Saudi Arabia[c] (/ˌsɔːdi əˈreɪbiə/ ( listen),
/ˌsaʊ-/ ( listen)), officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
(KSA),[d] is a sovereign
Arab state in
Western Asia constituting the
bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. With a land area of approximately
2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), Saudi
geographically the fifth-largest state in
Asia and second-largest
state in the
Arab world after Algeria. Saudi
Arabia is bordered by
Iraq to the north,
Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain
and the United
Arab Emirates to the east,
Oman to the southeast and
Yemen to the south. It is separated from
Egypt by the Gulf
of Aqaba. It is the only nation with both a
Red Sea coast and a
Persian Gulf coast and most of its terrain consists of arid desert and
The area of modern-day Saudi
Arabia formerly consisted of four
distinct regions: Hejaz,
Najd and parts of
Eastern Arabia (Al-Ahsa)
Southern Arabia ('Asir). The Kingdom of Saudi
founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. He united the four regions into a single
state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture
of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. Saudi
Arabia has since been an absolute monarchy, effectively a hereditary
dictatorship governed along Islamic lines. The ultraconservative
Wahhabi religious movement within
Sunni Islam has been called "the
predominant feature of Saudi culture", with its global spread largely
financed by the oil and gas trade. Saudi
Arabia is sometimes
called "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Al-Masjid
al-Haram (in Mecca) and
Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two
holiest places in Islam. The state has a total population of 28.7
million, of which 20 million are Saudi nationals and 8 million are
foreigners. The state's official language is Arabic.
Petroleum was discovered on 3 March 1938 and followed up by several
other finds in the Eastern Province. Saudi
Arabia has since become
the world's largest oil producer and exporter, controlling the world's
second largest oil reserves and the sixth largest gas reserves.
The kingdom is categorized as a
World Bank high-income economy
World Bank high-income economy with a
high Human Development Index and is the only
Arab country to be
part of the G-20 major economies. However, the economy of Saudi
Arabia is the least diversified in the Gulf Cooperation Council,
lacking any significant service or production sector (apart from the
extraction of resources). The state has attracted criticism for
its treatment of women and use of capital punishment. Saudi Arabia
is a monarchical autocracy, has the fourth highest military
expenditure in the world and
SIPRI found that Saudi
the world's second largest arms importer in 2010–2014. Saudi
Arabia is considered a regional and middle power. In addition to
the GCC, it is an active member of the Organisation of Islamic
Cooperation and OPEC.
2.1 Before the foundation of Saudi Arabia
2.1.1 Pre-Islamic Arabia
188.8.131.52 Nabatean Kingdom
184.108.40.206 Kingdom of Lihyan
2.1.2 Middle Ages and rise of Islam
220.127.116.11 Ottoman Hejaz
2.1.3 Foundation of the Saud dynasty
Monarchy and royal family
Al ash-Sheikh and role of the ulema
3.3 Legal system
3.4 Human rights
3.5 Foreign relations
5 Administrative divisions
6.2 Water supply and sanitation
8 Monarchs (1932–present)
8.1 Crown Princes (1933–present)
8.2 Second Deputy Prime Minister/Second-in-line (1965–2011)
8.3 Deputy Crown Prince/Second-in-line (2014–present)
9.1 Religion in society
9.1.1 Islamic heritage sites
9.3 Arts and entertainment
11 Health care
12 See also
15 Further reading
17 External links
Following the unification of the
Nejd kingdoms, 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, Abdulaziz
Al Saud (Ibn Saud). Although this is normally translated as "the
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" in English, it literally means "the Saudi
Arab kingdom", or "the
Arab Saudi 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 the Saudi royal family, the Al
Saud (آل سعود). Its inclusion expresses the view that the
country is 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
Muhammad bin Saud.
Main article: History of Saudi Arabia
There is evidence that human habitation in the
Arabian Peninsula dates
back to about 125,000 years ago. It is now believed that the first
modern humans to spread east across
Africa about 75,000
years ago across the
Bab el Mandib
Bab el Mandib connecting Horn of
Red sea crossing
Before the foundation of Saudi Arabia
In ancient times the Arabian peninsula served as a corridor for trade
and exhibited several civilizations. The history before the foundation
Arabia divided into two phases: pre-
Islam and after Islam.
Main article: Pre-Islamic Arabia
Religions of the people of the
Arabian Peninsula before Islam
consisted of indigenous polytheistic beliefs, Arabian Christianity,
Judaism and Zoroastrianism.
Main article: Al-Magar
Al-Magar is prehistoric civilisation that was founded in the center of
the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Najd.
Al-Magar is where the
first domestication of animals occurred, particularly the horse,
Jubail Church is a 4th-century church building near Jubail, Eastern
Province, discovered in 1986. It originally belonged to the Church of
the East, an ancient
Nestorian branch of
Eastern Christianity in the
Middle East. It is one of the oldest churches in the world.
Aramaic inscription from the ancient city of
Tayma (6th century BC)
Main article: Dilmun
Correspondence between Ilī-ippašra, the governor of Dilmun, and
Enlil-kidinni, the governor of Nippur, c. 1350 BC
Dilmun is one of the ancient civilizations in the
Middle East and in
the Arabian Peninsula. It was a major trading centre, and, at
the height of its power, controlled the
Persian Gulf trading
Dilmun encompassed the east large side of the
Arabian Peninsula, particularly in the Eastern Province of Saudi
Arabia. One of the earliest inscriptions naming
Dilmun is that of King
Lagash (c. 2300 BC) discovered in a door-socket: "The
Dilmun brought him wood as tribute from foreign lands
Main article: Thamud
Thamud is the name of an ancient civilization in the
Hejaz known from
the 1st millennium BC to near the time of Muhammad. More than 9,000
Thamudic inscriptions were recorded in south-west Saudi Arabia.
Main article: Nabataeans
The ancient archaeological site of Mada'in Saleh
The Nabataeans, also Nabateans (/ˌnæbəˈtiːənz/; Arabic:
الأنباط al-ʾAnbāṭ , compare to Ancient Greek:
Ναβαταίος, Latin: Nabatæus), were an Arab people who
Arabia and the Southern Levant, and whose
settlements, most prominently the assumed capital city of Raqmu, now
called Petra, in CE 37 – c. 100, gave the name of Nabatene
to the borderland between
Arabia and Syria, from the
Euphrates to the
Red Sea. Their loosely controlled trading network, which centered on
strings of oases that they controlled, where agriculture was
intensively practiced in limited areas, and on the routes that linked
them, had no securely defined boundaries in the surrounding desert.
Trajan conquered the Nabataean kingdom, annexing it to the Roman
Empire, where their individual culture, easily identified by their
characteristic finely potted painted ceramics, was adopted into the
larger Greco-Roman culture. They were later converted to Christianity.
Jane Taylor, a writer, describes them as "one of the most gifted
peoples of the ancient world".
Kingdom of Lihyan
Main article: Lihyan
The kingdom of
Lihyan (Arabic: لحيان) or Dedan is an Ancient
North Arabian kingdom. It was located in northwestern of the now-day
Saudi Arabia, and is known for its Ancient North Arabian inscriptions
dating to ca. the 6th to 4th centuries BC.
Main article: Kindah
Head of a man from the ancient capital
Qaryat al-Faw (1st century BCE)
Fragment of a wall painting showing a Kindite king, 1st century CE
Kindah was a tribal kingdom that was established in the
central Arabia. Its kings exercised an influence over a number of
associated tribes more by personal prestige than by coercive settled
authority. Their first capital was Qaryat Dhāt Kāhil, today known as
Middle Ages and rise of Islam
Shortly before the advent of Islam, apart from urban trading
settlements (such as
Mecca and Medina), much of what was to become
Arabia was populated by nomadic pastoral tribal societies.
The Islamic prophet Muhammad, however, was born in
Mecca in about 571
A.D. 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 and
unprecedented swathes of territory (from the
Iberian Peninsula in west
to modern day
Pakistan in east) in a matter of decades.
became a more politically peripheral region of the
Muslim world as the
focus shifted to the vast and newly conquered lands.
At its greatest extent, the Umayyad
Caliphate (661–750) covered
11,100,000 km2 (4,300,000 sq mi) and 62 million
people (29% of the world's population), making it one of the
largest empires in history in both area and proportion of the world's
population. It was also larger than any previous empire in history.
