, the year in which the Grand Mosque in Mecca came under attack by religiously motivated critics of the monarchy, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established. Each of these events signaled that religious conservatism would have to be politically addressed with greater vigor. Although the mosque siege was carried out by a small band of zealots and their actions of shooting in the mosque appalled most Muslims, their call for less ostentation on the part of the Saudi rulers and for a halt to the cultural inundation of the kingdom by the West struck a deep chord of sympathy across the kingdom. At the same time, Ayatollah Khomeini's call to overthrow the Al Saud was a direct challenge to the legitimacy of the monarchy as custodian of the holy places, and a challenge to the stability of the kingdom with its large Shia minority.
In the years following these events, the rise of the ultraconservative periphery has caused the vast center of society to shift in a conservative direction, producing greater polarity between those who are Western-oriented and the rest of society. The 1991 Persian Gulf War marked another dramatic shift toward conservative sentiment, and this conservative trend continued to gain momentum in the early 1990s.
The conservative revival has been manifest in literature, in individual behavior, in government policies, in official and unofficial relations with foreigners, in mosque sermons, and in protest demonstrations against the government. The revival was also apparent in increased religious programming on television and radio, and an increase in articles about religion in newspapers.
On an individual level, some Saudi citizens, especially educated young women, were expressing the revivalist mood by supplementing the traditional Saudi Islamic hijab (literally curtain or veil), a black cloak, black face veil, and hair covering, with long black gloves to hide the hands. In some cases, women who formerly had not covered their faces began to use the nontransparent covering once worn mainly by women of traditional families. Some, especially younger, university- educated women, wore the hijab when traveling in Europe or the United States to demonstrate the sincerity of their belief in following the precepts of Islam.
In the Hijaz, another expression of the Islamic revival was participation in the ritual celebration of popular Islamic holidays. Some elite Hijazi families, for example, have revived the mawlid, a gathering for communal prayer on the occasion of the Prophet's birthday, or to celebrate a birth, mourn a death, bless a new house, or seek God's favor in fulfillment of some wish, such as cure of an illness or the birth of a child. Mawlid rituals, especially when performed by women, were suppressed by Abd al Aziz when he conquered the Hijaz because they incorporated intercession and the Wahhabis considered them the equivalent of polytheism.
Reacting to the revivalist mood, the government has backed the mutawwiin in responding to calls for controls over behavior perceived as non-Islamic. In November 1990, a group of forty-seven women staged a demonstration to press their claim for the right to drive. The mutawwiin demanded that the women be punished. The government confiscated the women's passports, and those employed as teachers were fired. The previously unofficial ban on women's driving quickly became official. As a further indication of the growing conservatism, considerable criticism of the women's behavior in asking for the right to drive came from within the women's branch of the university in Riyadh.
Religiously sanctioned behavior, once thought to be the responsibility of families, was being increasingly institutionalized and enforced. Women, for example, were usually prevented from traveling abroad unless accompanied by a male chaperon (mahram), a marked shift from the policy of the late 1970s, when a letter granting permission to travel was considered sufficient. This rule has compounded the difficulties for women wishing to study abroad: a 1982 edict remained in force that restricted scholarships for women to those whose father, husband, or brother was able to remain with them during the period of study.
State funding has increased for the nationwide organization of mutawwiin that is incorporated into the civil service bureaucracy. Once responsible primarily for enforcing the attendance of men in the mosque at prayer time, the tasks of the mutawwiin since the 1980s have come to include enforcing public abstinence from eating, drinking, and smoking among both Muslims and non-Muslims in the daylight hours during Ramadan. The mutawwiin (also seen as Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice or Committees for Public Morality) are also responsible for seeing that shops are closed at prayer time and that modest dress is maintained in public. Foreign women were under increased pressure to wear clothing that covered the arms and legs, and men and women who were unrelated might be apprehended for traveling together in a car. In the early 1980s, an offending couple might have received an official reprimand, but in the early 1990s they might experience more serious consequences. In 1991, for example, a Saudi citizen who gave a foreign female coworker a ride home was sentenced to a public flogging and his coworker subsequently was deported.
The rise in conservatism also can be seen in measures taken to obstruct non-Muslim religious services. Non-Muslim services have long been discouraged, but never prohibited, in Arabia. Even at the height of the Wahhabi revival in the 1920s, Christian missionary doctors held prayer services in the palace of Abd al Aziz. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Christian religious services were held regularly in private houses and in housing compounds belonging to foreign companies, and these services were usually ignored by mutawwiin as long as they did not attract public attention or encourage proselytism. With the end of the Persian Gulf War, however, mutawwiin began to enforce a ban on non-Muslim worship and punished offenders. In 1991, for example, a large number of mutawwiin accompanied by uniformed police broke up a Christian service in Riyadh and arrested a number of participants, including children.
The most significant indicator of the growing shift toward conservatism was the willingness of the state to silence opposition groups. For example, in May 1991, more than 400 men from the religious establishment and universities, including Saudi Arabia's most prominent legal scholar, Shaykh Abd al Aziz ibn Baz, petitioned the king to create a consultative council, a request to which the king responded favorably in February 1992. In their petition, however, the signatories asked not only for more participation in decision making, but also for a revision of all laws, including commercial and administrative regulations, to conform with the sharia. They asked for the creation of Islamic banks and an end to interest payments in established banks, as well as the redistribution of wealth, protection for the rights of the individual, censure of the media so that it would serve Islam and morality, and the creation of a strong army so that the kingdom would not be dependent on the West. The requests represented a combination of apparently liberal petitions (a consultative council, redistribution of wealth) with a conservative religious bent.
In a follow-up to the petition, a number of the signatories wrote a letter stating that funds for religious institutions were being cut back, that the institutions were not being given the resources to create jobs, and that their fatwas were being ignored. The letter further claimed that those who signed the original petition had had their passports confiscated and were being harassed by security personnel even though "they had committed no other crime than giving advice to the Guardian." This affair suggested that the government was sufficiently concerned about the increasingly conservative mood to shift its strategy from merely co-opting the conservative agenda to suppressing its extreme voices.
