The United States constitution has many similarities as well as differences with the Basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia. The purposes of these two documents being similar, it is expected that the similarities be more than the differences between the two. Saudi Arabia has no written constitution and relies solely on the basic law of governance in order to direct the ways of the government as well as those of the citizens of the kingdom. On the other hand, the U.S government and citizens are guided by the constitution in their actions. Both countries are recognized as being organized in terms of the national jurisdiction and the state jurisdictions. However, how the governance roles balance between the two governance factions are quite different across both countries. The objectives of the two governance documents are the same in the countries targeted by this paper.
The present paper is a comparative research aimed at analyzing the provisions of the Saudi Arabian basic law of governance against the constitution of the United States of America. While doing this, the paper will be written with the objective of finding key similarities and differences between the provisions of the two documents. This will be achieved through article and/ or part based analysis. What this means is that the paper will focus on the distinctive parts of the constitution and the basic law of governance respectively. Not all sections of both documents will be looked upon. The choice of sections will depend on the outlined features of the documents and their potential impacts on the general conduct of the government and that of the citizens. Although the paper will focus on specific articles, the arrangement of the final research report will not be article based but rather on characteristic based. The section immediately after the introduction will discuss the similarities between the two governance documents while the subsequent section will discuss the differences. The final section will give a conclusion of the entire provisions of the paper.
Similarities between Basic Law of Governance and the U.S Constitution
Although there are many differences across these two countries, the similarities between them are also significant. First, Saudi Arabia is recognized as an Islamic nation. From a first impression, one would think that like in other Islamic countries, they are not tolerant of other religions. However, the basic law of governance is similar to the U.S constitution in that the bill of rights as explained in the U.S constitution provides for freedom of worship and freedom of religious association. Similarly, the basic law of governance does not differentiate the Muslims from the non-Muslims in the exploration of the rights of freedom of the citizenship. Moreover, those of other religions are neither shunned nor prevented from accessing basic social and welfare services due to their religious differences. The basic law of governance does not mention other religions nor provide rules to which the members of religions other than Islam must adhere to. In the U.S constitution, no mention of any religion is made making it a general constitution that is guided solely by the national legislative laws rather than any religious laws. It is at this point that divergence occurs from the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia.
Secondly, the two documents are both similar in terms of the provisions of the bill of rights in different parts of the law. According to Bradley (308), the U.S constitution describes the bill of rights through the fourth Amendment which explains various rights and freedoms that the citizens posses. Similarly, the basic law of governance describes the rights through part five of the same (Al-Turaiqi 94). Despite some differences in the framing of the provisions, both documents derive the rights from the international Human Rights Bill. This implies that they are similar in several contexts. One of the most striking similarities in the rights provision is that both countries assure the citizens of the right to be protected together with their properties from danger. Additionally, the citizens of each of the countries are also entitled to the other basic human rights described by the international Human Rights Bill such as the right to life, right to education, right to quality medical care as well as freedoms of speech and association among others. The rights as described by the basic law of governance and by the U.S constitution are limited by the provisions of criminal law. In both countries, the citizens are also entitled to speedy trial in case of accusation and all deserve a just hearing of their cases prior to judgment. Another common factor between the two is the illegality of unreasonable search and seizure both inside and outside residential properties. The basic law of governance discusses this as part of the rights in part 5 of the details while the constitution of the United States has it as part of the fourth amendment. The two laws thus require the law enforcement offices to follow due procedure in conducting searches and seizures and only to do so where warranted by the law. While there are many similarities between the human rights conditions in the basic law of governance and those in the U.S constitution, it is undeniable that the laws are also different in various concepts.