Arab dynasties, originating from modern-day Saudi Arabia,
particular, founded the Rashidun (632–661), Umayyad (661–750),
Abbasid (750–1517) and the Fatimid (909–1171)
The Battle of Badr, 13 March 624 CE
From the 10th century to the early 20th century
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 Saudi
Arabia reverted to traditional
For much of the 10th century the Isma'ili-Shi'ite
Qarmatians were the
most powerful force in the Persian Gulf. In 930, the Qarmatians
pillaged Mecca, outraging the Muslim world, particularly with their
theft of the Black Stone. In 1077–1078, an
Arab Sheikh named
Abdullah bin Ali Al Uyuni defeated the
Al-Hasa with the help of the
Great Seljuq Empire
Great Seljuq Empire and founded the
Uyunid dynasty. The
Uyunid Emirate later underwent expansion
with its territory stretching from
Najd to the Syrian desert. They
were overthrown by the
Usfurids in 1253. Ufsurid rule was weakened
after Persian rulers of Hormuz captured
Qatif in 1320.
The vassals of Ormuz, the
Jarwanid dynasty came to rule eastern
Arabia in the 14th century. The
Jabrids took control of the
region after overthrowing the Jarwanids in the 15th century and
clashed with Hormuz for more than 2 decades over the region for its
economic revenues, until finally agreeing to pay tribute in 1507.
Al-Muntafiq tribe later took over the region and came under Ottoman
Bani Khalid tribe later revolted against them in 17th
century and took control. Their rule extended from
its height and they too came under Ottoman suzerainty.
Main article: Ottoman era in the history of Saudi Arabia
In the 16th century, the
Ottomans added the
Red Sea and Persian Gulf
coast (the Hejaz, Asir and Al-Ahsa) 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.
Foundation of the Saud dynasty
See also: Unification of Saudi Arabia
Arabian Peninsula in 1914
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
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
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, sacking Karbala in 1802 and capturing
Mecca in 1803, but was destroyed by 1818 by the Ottoman viceroy of
Egypt, 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 Saudi
Arabia with another Arabian ruling family,
the Al Rashid. By 1891, the Al Rashid were victorious and the Al Saud
were driven into exile in Kuwait.
Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia
At the beginning of the 20th century, the
Ottoman Empire continued to
control or have a suzerainty over most of the peninsula. Subject to
Arabia was ruled by a patchwork of tribal
rulers, with the Sharif of
Mecca having pre-eminence and
ruling the Hejaz. In 1902, Abdul Rahman's son, Abdul Aziz—later
to be known as Ibn Saud—recaptured control of
Riyadh bringing the Al
Saud back to Nejd.
Ibn Saud gained the support of the Ikhwan, a
tribal army inspired by
Wahhabism and led by Faisal Al-Dawish, and
which had grown quickly after its foundation in 1912. With the aid
of the Ikhwan,
Ibn Saud captured Al-Ahsa from the
Ottomans in 1913.
In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain (which was
Ottomans in World War I), the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein
bin Ali, led a pan-
Arab revolt against the
Ottoman Empire to create a
Arab state. Although the
Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918 failed
in its objective, the Allied victory in
World War I
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,
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. For the next five years, he administered the
two parts of his dual kingdom as separate units.
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 Kuwait, 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 1929 at the
Battle of Sabilla, where their leaders were massacred. In 1932 the
two kingdoms of the
Nejd were united as the Kingdom of Saudi
Main article: Modern history of Saudi Arabia
Arabia political map
The Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia after unification in 1932
The new kingdom was reliant on limited agriculture and pilgrimage
revenues. In 1938, vast reserves of oil were discovered in the
Al-Ahsa 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 Saudi
economic prosperity and substantial political leverage
Cultural life rapidly developed, primarily in the Hejaz, which was the
center for newspapers and radio. However, the large influx of foreign
workers in Saudi
Arabia 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.
In 1953, Saud of Saudi
Arabia succeeded as the king of Saudi Arabia,
on his father's death, until 1964 when he was deposed in favor of his
half brother Faisal of Saudi Arabia, after an intense rivalry, fueled
by doubts in the royal family over Saud's competence. In 1972, Saudi
Arabia gained a 20% control in Aramco, thereby decreasing US control
over Saudi oil.
In 1973, Saudi
Arabia led an oil boycott against the Western countries
Israel in the
Yom Kippur War
Yom Kippur War against
Egypt and Syria.
Oil prices quadrupled. In 1975, Faisal was assassinated by his
Faisal bin Musaid and was succeeded by his half-brother
Saudi Arabian administrative regions and roadways map
By 1976, Saudi
Arabia 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 US were developed. In 1979, two events occurred which
greatly concerned the government, 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
Eastern Province (which is also the location of the oil fields) might
rebel under the influence of their Iranian co-religionists. There were
several anti-government uprisings in the region such as the 1979 Qatif
The second event was the
Grand Mosque Seizure
Grand Mosque Seizure in
Mecca 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
government. 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
Dammam No. 7, the first commercial oil well in Saudi Arabia, struck
oil on 4 March 1938.
In 1980, Saudi
Arabia bought out the American interests in Aramco.
King Khalid died of a heart attack in June 1982. He was succeeded by
his brother, King Fahd, who added the title "Custodian of the Two Holy
Mosques" to his name in 1986 in response to considerable
fundamentalist pressure to avoid use of "majesty" in association with
anything except God. Fahd continued to develop close relations with
United States and increased the purchase of American and British
The vast wealth generated by oil revenues was beginning to have an
even greater impact on Saudi society. It led to rapid technological
(but not cultural) 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.
In the 1980s, Saudi
Arabia spent $25 billion in support of Saddam
Hussein in the Iran–
Iraq War. However, Saudi
the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait in 1990 and asked the US to
intervene. King Fahd allowed American and coalition troops to be
stationed in Saudi Arabia. He invited the Kuwaiti government and many
of its citizens to stay in Saudi Arabia, but expelled citizens of
Jordan because of their governments' support of Iraq. In
1991, Saudi Arabian forces were involved both in bombing raids on Iraq
and in the land invasion that helped to liberate Kuwait.
Saudi Arabia'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
Islamist terrorism in Saudi Arabia,
as well as
Islamist terrorist attacks in Western countries by Saudi
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden was a Saudi national (until stripped of his
nationality in 1994) and was responsible for the 1998 U.S. embassy
bombings in East
Africa and the 2000
USS Cole bombing
USS Cole bombing near the port of
Aden, Yemen. 15 of the 19 terrorists involved in September 11 attacks
in New York City, Washington, D.C., and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania
were Saudi nationals. Many Saudis who did not support the Islamist
terrorists were nevertheless deeply unhappy with the government's
Oil and gas pipelines in the Middle-East
Islamism was not the only source of hostility to the government.
Although now extremely wealthy, Saudi Arabia'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]."
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 Riyadh, Jeddah,
Yanbu and Khobar. In February–April
2005, the first-ever nationwide municipal elections were held in Saudi
Arabia. Women were not allowed to take part in the poll.
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
Jeddah 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.
Since 2011, Saudi
Arabia has been affected by its own
protests. In response, King Abdullah announced on 22 February
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 included
500,000 new homes to a cost of $67 billion, in addition to creating
60,000 new security jobs.
Although male-only municipal elections were held on 29 September
2011, Abdullah allowed women to vote and be elected in the
2015 municipal elections, and also to be nominated to the Shura
Main article: Politics of Saudi Arabia
Salman Al Saud
Mohammad bin Salman
Arabia is an absolute monarchy. However, according to the
Basic Law of Saudi Arabia
Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king
must comply with
Sharia (Islamic law) and the Quran, while the Quran
Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the
country's constitution. No political parties or national
elections are permitted. Critics regard it as a authoritarian
The Economist rates the Saudi government as the
fifth most authoritarian government out of 167 rated in its 2012
Democracy Index, and
Freedom House gives it its lowest "Not Free"
rating, 7.0 ("1=best, 7=worst") for 2013.
In the absence of national elections and political parties,
politics in Saudi
Arabia 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
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:
Islamist activism; liberal critics; the Shi'ite
minority—particularly in the Eastern Province; and long-standing
tribal and regionalist particularistic opponents (for example in the
Hejaz). Of these, the Islamic activists have been the most
prominent threat to the government 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
Arabia is the only country in the world that effectively bans
women from driving: although there is no written law to that effect,
in practice women are hindered from obtaining the locally issued
licenses required to drive. However, on 26 September 2017, King
Salman decreed that women will be allowed to gain driver's licenses in
the Kingdom, effectively granting women the right to drive. On 25
September 2011, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah announced that women will
have the right to stand and vote in future local elections and join
the advisory Shura council as full members.
