The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded by Abdul-Aziz bin Saud (known for most of his career as Ibn Saud) in 1932, although the conquests which eventually led to the creation of the Kingdom began in 1902 when he captured Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud, referred to in Arabic as Al Saud. The regime has been an absolute monarchy since its inception. It describes itself as being Islamic and is highly influenced by Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia is sometimes called "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca), and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam.
Following the unification of the kingdoms of Hejaz and
Nejd, the new state was named al-Mamlakah al-ʻArabīyah
as-Suʻūdīyah (a transliteration of المملكة العربية
السعودية in Arabic) by royal
decree on 23 September 1932 by its founder, king Abdul Aziz Al Saud. This is
normally translated as "the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia" in English,
although it literally means "the ". Saudi Arab Kingdom
The word "Saudi" is derived from the element as-Suʻūdīyah in the Arabic name of the country, which is a type of adjective known as a nisba, formed from the dynastic name of Al Saud (آل سعود). Its inclusion indicated that the country's ruler viewed it as the personal possession of the royal family. Al Saud is an Arabic name formed by adding the word Al, meaning "family of" or "House of", to the personal name of an ancestor. In the case of the Al Saud, this is the father of the dynasty's 18th century founder, Muhammad bin Saud (Muhammad, son of Saud).
Before the foundation of Saudi Arabia
Apart from a small number of urban trading settlements, such as Mecca and Medina, located in the Hejaz in the west of the Arabian Peninsula, most of what was to become Saudi Arabia was populated by nomadic tribal societies in the inhospitable desert.The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, was born in Mecca in about 571. In the early 7th century, Muhammad united the various tribes of the peninsula and created a single Islamic religious polity. Following his death in 632, his followers rapidly expanded the territory under Muslim rule beyond Arabia, conquering huge swathes of territory (from the Iberian Peninsula in west to modern day
in east) in a matter of
decades. In so doing, Pakistan Arabia soon became a
politically peripheral region of the Muslim world as the focus shifted to the
more developed conquered lands. From the 10th century to the early 20th century
Mecca and Medina were under the control of a local Arab ruler known as the
Sharif of Mecca, but at most times the Sharif owed allegiance to the ruler of
one of the major Islamic empires based in Baghdad, Cairo or Istanbul. Most of
the remainder of what became reverted to traditional tribal rule. Saudi
In the 16th century, the Ottomans added the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coast (the
Hejaz, Asir and
Al-Hasa) to the Empire and claimed suzerainty over the interior. One reason was
to thwart Portuguese attempts to attack the Red Sea (hence the Hejaz) and the Indian Ocean. Ottoman degree of control over these lands
varied over the next four centuries with the fluctuating strength or weakness
of the Empire's central authority. The emergence of what was to become the
Saudi royal family, known as the Al Saud, began in Nejd in central Arabia in
1744, when Muhammad bin Saud, founder of the dynasty, joined forces with the
religious leader Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi movement, a
strict puritanical form of Sunni Islam. This alliance formed in the 18th
century provided the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion and remains the
basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today. The first "Saudi state"
established in 1744 in the area around Riyadh,
rapidly expanded and briefly controlled most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia,
but was destroyed by 1818 by the Ottoman viceroy of , Mohammed Ali Pasha. A much
smaller second "Saudi state", located mainly in Nejd, was established
in 1824. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the Al Saud contested control
of the interior of what was to become Egypt with another Arabian
ruling family, the Al Rashid. By 1891, the Al Rashid were victorious and the Al
Saud were driven into exile in Saudi Arabia . Kuwait
At the beginning of the 20th century, the
Empire continued to control or have a suzerainty over most of the
peninsula. Subject to this suzerainty, Arabia was ruled by a patchwork of
tribal rulers, with the Sharif of Mecca having pre-eminence and ruling the Hejaz. In 1902, Ibn Saud took control of Riyadh
in Nejd and brought the Al Saud back to Nejd.
Ibn Saud gained the support of the Ikhwan, a tribal army inspired by Wahhabism
and led by Sultan ibn Bijad and Faisal Al-Dawish, and which had grown quickly
after its foundation in 1912.With the aid of the Ikhwan, Ibn Saud captured Hasa
from the Ottomans in 1913.
In 1916, with the encouragement and support of
Britain (which was fighting the Ottomans in
World War I), the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, led a pan-Arab revolt
against the Ottoman Empire to create a united
Arab state. Although the Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918 failed in its objective,
the Allied victory in World War I resulted in the end of Ottoman suzerainty and
control in Arabia.
Ibn Saud avoided involvement in the Arab Revolt, and instead continued his struggle with the Al Rashid. Following the latter's final defeat, he took the title Sultan of Nejd in 1921. With the help of the Ikhwan, the Hejaz was conquered in 1924-25 and on 10 January 1926, Ibn Saud declared himself King of the
Hejaz. A year later, he
added the title of King of Nejd.
After the conquest of the Hejaz, the Ikhwan leadership's objective switched to expansion of the Wahhabist realm into the British protectorates of
Transjordan, Iraq and , and began raiding those
territories. This met with Ibn Saud's opposition, as he recognized the danger
of a direct conflict with the British. At the same time, the Ikhwan became
disenchanted with Ibn Saud's domestic policies which appeared to favor
modernization and the increase in the number of non-Muslim foreigners in the
country. As a result, they turned against Ibn Saud and, after a two-year
struggle, were defeated in 1930 at the Battle of Sabilla, where their leaders
were massacred. In 1932 the two kingdoms of the Hejaz and Nejd were united as
the Kuwait . Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The new kingdom was one of the poorest countries in the world, reliant on limited agriculture and pilgrimage revenues. However, in 1938, vast reserves of oil were discovered in the Al-Hasa region along the coast of the Persian Gulf, and full-scale development of the oil fields began in 1941 under the US-controlled Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company). Oil provided
with economic prosperity and substantial political leverage internationally.