In another incident, a movement called Islamic Awakening, which had a growing following in religious colleges and universities, attempted to hold a public demonstration in early 1991, but participants were threatened with arrest if they did so. At the same time, the government arrested a well-known activist in the Islamic Awakening while he was preaching a sermon in a Riyadh mosque.
Factors contributing to the increased attraction of Islamic conservatism included the problem of impending loss of identity caused by overwhelming Westernization. As secular education, population mobility, the breakup of extended family households, and the employment of women chipped away at cherished institutions of family and society, religion was a refuge and a source of stability.
Another factor was disaffection with the existing economic system in the face of rising unemployment. During the rapid expansion of the 1970s, employment in the public sector was virtually assured for Saudi citizens with technical skills and for those with a Western education. By the end of the decade, however, those positions, especially in education and in the ministries, came under pressure from increasing numbers of university graduates with rising expectations that no longer could be fulfilled in public sector employment. In addition, in the 1990s a growing number of young men educated in Islamic colleges and universities were unemployed; their acquired knowledge and skills were becoming more irrelevant to the demands of the economy and bureaucratic infrastructure, even within the judiciary where traditionally Islamic scholarship was most highly valued.
An additional factor lay in the monarchy's continuing need to maintain legitimacy as an "Islamic government." As long as the ruling family believes it must continue to prove itself a worthy inheritor of the legacy on which the kingdom was founded, it will be obliged to foster religious education and the Islamic political culture in which the kingdom's media are steeped. A lesser factor in the rise of conservatism may be widespread sympathy with the sense of being victimized by the West, as evidenced, for example, in the continuing displacement of Palestinians in the occupied territories and southern Lebanon.
Islam remained the primary cohesive ideology in the kingdom, the source of legitimacy for the monarchy, and the pervasive system for moral guidance and spirituality. The nature of the Islamic society Saudi Arabia wished to have in the future, however, was one of the important and passionately debated issues in the kingdom in the early 1990s. The ultraconservative moral agenda appealed on an emotional level to many Saudi citizens. But the desire to expand the jurisdiction of sharia law and to interfere with the banking system was also a source of concern for many people. Because nearly all Saudis have reaped material benefits from state-funded development, people were hesitant to jeopardize those benefits and the political stability that allowed development. Some have suggested that the new system of basic laws was a clear signal that the monarchy was firmly committed to liberalization and no longer felt compelled to tolerate conservative excesses. Close assessment of the implications of the basic laws suggested, however, that the monarchy was making no substantive changes and, in effect, was taking no chances to risk disturbing the balance among competing religious persuasions in the kingdom.
The judicial system is founded upon the sharia, particularly the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam, in accordance with a ruling by King Abd al Aziz in 1926. The Hanbali system of jurisprudence, which rejected analogy as a source of law and gave prominence to the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, was regarded as especially rigid by most Muslim jurists. If there is no guidance in Hanbali texts, however, Saudi jurists could refer to other schools or exercise their own reasoning.
Two categories of crime are delineated in the sharia: those that are carefully defined and those that are implicit in the requirements and prohibitions of the sharia. For the first category, there are specific penalties; for the second, punishment can be prescribed by a judge (qadi) of a sharia court. A third category of crime has developed through the years as a result of various governmental decrees that specified codes of behavior and regulations considered necessary to maintain public order and security. The first two categories are tried in sharia courts. The third, dealing with corporate law, taxation, oil and gas, and immigration, is handled administratively by government officials.
The sharia carefully defines crimes--such as homicide, personal injury, adultery, fornication, theft, and highway robbery--and prescribes a penalty (hadd) for each. Various degrees of culpability for homicide and bodily injury are recognized depending on intent, the kind of weapon used, and the circumstances under which the crime occurred. Homicide is considered a crime against a person rather than a crime against society in which the state administers justice of its own volition. Under the sharia, the victim or the victim's family has the right to demand punishment, to grant clemency, or to demand blood money (diya)--a set payment as recompense for the crime.
An act of self-defense is recognized as a right nullifying criminality. Retaliation is permitted to the male next of kin of the victim by killing the criminal in the case of a homicide or exacting the same bodily injury that was inflicted on the victim. Acceptance of diya is, however, considered preferable under the sharia. In cases involving death or grievous injury, the accused is usually held incommunicado. Imprisonment before trial can last weeks or even several months. The right of bail or habeas corpus is not recognized, although persons accused of crimes are sometimes released on the recognizance of a patron or employer. The accused is normally held not more than three days before being formally charged, but it is common for detainees to be held for long periods if the investigation is incomplete.
At trials for minor offenses, qadis hear complaints and then cross-examine plaintiffs, defendants, and any witnesses. The judge assigns great significance to a defendant's sworn testimony, although the testimony of two women is required to equal that of one man. In the absence of two witnesses, oral confessions before a judge are almost always required for conviction. Trials are held without jurors and are generally closed. They are normally held without counsel, although lawyers can advise the accused before the trial. Attorneys may also be allowed to act at interpreters for those unfamiliar with Arabic. Consular access is not usually permitted during the trials of foreign nationals. After determining guilt or innocence, a sentence, if appropriate, is imposed by the judge. In certain criminal cases, punishment can be referred to a local governor or shaykh for sentencing upon the advice of a local Muslim jurist or the ulama.
Appeals against judges' decisions are automatically reviewed by the Ministry of Justice or in more serious cases by a court of appeal. There were two sharia courts of appeal, one sitting in Riyadh and the other in Mecca. Appeals are heard by panels of three judges except for sentences of death or amputation, which can only be adjudicated by a panel of five judges. Decisions of the appellate courts are final except for sentences of death and amputation. Cases of capital punishment are automatically referred to the king for final review.
The incidence of crime was considered to be relatively low in Saudi Arabia, and violent street crime was particularly unusual. Crime rates had, however, risen with the presence of foreign workers. An increase noted in the level of petty crime in 1989 was linked to unemployment among Saudis and Yemeni residents of the kingdom. The severity of penalties and the rigid system of enforcement were credited by both officials and ordinary citizens with contributing to the high standards of public safety. Supporters of severe punishment believed that, although carried out infrequently, a beheading or stoning reminded the people that such penalties remained in force. Some observers disagreed, citing cultural traits and the social forces bearing on Arabs of the peninsula as the main inhibiting factors.
