Differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia governments
The United States government is an example of a democracy of the representative or indirect kind. This is because; the citizens choose representatives of their respective states by electing them and then the latter select the president. In the United States of America, the president is the head of state and government as well as the commander in chief of the armed forces. This is similar to the king in the government of Saudi Arabia. The citizens of the United States of America choose their president through an electoral process known as the Electoral College system, in which each state has a group of electors whose number is the same as the number of members in the United States House of Representatives, including two extra electors for the United States Senators who represent each state. The United States citizens cast their votes for the electors who commit to support the presidential candidate that the members of their states want. Once elected, the president runs for a period of not more than two terms of four years each.
The structure of the United States government has three levels: the Federal government, the State government and the Local government. The Federal government is in charge of the whole nation of the United States and has three branches: the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. The Legislature or Congress, which consists of the Senate and House of Representatives, makes the laws of the country whereas the role of the Executive (the President, Vice President) is to implement them. The Judiciary, which consists of courts of law, ensures that the government and the citizens adhere to the constitution. However, like the king in Saudi Arabia, the president of the United States of America has the power to grant amnesty to criminals and to select federal judges. In addition, like the king in Saudi Arabia, the president of the United States has the power to issue orders, but he has to get the consent of the Senate.
In both United States of America and Saudi Arabia, there is room for succession to the presidential and monarchical seat, except that in the latter, a member of the king’s family inherits the throne. In the United States government, the Vice president may succeed the president in case the latter resigns, dies or faces impeachment by the Senate.
The State government has three branches similar to the Federal government, but is in charge of the respective states in the nation. Each state has a constitution or a set of laws, which outline how the each state government is to run its affairs. The branches of the State government have similar roles to those of the arms of the Federal government. The Executive branch of the State government includes the governor (who is the head of a given state) and his advisors. The Legislature consists of the House of Representatives and Senate for that particular state. The Judiciary on the other hand, includes courts that deal with cases concerning a breach of that particular state’s laws. The Local government is a function of the State government because the latter creates as well as outlines its functions. Some forms of local government authorities include city and county governments. These authorities are in charge of the local affairs of a particular state, such as infrastructure, state taxes and by-elections.
The United States government runs its affairs in accordance with a constitution, which outlines the rights and freedoms of its citizens, democratic rule and different powers and functions of the three branches of government, that is, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The Constitution has three sections: the preamble, the articles and the amendments. The first part outlines the ideals of the United States government, while the articles lay down the roles and responsibilities of the government. The last section highlights the rights and freedoms of the citizens of the United States. Since there is an existing constitution to determine the way the United States government runs the country, religion and the state are two separate entities, which is not the case in Saudi Arabia. The government does not rely on any particular religious affiliation to define its laws and policies. In addition, unlike in Saudi Arabia, which is an Islamic state, the United States is a multi-religion nation.
The United States government also has ministries like in Saudi Arabia, except that they refer to them as agencies and departments. Their functions are no different from the ministries in Saudi Arabia, as they deal with matters of local, national and international scope. Similarly, the president in the United States government has a cabinet made up of individuals from the various government agencies and departments. Unlike in Saudi Arabia, there are two main political parties in the United States. These are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party and both have their influence on the Federal as well as the State governments.
On the other hand, the government of Saudi Arabia is of a monarchy kind. The head is a king, whose eldest son succeeds him in the event of his demise. The king can also select an heir to his throne. The monarchy is therefore one of a hereditary kind, and, unlike the case of the United States government, the citizens of Saudi Arabia do not hold elections to choose their king. In addition, the citizens cannot remove the king from the throne, unlike the president in the United States government, who can face impeachment by the Senate and therefore has to resign. The king is therefore very powerful because, unless he dies, he is the only one who can choose whether to step down.
Moreover, the Saudi Arabia government does not have divisions in the form of branches or arms, as we have seen in the case of the United States government. This is because the king plays the role of head of state and government, prime minister, and commander in chief of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia. Although he has absolute power, the king does not make the laws, but has the power to give orders in accordance with the Islamic law. However, the king has to involve the princes and senior ministers in decision-making with a view to arriving at an agreement.
It is the responsibility of the Council of Ministers to make laws then submit these to the king. The king selects the members of the council every four years and it includes a prime minister, who is the king, two deputy prime ministers, twenty ministers, two state ministers, and a small group of advisors and leaders of big non-governmental bodies. The laws of the state come into effect once the council and the royal family agree on them and they do not contravene the Islamic law. Apart from the council of ministers, there is the Saudi Cabinet, which consists of more than twenty individuals including the king as its leader, six state ministers, and senior heads of ministries, who are not necessarily from renowned Saudi families. Another group of members from the royal family ensures a smooth succession to the royal throne. This group however does not follow any particular hierarchical organization. The ministries are 22 in number, and the crucial ones are under the control of high-ranking members of the king’s family. These ministers however cannot remain in their positions for a period of more than 5 years unless they have the king’s authorization.
In addition, there exists a consultative assembly known as Majlis. These are citizens whose leader the king appoints, for a term of four years to suggest new legislation while reviewing the existing ones. This council consists of committees that deal with every sector of social and economic development and it can question cabinet and foreign ministers on their performance.
It is evident that in Saudi Arabia, the political administration is a family affair because members of the royal household occupy the positions of power and authority and are in charge of decision-making. Since access to the royal throne is by hereditary means and the citizens have no freedom to choose their preferred king through an electoral process, there are no political parties in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has no constitution. According to Bowen “Saudi Arabia follows sharia (Islamic law), with the Quran as the official constitution of the country.” (14). It follows then, that the deeds and teachings of Prophet Mohammed guide the government of Saudi Arabia in running the country. Consequently, in Saudi Arabia, religion and the state are not separate entities but one. The Islamic law has a major influence on the way the government runs the country.
Unlike in the United States, there is no explicit arm of government known as the judiciary; rather, the Judicial Council made up of 12 jurists administers justice in accordance with the Islamic law. Consequently, there are Islamic courts and the Supreme Judicial Council advises the king on the appointment of judges for these religious courts. However, there are other special courts dealing with labour, trade and administrative issues. Moreover, the king listens to appeals. Like the president in the government of the United States, the king has the power to grant amnesty to violators of the laws of the country.