Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a country on the Arabian Peninsula. It borders Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, with the Persian Gulf to its north-east and the Red Sea to its west.

المملكة العربية السعودية
Al-Mamlakah al-'Arabiyah as-Sa'udiyah
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(In Detail) (In Detail)
National motto: None
Official language Arabic
Capital Riyadh
King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 14th
1,960,582 km²
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 45th
26,417,599 (2005)
Unification September 23, 1932
Currency Riyal
Time zone UTC +3
National anthem Aash Al Maleek
Internet TLD .sa
Calling Code 966


Main article: History of Saudi Arabia

The Saudi state began in central Arabia in about 1750. A local ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, joined forces with an Islamic reformer, Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula. The modern Saudi state was founded by the late King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud).

In 1902 Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud captured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Ahsa, Al-Qatif, the rest of Nejd, and the Hijaz between 1913 and 1926. On January 8, 1926 Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud became the King of Hijaz. On January 29, 1927 he took the title King of Nejd (his previous Nejdi title was Sultan). By the Treaty of Jedda, signed on May 20, 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz's realm (then known as the Kingdom of Hijaz and Nejd). In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The discovery of oil in March 1938 transformed the country economically, and has given the kingdom great legitimacy over the years. Today Saudi Arabia enjoys a close relationship with the many western nations who purchase Saudi oil.


Main article: Politics of Saudi Arabia

The central institution of Saudi Arabian Government is the monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud, and that the Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a). There are no recognized political parties or national elections. The king's powers are theoretically limited within the bounds of Shari'a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders (ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society. The state's ideology is the Wahhabism. This flavour of Islam spreads further by funding construction of mosques and Qur'an schools around the world. The leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.

Saudi kings gradually have developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by and responsible to the king, has advised on the formulation of general policy and directed the activities of the growing bureaucracy. This council consists of a prime minister, the first and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense also is the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major autonomous organizations.

Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'a. Justice is administered according to the Shari'a by a system of religious courts whose judges are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council, composed of 12 senior jurists. The independence of the judiciary is protected by law. The king acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon. The country is in state of war with Israel since 1948. Access to high officials (usually at a majlis, or public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established traditions.

The formation of political parties is forbbiden, and no national elections take place.

Saudi courts continue to impose corporal punishment, including amputations of hands and feet for robbery, and floggings for lesser crimes such as "sexual deviance" and drunkenness. The number of lashes is not clearly prescribed by law and varied according to the discretion of judges, and range from dozens of lashes to several thousand, usually applied over a period of weeks or months.

In 2002, the United Nations Committee against Torture criticised Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under Sharia Islamic law. The Saudi delegation responded defending "legal traditions" held since the inception of Islam 1400 years ago and rejected interference in its legal system. (Source: BBC, see [1] (

By western standards, Saudi women face severe discrimination in all aspects of their lives, including the family, education, employment, and the justice system. Religious police enforces a modesty code of dress and institutions from schools to ministries are gender-segregated.


Main article: Provinces of Saudi Arabia

Provinces of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 provinces (mintaqat, singular - mintaqah).

  1. Al Bahah
  2. Al Hudud ash Shamaliyah
  3. Al Jawf
  4. Al Madinah
  5. Al Qasim
  6. Ar Riyad
  7. Eastern Province
  8. 'Asir
  9. Ha'il
  10. Jizan
  11. Makkah
  12. Najran
  13. Tabuk


Main article: Geography of Saudi Arabia

Map of Saudi Arabia

The kingdom occupies eighty percent of the Arabian Peninsula. Most of the country's boundaries with the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen are undefined, so the exact size of the country remains unknown. The Saudi government's estimate is 2,217,949 square kilometers. Other reputable estimates vary between 2,149,690 square kilometers and 2,240,000 square kilometers. Less than 1 percent of the total area is suitable for cultivation, and in the early 1990s population distribution varied greatly among the towns of the eastern and western coastal areas, the densely populated interior oases, and the vast, almost empty deserts.

See also : Rub' al Khali(desert), Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands

The climate is harsh, dry desert with great extremes of temperature and the terrain is mostly uninhabited, sandy desert. In most parts of the country, vegetation is limited to weeds and shrubs. The coastal area of the Red Sea, especially the coral reefs, have a rich marine fauna.

Saudi Arabia is considered to be one of the fifteen countries that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity."


Main article: Economy of Saudi Arabia Also: Oil boom (1974-85)

Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia is in possession of 260.1 billion barrels as of 2003, 24% of the proven total of the world's petroleum reserves, ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. Moreover, the proven reserves increase gradually as more oil fields are discovered, unlike most other oil producing countries. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues, 40% of the GDP, and 90% of export earnings. About 35% of the GDP comes from the private sector. Saudi Arabia was a key player in the successful efforts of OPEC and other oil producing countries to raise the price of oil in 1999 to its highest level since the Gulf War by reducing production. Although oil prices remain high, Riyadh has large budget deficits in part because of increased spending for education and other social programs. Saudi Arabia announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies in 1999, which followed the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. The government is expected to continue calling for private sector growth to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. Shortages of water and rapid population growth will constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has experienced a significant contraction of oil revenues combined with a high rate of population growth. Per capita income has fallen from $25,000 in 1980 to $8,000 in 2003, up from about $7000 in 1999. The decline in inflation-adjusted per-capita income from 1980 to 1999 set a record, being by far the worst such decline suffered by any nation-state in history.