Another similarity lies in the distinction of the different arms of the government. Through sections I to III the United States constitution describe various arms of the government as the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. The executive, the legislative and the judiciary are also the key arms associated with the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia. From the perspective of the Congressional Library Service (26), article one of the constitution describes details of the legislative arm of the government through five key sections. This entails a discussion of the legislature, the House of Representatives, the senate as well as mention of key aspects such as elections and meetings, compensation, membership and revenue bills. This is contrary to the details provided by the basic law of governance which only mentions the roles of the legislature as formulation of laws governing the country in line with Sharia laws and international human rights bill (Brown 399). Similarly, the description accorded to the executive and the judiciary arms of the government by the U.S constitution are quite clear while those associated with the basic law of governance are limited. This can be linked to the argument by Brown (394) that the Arabian countries do not need vivid laws as they are non-constitutional but rather depend on Sharia. Explaining the role of the executive arm of government is achieved by simply mentioning they the arm performs a regulatory function.
The basic law of governance provides for the political freedom and the freedom of speech among other freedoms associated with the international human rights bill. This is done through significant detail in comparison to the descriptions accorded to other sections of the document. For instance, the basic law of governance clearly describes the extent of the relevant political freedom. From a study carried out by Brown (92- 94), the political freedom in Saudi Arabia is described as given by the basic law of governance in part five. The key freedoms include the freedom for the formation of political parties, freedom for industrial action and the freedom for demonstration. These freedoms are limited not in terms of their provisions but in terms of their use. For example, while Saudi Arabia may provide for the formation of political parties, it does not provide for the election of leaders. Similarly, demonstration is allowable according to the Sharia and the basic law of governance while industrial action such as campaigning for wage raises is also allowed. On the same note, the U.S constitution provides for the freedom of association, where one is allowed to associate with any religion or political parties of the nation and then use the same for the benefit of the country. This can be through vying for political roles in the country among others. The U.S constitution also provides for the freedom of industrial action and demonstration. The freedom of speech is to be enjoyed by the citizens of both countries subject to negative use limitations. From these similarities, it is possible to survive in either country. While the Saudi Arabian description of the political freedoms is limited by Sharia law and lack of election that of the U.S is limited through the two key party system. This refers to a situation where only two major parties are recognized nationwide and the impacts of a third party being insignificant regardless of the freedom to participate the country’s elections.
Differences between the basic law of governance and the U.S Constitution
There are many differences between the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia and the U.S constitution. The first difference and which is presented through the first part of the basic law of governance is that while the Basic law clearly describes Saudi Arabia as an Islamic State, the U.S constitution does not clearly define through any of the articles therein the religion supported by the national government. On the contrary, the U.S constitution clearly identifies with the freedom of worship, mentioning tolerance to all religions in the country. The Saudi Arabian basic law does not imply that the country is intolerant to other religions, but shows that the government of the country is partisan to a particular religion. It is therefore expected that the religion to which the government adheres should be able to experience greater benefits as opposed to other religions. The lack of a preferred religion in the U.S is an indication of religious tolerance and harmony in existence. In the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia, the preference for Islam is clear in that all the provisions of the law are based on Islamic Sharia law and no mention of other religious practices is made (Brown 394). For instance, while describing the nature of punishment accorded to various crimes, the basic law of governance mentions that all crimes are punishable according to the provisions of Sharia law. This brings out the notion that those of other religions may also be subjected to the same measures of judgment which are used for judging Muslims. Additionally, they are to adhere to the Islamic laws as guided by the Sharia regardless of their religion of choice since it is these laws that are used in the judgment and evaluation as well as punishment of criminal activity.
As has been previously discussed, the human rights provisions by the basic law of governance are similar in many concepts with those of the U.S constitution. However, there are also several key divergences that need to be mentioned and discussed. For instance, it is clear that while the human rights provisions of the U.S constitution are majorly based on the international human rights bill; those of the basic law of governance are based on both the international human rights bill and the Sharia law (Al-Turaiqi 94). As such, there are more stringent limitations to these provisions as limitations come from both directions. In addition to this, the provisions themselves are also different in many aspects. For instance, the basic law of governance clearly distinguishes the rights as civil or political rights and individual rights. In this context, the individual rights are further discussed as moral rights and financial rights. Each of the rights as mentioned is subject to sharia law and cannot be held contrary to the law (Bradley 394). Furthermore, the right to constitutional voting as presented in the U.S constitution is not available in the Basic Law of Governance. This is a clear indication that the country does not take elected leaders but rather depends on inheritance and appointments to fill leadership positions. This is significant in the country due to the type of government in place.
