In the 1930s, when Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, asked the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, for permission to open a branch of his movement in the Kingdom, the King rejected the request as unnecessary. "The entire Kingdom is a branch for the Brotherhood and all Saudis are Muslim brothers," he replied.
Saudis are still awaiting the inauguration of their partially-elected municipal councils, despite the fact that the last round of elections was held eight months ago. The delay has dampened popular enthusiasm for the councils and raised questions about the Saudi government's seriousness about political reform.
A survey of women's political status in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states shows that in some countries women have recently made considerable progress toward formal equality of political rights, but in others they have not. The governing elite in the GCC countries generally supports women's political rights, but strong social sentiment against women's participation in politics persists.
Many Arab regimes share a questionable commitment to the principles of human rights, but the Saudi ruling establishment’s commitment is even weaker than that of others in the region. To date, the Saudi government's reform initiatives have had a negligible impact on improving respect for human rights in the Kingdom.
The Saudi Shi'i news service al-Rasid released its second annual human rights report in late April, a survey of discriminatory practices against the Kingdom's Shi'i minority. Noting a palpable stall in government reform efforts, the report cited the influence of Salafi hardliners in the clerical bureaucracy who dissuaded the ruling family from codifying further concessions to Shi'i identity.
The local councils of Saudi Arabia elected in spring 2005, still in their formative stages, have yet to make their mark on municipal decision making. They are caught between the promises that they made to voters during last year's elections and the reality of dealing with local governments known for deeply ingrained bureaucracy.
In a lavish ceremony in November in the remote port town of Thuwal, a three-hour drive from Mecca, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia laid the cornerstone for a new Western-style science and technology university.
In the Arab world, what UN literature calls national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have emerged in recent years. A few of them—for example in Morocco and Palestine—have attained a degree of autonomy in confronting governments.