Main article: Demographics of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's 2003 population is estimated to be about 24.3 million, including about 6.4 million resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic or semi-nomadic; due to rapid economic and urban growth, more than 95% of the population now is settled. The birth rate is 29.74 births per 1,000 people. The death rate is only 2.66 deaths per 1,000 people. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer.

Most Saudis are ethnically Arab. Some are of mixed ethnic origin and are descended from Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Indians, Africans, and others, most of whom immigrated as pilgrims and reside in the Hijaz region along the Red Sea coast. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There also are significant numbers of South and South East Asian expatriates mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are less than 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia.

Exact religious demographics for Saudi Arabia are difficult to calculate, because the government reports 100% of citizens as Muslim.


Main article: Culture of Saudi Arabia

The holy mosque in
The holy mosque in Mecca

Saudi Arabian culture revolves almost entirely around Islam. Two of Islam's holiest sites are in the country, and it considers itself the birthplace of the religion. Every day, five times a day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques which dot the country. Friday is its sabbath day. Islam derives from the same monotheistic roots as Judaism and Christianity, and Muslims generally regard Christians with respect - in Islam, Jesus (named Isa in Islam) is regarded as one of the Prophets of Allah, and Jews and Christians are considered fellow 'people of the Book'. Islam's holy book The Qur'an is Saudi Arabia's constitution, and Shari'ah (Islamic law) is the foundation of its legal system.

One of Saudi Arabia's most compelling folk rituals is the Ardha, the country's national dance. This sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. Al-sihba folk music, from the Hijaz, has its origins in Arab Andalusia, a region of medieval Spain. In Mecca, Medina and Jedda, dance and song incorporate the sound of the al-mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument.

Saudi Arabian dress is strongly symbolic, representing the people's ties to the land, the past and to Islam. The predominantly loose, flowing but covering garments reflect the practicalities of life in a desert country as well as Islam's emphasis on conservative dress. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle-length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a ghutra (a large square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. Women's clothes are decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread and appliques. However, Saudi women must wear a long black coat (abaya) and veil (niqab) when they leave the house to protect their modesty.

Islamic law forbids the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol, and this law is followed strictly throughout Saudi Arabia. Arabic unleavened bread, or khobz, is eaten with almost all meals. Other staples include grilled chicken, felafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), shwarma (spit-cooked sliced lamb), and fuul (a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon). Traditional coffee houses used to be ubiquitous, but are now being displaced by food-hall style cafes.

Public theatres and cinemas are prohibited, as the ruling family clan believes those institutions to be incompatible with Islam. However, in private compounds such as Dhahran and Ras Tanura public theaters can be found.

The cultural heritage is celebrated at the annual Jenadriyah Cultural festival.

According to the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report of the United States Department of State required by the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000, Saudi Arabia is notable among modern nations for continued tolerance of trafficking in human beings. See human trafficking in Saudi Arabia, source "Trafficking in Persons Report 2005" ( Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied these claims. In addition, Saudi Arabia has tried to prevent such abuses. Religious leaders have preached in mosques sermons about the evil of abusing employees.

Religious Police

An institution found in Saudi Arabia is the mutaween, or religious police. The Saudi Mutaween also go by the name of Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

Their duties consist of enforcing religious doctrine (Muslim Shari'a law as defined by the Saudi government) and rooting out "Un-Islamic" activities. They have the power to arrest any unrelated males and females caught socializing. They also have the power to ban consumer products and media as "un-Islamic", such as the Barbie dolls, Pokemon games and toys, and various Western musical groups and television shows. The Mutaween of Saudi Arabia recently launched a website where people can anonymously file tips about "un-Islamic" activities in Saudi Arabia.

An incident attributed to the mutaween occurred in 2002 when they prevented girls from escaping a burning building because they did not have proper headgear on. Fifteen girls died as a result. There was widespread public criticism and the Saudi government condemned the Mutaween for their actions. The Mutaween have also been the focus of many human rights reports on religious persecution in Saudi Arabia.

Miscellaneous topics


  • Baer, Robert, Sleeping With The Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude (Crown, 2003) ISBN 1400050219
  • Mackey, Sandra, The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom (Houghton Mifflin, 1987) ISBN 0395411653
  • Mnoret, Pascal, The Saudi Enigma: A History (Zed Books, 2005) ISBN 1842776053


External links

Countries and Territories in Southwest Asia

Afghanistan | Armenia | Azerbaijan | Bahrain | Cyprus | Gaza Strip | Georgia | Iran | Iraq | Israel | Jordan | Kuwait | Lebanon | Oman | Qatar | Russia | Saudi Arabia | Syria | Turkey | United Arab Emirates | West Bank | Yemen

Countries and territories in the Middle East
Bahrain | Cyprus | Egypt | Gaza Strip | Iran | Iraq | Israel | Jordan | Kuwait | Lebanon | Oman | Qatar | Saudi Arabia | Syria | Turkey | United Arab Emirates | West Bank | Yemen

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