Cultural life rapidly developed, primarily in the Saudi Arabia Hejaz,
which was the center for newspapers and radio. But the large influx of
foreigners to work in the oil industry increased the pre-existing propensity
for xenophobia. At the same time, the government became increasingly wasteful
and extravagant. By the 1950s this had led to large governmental deficits and
excessive foreign borrowing.
King Saud succeeded to the throne on his father's death in 1953. However, an intense rivalry between the King and his half-brother, Prince Faisal emerged, fueled by doubts in the royal family over Saud's competence. As a consequence, Saud was deposed in favor of Faisal in 1964.
Saudi Arabia gained control of a proportion
(20%) of Aramco in 1972, thereby decreasing control over Saudi oil. In 1973,
US Saudi Arabia led an oil
boycott against the Western countries that supported Israel
in the October War against Egypt
Oil prices quadrupled. Faisal was assassinated in 1975 by his nephew, Prince Faisal
bin Musaid and was succeeded by his half-brother King Khalid. Syria
had become the largest oil producer
in the world. Khalid's reign saw economic and social development progress at an
extremely rapid rate, transforming the infrastructure and educational system of
the country; in foreign policy, close ties with the Saudi
Arabia were developed. In 1979, two
events occurred which greatly concerned the Al Saud regime, and had a long-term
influence on Saudi foreign and domestic policy. The first was the Iranian
Islamic Revolution. It was feared that the country's Shi'ite minority in the US (which is also the location of
the oil fields) might rebel under the influence of their Iranian
co-religionists. In fact, there were several anti-government uprisings in the
region in 1979 and 1980. The second event, was the seizure of the Grand Mosque
in Eastern Province by
Islamist extremists. The militants involved were in part angered by what they
considered to be the corruption and un-Islamic nature of the Saudi regime. The
government regained control of the mosque after 10 days and those captured were
executed. Part of the response of the royal family was to enforce a much
stricter observance of traditional religious and social norms in the country
(for example, the closure of cinemas) and to give the Ulema a greater role in
government. Neither entirely succeeded as Islamism continued to grow in
took full control of Aramco from the . US
King Khalid died of a heart attack in June 1982, and was succeeded by his brother, King Fahd, who added the title "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" to his name in 1986. Fahd continued to develop close relations with the
and increased the purchase of
American and British military equipment. The vast wealth generated by oil
revenues was beginning to have an even greater impact on Saudi society. It led
to rapid modernisation, urbanization, mass public education and the creation of
new media. This and the presence of increasingly large numbers of foreign
workers greatly affected traditional Saudi norms and values. Although there was
dramatic change in the social and economic life of the country, political power
continued to be monopolized by the royal family leading to discontent among many
Saudis who began to look for wider participation in government. United
In the 1980s, the Saudi regime spent $25 billion in support of Saddam Hussein in the Iran–Iraq War. However,
Arabia condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and asked the to
intervene. King Fahd allowed American and coalition troops to be stationed in US .
He invited the Kuwaiti government and many of its citizens to stay in Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia, but expelled citizens of Yemen and Jordan
because of their governments' support of . In 1991, Saudi Arabian forces
were involved both in bombing raids on Iraq Iraq
and in the land invasion that helped to liberate . Kuwait
The Saudi regime's relations with the West began to cause growing concern among some of the ulema and students of sharia law and was one of the issues that led to an increase in Islamic terrorism in
, as well as Islamic
terrorist attacks in Western countries by Saudi nationals. Osama bin Laden was
a Saudi national (until stripped of his nationality in 1994). 15 of the 19
hijackers involved in 9/11 attacks on Saudi Arabia New York, Washington and
were Saudi nationals. Many Saudis, who did not in any way support the Islamist
terrorists were nevertheless deeply unhappy with the Saudi regime's policies. Virginia
Islamism was not the only source of hostility to the regime. Although now extremely wealthy,
's economy was near stagnant. High
taxes and a growth in unemployment have contributed to discontent, and has been
reflected in a rise in civil unrest, and discontent with the royal family. In
response, a number of limited "reforms" were initiated by King Fahd.
In March 1992, he introduced the "Basic Law", which emphasised the
duties and responsibilities of a ruler. In December 1993, the Consultative
Council was inaugurated. It is composed of a chairman and 60 members — all
chosen by the King. The King's intent was to respond to dissent while making as
few actual changes in the status quo as possible. Fahd made it clear that he
did not have democracy in mind: "A system based on elections is not
consistent with our Islamic creed, which [approves of] government by
consultation [shūrā]. Saudi
In 1995, Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke, and the Crown Prince, Abdullah, assumed the role of de facto regent, taking on the day-to-day running of the country. However, his authority was hindered by conflict with Fahd's full brothers (known, with Fahd, as the "Sudairi Seven"). From the 1990s, signs of discontent continued and included, in 2003 and 2004, a series of bombings and armed violence in
Jeddah, Yanbu and Khobar. In February–April 2005, the first-ever nationwide
municipal elections were held in Riyadh . Women were not
allowed to take part in the poll. Saudi Arabia
In 2005, King Fahd died and was succeeded by Abdullah, who continued the policy of minimum reform and clamping down on protests. The king introduced a number of economic reforms aimed at reducing the country's reliance on oil revenue: limited deregulation, encouragement of foreign investment, and privatization. In February 2009, Abdullah announced a series of governmental changes to the judiciary, armed forces, and various ministries to modernize these institutions including the replacement of senior appointees in the judiciary and the Mutaween (religious police) with more moderate individuals and the appointment of the country's first female deputy minister.