Monarchy and royal family
The king combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions
and royal decrees form the basis of the country's legislation.
The king is also the prime minister, and presides over the Council of
Ministers of Saudi
Arabia and Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia.
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
Ibn Saud. The key ministries are generally reserved for the royal
family, as are the thirteen regional governorships.
Long term political and government appointments have resulted in the
creation of "power fiefdoms" for senior princes, 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 had been
Minister of Foreign Affairs since 1975 and current King Salman,
who was Minister of Defense and Aviation before he was crown prince
and Governor of the
Riyadh Province from 1962 to 2011. The
current Minister of Defense is Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the son of
King Salman and Crown Prince.
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. The following year Prince Nayef also died before
ascending to the throne.
As many as 500 princes, government ministers, and business people,
including Prince Fahd bin Abdullah, were arrested by Saudi Arabian
authorities as part of an anti-corruption purge in November 2017
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
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 UK 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 Saudi
Arabia a score of 4.7 (on a scale from 0 to 10
where 0 is "highly corrupt" and 10 is "highly clean"). Saudi
Arabia has undergone a process of political and social reform, such as
to increase public transparency and good governance. However, nepotism
and patronage are widespread when doing business in the country. The
enforcement of the anti-corruption laws is selective and public
officials engage in corruption with impunity. A number of prominent
Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and businesspeople,
including Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, were arrested in Saudi
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,
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
Al ash-Sheikh with
Bogdan Borusewicz in the
Polish Senate, 26 May 2014
Arabia is almost unique in giving the ulema (the body of Islamic
religious leaders and jurists) a direct role in government. The
preferred ulema are of the Salafi persuasion. The ulema have also been
a key influence in major government decisions, for example the
imposition of the oil embargo in 1973 and the invitation to foreign
troops to Saudi
Arabia in 1990. In addition, they have had a
major role in the judicial and education systems and a monopoly
of authority in the sphere of religious and social morals.
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
Mecca 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
Wahhabi rules of moral and social behaviour. After
his accession to the throne in 2005, King Abdullah took steps to
reduce the powers of the ulema, for instance transferring control over
girls' education to the Ministry of Education.
The ulema have historically been led by the Al ash-Sheikh, the
country's leading religious family. The
Al ash-Sheikh are the
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th century founder of
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
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
Main article: Legal system of Saudi Arabia
Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia
Capital punishment in Saudi Arabia and Public executions in
Verses from the Quran. The
Quran is the official constitution of the
country and a primary source of law. Saudi
Arabia is unique in
enshrining a religious text as a political document.
The primary source of law is the Islamic
Sharia derived from the
teachings of the
Qur'an and the
Sunnah (the traditions of the
Arabia is unique among modern Muslim states in
Sharia is not codified and there is no system of judicial
precedent, giving judges the power to use independent legal reasoning
to make a decision. 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 Qur'an
Because the judge is empowered to disregard previous judgments (either
his own or of other judges) and may apply his personal interpretation
Sharia to any particular case, divergent judgements arise even in
apparently identical cases, making predictability of legal
interpretation difficult. The
Sharia court system constitutes the
basic judiciary of Saudi
Arabia and its judges (qadi) and lawyers form
part of the ulema, the country's Islamic scholars.
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. Extra-
Sharia government tribunals
usually 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
The Saudi system of justice has been criticized for its
"ultra-puritanical judges", who are often harsh in their sentencing
(with beheading for the crime of witchcraft), but also sometimes
overly lenient (for cases of rape or wife-beating) and slow, for
example leaving thousands of abandoned women unable to secure a
divorce. The system has also been criticized for being
arcane, lacking in some of the safeguards of justice, and unable
to deal with the modern world. In 2007, King Abdullah issued
royal decrees reforming the judiciary and creating a new court
system, 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.
Deera Square, central Riyadh. Known locally as "Chop-chop square", it
is the location of public beheadings.
Capital and physical punishments imposed by Saudi courts, such as
beheading, stoning (to death), amputation, crucifixion and lashing, as
well as the sheer 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 September 2014.
Although repeated theft can be punishable by amputation of the right
hand, only one instance of judicial amputation was reported between
2007 and 2010. Homosexual acts are punishable by flogging or
Atheism or "calling into question the
fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based"
is considered a terrorist crime. 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
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 (blood money), by the perpetrator.
Main article: Human rights in Saudi Arabia
In 2014, Saudi Arabian writer
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in
prison and 1,000 lashes for "insulting Islam".
Western-based organizations such as
Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch condemn both the Saudi criminal justice system and its
severe punishments. There are no jury trials in Saudi
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. An example of
sentencing is that UK pensioner and cancer victim Karl Andree, aged
74, faced 360 lashes for home brewing alcohol. He was later
released due to intervention by the British government.
Arabia is widely accused of having one of the worst human rights
records in the world. Human rights issues that have attracted strong
criticism include the extremely disadvantaged position of women (see
Women below), capital punishment for homosexuality, religious
discrimination, the lack of religious freedom and the activities of
the religious police (see Religion below). Between 1996 and 2000,
Arabia acceded to four UN human rights conventions and, in 2004,
the government approved the establishment of the National Society for
Human Rights (NSHR), staffed by government employees, to monitor their
implementation. To date, the activities of the NSHR have been limited
and doubts remain over its neutrality and independence.
Arabia remains one of the very few countries in the world not to
accept the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In response to
the continuing criticism of its human rights record, the Saudi
government points to the special Islamic character of the country, and
asserts that this justifies a different social and political
United States Commission on International Religious
Freedom had unsuccessfully urged President
Barack Obama to raise
human rights concerns with King Abdullah on his March 2014 visit to
the Kingdom especially the imprisonments of Sultan Hamid Marzooq
al-Enezi, Saud Falih Awad al-Enezi, and Raif Badawi.
Arabia also conducts about 2 executions per week, mainly for
murder and drug smuggling, although there are people who have been
executed for deserting
Islam and crimes against the Faisal bin
Musaid. The method of execution is normally beheading in
public. For example,
Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr
Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr was arrested in
2012 when he was 17 years old for taking part in an anti-government
protests in Saudi
Arabia during the
Arab Spring. In May 2014, Ali
al-Nimr was sentenced to be publicly beheaded and crucified.
In 2013, the government deported thousands of non-Saudis, many of them
who were working illegally in the country or had overstayed their
visas. Many reports abound, of foreigner workers being tortured either
by employers or others. This resulted in many basic services
suffering from a lack of workers, as many Saudi Arabian citizens are
not keen on working in blue collar jobs.
Arabia has a "Counter-Radicalization Program" the purpose of
which is to "combat the spread and appeal of extremist ideologies
among the general populous" and to "instill the true values of the
Islamic faith, such as tolerance and moderation." This "tolerance
and moderation" has been called into question by the Baltimore Sun,
based on the reports from
Amnesty International regarding Raif
Badawi, and in the case of a man from Hafr al-Batin sentenced to
death for rejecting Islam. In September 2015, Faisal bin Hassan
Trad, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, has been elected
Chair of the
United Nations Human Rights Council panel that appoints
independent experts. In January 2016, Saudi
Arabia executed the
Sheikh Nimr who had called for pro-democracy
demonstrations and for free elections in Saudi Arabia.
In August 2017, ten
Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Desmond
Tutu and Lech Wałęsa, urged Saudi
Arabia to stop the executions of
14 young people for participating in the 2011–12 Saudi Arabian
Main article: Foreign relations of Saudi Arabia
Donald Trump and First Lady
Melania Trump with King
Salman bin Abdulaziz
Al Saud and the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah
Al Sisi, May 21, 2017
Arabia joined the UN in 1945 and is a founding member
Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, Muslim World League, and
the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of
Islamic Cooperation). It plays a prominent role in the
International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and in 2005 joined the
World Trade Organization. Saudi
Arabia supports the intended
formation of the
Arab Customs Union in 2015 and an
market by 2020, as announced at the 2009
Arab League summit.