According to the Statistical Yearbook published by the Ministry of Finance and National Economy, the most common crimes in 1988 were theft (7,553 cases), the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol (5,085 cases), altercations and quarreling (3,651 cases), and moral offenses (2,576 cases). There were fifty-six murders and 340 cases of attempted and threatened murder. There were twenty-nine cases of arson and 574 cases involving forgery or fraud.
Crimes subject to the death sentence included murder, apostasy from Islam, adultery, drug smuggling, and sabotage. Under certain conditions, rape and armed robbery could also lead to execution. Executions could be carried out by beheading, firing squad, or stoning of the convicted person in a drugged state. All seventeen executions carried out in 1990 were by beheading.
The sharia sets forth rigorous requirements for proof of adultery or fornication. For the crime of adultery, four witnesses to the act must swear to having witnessed the crime, and if such an accusation does not hold up in court, the witnesses are then liable to punishment. No one was executed for adultery in 1990, although during 1989 there were reliable reports of nonjudicial public stonings for adultery.
Under the sharia, repeated theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand, administered under anesthetic. Because of its severity, a number of qualifications have been introduced to mitigate the punishment. If the thief repents and makes restitution before the case is brought before a judge, the punishment can be reduced; furthermore, the victim can demand recompense rather than punishment or can grant a pardon. Highway crime was considered a crime against public safety and thus subject to more severe punishment. Aggravated theft can be punished by cross-amputation of a hand and a foot. Such cases have been unusual, but Amnesty International reported four of them in 1986. In 1990 fewer than ten hand amputations took place, at least five of which were administered to foreigners.
Flogging with a cane was often imposed for offenses against religion and public morality, such as drunkenness and gambling and the neglect of prayer requirements and fasting. Although the flogging was painful, the skin was not broken. The purpose was to degrade rather than cripple the offender and serve as a deterrent to others. United States citizens have been flogged for alcoholrelated offenses, usually receiving from thirty to 120 strokes. A Kuwaiti sentenced to prison in connection with terrorist bombings in Mecca was condemned to receive a total of 1,500 lashes over the course of his twenty-year sentence.
In 1987, based on a ruling by the ulama, drug smugglers and those who received and distributed drugs from abroad were made subject to the death sentence for bringing "corruption" into the country. First-time offenders faced prison terms, floggings, and fines, or a combination of all three punishments. Those convicted for a second time faced execution. By the end of 1987, at least nine persons had been executed for offenses that involved drug smuggling, most of them non-Saudis. According to the police, the antidrug campaign and the death penalty had by 1989 reduced addiction by 60 percent and drug use by 26 percent. By late 1991, more than 110 drug sellers had been arrested since the law was put into effect. Saudi officials claimed that the kingdom had the lowest rate of drug addiction in the world, which they attributed to the harsh punishments and the pious convictions of ordinary Saudis. Drug use was said to persist, however, among wealthy younger Saudis who acquired the habit abroad. Drug users included some members of the royal family, who took advantage of their privileged status to import narcotics.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
The crime rate in Saudi Arabia is very low compared to more industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Saudi Arabia. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Saudi Arabia will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 2000 was 0.71 per 100,000 population for Saudi Arabia, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.51 for USA. For rape, the rate in 2000 was 0.14 for Saudi Arabia, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 32.05 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 2000 was 0.14 for Saudi Arabia, 4.08 for Japan, and 144.92 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2000 was 0.12 for Saudi Arabia, 23.78 for Japan, and 323.62 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 2000 was 0.05 for Saudi Arabia, 233.60 for Japan, and 728.42 for USA. The rate of larceny for 2000 was 79.71 for Saudi Arabia, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2475.27 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 2000 was 76.25 for Saudi Arabia, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 414.17 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 157.12 for Saudi Arabia, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA.
TRENDS IN CRIME
Between 1995 and 2000, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 0.83 to 0.71 per 100,000 population, a decrease of 14.5%. The rate for rape decreased from 0.6 to 0.14, a decrease of 76.7%. The rate of robbery increased from 0.02 to 0.14, an increase of 600%. The rate for aggravated assault decreased from 17.75 to 0.12, a decrease of 99.3%. The rate for burglary increased from 0.04 to 0.05, an increase of 25%. The rate of larceny increased from 37.00 to 79.71, an increase of 115.4%. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 50.52 to 76.25, an increase of 50.9%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 106.76 to 115.12, an increase of 47.2%.
The Saudi Arabian legal system in 1992 was based on the sharia, or Islamic law. The sharia was applied throughout the kingdom in strict accordance with the interpretation of the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam. Because pious Muslims believed that the sharia was sacred law, they accepted as judges, or qadis, only men who had spent a number of years studying the accepted sources of the sharia: the Quran and the authenticated traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad's rulings and practices. Historically, the decisions of qadis were subject to review by the ruler, whose primary role was to ensure that the Islamic community lived in conformity with the sharia. In effect, the judiciary was not an independent institution but an extension of the political authority. This traditional relationship between qadis and the king still prevailed in Saudi Arabia.
The Ministry of Justice, established by King Faisal in 1970, was responsible for administering the country's more than 300 sharia courts. The minister of justice, appointed by the king from among the country's most senior ulama, was the de facto chief justice. He was assisted by the Supreme Judicial Council, a body of eleven members chosen from the leading ulama. The Supreme Judicial Council supervised the work of the courts, reviewed all legal decisions referred to it by the minister of justice, expressed legal opinions on judicial questions, and approved all sentences of death, amputation (of fingers and hands as punishment for theft), and stoning (for adultery). Since 1983, the minister of justice has also served as chief of the Supreme Judicial Council, a position that further enhanced his status as chief justice.
Sharia courts included courts of first instance and appeals courts. Minor civil and criminal cases were adjudicated in the summary courts of first instance. One kind of summary court dealt exclusively with beduin affairs. A single qadi presided over all summary court hearings. The general courts of first instance handled all cases beyond the jurisdiction of the summary courts. One judge usually presided over cases in the general courts, but three qadis sat in judgment for serious crimes such as murder, major theft, or sexual misconduct.