On 29 January 2011, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city of
in a rare display of criticism against the city's poor infrastructure after
deadly floods swept through the city, killing eleven people. Police stopped the
demonstration after about 15 minutes and arrested 30 to 50 people. Jeddah
has been affected by its own Arab
Spring protests. In response, King Abdullah announced on 22 Februaty 2011 a
series of benefits for citizens amounting to $36 billion, of which $10.7
billion was earmarked for housing. No political reforms were announced as part
of the package, though some prisoners indicted for financial crimes were
pardoned. On 18 March the same year, King Abdullah announced a package of $93
billion, which includeded 500,000 new homes to a cost of $67 billion, in
addition to creating 60,000 new security jobs. Saudi
In the absence of national elections and political parties, politics in
takes place in two distinct arenas: within the royal family, the Al Saud, and
between the royal family and the rest of Saudi society. Outside of the Al-Saud,
participation in the political process is limited to a relatively small segment
of the population and takes the form of the royal family consulting with the
ulema, tribal sheikhs and members of important commercial families on major
decisions.This process is not reported by the Saudi media. Saudi Arabia
By custom, all males of full age have a right to petition the king directly through the traditional tribal meeting known as the majlis. In many ways the approach to government differs little from the traditional system of tribal rule. Tribal identity remains strong and, outside of the royal family, political influence is frequently determined by tribal affiliation, with tribal sheikhs maintaining a considerable degree of influence over local and national events. As mentioned earlier, in recent years there have been limited steps to widen political participation such as the establishment of the Consultative Council in the early 1990s and the National Dialogue Forum in 2003.
The rule of the Al Saud faces political opposition from four sources: Sunni Islamist activism; liberal critics; the Shi'ite minority – particularly in the Eastern Province; and long-standing tribal and regional particularistic opponents (for example in the Hejaz).Of these, the Islamic activists have been the most prominent threat to the regime and have in recent years perpetrated a number of violent or terrorist acts in the country. However, open protest against the government, even if peaceful, is not tolerated.
On 25 September 2011,
's King Abdullah has
announced that women will have the right to stand and vote in future local
elections and join the advisory Shura council as full members. Saudi Arabia
Monarchy and royal family
The king combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions[ and royal decrees to form the basis of the country's legislation. The king is also the prime minister, and presides over the Council of Ministers (Majlis al-Wuzarāʾ), which comprises the first and second deputy prime.
The royal family dominates the political system. The family's vast numbers allow it to control most of the kingdom's important posts and to have an involvement and presence at all levels of government. The number of princes is estimated to be at least 7,000, with most power and influence being wielded by the 200 or so male descendants of King Abdul Aziz. The key ministries are generally reserved for the royal family, as are the thirteen regional governorships. Long term political and government appointments, such as those of King Abdullah, who had been Commander of the National Guard since 1963 (until 2010, when he appointed his son to replace him), former Crown Prince Sultan, Minister of Defence and Aviation from 1962 to his death in 2011, former crown prince Prince Nayef who was the Minister of Interior from 1975 to his death in 2012, Prince Saud who has been Minister of Foreign Affairs since 1975 and current Minister of Defence and Aviation Prince Salman, who was Governor of the Riyadh Province from 1962 to 2011, have resulted in the creation of "power fiefdoms" for senior princes.
The royal family is politically divided by factions based on clan loyalties, personal ambitions and ideological differences. The most powerful clan faction is known as the 'Sudairi Seven', comprising the late King Fahd and his full brothers and their descendants. Ideological divisions include issues over the speed and direction of reform, and whether the role of the ulema should be increased or reduced. There were divisions within the family over who should succeed to the throne after the accession or earlier death of Prince Sultan. When prince Sultan died before ascending to the throne on 21 October 2011, King Abdullah appointed Prince Nayef as crown prince. Prince Nayef also died before ascending to the throne in 2012.
The Saudi government and the royal family have often, over many years, been accused of corruption. In a country that is said to "belong" to the royal family and is named for them, the lines between state assets and the personal wealth of senior princes are blurred. The extent of corruption has been described as systemic and endemic, and its existence was acknowledged and defended by Prince Bandar bin Sultan (a senior member of the royal family) in an interview in 2001. Although corruption allegations have often been limited to broad undocumented accusations,specific allegations were made in 2007, when it was claimed that the British defence contractor BAE Systems had paid Prince Bandar US$2 billion in bribes relating to the Al-Yamamah arms deal. Prince Bandar denied the allegations. Investigations by both US and
authorities resulted, in 2010, in plea bargain agreements with the company, by
which it paid $447 million in fines but did not admit to bribery. Transparency
International in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010 gave UK
a score of 4.7 (on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is "highly corrupt"
and 10 is "highly clean"). Saudi Arabia
There has been mounting pressure to reform and modernize the royal family's rule, an agenda championed by King Abdullah both before and after his accession in 2005. The creation of the Consultative Council in the early 1990s did not satisfy demands for political participation, and, in 2003, an annual National Dialogue Forum was announced that would allow selected professionals and intellectuals to publicly debate current national issues, within certain prescribed parameters. In 2005, the first municipal elections were held. In 2007, the Allegiance Council was created to regulate the succession. In 2009, the king made significant personnel changes to the government by appointing reformers to key positions and the first woman to a ministerial post. However, the changes have been criticized as being too slow or merely cosmetic.
