World: The Majlis: Desert Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a feudal monarchy, but at least one institution of the country gives it the flavor of a desert democracy. That is the majlis (Arabic for a "sitting," although the word can also mean "council," or even "parliament"). According to Arab custom, reinforced by a 1952 decree of King Abdul Aziz, every subject has the right of access to his ruler, whether the ruler is a tribal sheik, a governor or the monarch himself, to present petitions of complaint or pleas for help. Even the poorest Saudi can approach his sovereign to plead a cause; functionaries of the royal...

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