Decisions of the summary and general courts could be appealed to the sharia appeals court. The appeals court, or court of cassation, had three departments: penal suits, personal status suits, and all other types of suits. The appeals had two seats, one in Riyadh and one in Mecca. The chief justice and a panel of several qadis presided over all cases. The king was at the pinnacle of the judicial system, functioning as a final court of appeal and as a source of pardon.
Saudi Arabia's judicial code stipulated that specialized courts may be established by royal decree to deal with infractions of government regulations not covered by the sharia. Since the reign of Abd al Aziz, kings have created various secular tribunals outside of the sharia court system to deal with violations of administrative rules. The Grievances Board, for example, operated under the authority of the Bureau of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers. It reviewed complaints of improper behavior brought against both government officials and qadis. The Ministry of Interior was in charge of the special police who enforced motor vehicle regulations. The Ministry of Commerce supervised arbitration and appeals boards established to settle commercial disputes, especially those involving foreign businesses. Decrees pertaining to labor were enforced by special committees within the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
The successful forging of the different tribes of the Arabian Peninsula into a coherent nation during the first half of the twentieth century must be credited to Abd al Aziz and the House of Saud. If there were one singular element in Saudi society that explained the relative stability during the first sixty years of the kingdom, it was the allegiance that had been exhibited by a preponderant segment of the population to the Al Saud. Internal order and the continued existence of the monarchy, however, did not come automatically to the country simply because of the leadership and charisma of Abd al Aziz. Of great significance during his reign was the establishment of the country's basic security forces and a code of behavior intended to instill fear and respect for the law and obedience to it.
With its tasks of preventing intertribal warfare and protecting the House of Saud from any possible threat, the national guard has been the primary agency for upholding the security of the government. The loyalty of the guard has, however, been more than blind allegiance to the person of the king. In 1964, when the kingdom was in trouble under King Saud, the guard supported Faisal and the Al Saud in deposing the monarch, acting as an instrument in a controlled process of succession. Under its commander, Abd Allah, one of the powerful princes in the kingdom, the national guard remained an important factor in national stability in 1992. It was, however, increasingly being supplanted by more modern agencies of control under the Ministry of Interior that had the king's full brother, Amir Nayif, at its head and another full brother, Amir Ahmad ibn Abd al Aziz, as the deputy minister.
Traditionally, the allegiance of the people has been to the tribe and to the extended family. One of Abd al Aziz's truly significant accomplishments was to implant the concept of allegiance to the House of Saud and by extension to the government and the judicial system. Also important was the recognition by the Saudis of their ethnic identity as an Arab people and their religious identity with Wahhabi Islam. Each aspect of a person's day-to-day conduct could be categorized as being within the bounds of acceptable behavior or outside those bounds, with no distinction between the secular and the religious spheres. Few Saudis chose to live outside the law, and their basic attitudes supported an orderly society.
In theory, all persons, including the king and foreigners, were equal before the law and subject to both the sharia and law by decree. In practice, however, members of the royal family and other leaders have rarely been brought to public trial. Cases involving foreigners have often been handled outside the court system, frequently by deportation.
In the limited public security structure inherited from the Ottoman Empire, police work was done informally and justice was administered by local or tribal authorities. Gradually, during the reign of Abd al Aziz, modern organs of government were introduced and became responsible for maintaining public order. By royal decree in 1950, Abd al Aziz created a general directorate to supervise all police functions in the kingdom, and a year later he established the Ministry of Interior, which has since been in charge of police matters. Subordinate to the Ministry of Interior general directorates charged with maintaining internal security included Public Security, Investigation, Coast Guard, and Special Security. The offices of the deputy ministers for administration, national security affairs, and immigration and naturalization, and the Internal Security Forces College were all on the same organizational level as the four general directorates. Governors of the amirates reported directly to the minister of interior.
In return for their loyalty and the maintenance of peace and order in the tribal areas, the king provided subsidies to the shaykhs and a minimum of government interference in tribal affairs. Under this system, offenses and breaches of the peace were punished by the responsible shaykh. The national guard acted as a support force to quell disturbances or restore order if tribal authority could not.
The public security forces, particularly the centralized Public Security Police, could also get emergency support from the national guard or, in extremis, from the regular armed forces. The Public Security Police, recruited from all areas of the country, maintained police directorates at provincial and local levels. The director general for public security retained responsibility for police units but, in practice, provincial governors exercised considerable autonomy. Provincial governors were frequently senior amirs of the Al Saud.
Since the mid-1960s, a major effort has been made to modernize the police forces. During the 1970s, quantities of new vehicles and radio communications equipment enabled police directorates to operate sophisticated mobile units, especially in the principal cities. Helicopters were also acquired for use in urban areas. Police uniforms were similar to the khaki and olive drab worn by the army except for the distinctive red beret. Policemen usually wore sidearms while on duty.
Dealings with the security forces were often a source of difficulty for foreigners in the kingdom. Ordinary policemen could be impatient with those who did not speak Arabic and were often illiterate. Darker-skinned workers were said to be treated more roughly than Europeans or North Americans. Detentions of everyone connected with a serious crime or accident could result until the police investigated matters.
The police security forces were divided into regular police and special investigative police of the General Directorate of Investigation (GDI), commonly called the mubahith (secret police). The GDI conducted criminal investigations in addition to performing the domestic security and counterintelligence functions of the Ministry of Interior. The Directorate of Intelligence, which reported directly to the king, was responsible for intelligence collection and analysis and the coordination of intelligence tasks and reporting by all intelligence agencies, including those of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation and the national guard.
An important feature of domestic security was the Ministry of Interior's centralized computer system at the National Information Center in Riyadh. The computer network, linking 1,100 terminals, maintained records on citizens' identity numbers and passports, foreigners' residence and work permits, hajj visas, vehicle registrations, and criminal records. Reports from agents and from the large number of informants employed by the security services were also entered. Officials of the Directorate of Intelligence had authority to carry out wiretaps and mail surveillance.
The Special Security Force was the Saudi equivalent of a special weapons assault team (SWAT), such as had been incorporated into police forces in various parts of the world. Reporting directly to the minister of interior, the force was organized after the poor performance of the national guard during the revolt at the Grand Mosque at Mecca in 1979. The force was equipped with UR-416 armored vehicles from West Germany and nonlethal chemical weapons. According to The Military Balance, the force had a personnel strength of 500 in 1992, although estimates from other sources have ranged much higher. It was reported in 1990 that the antiterrorism unit of the Special Security Force was being disbanded and its German training staff repatriated.