Al ash-Sheikh and role of the ulema
By the 1970s, as a result of oil wealth and the modernization of the country initiated by King Faisal, important changes to Saudi society were under way and the power of the ulema was in decline. However, this changed following the seizure of the Grand Mosque in
in 1979 by Islamist
radicals. The government's response to the crisis included strengthening the
ulema's powers and increasing their financial support: in particular, they were
given greater control over the education system and allowed to enforce stricter
observance of Wahhabi rules of moral and social behaviour. Since his accession
to the throne in 2005, King Abdullah has taken steps to rein back the powers of
the ulema, for instance transferring their control over girls' education to the
Ministry of Education. Mecca
The ulema have historically been led by the Al ash-Sheikh, the country's leading religious family.The Al ash-Sheikh are the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th century founder of the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam which is today dominant in Saudi Arabia. The family is second in prestige only to the Al Saud (the royal family) with whom they formed a "mutual support pact" and power-sharing arrangement nearly 300 years ago. The pact, which persists to this day, is based on the Al Saud maintaining the Al ash-Sheikh's authority in religious matters and upholding and propagating Wahhabi doctrine. In return, the Al ash-Sheikh support the Al Saud's political authority thereby using its religious-moral authority to legitimize the royal family's rule. Although the Al ash-Sheikh's domination of the ulema has diminished in recent decades, they still hold the most important religious posts and are closely linked to the Al Saud by a high degree of intermarriage.
The primary source of law is the Islamic Sharia derived from the teachings of the Qu'ran and the Sunnah (the traditions of the Prophet). Sharia is not codified and there is no system of judicial precedent. Saudi judges tend to follow the principles of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence (or fiqh) found in pre-modern texts and noted for its literalist interpretation of the Qu'ran and hadith. Nevertheless, because the judge is empowered to disregard previous judgments (either his own or of other judges) and will apply his personal interpretation of Sharia to any particular case, divergent judgements arise even in apparently identical cases.
Royal decrees are the other main source of law but are referred to as regulations rather than laws because they are subordinate to the Sharia. Royal decrees supplement Sharia in areas such as labor, commercial and corporate law. Additionally, traditional tribal law and custom remain significant.
Verses from the Quran. The Quran is the official constitution of the country and a primary source of law. Arabia is unique in enshrining a religious text as a political document.
The Sharia court system constitutes the basic judiciary of
and its judges and lawyers form part of the ulema, the country's religious
leadership. However, there are also extra-Sharia government tribunals which
handle disputes relating to specific royal decrees. Final appeal from both
Sharia courts and government tribunals is to the King and all courts and
tribunals follow Sharia rules of evidence and procedure. The Saudi system of
justice has been criticized for being slow, arcane, lacking in some of the
safeguards of justice and unable to deal with the modern world. Saudi Arabia
In 2007, King Abdullah issued royal decrees reforming the judiciary and creating a new court system, although the reforms have yet to be implemented The capabilities and reactionary nature of the judges have, in particular, been criticized and, in 2009, the King made a number of significant changes to the judiciary's personnel at the most senior level by bringing in a younger generation
Western-based organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemn both the Saudi criminal justice system and its severe punishments. However, "ordinary Saudis", according to a BBC report, support the system and say that it maintains a low crime rate. There are no jury trials in
and courts observe few formalities.
Human Rights Watch, in a 2008 report, noted that a criminal procedure code had
been introduced for the first time in 2002, but it lacked some basic
protections and, in any case, had been routinely ignored by judges. Those
arrested are often not informed of the crime of which they are accused or given
access to a lawyer and are subject to abusive treatment and torture if they do
not confess. At trial, there is a presumption of guilt and the accused is often
unable to examine witnesses and evidence or present a legal defense. Most
trials are held in secret. Saudi
The physical punishments imposed by Saudi courts, such as beheading, stoning, amputation and lashing, and the number of executions have been strongly criticized.The death penalty can be imposed for a wide range of offences including murder, rape, armed robbery, repeated drug use, apostasy, adultery, witchcraft and sorcery and can be carried out by beheading with a sword, stoning or firing squad, followed by crucifixion. The 345 reported executions between 2007 and 2010 were all carried out by public beheading. The last reported execution for sorcery took place in June 2012 and three recent convictions for witchcraft did not result in execution.
Although repeated theft can be punishable by amputation of the right hand, only one instance of judicial amputation was reported between 2007 and 2010. Gay rights are not recognised. Homosexual acts are punishable by flogging or death. Lashings are a common form of punishment[ and are often imposed for offences against religion and public morality such as drinking alcohol and neglect of prayer and fasting obligations.
Retaliatory punishments, or Qisas, are practised: for instance, an eye can be surgically removed at the insistence of a victim who lost his own eye.Families of someone unlawfully killed can choose between demanding the death penalty or granting clemency in return for a payment of diyya, or blood money, by the perpetrator.
Between the mid-1970s and 2002
expended over $70
billion in "overseas development aid". However, there is evidence
that the vast majority was, in fact, spent on propagating and extending the
influence of Wahhabism at the expense of other forms of Islam. There has been
an intense debate over whether Saudi aid and Wahhabism has fomented extremism
in recipient countries. The two main allegations are that, by its nature,
Wahhabism encourages intolerance and promotes terrorism. Former CIA director
James Woolsey described it as "the soil in which Al-Qaeda and its sister
terrorist organizations are flourishing." However, the Saudi government
strenuously denies these claims or that it exports religious or cultural
extremism. Saudi Arabia
In the Arab and Muslim worlds,
Arabia is considered to be pro-Western and pro-American,
and it is certainly a long-term ally of the . However, this and United States Saudi Arabia's role in the 1991 Persian Gulf
War, particularly the stationing of troops on Saudi soil from
1991, prompted the development of a hostile Islamist response internally. As a
result, U.S. Saudi Arabia has, to
some extent, distanced itself from the U.S.
and, for example, refused to support or to participate in the U.S.-led invasion
in 2003. Relations with the United States became strained following 9/11.