Since 1960, as a founding member of OPEC, its oil pricing policy has
been generally to stabilize the world oil market and try to moderate
sharp price movements so as to not jeopardise the Western
Between the mid-1970s and 2002 Saudi
Arabia 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
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. Counting only the non-Muslim-majority
Arabia has paid for the construction of 1359 mosques,
210 Islamic centres, 202 colleges and 2000 schools.
Barack Obama meets King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, July
Arabia and the
United States are strategic allies, and
Barack Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. has sold
$110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia. In the first decade of
the 21st century the Saudi
Arabia paid approximately $100 million to
American firms to lobby the U.S. government. The relations with
the U.S. 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
Osama bin Laden and
fifteen out of the nineteen
9/11 hijackers were from Saudi
Arabia; in ISIL-occupied Raqqa, in mid-2014, all 12 judges were
Saudi. According to former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Arabia remains a critical financial support base for
al-Qaida, the Taliban,
LeT and other terrorist groups... Donors in
Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to
Sunni terrorist groups worldwide." Former
CIA director James
Woolsey described it as "the soil in which
Al-Qaeda and its sister
terrorist organizations are flourishing." The Saudi government
denies these claims or that it exports religious or cultural
extremism. In April 2016, Saudi
Arabia has threatened to sell off
$750 billion in Treasury securities and other U.S. assets if Congress
passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be sued over
Faisal Mosque in
Islamabad is named after a Saudi king. The kingdom is
a strong ally of Pakistan.
WikiLeaks claimed that Saudis are "long
accustomed to having a significant role in Pakistan's affairs".
Arab and Muslim worlds, Saudi
Arabia is considered to be
pro-Western and pro-American, and it is certainly a long-term
ally of the United States. However, this and Saudi Arabia's
role in the 1991
Persian Gulf War, particularly the stationing of U.S.
troops on Saudi soil from 1991, prompted the development of a hostile
Islamist response internally. As a result, 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 of
The consequences of the 2003 invasion and the
Arab Spring led to
increasing alarm within the Saudi monarchy over the rise of Iran's
influence in the region. These fears were reflected in comments
of King Abdullah, who privately urged the
United States to attack
Iran and "cut off the head of the snake". The tentative
rapprochement between the US and
Iran that began in secret in
2011 was said to be feared by the Saudis, and, during the
run up to the widely welcomed deal on Iran's nuclear programme that
capped the first stage of US–Iranian détente, Robert Jordan, who
was U.S. ambassador to
Riyadh from 2001 to 2003, said "[t]he Saudis'
worst nightmare would be the [Obama] administration striking a grand
bargain with Iran." A trip to Saudi by US President Barack Obama
in 2014 included discussions of US–
Iran relations, though these
failed to resolve Riyadh's concerns.
In order to protect the house of Khalifa, the monarchs of Bahrain,
Bahrain by sending military troops to quell the
uprising of Bahraini people on 14 March 2011. The Saudi
government considered the two-month uprising as a "security threat"
posed by the
Shia who represent the majority of Bahrain
Adel al-Jubeir with British Foreign Secretary Boris
Johnson in London, 16 October 2016
According to the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in March 2014,
Arabia along with
Qatar provided political, financial and media
support to terrorists against the Iraqi government.
On 25 March 2015, Saudi Arabia, spearheading a coalition of Sunni
Muslim states, started a military intervention in
Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah
Saleh, who was deposed in the 2011
Arab Spring uprisings.
As of 2015[update], together with
Qatar and Turkey, Saudi
openly supporting the Army of Conquest, an umbrella group of
anti-government forces fighting in the
Syrian Civil War
Syrian Civil War that
reportedly includes an al-Qaeda linked al-Nusra Front and another
Salafi coalition known as Ahrar al-Sham.
Following a number of incidents during the
Hajj season, the
deadliest of which killed at least 2,070 pilgrim in 2015
Mina stampede, Saudi
Arabia has been accused of mismanagement and
focusing on increasing money revenues while neglecting pilgrims'
Arabia has been seen as a moderating influence in the
Arab–Israeli conflict, periodically putting forward a peace plan
Israel and the Palestinians and condemning Hezbollah.
Arab Spring Saudi
Arabia offered asylum to deposed
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of
Tunisia and King Abdullah
Hosni Mubarak of
Egypt (prior to his deposition)
to offer his support. In early 2014 relations with
strained over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and Saudi
Arabia's belief that
Qatar was interfering in its affairs. In August
2014 both countries appeared to be exploring ways of ending the
Main article: Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia
Al-Yamamah arms deal
Al-Yamamah arms deal and Saudi Arabian-led
intervention in Yemen
Royal Saudi Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
Eurofighter Typhoon and Sikorsky UH-60 Black
The Frigate Al Makkah in the
Red Sea belongs to Saudi Arabia's Royal
Arabia has one of the highest percentages of military
expenditure in the world, spending more than 10% of its GDP in its
military. The Saudi military consists of the Royal Saudi Land Forces,
the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Navy, the Royal Saudi Air
Saudi Arabian National Guard
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
Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah military intelligence service.
The kingdom has a long-standing military relationship with Pakistan,
it has long been speculated that Saudi
Arabia secretly funded
Pakistan's atomic bomb programme and seeks to purchase atomic weapons
from Pakistan, in near future. The SANG is not a reserve but
a fully operational front-line force, and originated out of Ibn Saud'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: The late
prince Sultan, former Minister of Defense and Aviation, was one of the
Sudairi Seven' and controlled the remainder of the armed
forces until his death in 2011.
Saudi and U.S. troops train in December 2014
Spending on defense and security has increased significantly since the
mid-1990s and was about US$25.4 billion in 2005. Saudi
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.
United States sold more than $80 billion in military hardware
between 1951 and 2006 to the Saudi military. On 20 October 2010,
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. 2013 saw Saudi military spending climb to $67bn,
overtaking that of the UK,
Japan to place fourth
United Kingdom has also been a major supplier of military
equipment to Saudi
Arabia since 1965. Since 1985, the UK 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
Al-Yamamah arms deal estimated to have been worth £43 billion by 2006
and thought to be worth a further £40 billion. In May 2012,
British defence giant BAE signed a £1.9bn ($3bn) deal to supply Hawk
trainer jets to Saudi Arabia.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,
SIPRI, in 2010–14 Saudi
Arabia became the world's second largest
arms importer, receiving four times more major arms than in
2005–2009. Major imports in 2010–14 included 45 combat aircraft
from the UK, 38 combat helicopters from the USA, 4 tanker aircraft
Spain and over 600 armoured vehicles from Canada. Saudi Arabia
has a long list of outstanding orders for arms, including 27 more
combat aircraft from the UK, 154 combat aircraft from the USA and a
large number of armoured vehicles from Canada. Saudi Arabia
received 41 per cent of UK arms exports in 2010–14. France
authorized $18 billion in weapons sales to Saudi
Arabia in 2015
alone. The $15 billion arms deal with Saudi
Arabia is believed to
be the largest arms sale in Canadian history. In 2016, the
European Parliament decided to temporarily impose an arms embargo
against Saudi Arabia, as a result of the
Yemen civilian population's
suffering from the conflict with Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Saudi
Arabia signed a 110 billion dollar arms deal with the United States.
Geography of Saudi Arabia
Geography of Saudi Arabia and Wildlife of Saudi Arabia
Köppen climate classification
Köppen climate classification map is based on
native vegetation, temperature, precipitation and their seasonality.
BWh Hot desert
BWk Cold desert
BSh Hot semi-arid
BSk Cold semi-arid
Arabia occupies about 80% of the
Arabian Peninsula (the world's
largest peninsula), lying between latitudes 16° and 33° N, and
longitudes 34° and 56° E. Because the country's southern borders
with the United
Arab Emirates and
Oman are not precisely marked, the
exact size of the country is undefined. The
CIA World Factbook
estimates 2,149,690 km2 (830,000 sq mi) and lists Saudi
Arabia as the world's 13th largest state. It is geographically
the largest country in the Arabian Plate.
