Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, a kingdom ruled by one person. In 2015, Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud took on that role. In addition to being the king, he serves as prime minister, holding supreme executive, legislative and judicial power. Key support positions, such as the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, are given to members of the royal family.
King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is next in line to the throne.
Since taking power, Salman and others in the royal family have taken measures to tighten their grip over their subjects. Once seen as a reformer, Crown Prince Mohammed has faced international condemnation after October’s grisly murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
In April, King Salman ratified a royal decree to behead 37 Saudi citizens, most of them Shiite Muslims — a minority in a country ruled by Sunni Muslims. Officials said those condemned had engaged in terrorism-related offenses, allegations questioned by human rights advocates. The monarchy has also ordered the arrest of women’s rights activists, including protesters of the nation’s since-lifted ban on women driving.