American politicians and media accused the Saudi government of supporting
terrorism and tolerating a jihadist culture. Indeed, Osama bin Laden and
fifteen out of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Iraq . According to the U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "Saudi Arabia remains a critical
financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist
groups... Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant
source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." Saudi
The Saudi military consists of the Royal Saudi Land Forces, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Navy, the Royal Saudi Air Defense, the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG, an independent military force), and paramilitary forces, totaling nearly 200,000 active-duty personnel. In 2005 the armed forces had the following personnel: the army, 75,000; the air force, 18,000; air defense, 16,000; the navy, 15,500 (including 3,000 marines); and the SANG had 75,000 active soldiers and 25,000 tribal levies. In addition, there is an Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah military intelligence service.
The SANG is not a reserve but a fully operational front-line force, and originated out of Abdul Aziz's tribal military-religious force, the Ikhwan. Its modern existence, however, is attributable to it being effectively Abdullah's private army since the 1960s and, unlike the rest of the armed forces, is independent of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. The SANG has been a counterbalance to the Sudairi faction in the royal family: Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, is one of the so-called 'Sudairi Seven' and controls the remainder of the armed forces.
Spending on defense and security has increased significantly since the mid-'90s and was about US$25.4 billion in 2005.
ranks among the top 10 in the world in government spending for its military,
representing about 7% of gross domestic product in 2005. Its modern high-technology
arsenal makes Saudi Arabia among the world's most densely armed nations, with
its military equipment being supplied primarily by the US, France and Britain.
The United States sold more than $80 billion in military hardware between 1951
and 2006 to the Saudi military. On 20 October 2010, the U.S. State Department
notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American
history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The package represents a considerable improvement in the offensive capability
of the Saudi armed forces. The Saudi Arabia UK
has also been a major supplier of military equipment to
since 1965. Since 1985, the Saudi Arabia
has supplied military aircraft – notably the Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon
combat aircraft – and other equipment as part of the long-term Al-Yamamah arms
deal estimated to have been worth £43 billion by 2006 and thought to be worth a
further £40 billion. UK
In May 2012, British defence giant BAE signed a £1.9bn ($3bn) deal to supply Hawk trainer jets to
. Saudi Arabia
Except for the southwestern
of Asir, has a desert climate
with extremely high day-time temperatures and a sharp temperature drop at
night. Average summer temperatures are around 113 °F (45 °C), but can be as
high as 129 °F (54 °C). In the winter the temperature rarely drops below 32 °F
(0 °C). In the spring and autumn the heat is temperate, temperatures average
around 84 °F (29 °C). Annual rainfall is extremely low. The Asir region differs
in that it is influenced by the Saudi Arabia Indian Ocean
monsoons, usually occurring between October and March. An average of 300 mm (12
in) of rainfall occurs during this period, that is about 60% of the annual
Animal life includes wolves, hyenas, mongooses, baboons, hares, sand rats, and jerboas. Larger animals such as gazelles, oryx, and leopards were relatively numerous until the 1950s, when hunting from motor vehicles reduced these animals almost to extinction. Birds include falcons (which are caught and trained for hunting), eagles, hawks, vultures, sand grouse and bulbuls. There are several species of snakes, many of which are venomous, and numerous types of lizards. There is a wide variety of marine life in the
Persian Gulf. Domesticated animals
include camels, sheep, goats, donkeys, and chickens. Reflecting the country's
desert conditions, 's plant life mostly consists of small
herbs and shrubs requiring little water. There are a few small areas of grass
and trees in southern Asir. The date palm ( Saudi
Arabia dactylifera) is widespread. Phoenix
No. Province Capital
1 Al Jawf (or Jouf) Sakaka city
2 Northern Borders Arar
3 Tabuk Tabuk city
4 Ha'il Ha'il city
5 Al Madinah
6 Al Qasim Buraidah
8 Al Riyadh Riyadh city
9 Eastern Province Dammam
10 Al Bahah (or Baha) Al Bahah city
11 Asir Abha
12 Jizan Jizan city
The government is attempting to promote growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecommunications.
announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies in 1999, which
followed the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. Shortages
of water and rapid population growth may constrain government efforts to
increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products. Saudi Arabia
In the 1990s,
significant contraction of oil revenues combined with a high rate of population
growth. Per capita income fell from a high of $11,700 at the height of the oil
boom in 1981 to $6,300 in 1998. Increases in oil prices since 2000 have helped
boost per capita GDP to $17,000 in 2007 dollars, or about $7,400 adjusted for
inflation. Taking into account the impact of the real oil price changes on the
Kingdom's real gross domestic income, the real command-basis GDP was computed
to be 330.381 billion 1999 USD in 2010. Saudi Arabia
Oil price increases of 2008–2009 have triggered a second oil boom, pushing
budget surplus to $28 billion (110SR billion) in 2005. Tadawul (the Saudi stock
market index) finished 2004 with a massive 76.23% to close at 4437.58 points.
Market capitalization was up 110.14% from a year earlier to stand at $157.3
billion (589.93SR billion), which makes it the biggest stock market in the
Middle East. Saudi Arabia
OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) limits its members' oil production based on their "proven reserves." The higher their reserves, the more OPEC allows them to produce. Saudi Arabia's published reserves have shown little change since 1980, with the main exception being an increase of about 100 billion barrels (1.6×1010 m3) between 1987 and 1988. Matthew Simmons has suggested that
exaggerating its reserves and may soon show production declines (see peak oil). Saudi Arabia
However the urban areas of
and Jeddah are expected to contribute
$287 billion by the year 2020. Riyadh
Gold mining is carried out in the Mahd adh Dhahab region (also known as the "Cradle of Gold"). Saudi Arabian stores suffered a significant decrease in Gold sales in 2012.