Saudi Arabia's geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert,
associated semi-desert and shrubland (see satellite image) and several
mountain ranges and highlands. It is, in fact, a number of linked
deserts and includes the 647,500 km2 (250,001 sq mi)
Rub' al Khali
Rub' al Khali ("Empty Quarter") in the southeastern part of the
country, the world's largest contiguous sand desert. There
are a few lakes in the country but no permanent rivers, however wadis
are very numerous. The fertile areas are to be found in the alluvial
deposits in wadis, basins, and oases. The main topographical
feature is the central plateau which rises abruptly from the Red Sea
and gradually descends into the
Nejd and toward the Persian Gulf. On
Red Sea coast, there is a narrow coastal plain, known as the
Tihamah parallel to which runs an imposing escarpment. The southwest
province of Asir is mountainous, and contains the 3,133 m
(10,279 ft) Mount Sawda, which is the highest point in the
Except for the southwestern province of Asir, Saudi
Arabia has a
desert climate with very 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
Indian Ocean monsoons, usually occurring between
October and March. An average of 300 mm (12 in) of rainfall
occurs during this period, which is about 60% of the annual
Arabian oryx are found in the deserts and are endangered animals
Arabian horse is native to
Arabia and an important element
of traditional Arabian folklore
Red Sea coral and marine fish
Animal life includes Arabian leopard, Arabian wolves, striped hyenas,
mongooses, baboons, hares, sand cats, and jerboas. Animals such as
gazelles, oryx, leopards and cheetahs were relatively numerous until
the 19th century, when extensive hunting reduced these animals almost
to extinction. Birds include falcons (which are caught and trained for
hunting), eagles, hawks, vultures, sandgrouse, bulbuls etc. There are
several species of snakes, many of which are venomous. Saudi
home to a rich marine life. The
Red Sea in particular is a rich and
diverse ecosystem. More than 1200 species of fish have been
recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere
else. This also includes 42 species of deepwater fish.
The rich diversity is in part due to the 2,000 km (1,240 mi)
of coral reef extending along its coastline; these fringing reefs are
5000–7000 years old and are largely formed of stony acropora and
porites corals. The reefs form platforms and sometimes lagoons along
the coast and occasional other features such as cylinders (such as the
Blue Hole (Red Sea)
Blue Hole (Red Sea) at Dahab). These coastal reefs are also visited by
pelagic species of
Red Sea fish, including some of the 44 species of
Red Sea also contains many offshore reefs including several
true atolls. Many of the unusual offshore reef formations defy classic
(i.e., Darwinian) coral reef classification schemes, and are generally
attributed to the high levels of tectonic activity that characterize
the area. Domesticated animals include the legendary Arabian horse,
Arabian camel, sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, chickens etc. Reflecting
the country's dominant desert conditions, Saudi Arabia's plant life
mostly consists of herbs, plants and shrubs that require little water.
The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is widespread.
Regions of Saudi
Arabia and Governorates of Saudi
Arabia is divided into 13 regions (Arabic: مناطق
إدارية; manatiq idāriyya, sing. منطقة إدارية;
mintaqah idariyya). The regions are further divided into 118
governorates (Arabic: محافظات; muhafazat, sing.
محافظة; muhafazah). This number includes the 13 regional
capitals, which have a different status as municipalities (Arabic:
أمانة; amanah) headed by mayors (Arabic: أمين; amin).
The governorates are further sudivided into sub-governorates (Arabic:
مراكز; marakiz, sing. مركز; markaz).
The 13 regions of Saudi Arabia.
Largest cities or towns in Saudi Arabia
Madinah !Al Madinah
Madinah !Al Madinah
Qunfudhah !Al Qunfudhah
Main article: Economy of Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah Financial Center is one of the largest investment
centers in the Middle East, located in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia's command economy is petroleum-based; roughly 75% of
budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry.
It is strongly dependent on foreign workers with about 80% of those
employed in the private sector being non-Saudi. Among the
challenges to Saudi economy include halting or reversing the decline
in per capita income, improving education to prepare youth for the
workforce and providing them with employment, diversifying the
economy, stimulating the private sector and housing construction,
diminishing corruption and inequality.
The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia's nominal gross
domestic product, compared with 40% from the private sector (see
Arabia officially has about 260 billion barrels
(4.1×1010 m3) of oil reserves, comprising about one-fifth of the
world's proven total petroleum reserves.
In the 1990s, Saudi
Arabia experienced a 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. 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. Increases in oil prices in the
aughts[peacock term] helped boost per capita GDP to $17,000 in
2007 dollars (about $7,400 adjusted for inflation), but have
declined since oil price drop in mid-2014.
Office of Saudi Aramco, the world's most valuable company and the main
source of revenue for the state
OPEC (the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries) limits its
members' oil production based on their "proven reserves." 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 Saudi
Arabia is greatly exaggerating its reserves and
may soon show production declines (see peak oil).
From 2003–2013 "several key services" were privatized—municipal
water supply, electricity, telecommunications—and parts of education
and health care, traffic control and car accident reporting were also
privatized. According to
Arab News columnist Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg,
"in almost every one of these areas, consumers have raised serious
concerns about the performance of these privatized entities." The
Tadawul All Share Index (TASI) of the Saudi stock exchange peaked at
16,712.64 in 2005, and closed at 8,535.60, at the end of 2013. In
November 2005, Saudi
Arabia was approved as a member of the World
Trade Organization. Negotiations to join had focused on the degree to
Arabia is willing to increase market access to foreign
goods and in 2000, the government established the Saudi Arabian
General Investment Authority to encourage foreign direct investment in
the kingdom. Saudi
Arabia maintains a list of sectors in which foreign
investment is prohibited, but the government plans to open some closed
sectors such as telecommunications, insurance, and power
transmission/distribution over time.
The government has also made an attempt at "Saudizing" the economy,
replacing foreign workers with Saudi nationals with limited
Graphical depiction of Saudi Arabia's product exports
Arabia has had five-year "Development Plans" since 1970. Among
its plans were to launch "economic cities" (e.g. King Abdullah
Economic City) to be completed by 2020, in an effort to diversify the
economy and provide jobs. As of 2013[update] four cities were
planned. The King has announced that the per capita income is
forecast to rise from $15,000 in 2006 to $33,500 in 2020. The
cities will be spread around Saudi
Arabia to promote diversification
for each region and their economy, and the cities are projected to
contribute $150 billion to the GDP.
In addition to petroleum and gas, Saudi also has a small gold mining
sector in the
Mahd adh Dhahab
Mahd adh Dhahab region and other mineral industries, an
agricultural sector (especially in the southwest) based on dates and
livestock, and large number of temporary jobs created by the roughly
two million annual hajj pilgrims.
Statistics on poverty in the kingdom are not available through the UN
resources because the Saudi government does not issue any. The
Saudi state discourages calling attention to or complaining about
poverty. In December 2011, the Saudi interior ministry arrested three
reporters and held them for almost two weeks for questioning after
they uploaded a video on the topic to YouTube. Authors of the
video claim that 22% of Saudis may be considered poor (2009).
Observers researching the issue prefer to stay anonymous because
of the risk of being arrested.
Al-Hasa is famous for its palm trees and dates.
Al-Hasa has over 30
million palm trees which produce over 100 thousand tons of dates every
Nejd landscape: desert and the
Tuwaiq Escarpment near Riyadh
Arabia encouraged desert agriculture by providing substantial
subsidies as well as consuming 300 billion cubic meter of mostly
non-renewable water reserves free of charge to grow alfalfa, cereals,
meat and milk in the Arabian Desert. Consuming non-renewable
groundwater resulted in the loss of an estimated four fifths of the
total groundwater reserves by 2012.
Water supply and sanitation
Main article: Water supply and sanitation in Saudi Arabia
Water supply and sanitation in Saudi
Arabia is characterized by
significant investments in seawater desalination, water distribution,
sewerage and wastewater treatment leading to a substantial increase in
access to drinking water and sanitation over the past decades. About
50% of drinking water comes from desalination, 40% from the mining of
non-renewable groundwater and 10% from surface water, especially in
the mountainous southwest of the country. The capital Riyadh, located
in the heart of the country, is supplied with desalinated water pumped
Persian Gulf over a distance of 467 km. Given the
substantial oil wealth, water is provided almost for free. Despite
improvements service quality remains poor. For example, in Riyadh
water was available only once every 2.5 days in 2011, while in Jeddah
it is available only every 9 days. Institutional capacity and
governance in the sector are weak, reflecting general characteristics
of the public sector in Saudi Arabia. Since 2000, the government has
increasingly relied on the private sector to operate water and
sanitation infrastructure, beginning with desalination and wastewater
treatment plants. Since 2008, the operation of urban water
distribution systems is being gradually delegated to private companies
Saudi Arabian people
Saudi Arabian people and Demographics of Saudi Arabia
Arabia population density (people per km2)
The population of Saudi
Arabia as of July 2013 is estimated to be 26.9
million, including between 5.5 million and 10 million
non-nationalized immigrants, though the Saudi population has
long proved difficult to accurately estimate due to Saudi leaders'
historical tendency to artificially inflate census results. Saudi
population has grown rapidly since 1950 when it was estimated to be 3
million, and for many years had one of the highest birthrates in
the world at around 3% a year.
