Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
After several months of violent clashes, Saudi Arabia and Yemeni rebels agreed to a cease-fire in January. 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 on corruption charges for their mismanagement of widespread flooding in Jeddah in November 2009, which resulted in the deaths of 122 people.That same month, Jamal Khashoggi resigned as editor of Al-Watan newspaper after coming under pressure for publishing an opinion piece criticizing 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.
Saudi Arabia is not an electoral democracy. The 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 cabinet, which is appointed by the king, passes legislation that becomes law once ratified by royal decree. The king also appoints a 150-member Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council)every four years, though it serves only in an advisory capacity. Limited elections for advisory councils at the municipal level were introduced in 2005, but women were excluded. Initially scheduled for 2009, authorities announced that year that the next round of municipal elections would be postponed until at least 2011. The government cited the need to establish mechanisms to involve more voters, although it remained unclear whether women would be allowed to participate. In addition to the advisory councils, the monarchy has a tradition of consulting with select members of Saudi society, but the process is not equally open to all citizens. Political parties are forbidden, and organized political opposition exists only outside the country, with many London-based activists.