Reporting of poverty remains a state taboo. In December 2011, days after the Arab Spring uprisings, the Saudi interior ministry detained reporter Feros Boqna and two colleagues and held them for almost two weeks for questioning after they uploaded a video on the topic to YouTube. Statistics on the issue are not available through the UN resources because the Saudi government does not issue poverty figures. Observers researching the issue prefer to stay anonymous because of the risk of being arrested. Three journalists: Feras Boqna, Hussam al-Drewesh and Khaled al-Rasheed were detained after posting 10-minute film 'Mal3ob 3alena', or 'We are being cheated' on Saudis living in poverty to YouTube. Authors of the video claim that 22% of Saudis are considered to be poor (2009) and 70% of Saudis do not own their houses.
The population of
as of July 2013 is estimated to be 26,939,583 including 5,576,076
non-nationals.In 1950, had a population of 3 million. The
ethnic composition of Saudi nationals is 90% Arab and Bedouin Arab, and 10%
Afro Asian and Afro-Arab. Until the 1960s, a majority of the population was
nomadic; but presently more than 95% of the population is settled, due to rapid
economic and urban growth. As recently as the early 1960s, the Saudi
slave population was estimated at 300,000.Slavery was officially abolished in
1962. Saudi Arabia
The CIA Factbook estimated that as of 2013 foreign nationals living in
made up about 21% of the population. Other sources report differing estimates.
Indian: 1.3 million, Pakistani: 900,000, Egyptian: 900,000, Yemeni: 800,000,
Bangladeshi: 500,000, Filipino: 500,000, Jordanian/Palestinian: 260,000,
Indonesian: 250,000, Sri Lankan: 350,000, Sudanese: 250,000, Syrian: 100,000
and Turkish: 100,000. There are around 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia ,
most of whom live in compounds or gated communities. Saudi Arabia
In a 2011 news story, Arab News reported, "Nearly three million expatriate workers will have to leave the Kingdom in the next few years as the Labor Ministry has put a 20% ceiling on the country's guest workers."
The official language of
is Arabic. The three
main regional variants spoken by Saudis are Hejazi Arabic (about 6 million
speakers), Nejdi Arabic (about 8 million speakers) and Gulf Arabic (about 0.2
million speakers). The large expatriate communities also speak their own
languages, the most numerous being Tagalog (700,000), Rohingya (400,000), Urdu
(380,000), and Egyptian Arabic (300,000). Saudi Arabia
There are about 25 million people who are Muslim, or 97% of the total population.Data for
comes primarily from general
population surveys, which are less reliable than censuses or large-scale
demographic and health surveys for estimating minority-majority ratios. About
85–90% of Saudis are Sunni, while Shias represent around 10–15% of the Muslim
population. The official and dominant form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia is
commonly known as Wahhabism (a name which some of its proponents consider
derogatory, preferring the term Salafism), founded in the Arabian Peninsula by
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century, is often described as
'puritanical', 'intolerant' or 'ultra-conservative'. However, proponents
consider that its teachings seek to purify the practice of Islam of any
innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh-century teachings of the
Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his companions. Shias face persecution in
employment and religious ceremonies. Saudi
In 2010, the U.S. State Department stated that in Saudi Arabia "freedom of religion is neither recognized nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice" and that "government policies continued to place severe restrictions on religious freedom".No faith other than Islam is permitted to be practiced, although there are nearly a million Christians – nearly all foreign workers – in Saudi Arabia. There are no churches or other non-Muslim houses of worship permitted in the country.Even private prayer services are forbidden in practice and the Saudi religious police reportedly regularly search the homes of Christians. Foreign workers have to observe Ramadan but are not allowed to celebrate Christmas or Easter.
Conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) carries the death penalty, although there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years. Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal, and the last Christian priest was expelled from
in 1985. There are
some Hindus and Buddhists in Saudi Arabia . Compensation in court cases
discriminates against non-Muslims: once fault is determined, a Muslim receives
all of the amount of compensation determined, a Jew or Christian half, and all
others a sixteenth. Saudi
According to Human Rights Watch, the Shia minority face systematic discrimination from the Saudi government in education, the justice system and especially religious freedom. Restrictions are imposed on the public celebration of Shia festivals such as Ashura and on the Shia taking part in communal public worship. According to a 2012 poll, 5% of Saudis are atheists.
Daily life is dominated by Islamic observance. Five times each day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques scattered throughout the country. Because Friday is the holiest day for Muslims, the weekend was Thursday and Friday. Starting on June 29, 2013 the weekend has been shifted to Friday-Saturday to better serve the Saudi economy and its international commitments.In accordance with Wahhabi doctrine, only two religious holidays are publicly recognized, ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. Celebration of other Islamic holidays, such as the Prophet's birthday and ʿĀshūrāʾ (an important holiday for Shīʿites), are tolerated only when celebrated locally and on a small scale. Public observance of non-Islamic religious holidays is prohibited, with the exception of 23 September, which commemorates the unification of the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia, and specifically the Hejaz, as the cradle of Islam, has many of the most significant historic Muslim sites including the two holiest sites of Mecca and Medina.One of the King's titles is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the two mosques being Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, which contains Islam's most sacred place, the Kaaba, and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina which contains Muhammad's tomb.
