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Saudi Arabia Table of Contents

Saudi Arabia


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 (see Diversity and Social Stratification; Cultural Homogeneity Values , ch. 2). 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.

Data as of December 1992