Saudi Arabia is a monarchy based on Islam. The government is headed by the King, who is also the commander in chief of the military.
The King appoints a Crown Prince to help him with his duties. The Crown Prince is second in line to the throne.
The King governs with the help of the Council of Ministers, also called the Cabinet. There are 22 government ministries that are part of the Cabinet. Each ministry specializes in a different part of the government, such as foreign affairs, education and finance.
The King is also advised by a legislative body called the Consultative Council (Majlis Al-Shura). The Council proposes new laws and amends existing ones. It consists of 150 members who are appointed by the King for four-year terms that can be renewed.
The country is divided into 13 provinces, with a governor and deputy governor in each one. Each province has its own council that advises the governor and deals with the development of the province.
Because Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, its judicial system is based on Islamic law (Shari’ah). The King is at the top of the legal system. He acts as the final court of appeal and can issue pardons. There are also courts in the Kingdom. The largest are the Shari’ah Courts, which hear most cases in the Saudi legal system.
Since the beginning of the first Saudi state in the 18th century through the founding of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by the late King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud on September 23, 1932, Shari'ah (Islamic law) has been the pillar and source of Saudi Arabia's basic system of government. It identifies the nature of the state and its goals and responsibilities, as well as the relationship between the government and its citizens.
Recognizing that his young nation would need to adapt to the changing times in order to thrive and prosper, King Abdulaziz built the foundation for a constitutional regime, thus establishing a modern government where once tribal rulers had reigned.
A royal decree in 1953 by his son King Saud established Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers. During the 1950s and 1960s, twenty government ministries were founded. The Council of Ministers, in conjunction with the King, formed the executive and legislative branches of the government.
This was the first step taken towards formalizing the long-established Islamic system of popular consultation, which has always been practiced by Saudi rulers. In the Majlis, weekly meetings that are open to all, members of the general public can approach the King and leaders at the local, provincial and national levels to discuss issues and raise grievances.
Beginning in the early 1970s, Saudi Arabia launched highly successful five-year development plans to set up a modern physical, social and human infrastructure. The rapid modernization of Saudi Arabia led to a re-evaluation of the country's political and administrative system.
By the 1990s, just as had his father before him, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd bin Abdulaziz felt the need to revitalize the existing political system. The primary goal was to streamline the system to deal with the requirements of the nation on the verge of the 21st century. Taking into consideration the Kingdom's role in the Islamic world as well as its traditions and social fabric, the changes were made in total adherence to the Islamic religion.
In 1992, King Fahd introduced a new Basic Law for the System of Government, and regulations for the Provincial System and Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council). The following year, he announced bylaws for the Council of Ministers System. In October 2003, the cabinet approved procedures for the election of half of the members of the municipal councils, as a start towards greater participation of the citizens in the governing of their country.