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The Worst of the Worst 2011 - Saudi Arabia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 1 June 2011
Cite as Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst 2011 - Saudi Arabia, 1 June 2011, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 29,200,000
Capital: Riyadh

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2001200220032004200520062007200820092010

2010 Key Developments: After several months of violent clashes near the Yemeni border, Saudi Arabia and a Yemeni rebel group agreed to a ceasefire in January 2010. Saudi authorities in March seized several books written by the prominent Saudi reformer Abdullah al-Hamed at the Riyadh International Book Fair. In May, King Abdullah ordered the prosecution of over 40 officials for mismanagement of the response to widespread flooding in Jeddah in November 2009, which resulted in the deaths of 122 people. Also in May, Jamal Khashoggi resigned as editor of Al-Watan newspaper after coming under pressure for publishing an opinion piece that criticized conservative Islamic beliefs. Human rights activist Mikhlif bin Dahham al-Shammari was arrested in June for complaining about anti-Shiite discrimination in the kingdom. In August, King Abdullah issued a decree restricting clerics' power to issue religious edicts.

Political Rights: Saudi Arabia is not an electoral democracy. The country's 1992 Basic Law declares that the Koran and the Sunna (the guidance set by the deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad) are the country's constitution. The king appoints the 150-member Consultative Council, which serves in an advisory capacity and has limited powers. The Council of Ministers, an executive body appointed by the king, passes legislation that becomes law once ratified by royal decree. In May 2009, municipal elections initially scheduled for later that year were postponed until 2011 at the earliest. Political parties are forbidden, and organized political opposition exists only outside of the country. Corruption is a significant problem, with foreign companies reporting that they often pay bribes to middlemen and government officials to secure business deals.

Civil Liberties: The government tightly controls the content of domestic media and dominates regional print and satellite television coverage. Government officials have banned journalists and editors who publish articles deemed offensive to the ruling authorities or the country's powerful religious establishment. The regime has blocked access to over 400,000 websites that are considered immoral or politically sensitive. Religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia. All Saudis are required by law to be Muslims, and the government prohibits the public practice of any religions other than Islam. Religious practices of the Shiite and Sufi Muslim minority sects are restricted. In 2009, authorities banned the construction of Shiite mosques, marking a significant reversal of policies that had offered Shiites some religious freedom in recent years. Academic freedom is restricted, and informers monitor classrooms for compliance with curriculum rules, such as a ban on teaching secular philosophy and religions other than Islam. Freedoms of association and assembly are not upheld, and the government frequently detains political activists who stage demonstrations or engage in other civic advocacy. Allegations of torture by police and prison officials are common, and access to prisoners by independent human rights and legal organizations is strictly limited. Freedom of movement is restricted in some cases, with the government punishing activists and critics by limiting their ability to travel outside the country. Women are not treated as equal members of society, and many laws discriminate against them. They may not legally drive cars, their use of public facilities is restricted when men are present, and they cannot travel within or outside of the country without a male relative. Daughters generally receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the court testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. However, education and economic rights for Saudi women have improved somewhat, and now more than half of the country's university students are female.

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