The ethnic composition of Saudi citizens is 90%
Arab and 10%
Afro-Asian. Most Saudis live in
Najd (28%), and the
Eastern Province (15%).
Hejaz is the most populated region in
As late as 1970, most Saudis lived a subsistence life in the rural
provinces, but in the last half of the 20th century the kingdom has
urbanized rapidly. As of 2012[update] about 80% of Saudis live in
urban metropolitan areas—specifically Riyadh, Jeddah, or
Its population is also quite young with over half the population under
25 years old. A large fraction are foreign nationals. (The CIA
Factbook estimated that as of 2013[update] foreign nationals living in
Arabia made up about 21% of the population. Other estimates
are 30% or 33%)
As recently as the early 1960s, Saudi Arabia's slave population was
estimated at 300,000. Slavery was officially abolished in
The official language of Saudi
Arabia is Arabic. The three main
regional variants spoken by Saudis are Hejazi
Arabic (about 6 million
Arabic (about 8 million speakers), and Gulf
Arabic (about 0.2 million speakers).
Saudi Sign Language is the
principal language of the deaf community. The large expatriate
communities also speak their own languages, the most numerous of which
are Tagalog (700,000), Rohingya (400,000),
Urdu (380,000), and
Main article: Religion in Saudi Arabia
Great Mosque of Mecca
Great Mosque of Mecca during the
Hajj of 2009.
Virtually all Saudi citizens are Muslim (officially, all are),
and almost all Saudi residents are Muslim. Estimates of the
Sunni population of Saudi
Arabia range between 75% and 90%, with the
remaining 10–25% being
Shia Muslim. The
official and dominant form of
Sunni Islam in Saudi
Arabia is commonly
known as Wahhabism (proponents prefer the name Salafism,
Wahhabi derogatory) and is often described as
'puritanical', 'intolerant', or 'ultra-conservative' by observers, and
Islam by its adherents. It was founded in the Arabian
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century.
Other denominations, such as the minority
Shia Islam, are
According to estimates there are about 1,500,000 Christians in Saudi
Arabia, almost all foreign workers. Saudi
Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work,
but does not allow them to practice their faith openly. The percentage
of Saudi Arabian citizens who are Christians is officially zero,
Arabia forbids religious conversion from
Islam (apostasy) and
punishes it by death. In spite of this, a 2015 study estimates
60,000 Muslims converted to
Christianity in Saudi Arabia.
According to Pew Research Center there are 390,000
Hindus in Saudi
Arabia, almost all foreign workers.
There may be a significant fraction of atheists and agnostics in Saudi
Arabia, although they are officially called
Apostasy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia,
hence non-believers hardly ever come out.
See also: Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, Migrant workers in the Gulf
region, Kafala system, and Foreign worker
Saudi Arabia's Central Department of Statistics & Information
estimated the foreign population at the end of 2014 at 33% (10.1
CIA Factbook estimated that as of 2013[update]
foreign nationals living in Saudi
Arabia made up about 21% of the
population. Other sources report differing estimates. Indian:
1.3 million, Pakistani: 1.5 million, Egyptian: 900,000, Yemeni:
800,000, Bangladeshi: 400,000, Filipino: 500,000,
Jordanian/Palestinian: 260,000, Indonesian: 250,000, Sri Lankan:
350,000, Sudanese: 250,000, Syrian: 100,000 and Turkish: 80,000.
There are around 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia, most of whom live
in compounds or gated communities.
Foreign Muslims who have resided in the kingdom for ten years may
apply for Saudi citizenship. (Priority is given to holders of degrees
in various scientific fields, and exception made for Palestinians
who are excluded unless married to a Saudi national, because of Arab
League instructions barring the
Arab states from granting them
Arabia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee
As Saudi population grows and oil export revenues stagnate, pressure
for "Saudization" (the replacement of foreign workers with Saudis) has
grown, and the Saudi government hopes to decrease the number of
foreign nationals in the country. Saudi
Arabia expelled 800,000
Yemenis in 1990 and 1991 and has built a Saudi–
against an influx of illegal immigrants and against the smuggling of
drugs and weapons. In November 2013, Saudi
thousands of illegal Ethiopian residents from the Kingdom. Various
Human Rights entities have criticised Saudi Arabia's handling of the
issue. Over 500,000 undocumented migrant workers — mostly from
Somalia, Ethiopia, and
Yemen — have been detained and deported since
King Salman and President Trump take part in the traditional ardah
dance at the Murabba Palace, 20 May 2017.
King Abdulaziz (1932–1953); second longest reigning Saudi monarch.
King Saud (1953–1964); third longest reigning Saudi monarch.
King Faisal (1964–1975); fourth longest reigning Saudi monarch.
King Khalid (1975–1982); sixth longest reigning Saudi monarch.
King Fahd (1982–2005); longest reigning Saudi monarch.
King Abdullah (2005–2015); fifth longest reigning Saudi monarch.
King Salman (2015–present); current monarch.
Crown Princes (1933–present)
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef with U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry, 6 May 2015
Deputy Crown Prince
Mohammad bin Salman
Mohammad bin Salman aboard the aircraft carrier
USS Theodore Roosevelt, 7 July 2015
Crown Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz (1933–1953); became King. Crown
Prince of King Abdulaziz.
Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz (1953–1964); became King. Crown
Prince of King Saud.
Muhammad bin Abdulaziz (1964–1965); Resigned from post.
Crown Prince of King Faisal.
Crown Prince Khalid bin Abdulaziz (1965–1975); became King. Crown
Prince of King Faisal.
Crown Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz (1975–1982); became King. Crown
Prince of King Khalid.
Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (1982–2005); became King. Crown
Prince of King Fahd.
Sultan bin Abdulaziz
Sultan bin Abdulaziz (2005–2011); died in office. Crown
Prince of King Abdullah.
Nayef bin Abdulaziz
Nayef bin Abdulaziz (2011–2012); died in office. Crown
Prince of King Abdullah.
Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz (2012–2015); became King. Crown
Prince of King Abdullah.
Muqrin bin Abdulaziz
Muqrin bin Abdulaziz (2015); removed from post. Crown
Prince of King Salman.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef (2015–2017); removed from post.
Crown Prince of King Salman.
Mohammad bin Salman
Mohammad bin Salman (2017–present); incumbent. Crown
Prince of King Salman.
Second Deputy Prime Minister/Second-in-line (1965–2011)
Prince Fahd (1965–1975); became Crown Prince.
Prince Abdullah (1975–1982); became Crown Prince.
Prince Sultan (1982–2005); became Crown Prince.
Prince Nayef (2009–2011); became Crown Prince.
Deputy Crown Prince/Second-in-line (2014–present)
Prince Muqrin (2014–2015); became Crown Prince.
Prince Mohammad (2015); became Crown Prince. Son of Prince Nayef.
Prince Mohammad (2015–2017); became Crown Prince. Defense Minister
of Saudi Arabia. Son of King Salman.
Main article: Culture of Saudi Arabia
Supplicating Pilgrim at Masjid Al Haram, Mecca
Arabia has centuries-old attitudes and traditions, often derived
Arab civilization. This culture has been heavily influenced by
the austerely puritanical
Wahhabi form of Islam, which arose in the
eighteenth century and now predominates in the country.
has been called "the predominant feature of Saudi culture."
Religion in society
Main article: Religion in Saudi Arabia
Islam in Saudi Arabia,
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia,
Wahhabism, and Salafism
Stoning of the Devil at Mina during the
Hajj pilgrimage, following in
the tradition of
Ibrahim and Ismail
Hejaz region and its cities
Medina are the cradle of
Islam, the destination of the hajj pilgrimage, the two holiest sites
Islam is the state religion of Saudi
Arabia and its law requires that
all citizens be Muslims. Neither Saudi citizens nor guest workers
have the right of freedom of religion. The official and dominant
Islam in the kingdom – Wahhabism—arose in the central
region of Najd, in the eighteenth century. Proponents call the
movement "Salafism", and believe that its teachings purify the
Islam of innovations or practices that deviate from the
seventh-century teachings of
Muhammad and his companions. The
Saudi government has often been viewed as an active oppressor of Shia
Muslims because of the funding of the Wahabbi ideology which denounces
Shia faith. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador
to the United States, stated: "The time is not far off in the Middle
East when it will be literally 'God help the Shia'. More than a
billion Sunnis have simply had enough of them."