The strength of the Coast Guard was 4,500 as of 1992 and of the Frontier Force 10,500, according to The Military Balance. The Frontier Force patrolled land borders and carried out customs inspections. The Coast Guard deployed its units from ports along the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea with a primary mission to prevent smuggling. Among its varied inventory of craft, the largest were four 210-ton offshore patrol craft acquired from West Germany in 1989. Two were based at Jiddah and two at Ad Dammam. The Coast Guard also had about thirty large patrol craft, 135 inshore patrol craft, and sixteen British-built Hovercraft.
An unusual, if not unique, internal security force in Saudi Arabia was the autonomous and highly visible religious police, or mutawwiin. Organized under the authority of the king in conjunction with the ulama, the mutawwiin were charged with ensuring compliance with the puritanical precepts of Wahhabism. A nationwide organization known in English as the Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (also seen as Committees for Public Morality), the mutawwiin earned a reputation for fanaticism and brutality that had become an embarrassment, but the Al Saud has seemingly been reluctant to confront the ulama in a showdown. Primarily, the mutawwiin enforced public observance of such religious requirements as the five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, the modesty of women's dress, and the proscriptions against the use of alcohol.
Once an important instrument of Abd al Aziz for upholding standards of public behavior, the ultraconservatism of the mutawwiin had become an anachronism, contrasting with the modernization processes working in other sectors of society. The government has occasionally disciplined overzealous mutawwiin, following complaints from a foreign government over treatment of its nationals. After a series of raids on rich and influential Saudis in 1990, the government appointed a new and more compliant leader of the religious police.
The religious police had the legal right to detain suspects for twenty-four hours before turning them over to the regular police and were known to have flogged detainees to elicit confessions. They often used switch-like sticks to beat those perceived to be in violation of religious laws. Foreign workers, including some from the United States, have been targets of harassment and raids. According to one estimate, there were about 20,000 mutawwiin in 1990. Most mutawwiin wore the traditional white thaub, were salaried, and were regarded as government employees. Some incidents of harassment have been attributed to self-appointed vigilantes outside the regular religious police hierarchy.
Today, the Government maintains control of the various security forces. Police and border forces under the Ministry of Interior are responsible for internal security. Also subordinate to the Ministry of Interior are the Mubahith, or internal security force, and the elite special forces. The Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, whose agents commonly are known as Mutawwa'in, or religious police, is a semiautonomous agency that enforces adherence to Islamic norms by monitoring public behavior. The Crown Prince controls the National Guard. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense and Aviation, Prince Sultan, is responsible for all the military forces. Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.
Shar'ia (Islamic law) prohibits any judge from accepting a confession obtained under duress; however, there were credible reports that the authorities abused detainees, both citizens and foreigners. Ministry of Interior officials are responsible for most incidents of abuse of prisoners, including beatings, whippings, sleep deprivation, and at least three cases of drugging of foreign prisoners. In addition there were allegations of torture, including allegations of beatings with sticks, suspension from bars by handcuffs, and threats against family members. Torture and abuse are used to obtain required confessions from prisoners. There were reports that in detention centers some boys and young men were flogged, forced constantly to lie on hard floors, deprived of sleep, and threatened with whipping and other abuse.
The Government has refused to recognize the mandate of the U.N. Committee Against Torture to investigate alleged abuses, although it has invited the committee to visit the country. However, the Government has pledged to cooperate with U.N. human rights mechanisms and announced in 2000 the establishment of a committee to investigate allegations of torture pursuant to its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Although the Government asks for details of reports of torture and other human rights abuses made by international human rights groups, it does not permit international observers to investigate such reports; however, it has invited observers from international human rights groups to visit the country. The Government's reluctance to grant members of diplomatic missions access to the Ministry of Interior detention facilities or allow members of international human rights groups into the country hinders efforts to confirm or discount reports of abuses. The Government's past failure to criticize human rights abuses has contributed to the public perception that security forces may commit abuses with impunity.
The Mutawwa'in continued to intimidate, harass, abuse, and detain citizens and foreigners of both sexes. They also bring citizens to police for detention. Throughout the year, both citizens and foreigners reported incidents of intimidation, harassment, and detention by the Mutawwa'in.
The Government infringes on these rights. The sanctity of family life and the inviolability of the home are among the most fundamental of Islamic precepts. Royal decrees include provisions calling for the Government to defend the home from unlawful intrusions, while laws and regulations prohibit officials from intercepting mail and electronic communication except when necessary during criminal investigations. Nonetheless, there are few procedural safeguards against government interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence.
The police generally must demonstrate reasonable cause and obtain permission from the provincial governor before searching a private home; however, warrants are not required by law.
Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, including material deemed pornographic and non-Muslim religious material. Customs officials confiscated or censored materials considered offensive, including Christian Bibles and religious videotapes. The authorities also open mail and use informants and wiretaps in internal security and criminal matters. Security forces used wiretaps against foreigners suspected of alcohol-related offenses. Informants (known as "mukhbir") and ward bosses (known as "umdas") report "seditious ideas" or antigovernment activity in their neighborhoods to the Ministry of the Interior.
The Government enforces most social and Islamic religious norms, the Government's interpretation of which are matters of law. Women may not marry noncitizens without government permission; men must obtain government permission to marry noncitizen women outside the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In accordance with Shari'a, women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims; men may marry Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims. Marriages between Sunni and Shi'a citizens are discouraged, and any such marriages generally are made formal officiated in ceremonies in the neighboring country of Bahrain.
Mutawwa'in practices and incidents of abuse varied widely in different regions of the country, but they were most numerous in the central Nejd region. In certain areas, both the Mutawwa'in and religious vigilantes acting on their own harassed, abused, arrested, and detained citizens and foreigners. The Government requires the Mutawwa'in to follow established procedures and to offer instruction in a polite manner; however, Mutawwa'in did not always comply with the requirements. During the year 2001, the Government neither criticized publicly abuses by Mutawwa'in and religious vigilantes nor sought to curtail such abuses.
