Population: 28,687,000
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 Review2000200120022003200420052006200720082009

2009 Key Developments: In January 2009, Saudi Arabia began implementing portions of an ongoing judicial reform agenda, including training programs for judges and the construction of new courts. In February King Abdullah sacked two controversial religious leaders and appointed the first-ever female cabinet member, Deputy Minister for Girls' Education Noura al-Fayez. The government announced in May that the next municipal council elections would be postponed by two years. Sectarian tensions remained a serious concern during the year, particularly after religious police attacked Shiite pilgrims in Medina in February.

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 by an additional two years. 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 October 2009, authorities banned the building 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 limits on curricula, such as a ban on teaching secular philosophy and religions other than Islam. Saudis do not have freedom of association, and the government frequently arrests and 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 receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women in Sharia (Islamic law) courts. Education and economic rights for Saudi women have improved, and now more than half of the country's university students are female.

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