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  • Date :
  • 9/20/2003


 In 1902, ABD AL-AZIZ bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud captured Riyadh and set out on a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula. In the 1930s, the discovery of oil transformed the country. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. A burgeoning population, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all major governmental concerns.


Location:Middle East, bordering thePersian Gulf and the Red Sea, north of Yemen

Geographic coordinates: 25 00 N, 45 00 E

Area: total: 1,960,582 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 1,960,582 sq km

Climate: harsh, dry desert with great temperature extremes

Coastline: 2,640 km



Population: 24,293,844
note: includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2003 est.)

Population growth rate: 3.27% (2003 est.)

Sex ratio:
total population: 1.22 male(s)/female (2003 est.)

Nationality: noun: Saudi(s)
adjective: Saudi or Saudi Arabian

Ethnic groups: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%

Languages: Arabic


 This is an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia has the largest reserves of petroleum in the world (26% of the proved reserves), ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. About 25% of GDP comes from the private sector. Roughly 4 million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy, for example, in the oil and service sectors. The government in 1999 announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies, which follows the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. The government is supporting private sector growth to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. Priorities for government spending in the short term include additional funds for the water and sewage systems and for education. Water shortages and rapid population growth constrain the government's efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.

Industries: crude oil production, petroleum refining, basic petrochemicals, cement, construction, fertilizer, plastics

Agriculture products: wheat, barley, tomatoes, melons, dates, citrus; mutton, chickens, eggs, milk


Telephones main lines in use:3.9 million (2002 est.)

Telephones - mobile cellular: 2.9 million (2002 est.)

Television broadcast stations: 117 (1997)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
22 (2003)

Internet users: 1.453 million (2002)


Vehicle Tracks in Desert inSaudi Arabia (CORBIS.com)

Railways: total: 1,392 km
standard gauge: 1,392 km 1.435-m gauge (with branch lines and sidings) (2002)

Highways: total: 146,524 km
paved: 44,104 km
unpaved: 102,420 km (1997 est.))
Waterways: none
209 (2002)

Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 138


Country name:

Conventional long form:Kingdom ofSaudi Arabia
conventional short form: Saudi Arabia
local long form: Al Mamlakah al Arabiyah as Suudiyah
local short form: Al Arabiyah as Suudiyah

Government type: monarchy

Capital: Riyadh

Administrative divisions:

13 provinces (mintaqat, singular - mintaqah); Al Bahah, Al Hudud ash Shamaliyah, Al Jawf, Al Madinah, Al Qasim, Ar Riyad, Ash Sharqiyah (Eastern Province), 'Asir, Ha'il, Jizan, Makkah, Najran, Tabuk)

Independence: 23 September 1932 (Unification of the Kingdom)

Constitution: governed according to Shari'a (Islamic law); the Basic Law that articulates the government's rights and responsibilities was introduced in 1993

Legal system:based on Islamic law, several secular codes have been introduced; commercial disputes handled by special committees; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Executive branch:

chief of state: King and Prime Minister FAHD bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (since 13 June 1982); Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (half-brother to the monarch, heir to the throne since 13 June 1982, regent from 1 January to 22 February 1996); note - the monarch is both the chief of state and head of government
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary
head of government: King and Prime Minister FAHD bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (since 13 June 1982); Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (half-brother to the monarch, heir to the throne since 13 June 1982, regent from 1 January to 22 February 1996); note - the monarch is both the chief of state and head of government
cabinet: Council of Ministers is appointed by the monarch and includes many royal family members

Judicial branch: Supreme Council of Justice

Political parties and leaders: none allowed


 Muslim 100%

Islam, one of the world's great monotheistic religions, has Saudi Arabia as its heartland. The followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe in God, -- in Arabic, Allah -- and that Muhammad is His Prophet. Today, the worldwide community of Muslims, which embraces the people of many races and cultures, numbers approximately one billion.

Historically,Saudi Arabia has occupied a special place in the Islamic world, for it is towards Makkah and Islam's most sacred shrine, the Ka'ba, located in the Holy Mosque there that Muslims throughout the world turn devoutly in prayer five times a day. An appreciation of Islamic history and culture is therefore essential for a genuine understanding of theKingdom of Saudi Arabia, its Islamic heritage and its leading role in the Arab and Muslim worlds.


Parts of what is now eastern Saudi Arabia were first settled in the fourth or fifth millenium BC by migrants from what is now southern Iraq. The Nabateans had the biggest of the early empires, stretching as far as Damascus around the first century BC.

In the early 18th century the Al-Saud, the ruling family of modern Saudi Arabia, were the ruling shaikhs of the oasisvillage ofDir'aiyah, near modern Riyadh. When they formed an alliance, in the mid-18th century, with Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the result was Wahhabism, the back-to-basics religious movement which is still Saudi Arabia's official form of Islam. By 1806, the converting armies of Wahhabism had conquered most of modern Saudi Arabia as well as a large part of southernIraq.

None of this went down well inConstantinople, as westernArabia was, at least in theory, part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1812 the empire retook westernArabia, and by the end of the 19th century the Al-Saud had retreated toKuwait, where they were given sanctuary. From here one of the great Al-Saud leaders, known as Ibn Saud, brewed up an irresistible combination of piety, strategy and diplomacy and retook Riyadh and then, in 1925, Jeddah.

In 1938, Chevron found commercial quantities of oil in Saudi Arabia, and when WWII started oil production really took off. By 1950 the kingdom's royalties were running at about US$1 million a week, and by 1960, 80% of the government's revenues came from oil. The Arab oil embargo, in 1973-74, increased the price of oil fourfold andSaudi Arabia became something of a world power. As the government raked in the cash, a building boom began and Saudi Arabia became one immense construction site. But the oil boom attracted a lot of interest from outside the country, andSaudi Arabia's relations with its neighbors became increasingly strained. The massacre of 400 Iranian pilgrims at the 1987 haj resulted inIran boycotting the pilgrimage for several years.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Saudis started getting nervous, and asked the USA to send troops to defend the kingdom. AlthoughSaudi Arabia was not invaded, the crisis stirred up demands for political change, and in 1993 the king set up a Consultative Council - members are appointed by the king and can comment on proposed laws.

The days of easy oil money are just a fond memory and the country's population is growing rapidly (the average Saudi woman bears six children), presenting the Saudi Arabia and the aging King Fahd with an impressive challenge. Two generations of generous public assistance haven't inculcated the country's youth with the strongest work ethic, either. In 1999, the first high-end tour groups entered the difficult-to-visit nation, but visas remain officially restricted to business travelers, Muslims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and those few lucky folk able to convince a Saudi national to sponsor their visit.

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