Mutawwa'in enforcement of strict standards of social behavior included the closing of commercial establishments during the five daily prayer observances, insisting upon compliance with strict norms of public dress, and dispersing gatherings of women in public places designated for men, as well as preventing men from entering public places designated for families. Mutawwa'in frequently reproached citizen and foreign women for failure to observe strict dress codes and arrested men and women found together who were not married or closely related.
Some professors believe that informers monitor comments made in university classrooms and make reports to government authorities.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest; however, the authorities at times make arrests and detain persons without following explicit legal guidelines. The Mutawwa'in generally are free to intimidate and bring to police stations persons whom they accuse of committing "crimes of vice" based on their own religious interpretations. There are few procedures to safeguard against abuse, although the Government claims that it punishes individual officers who violate regulations. There have been few publicized cases of citizens successfully obtaining judicial redress for abuse of the Government's power of arrest and detention; none were reported during the year 2001.
According to regulation, authorities may not detain suspects for longer than 3 days before charging them. However, serious exceptions have been reported. In practice persons are held weeks or months and sometimes longer. The regulations also provide for bail for less serious crimes, although authorities at times release detainees on the recognizance of a patron or sponsoring employer without the payment of bail. If they are not released, authorities typically detain accused persons for an average of 2 months before sending the case to trial or, in the case of some foreigners, summarily deporting them. There is no established procedure providing detainees the right to inform their family of their arrest.
The Mutawwa'in have the authority to detain persons for no more than 24 hours for violations of the strict standards of proper dress and behavior. In the past, they sometimes exceeded this limit before delivering detainees to the police. During the year 2001, Mutawwa'in reportedly in practice handed over detainees to police within the 24-hour period; however, in some cases prisoners were held by police for longer periods, depending on the offense. Current procedures require a police officer to accompany the Mutawwa'in at the time of an arrest. Mutawwa'in generally complied with this requirement. During the year 2001, in the more conservative Riyadh district, reports continued of Mutawwa'in accosting, abusing, arresting, and detaining persons alleged to have violated dress and behavior standards.
The Mutawwa'in reportedly detained young men for offenses that included eating in restaurants with young women, making lewd remarks to women in the shopping malls, or walking in groups through family-only sections of shopping centers. Women of many nationalities were detained for actions such as riding in a taxi with a man who was not their relative, appearing with their heads uncovered in shopping malls, and eating in restaurants with males who were not their relatives. Many such prisoners were held for days, sometimes weeks, without officials notifying their families or, in the case of foreigners, their embassies.
The Government continued to detain Christians, at times for holding services and at times apparently arbitrarily.
According to various reports, a number of Shi'a sheikhs (religious leaders) were arrested and detained in 2000 and during the year 2001.
Political detainees who are arrested by the General Directorate of Investigation (GDI), the Ministry of Interior's security service (Mubahith), commonly are held incommunicado in special prisons during the initial phase of an investigation, which may last weeks or months. The GDI allows the detainees only limited contact with their families or lawyers. During the year 2001, foreigners detained by the GDI and under investigation were held without legal counsel or family visitation.
The authorities may detain without charge persons who publicly criticize the Government, or may charge them with attempting to destabilize the Government. On December 10 on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Government released by royal pardon 12,000 prisoners serving time for minor offenses.
The Government continued to commit abuses against members of the Shi'a minority. Since beginning the investigation of the 1996 bombing of the U.S. military installation at Al-Khobar, in which a number of eastern province Shi'a were arrested, authorities have detained, interrogated, and confiscated the passports of a number of Shi'a Muslims. The Government reportedly continued to detain an unknown number of Shi'a who were arrested in the aftermath of the Al-Khobar bombing. Government security forces reportedly arrest Shi'a based on the smallest suspicion, hold them in custody for lengthy periods, and then release them without explanation.
There is no reliable information about the total number of political detainees.
The Government did not use forced exile; however, it previously has revoked the citizenship of opponents of the Government who reside outside the country.
The independence of the judiciary is prescribed by law and usually is respected in practice; however, judges occasionally accede to the influence of the executive branch, high-ranking members of the royal family and their associates, who are not required to appear before the courts. Judges are appointed by the Justice Ministry and confirmed by the Royal Diwan (Royal Court). The Ministry exercises judicial, financial, and administrative control of the courts. The Supreme Judicial Council, whose members appointed by the King, may discipline or remove judges.
The legal system is based on Shari'a. Shari'a courts exercise jurisdiction over common criminal cases and civil suits regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Such jurisdiction extends to non-Muslims for crimes committed in the country. Shari'a courts base judgments largely on their interpretation of the Koran and the Sunna. Cases involving relatively small penalties are tried in Shari'a summary courts. More serious crimes are adjudicated in Shari'a courts of common pleas. Appeals from Shari'a courts are made to the courts of appeal.
Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before specialized administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the Settlement of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances.
The Government permits Shi'a Muslims to use their own legal tradition to adjudicate noncriminal cases within their community. There is no comparable right for non-Muslims or foreigners, whose cases are handled in regular Shari'a courts.
The military justice system has jurisdiction over uniformed personnel and civil servants that are charged with violations of military regulations. The Minister of Defense and Aviation and the King review the decisions of courts-martial.
The Supreme Judicial Council is not a court and may not reverse decisions made by a court of appeals. However, the Council may review lower court decisions and refer them back to the lower court for reconsideration
The Council of Senior Religious Scholars is an autonomous body of 20 senior religious jurists, including the Minister of Justice. It establishes the legal principles to guide lower-court judges in deciding cases.
In November a law became effective that provided persons under investigation with the right to a lawyer during investigation and trial; however, the new law has not yet been observed in practice. Previous law did not provide the defendant with the right to have a lawyer present in court. Defendants in most cases continue to appear without an attorney before a judge, who determines guilt or innocence in accordance with Shari'a standards. The law does not provide defendants with the right to a translator. The courts generally do not provide foreign defendants with translators. Defense lawyers may offer their clients advice before trial or may attend the trial as interpreters for those unfamiliar with Arabic. Public defenders are not provided. Individuals may choose any person to represent them by a power of attorney filed with the court and the Ministry of Justice. Most trials are closed.