Arabia is one of the few countries that have "religious police"
(known as Haia or Mutaween), who patrol the streets "enjoining good
and forbidding wrong" by enforcing dress codes, strict separation of
men and women, attendance at prayer (salat) five times each day, the
ban on alcohol, and other aspects of
Sharia (Islamic law). (In the
privacy of the home behavior can be far looser, and reports from the
Daily Mail and
WikiLeaks indicate that the ruling Saudi Royal family
applies a different moral code to itself, indulging in parties, drugs
Until 2016, the kingdom used the lunar Islamic calendar, not the
international Gregorian calendar, but in 2016 the kingdom
announced its switch to the
Gregorian calendar for civil
Daily life is dominated by Islamic observance. Businesses are closed
three or four times a day for 30 to 45 minutes during business
hours while employees and customers are sent off to pray. The
weekend is Friday-Saturday, not Saturday-Sunday, because Friday is the
holiest day for Muslims. For many years only two religious
holidays were publicly recognized –
ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd
ʿĪd al-Fiṭr is "the biggest" holiday, a three-day
period of "feasting, gift-giving and general letting go".)
As of 2004[update] approximately half of the broadcast airtime of
Saudi state television was devoted to religious issues. 90% of
books published in the kingdom were on religious subjects, and most of
the doctorates awarded by its universities were in Islamic
studies. In the state school system, about half of the material
taught is religious. In contrast, assigned readings over twelve years
of primary and secondary schooling devoted to covering the history,
literature, and cultures of the non-
Muslim world comes to a total of
about 40 pages.
Non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the holy city of Mecca.
"Fierce religious resistance" had to be overcome to permit such
innovations as paper money (in 1951), female education (1964), and
television (1965) and the abolition of slavery (1962). Public
support for the traditional political/religious structure of the
kingdom is so strong that one researcher interviewing Saudis found
virtually no support for reforms to secularize the state.
Because of religious restrictions, Saudi culture lacks any diversity
of religious expression, buildings, annual festivals and public
events. Celebration of other (non-Wahhabi) Islamic holidays,
such as the Muhammad's birthday and the Day of Ashura, (an important
holiday for the 10–25% of the population that is
Shīʿa Muslim), are tolerated only when celebrated locally and on a
Shia also face systematic discrimination in
employment, education, the justice system according to Human Rights
Watch. Non-Muslim festivals like Christmas and Easter are not
tolerated at all, although there are nearly a million Christians
as well as
Hindus and Buddhists among the foreign workers.
No churches, temples or other non-Muslim houses of worship are
permitted in the country.
Proselytizing by non-Muslims and conversion
by Muslims to another religion is illegal, and as of 2014[update]
the distribution of "publications that have prejudice to any other
religious belief other than Islam" (such as Bibles), was reportedly
punishable by death. In legal compensation court cases (Diyya)
non-Muslim are awarded less than Muslims. Atheists are legally
designated as terrorists. And at least one religious minority,
Ahmadiyya Muslims, had its adherents deported, as they are
legally banned from entering the country.
Islamic heritage sites
See also: Mecca, Medina, Destruction of early Islamic heritage sites
in Saudi Arabia, and Tourism in Saudi Arabia
Mosque of the Prophet
Mosque of the Prophet in
Medina containing the tomb of Muhammad
Wahhabism is hostile to any reverence given to historical or
religious places of significance for fear that it may give rise to
'shirk' (idolatry), and the most significant historic Muslim sites (in
Mecca and Medina) are located in the western Saudi region of
Hejaz. As a consequence, under Saudi rule, an estimated 95% of
Mecca's historic buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been
demolished for religious reasons. Critics claim that over the
last 50 years, 300 historic sites linked to Muhammad, his family or
companions have been lost, leaving fewer than 20 structures
Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad.
Demolished structures 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).
Four cultural sites in Saudi
Arabia are designated as
Heritage Sites: the archeological site at Al Hijr (Kaaba); the Turaif
district in the city of Diriyah; Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca;
and the cave art in the
Ha'il Region. Ten other sites submitted
requests for recognition to
UNESCO in 2015.
In June 2014, the Council of Ministers approved a law that gives the
Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage the means to
protect Saudi Arabia's ancient relics and historic sites. Within the
framework of the 2016 National Transformation Program, also known as
Saudi Vision 2030, the kingdom allocated 900 million euros to preserve
its historical and cultural heritage. Saudi
participates in the International Alliance for the Protection of
Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH), created in March 2017, with a
contribution of 18.5 million euros.
A local Hijazi man wearing a traditional dress of Madinah.
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 Saudi Arabia's
desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear a white 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. In public women are required to
wear a black abaya or other black clothing that covers everything
under the neck with the exception of their hands and feet, although
most women cover their head in respect for their religion. This
requirement applies to non-Muslim women too and failure to abide can
result in police action, particularly in more conservative areas of
the country. Women's clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs,
coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques.
Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره) is a traditional headdress typically
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.
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.
Thawb (Arabic: ثوب) is the standard
Arabic word for garment. It
is ankle-length, usually with long sleeves, similar to a robe.
Bisht (Arabic: بشت) is a traditional
Arabic men's cloak usually
only worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings.
Abaya (Arabic: عبائة) 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. Some abayas
cover the top of the head as well.
Arts and entertainment
Main articles: Cinema of Saudi
Arabia and Music of Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah practising falconry, a traditional pursuit in Saudi
During the 1970s, cinemas were numerous in the Kingdom although they
were seen as contrary to
Wahhabi norms. During the Islamic
revival movement in the 1980s, and as a political response to an
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, including one in KAUST.
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
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.
Main article: Sport in Saudi Arabia
A panorama overview of the King Abdullah Sports City on 12 September
2014 in a
Saudi Professional League
Saudi Professional League match between Al-Ittihad and
Football is the national sport in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Arabia
national football team is considered as one of Asia's most successful
national teams, having reached a joint record 6
AFC Asian Cup
AFC Asian Cup finals,
winning three of those finals (1984, 1988, and 1996) and having
qualified for the World Cup four consecutive times ever since debuting
at the 1994 tournament. In the
1994 FIFA World Cup
1994 FIFA World Cup under the
leadership of Jorge Solari, Saudi
Arabia beat both Belgium and Morocco
in the group stage before falling to defeat Sweden in the round of 16.
During the 1992 FIFA Confederations Cup, which was played in Saudi
Arabia, the country reached the final, losing 1–3 to Argentina.
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 horse racing and camel racing are also
popular. A stadium in
Riyadh holds races in the winter. The annual
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.
Main article: Saudi Arabian cuisine
Arabic coffee is a traditional beverage in Arabian cuisine.
Examples of various Saudi Arabian dishes
Saudi Arabian cuisine
Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding countries
Arabian Peninsula and the wider
Arab world, and has influenced
and been influenced by Turkish, Indian, Persian, and African food.
Islamic dietary laws
Islamic dietary laws are enforced: pork is not allowed and other
animals are slaughtered in accordance with halal.
Kebabs and falafel
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 lamb, chicken,
fish or shrimp, is among the national dishes as well as the dish mandi
(food). Flat, unleavened taboon bread is a staple of virtually every
meal, as are dates, fresh fruit, yoghurt and hummus. Coffee, served in
Arabic style, is the traditional beverage but tea and various
fruit juices are popular as well.
Arabic coffee is a traditional
beverage in Arabian cuisine. The earliest substantiated evidence of
either coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree is from the
15th century, in the
Sufi monasteries of Arabia.
Women's rights in Saudi Arabia
Women's rights in Saudi Arabia and Women's education in
A woman wearing a niqāb. Under Saudi law, women are required to wear
hijab but niqab is optional.
Women do not have equal rights to men in the kingdom. The US State
Department considers Saudi government's discrimination against women a
"significant problem" in Saudi
Arabia and notes that women have few
political rights due to the government's discriminatory policies.
World Economic Forum
World Economic Forum 2010
Global Gender Gap Report
Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi
Arabia 129th out of 134 countries for gender parity. Other
sources had complained of an absence of laws criminalizing violence
In August 2013, a law was passed that criminalized domestic violence
against women. The ban includes penalties of a 12-month jail sentence
and fines of up to 50,000 riyals ($13,000).