According to the basic law of governance, the Saudi Arabian nation is a monarchical country. This implies that it is a kingdom ruled by a king. The king who rules the kingdom has to come from the royal family i.e. the position is hereditary and is responsible for the appointment of various government officials with whom he can work. The king is succeeded only upon his death or after confirmation that he is no longer interested in ruling or he is incapacitated in handling his responsibilities as the king of the country. This point is discussed by Al-Turaiqi (39) who refers to the second part of the basic law of governance. The responsibilities of the king and his close members of government are also discussed intensively. On the other hand, the governance system in the U.S as provided by the U.S is a system of presidential governance. The president rules with the assistance of the cabinet as well as other members of the executive arm of the government. The system is based on elections which are carried out after every four years to elect a new president. Other positions are elected biennially. The president is the bearer of the greatest office in the national government of the U.S and his roles are clearly defined in the constitution. Before the end of the respective electioneering durations, the office holders can be removed from their offices by impeachment. This is not an available option in the Saudi Arabian system. It can thus be argued that the Saudi Arabian system is restrictive in many contexts and thus limiting in the performance of the key objectives of the law.
The form of nation in Saudi Arabia is similar to that in the U.S due to the fact that both countries are a conglomeration of states. As such, it is expected that both countries should have a well defined governance system that incorporates all the states as well as the national government. In the U.s, the Congressional Library Service provides for this in the constitution (27). The U.S constitution clearly explains the roles of the federal government and those of the state government in various aspects. There are also laws as provided by the U.S constitution which guide the operations of the state governments as well as the national government. On the other hand, the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia does not explain the distinctive roles of the state and the national government. Contrary to expectations, the basic law of governance provides the description of the different states that make up the country without giving the exact role that state governments are to play when in leadership. This lack of clarity in the national law of governance can bring about ambiguity in explaining the roles of the state government in Saudi Arabia. It brings out the perception of a non-constitutional government where the entire country is solely under the government of the national government. This is however expected since the country as earlier described is guided by the Sharia Law.
Finally, the two documents are different in terms of the provisions for women rights. In Saudi Arabia, the basic law for governance has a particular section for the description of the rights of women according to the national law. According to Al-Turaiqi (94), the rights of the women are clearly defined to include the right to vote, to engage in businesses as well as to make decisions regarding their personal lives. On the other hand, the basic law of governance provides restrictions to women through requirements to adhere to a given dress code among other issues. The U.S constitution is contrary to the provisions of the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia in the description of women rights. The basic law of governance treats women as different from other members of the population through the special law provisions. This is not available in the U.S constitution which provides general human rights for all citizens. The women have no special placements in the U.S constitution but are encompassed within the general provisions of the law.
The forms of government in Saudi Arabia and in the U.S are quite different from one another. While the provisions of the basic law of governance in Saudi Arabia are explained in limited terms, those of the U.S constitution are explained in details that desire no further explanation. The two documents are however similar in various key aspects such as the rights of the citizens (human rights), the provisions for the arms of the government and many other factors. On the other hand, the differences come mainly due to the dependence of the basic law of governance on the Sharia laws which limit religious freedom, and assign women a special role in the society through a different system of rights and freedoms in addition to the general rights and freedoms as stipulated in the law.
Bradley, Curtis. Unratified treats, domestic politics, and the U.S constitution. Harvard International Law Journal 48, 2(2007): 307- 336.
Brown, Nathan. Constitutions in a non-constitutional world: Arab basic laws and the prospects for accountable government. Albany: Sunny Press, 2002.
Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis of the cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 28, 2002. U.S. government Printing Office, 2004.
Al-Turaiqi, Abdulla. The political system of Saudi Arabia. Ghainaa Publications.