There were reports during the year 2001 that the authorities tortured detainees and pressured them to confess by isolation, blindfolding, and drugging over a period of weeks.
A woman's testimony does not carry the same weight as that of a man. In a Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women.
Female parties to court proceedings such as divorce and family law cases generally must deputize male relatives to speak on their behalf. In the absence of two witnesses, or four witnesses in the case of adultery, confessions before a judge almost always are required for criminal conviction--a situation that repeatedly has led prosecuting authorities to coerce confessions from suspects by threats and abuse.
Sentencing is not uniform. Laws and regulations state that defendants should be treated equally; however, under Shari'a as interpreted and applied in Saudi Arabia, crimes against Muslims receive harsher penalties than those against non-Muslims. In the case of wrongful death, the amount of indemnity or "blood money" awarded to relatives varies with the nationality, religion, age, and sex of the victim. A sentence may be changed at any stage of review, except for punishments stipulated by the Koran.
Provincial governors have the authority to exercise leniency and reduce a judge's sentence. In general members of the royal family and other powerful families are not subject to the same rule of law as ordinary citizens. For example, judges do not have the power to issue a warrant summoning any member of the royal family.
The King and his advisors review cases involving capital punishment. The King has the authority to commute death sentences and grant pardons, except for capital crimes committed against individuals. In such cases, he may request the victim's next of kin to pardon the murderer--usually in return for compensation from the family or the King.
There is insufficient information to determine the number of political prisoners. The Government does not provide information regarding such persons or respond to inquiries about them. It does not allow access to political prisoners by international humanitarian organizations. Moreover, the Government conducts closed trials for persons who may be political prisoners and in other cases has detained persons incommunicado for long periods while under investigation. Amnesty International (AI) estimates the number of political prisoners to be between 100 and 200.
The Government punishes criminals according to its interpretation of Shari'a. Punishments include flogging, amputation, and execution by beheading, stoning, or firing squad. The authorities acknowledged 81 executions during the year 2001. Executions were for murder, narcotics-related offenses, rape, and armed robbery. In accordance with Shari'a, the authorities may punish repeated thievery and other repeated offenses by amputation of the right hand and left foot. Persons convicted of political or religious crimes reportedly were flogged with a leather strap. Persons convicted of less serious offenses, such as alcohol related offenses or being alone in the company of an unrelated person of the opposite sex, sometimes were punished by caning.
As of year 2001, the administration of the kingdom's prisons was under the supervision of the director general of public security. Unsanitary and overcrowded prison conditions prior to King Faisal's reign were supposedly corrected after reforms adopted since the late 1960s. Nevertheless, it was clear from various published reports during the 1980s that conditions for most prisoners were very unpleasant. According to Saudi Arabia: A MEED Practical Guide published in 1983 by the Middle East Economic Digest, up to 200 prisoners might share a single room. Basic food was provided, usually eaten by hand from the floor, although prisoners' families often supplemented their diets. Inmates slept on a bare floor; in some cases, they were provided with a pad, but no mattress. They had to supply their own blankets. There was little ventilation and a hole in the floor served as a lavatory. Saudi prisons were not dangerous or violent, and treatment for ordinary inmates was not cruel. Little attention was given to rehabilitation or training for a trade after confinement, however. Boredom was a particular problem. According to the MEED guide, there was no provision for parole, but most prisoners were released for good behavior after serving three-quarters of their sentences. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988, published by the United States Department of State, also described conditions as severe in some institutions, although not intentionally degrading. Prisoners were liable to suffer heat stroke and sometimes complained of difficulty in obtaining adequate medical treatment. The Department of State said that the Saudi government was making efforts to expand and improve prisons, but substandard conditions persisted, especially in deportation centers where large numbers of foreigners were held prior to deportation.
Prison and jail conditions vary throughout the Kingdom. Prisons reportedly generally meet internationally accepted standards and allegedly provide air-conditioned cells, good nutrition, regular exercise, and careful patrolling by prison guards. Some police stations, deportation centers, and jails, nonetheless, are overcrowded, unsanitary, and not air-conditioned. Authorities generally allowed family members access to detainees, but in some cases only after holding detainees for a significant period of time.
Boards of Investigation and Public Prosecution, organized on a regional basis, were established by King Fahd in 1993. The members of these boards have the right to inspect prisons, review prisoners' files, and hear their complaints. However, the Government does not permit human rights monitors to visit prisons or jails. The Government does not allow impartial observers of any type access to specialized Ministry of Interior prisons, where persons accused of political subversion are detained.
Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are present at the Rafha refugee camp, which houses former Iraqi prisoners of war and civilians who fled Iraq following the Gulf War. According to UNHCR officials, there was no systematic abuse of refugees by camp guards. When isolated instances of abuse surfaced in the past, the authorities were responsive and willing to investigate allegations and reprimand or remove offending guards. The camp receives a high level of material assistance and is generally comfortable and well run. The Government previously confined refugees to the camp, except in the event of approved emigration; however, during the year 2001, refugees were permitted to visit the town of Rafha to shop.
Shari'a prohibits abuse and violence against all innocent persons, including women. The Government does not keep statistics on spousal abuse or other forms of violence against women. However, based on the information available regarding physical spousal abuse and violence against women, such violence and abuse appear to be common problems. Hospital workers report that many women are admitted for treatment of injuries that apparently result from spousal violence; hospitals now are required to report any suspicious injuries to authorities. A Saudi man may prevent his wife and any child or unmarried adult daughter from obtaining an exit visa to depart the country.
Foreign embassies continued to receive many reports that employers abuse foreign women working as domestic servants. Some embassies of countries with large domestic servant populations maintain safehouses to which their citizens may flee to escape work situations that include forced confinement, withholding of food, beating and other physical abuse, and rape. Often the reported abuse is at the hands of female citizens. During the year 2001, the media reported more frequently on cases involving domestic abuse of women, servants, and children. However, in general the Government considers such cases to be family matters and does not intervene unless charges of abuse are brought to its attention. It is almost impossible for foreign women to obtain redress in the courts due to the courts' strict evidentiary rules and the women's and servants' own fears of reprisals. There were increasing reports during the year 2001 of employers being punished for abuse of domestic servants. There are no private support groups or religious associations to assist such women.