However, Saudi Wahhabism is hostile to any reverence given to historical or religious places of significance for fear that it may give rise to 'shirk' (that is, idolatry). As a consequence, under Saudi rule, the Hejaz cities have suffered from considerable destruction of their physical heritage and, for example, it has been estimated that about 95% of
buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished. These include
the mosque originally built by Muhammad's daughter Fatima, and other mosques
founded by Abu Bakr (Muhammad's father-in-law and the first Caliph), Umar (the
second Caliph), Ali (Muhammad's son-in-law and the fourth Caliph), and Salman
al-Farsi (another of Muhammad's companions). Other historic buildings that have
been destroyed include the house of Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet, the
house of Abu Bakr, now the site of the local Hilton hotel; the house of
Ali-Oraid, the grandson of the Prophet, and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, now the
location of the King's palace in Mecca . Mecca
Critics have described this as "Saudi vandalism" and claim that over the last 50 years 300 historic sites linked to Muhammad, his family or companions have been lost. It has been reported that there now are fewer than 20 structures remaining in
that date back to the time of Muhammad. Mecca
Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are suited to
desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle length garment woven
from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered
square of cotton held in place by an agal) or a ghutra (a plain white square made
of finer cotton, also held in place by an agal) 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. Women are required to wear an abaya or modest clothing when in
public. Saudi Arabia
1 Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره) is a traditional headdress typically worn by Arab men. It is made of a square of cloth ("scarf"), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly worn in areas with an arid climate, to provide protection from direct sun exposure, and also protection of the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.
2 Agal (Arabic: عقال) is an item of Arab headgear constructed of cord which is fastened around the Ghutrah to hold it in place. The agal is usually black in colour.
3 Thawb (Arabic: ثوب) is the standard Arabic word for garment. It is ankle length, usually with long sleeves similar to a robe
4 Bisht (Arabic: بشت) is a traditional Arabic men's cloak usually only worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings.
5 Abaya (Arabic: عباية) is a women's garment. It is a black cloak which loosely covers the entire body except the head. Some women choose to cover their faces with a niqāb and some do not.
Entertainment, the arts, sport and cuisine
During the 1970s, cinemas were numerous in the Kingdom although they were seen as contrary to tribal norms. During the Islamic revival movement in the 1980s, and as a political response to an increase in Islamist activism including the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the government closed all cinemas and theaters. However, with King Abdullah's reforms from 2005, some cinemas have re-opened.
From the 18th century onward, Wahhabi fundamentalism discouraged artistic development inconsistent with its teaching. In addition, Sunni Islamic prohibition of creating representations of people have limited the visual arts, which tend to be dominated by geometric, floral, and abstract designs and by calligraphy. With the advent of oil-wealth in the 20th century came exposure to outside influences, such as Western housing styles, furnishings, and clothes. Music and dance have always been part of Saudi life. Traditional music is generally associated with poetry and is sung collectively. Instruments include the rabābah, an instrument not unlike a three-string fiddle, and various types of percussion instruments, such as the ṭabl (drum) and the ṭār (tambourine). Of the native dances, the most popular is a martial line dance known as the ʿarḍah, which includes lines of men, frequently armed with swords or rifles, dancing to the beat of drums and tambourines. Bedouin poetry, known as nabaṭī, is still very popular.
Censorship has limited the development of Saudi literature, although several Saudi novelists and poets have achieved critical and popular acclaim in the Arab world – albeit generating official hostility in their home country. These include Ghazi Algosaibi, Abdelrahman Munif, Turki al-Hamad and Rajaa al-Sanea.
Football (soccer) is the national sport in
Scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and basketball are also popular, played by
both men and women, with the Saudi Arabian national basketball team winning
bronze at the 1999 Asian Championship. More traditional sports such as camel
racing became more popular in the 1970s. A stadium in Saudi Arabia holds races in the winter. The annual
King's Camel Race, begun in 1974, is one of the sport's most important contests
and attracts animals and riders from throughout the region. Falconry, another
traditional pursuit, is still practiced. Riyadh
Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding countries in the
Arabian Peninsula, and has
been heavily influenced by Turkish, Persian, and African food. Islamic dietary
laws are enforced: pork is not consumed and other animals are slaughtered in
accordance with halal. A dish consisting of a stuffed lamb, known as khūzī, is
the traditional national dish. Kebabs are popular, as is shāwarmā (shawarma), a
marinated grilled meat dish of lamb, mutton, or chicken. As in other Arab
countries of the Arabian Peninsula, machbūs
(kabsa), a rice dish with fish or shrimp, is popular. Flat, unleavened bread is
a staple of virtually every meal, as are dates and fresh fruit. Coffee, served
in the Turkish style, is the traditional beverage.
Saudi society has a number of issues and tensions. A rare independent opinion poll published in 2010 indicated that Saudis' main social concerns were unemployment (at 10% in 2010), corruption and religious extremism. Crime is not a significant problem. However, the government of Saudi Arabia's objective of being a religious Islamic country, coupled with economic difficulties, has created deep social tensions in Saudi society. Many Saudis want a reformed, more secular government and to have more influence in the political process. On the other hand, juvenile delinquency, drug-use and excessive use of alcohol are getting worse. High unemployment and a generation of young males filled with contempt toward the Royal Family is a significant threat to Saudi social stability. Some Saudis feel they are entitled to well-paid government jobs, and the failure of the government to satisfy this sense of entitlement has led to considerable dissatisfaction. The Shiite minority, located primarily in the Eastern Province, are subjected to institutionalized government discrimination, inequality and repression. Terrorist attacks in
have made it clear that does harbor indigenous terrorists. Saudi
According to a 2009 U.S. State Department communication by Hillary Clinton, United States Secretary of State, (disclosed as part of the Wikileaks U.S. 'cables leaks' controversy in 2010) "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide".Part of this funding arises through the zakat (an act of charity dictated by Islam) paid by all Saudis to charities, and amounting to at least 2.5% of their income. Although many charities are genuine, others, it is alleged, serve as fronts for money laundering and terrorist financing operations. While many Saudis contribute to those charities in good faith believing their money goes toward good causes, it has been alleged that others know full well the terrorist purposes to which their money will be applied.
According to a study conducted by Dr. Nura Al-Suwaiyan, director of the family safety program at the National Guard Hospital, one in four children are abused in Saudi Arabia. The National Society for Human Rights reports that almost 45% of the country's children are facing some sort of abuse and domestic violence. It has also been claimed that trafficking of women is a particular problem in Saudi Arabia as the country's large number of female foreign domestic workers, and loopholes in the system cause many to fall victim to abuse and torture.