By religious law and social custom, women have the right to own property and are entitled to financial support from their husbands or male relatives. However, women have few political or social rights and are not treated as equal members of society. There are no active women's rights groups. Women legally may not drive motor vehicles and are restricted in their use of public facilities when men are present. Women must enter city buses by separate rear entrances and sit in specially designated sections. Women risk arrest by the Mutawwa'in for riding in a vehicle driven by a male who is not an employee or a close male relative. Women are not admitted to a hospital for medical treatment without the consent of a male relative. By law and custom, women may not undertake domestic or foreign travel alone. In November the Government announced that women could obtain their own identity cards; however, it required that they obtain permission to receive a card from their nearest male relatives. In addition the identity cards were not made mandatory for women, although some women applied for and obtained the cards. In 1999 the Ministry of Interior announced that preparations were underway to issue identity cards to women, which would represent a step toward allowing women to establish independent legal identities from men.
In public a woman is expected to wear an abaya (a black garment that covers the entire body) and also to cover her head and hair. The Mutawwa'in generally expect women from Arab countries, and other countries in Asia and Africa to comply more fully with Saudi customs of dress than they do Western women; nonetheless, in recent years they have instructed Western women to wear the abaya and cover their hair and face. During the year 2001, Mutawwa'in continued to admonish and harass women to wear their abayas and cover their hair.
There were no reports during the year 2001 of government officials and ministries barring accredited female diplomats in the country from official meetings or placing other restrictions on them, as had occurred in the past.
Prostitution is illegal and does not appear to be a widespread problem.
Women also are subject to discrimination under Shari'a as interpreted in the country, which stipulates that daughters receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers. While Shari'a provides women with a basis to own and dispose of property independently, women often are constrained from asserting such rights because of various legal and societal barriers, especially regarding employment and freedom of movement. In a Shari'a court, the testimony of one man equals that of two women. Although Islamic law permits polygyny, with up to four wives, it is becoming less common due to demographic and economic changes. Islamic law enjoins a man to treat each wife equally. In practice such equality is left to the discretion of the husband. Some women participate in Al-Mesyar (or "short daytime visit") marriages, or what are described as "weekend marriages," in which the women relinquish their legal rights to financial support and nighttime cohabitation. Additionally, the husband is not required to inform his other wives of the marriage, and any children resulting from such a marriage have no inheritance rights. The Government places greater restrictions on women than on men regarding marriage to noncitizens and non-Muslims.
Women must demonstrate legally specified grounds for divorce, but men may divorce without giving cause. In doing so, men are required to pay immediately an amount of money agreed upon at the time of the marriage, which serves as a one-time alimony payment. Women who demonstrate legal grounds for divorce still are entitled to this alimony. If divorced or widowed, a Muslim woman normally may keep her children until they attain a specified age: 7 years for boys; 9 years for girls. Children over these ages are awarded to the divorced husband or the deceased husband's family. Numerous divorced foreign women continued to be prevented by their former husbands from visiting their children after divorce.
Women have access to free but segregated education through the university level. They constitute over 58 percent of all university students, but are excluded from studying such subjects as engineering, journalism, and architecture. Men may study overseas; women may do so only if accompanied by a spouse or an immediate male relative.
Women make up approximately 5 percent of the formal work force and own about 20 percent of the businesses, although they must deputize a male relative to represent them in financial transactions. Most employment opportunities for women are in education and health care, with fewer opportunities in business, philanthropy, banking, retail sales, and the media. Despite limited educational opportunities in many professional fields, some female citizens are able to study abroad and return to work in professions such as architecture and journalism. Many foreign women work as domestic servants and nurses.
In 1997 the Government authorized women to work in a limited capacity in the hotel industry. Women who wish to enter nontraditional fields are subject to discrimination. Women may not accept jobs in rural areas if there are no adult male kin present with whom they may reside and who agree to take responsibility for them. Most workplaces in which women are present are segregated by gender. Frequently, contact with male supervisors or clients is allowed only by telephone or fax machine. In 1995 the Ministry of Commerce announced that women would no longer be issued business licenses for work in fields that might require them to supervise foreign workers, interact with male clients, or deal on a regular basis with government officials. However, in hospital settings and in the oil industry, women and men work together, and, in some instances, women supervise male employees.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is practiced among some foreign workers from East Africa and the Nile Valley. It is not always clear whether the procedure occurred in Saudi Arabia or the workers' home countries. There is no law specifically prohibiting FGM.
The Government provides all children with free education and medical care. Children are not subject to the strict social segregation faced by women although they are segregated by sex in schools, beginning at the age of 7; however, schools were integrated through the fourth grade in some areas. By age 9, most children are segregated by sex in school. In more general social situations, boys are segregated at the age of 12 and girls at the onset of puberty.
It is difficult to gauge the prevalence of child abuse, since the Government currently keeps no national statistics on such cases. Although in general Saudi culture greatly prizes children, new studies by Saudi female doctors indicate that severe abuse and neglect of children appears to be more widespread than previously reported. One major hospital has begun a program to detect, report, and prevent child abuse. There are several widely publicized programs to uncover and address child abuse.
In general children play a minimal role in the workforce; however, there have been numerous reports that young boys of Saudi, Sudanese, and South Asian origin are used as jockeys in camel races.
Trafficking in children for forced begging persists.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The law does not prohibit specifically trafficking in persons; however, the law prohibits slavery and the smuggling of persons into the country.
Criminal rings consisting almost exclusively of foreigners have bought and imported South Asian children, including children with disabilities, and women for the purpose of organized begging, particularly in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque in Mecca during Islamic holidays.
There were unconfirmed reports that women were trafficked into the country to work as prostitutes.
Among the millions of foreign workers in the country, some persons, particularly domestic workers, are defrauded by employment agencies or exploited by employers; some workers overstay their contracts and are exploited as they have few legal protections. Many foreign domestic servants flee work situations that include forced confinement, beating and other physical abuse, withholding of food, and rape. The authorities often forced domestic servants to return to their places of employment. The Government states that it does not believe that trafficking in persons is a problem because foreign workers come to the country voluntarily. It primarily focused on identifying and deporting illegal workers, and did not devote significant effort or resources to antitrafficking activity.
Internet research assisted by Monique A. Preciado