Widespread inbreeding in
, resulting from the
traditional practice of encouraging marriage between close relatives, has
produced high levels of several genetic disorders including thalassemia, sickle
cell anemia, spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness. Saudi Arabia
The U.S. State department considers Saudi government's "discrimination against women a significant problem" in
and that women have few political rights due to the government's discriminatory
policies. The UN special reporter on domestic abuse noted the absence of laws
criminalizing violence against women in 2008.The World Economic Forum 2010
Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 129th out of 134 countries for gender
Under Saudi law, every adult female has to have a male relative as her "guardian".As a result, Human Rights Watch has described the legal position of Saudi women as like that of a minor, with little legal authority over their own lives, such as government authorities forcing women to obtain the legal permission of a male guardian in order to travel, study and work. The guardian is legally entitled to make a number of critical decisions on a woman's behalf.
Women are also said to have faced discrimination in the courts, where the testimony of one man equals that of two women, and in family and inheritance law. Polygamy is permitted for men, and men have a unilateral right to divorce their wives (talaq) without needing any legal justification.A woman can only obtain a divorce with the consent of her husband or judicially if her husband has harmed her. In practice, it is very difficult for a Saudi woman to obtain a judicial divorce.With regard to the law of inheritance, the Quran specifies that fixed portions of the deceased's estate must be left to the Qu'ranic heirs. Generally, female heirs receive half the portion of male heirs.A Sunni Muslim can bequeath a maximum of a third of his property to non-Qu'ranic heirs. The residue is divided between agnatic heirs.
The average age at first marriage among Saudi females is 25 years in
Child marriage exists in Saudi Arabia , however it is not common. 60% of all
university graduates in Saudi
Arabia are Saudi women. In 2005–2006, women
had a 60% dropout rate in college. Female literacy is estimated to be 81%
whereas male literacy is estimated to be higher. Saudi
The religious police, known as the mutawa impose many restrictions on women in public in Saudi Arabia.The restrictions include forcing women to sit in separate specially designated family sections in restaurants, to wear an abaya and to cover their hair.There is also effectively a ban on women driving.
Leading Saudi feminist and journalist, Wajeha al-Huwaider, has said "Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status, even the 'pampered' ones among them, because they have no law to protect them from attack by anyone. The oppression of women and the effacement of their selfhood is a flaw affecting most homes in
." Saudi Arabia
Although many Saudi women want much more freedom in
there is evidence that some women do not want radical change, but this could in
part be because Saudi men do not know how to behave around women. Some
advocates of reform reject foreign critics, for "failing to understand the
uniqueness of Saudi society." A number of Saudi women have risen to the
top of some professions or otherwise achieved prominence, for example Dr. Ghada
Al-Mutairi, heads a medical research center in Saudi Arabia California
and Dr. Salwa Al-Hazzaa, head of the ophthalmology department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital
was the late King Fahad's personal ophthalmologist. On 25 September 2011, King
Abdullah announced that Saudi women would gain the right to vote (and to be
candidates) in municipal elections, following the next round of these
elections. However, a male guardian's permission is required in order to vote. Riyadh
Education is free at all levels. The school system is composed of elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools. A large part of the curriculum at all levels is devoted to Islam, and, at the secondary level, students are able to follow either a religious or a technical track. As few girls attend school, this disproportion is reflected in the rate of literacy, which exceeds 85% among males and is about 70% among females. Classes are segregated by gender. Higher education has expanded rapidly, with large numbers of Universities and colleges being founded particularly since 2000. Institutions of higher education include the country's first University,
King Saud University founded in 1957, the Islamic University at
Medina founded in 1961, and the in Jeddah
founded in 1967. Other colleges and universities emphasize curricula in
sciences and technology, military studies, religion, and medicine. Institutes
devoted to Islamic studies, in particular, abound. Women typically receive
college instruction in segregated institutions. King Abdulaziz
The study of Islam dominates the Saudi educational system. In particular, the memorization by rote of large parts of the Qu'ran, its interpretation and understanding (Tafsir) and the application of Islamic tradition to everyday life is at the core of the curriculum. Religion taught in this manner is also a compulsory subject for all University students. As a consequence, Saudi youth "generally lacks the education and technical skills the private sector needs" according to the CIA. Similarly, The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in 2010 that "the country needs educated young Saudis with marketable skills and a capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship. That's not generally what
's educational system
delivers, steeped as it is in rote learning and religious instruction." Saudi Arabia
A further criticism of the religious focus of the Saudi education system is the nature of the Wahhabi-controlled curriculum. The Islamic aspect of the Saudi national curriculum was examined in a 2006 report by Freedom House which concluded that "the Saudi public school religious curriculum continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the 'unbeliever', that is, Christians, Jews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine, Hindus, atheists and others". The Saudi religious studies curriculum is taught outside the Kingdom in madrasah throughout the world. Critics have described the education system as "medieval" and that its primary goal "is to maintain the rule of absolute monarchy by casting it as the ordained protector of the faith, and that Islam is at war with other faiths and cultures".
The approach taken in the Saudi education system has been accused of encouraging Islamic terrorism, leading to reform efforts. To tackle the twin problems of encouraging extremism and the inadequacy of the country's university education for a modern economy, the government is aiming to slowly modernise the education system through the "Tatweer" reform program. The Tatweer program is reported to have a budget of approximately US$2 billion and focuses on moving teaching away from the traditional Saudi methods of memorization and rote learning towards encouraging students to analyze and problem-solve. It also aims to create an education system which will provide a more secular and vocationally based training.