Under Saudi law, every adult female must have a male relative as her
"guardian" (wali), As of 2008, a woman was required to have
permission from her male guardian in order to travel, study, or
work. A royal decree passed in May 2017 allowed them to
avail government services such as education and healthcare without the
need of a consent of a male guardian. The order however also stated
that it should only be allowed if it doesn't contradict the Sharia
According to a leading Saudi feminist and journalist, Wajeha
al-Huwaider, "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."
Women face discrimination in the courts, where the testimony of one
man equals that of two women 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 Qur'anic heirs and generally, female heirs receive half the
portion of male heirs.
The average age at first marriage among Saudi females is 25 years in
Saudi Arabia, with child marriage no longer common. As of
2015[update], Saudi women constitute 13% of the country's native
workforce despite being 51% of all university graduates. Female
literacy is estimated to be 81%, lower than male literacy.
Obesity is a problem among middle and upper class Saudis who have
domestic servants to do traditional work but are forbidden to drive
and so are limited in their ability to leave their home. As of
April 2014, Saudi authorities in the education ministry have been
asked by the Shoura Council to consider lifting a state school ban on
sports for girls with the proviso that any sports conform to Sharia
rules on dress and gender segregation, according to the official SPA
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. Women
are also forbidden to drive.
Arabia imposes a strict dress code on women throughout
the country by using religious police, female anchors working for
Arabia news network which is partly owned by Prince Abdulaziz, the
son of the late King Fahad, are prohibited from wearing a veil and are
encouraged to adopt a Western dress code.
A few Saudi women have risen to the top of the medical profession; for
example, Dr. Ghada Al-Mutairi heads a medical research center in
California and Dr.
Salwa Al-Hazzaa is head of the ophthalmology
King Faisal Specialist Hospital in
Riyadh and 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,
provided that a male guardian grants permission. Women were
finally allowed to vote on 12 December 2015.
Main article: Education in Saudi Arabia
Laboratory buildings at KAUST
Al-Yamamah Private University
Al-Yamamah Private University in 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. The rate of literacy is 90.4% among males and is about 81.3%
among females. Classes are segregated by sex. 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
King Abdulaziz University
King Abdulaziz University in
Jeddah founded in 1967. King Abdullah
University of Science and Technology, known as KAUST, founded recently
in 2009. 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.
UIS literacy rate Saudi
Arabia population, 15 plus, 1990–2015
The Academic Ranking of World Universities, known as Shanghai Ranking,
ranked 4 of Saudi Arabian institutions among its 2016–2017 list of
the 980 top universities in the world. Also, the QS World
University Rankings has ranked nineteen Saudi universities among the
Arab institutions, on its 13th edition.
According to critics, Saudi curriculum is not just dominated by Islam
but suffers from
Wahhabi dogma that propagates hatred towards
non-Muslim and non-Wahhabis and lacks technical and other
education useful for productive employment.
Memorization by rote of large parts of the Qur'an, 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
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 Saudi Arabia's educational system delivers, steeped as
it is in rote learning and religious instruction."
The religious sector 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 via Saudi-linked madrasah, schools, and clubs 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".
Arabia sponsors and promotes the teaching of
which is adopted by
Jihadist groups such as ISIS,
the Nusra Front. This radical teaching takes place in Saudi funded
mosques and madrasas across the Islamic world from
Morocco to Pakistan
According to the educational plan for secondary (high school)
education 1435–1438 Hijri, students enrolling in the "natural
sciences" path are required to take five religion subjects which are:
Tawhid, Fiqh, Tafseer,
Hadith and Islamic Education and Quran. In
addition, students are required to take six science subjects which are
Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geology and Computer.
The approach taken in the Saudi education system has been accused of
encouraging Islamic terrorism, leading to reform efforts.
9/11 attacks, the government aimed to tackle the twin
problems of encouraging extremism and the inadequacy of the country's
university education for a modern economy, by slowly modernising 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
Main article: Health care in Saudi Arabia
Book: Saudi Arabia
Index of Saudi Arabia-related articles
Outline of Saudi Arabia
^ The shahada (statement of faith) is sometimes translated into
English as "There is no god but Allah", using the romanization of the
Arabic word "Allah" instead of its translation. The
"Allah" literally translates as the God, as the prefix "Al-" is the
^ Legislation is by king's decree. The Consultative Assembly exists to
advise the king.
^ Arabic: السعودية as-Su‘ūdiyyah or as-Sa‘ūdiyyah
^ Arabic: المملكة العربية السعودية
al-Mamlakah al-‘Arabiyyah as-Su‘ūdiyyah, Arabic
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^ Peter Coy (16 July 2014). "Online Education Targets Saudi Arabia's
Labor Problem, Starting With Women". Bloomberg Businessweek. Saudi
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comfortable public sector, but only one-fifth of employment in the
more dynamic private sector, according to the International Monetary
^ a b c Economists "estimate only 30–40 percent of working-age
Saudis hold jobs or actively seek work," the official employment rate
of around 12 percent notwithstanding: Angus McDowall (19 January
Arabia doubles private sector jobs in 30-month period".
^ a b Tripp, Culture Shock, 2009: p.206
^ "World Proved Reserves of Oil and Natural Gas, Most Recent
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Volatility on Welfare in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Implications for
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^ "Crude Oil WTI (NYMEX) Price". nasdaq.com. Retrieved 16 March
^ "Crude Oil Reserves". Archived from the original on 22 November
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Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. Wiley.
^ Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg (29 September 2014). "When privatization goes
^ "Saudi Stock Exchange, Annual Statistical Report 2013".
^ House, p. 161: "Over the past decade, the government has announced
one plan after another to 'Saudize' the economy, but to no avail. The
foreign workforce grows, and so does unemployment among Saudis. ....
The previous plan called for slashing unemployment to 2.8% only to see
it rise to 10.5% in 2009, the end of that plan period. Government
plans in Saudi are like those in the old Soviet Union, grandiose but
unmet. (Also, as in the old Soviet Union, nearly all Saudi official
statistics are unreliable, so economists believe the real Saudi
unemployment rate is closer to 40%)"
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Corporate Counsel. 6 February 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
^ "Construction boom of Saudi
Arabia and the UAE". tdctrade.com. 2
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7 December 2016.
^ "Poverty Hides Amid Saudi Arabia's Oil Wealth". NPR.
"Mal3ob 3alena : Poverty in Saudi
Arabia English Version".
Roy Gutman (4 December 2011). "Saudi dissidents turn to YouTube to air
their frustrations". McClatchy Newspapers.
Amelia Hill (23 October 2011). "Saudi film-makers enter second week of
detention". The Guardian. London.
^ "A foreign Saudi plot to expose foreign poverty in foreign Saudi".
Lebanon Spring. 19 October 2011. Archived from the original on 3
^ "Poverty exists in Saudi
Arabia too The Observers".
France 24. 28
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Assessment of Saudi Arabia's Experiment in
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National Geographic". Retrieved 16 September 2015.
^ Global Water Intelligence:Becoming a world-class water utility,
^ "Census shows Kingdom's population at more than 27 million" Archived
6 October 2014 at the Wayback Machine.. Saudi Gazette. 24 November
Arabia on the Dole". The Economist. 20 April 2000. Retrieved
11 September 2015.
^ "World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision". United Nations.
Archived from the original on 7 May 2011. Retrieved 7 December
^ Long, p. 27
^ "Saudi Arabia". The World Factbook. Cia.gov.
Arabia Population Statistics 2011 (Arabic)" (PDF).
p. 11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November
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populated, and most culturally and religiously diverse region of Saudi
Arabia, in large part because it was the traditional host area of all
the pilgrims to Mecca, many of whom settled and intermarried
House, p. 69: "Most Saudis only two generations ago eked out a
subsistence living in rural provinces, but ... urbanization over the
past 40 years [so now] .... fully 80% of Saudis now live in one of the
country's three major urban centers – Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam."
Harvey Tripp (2003). Culture Shock, Saudi Arabia. Singapore: Portland,
Oregon: Times Media Private Limited. p. 31.
^ One journalist states that 51% of the Saudi population is under the
age of 25: Caryle Murphy (7 February 2012). "Saudi Arabia's Youth and
the Kingdom's Future". Woodrow Wilson International Center for
Scholars' Environmental Change and Security Program. Two other
sources state that 60% is under the age of 21: "Out of the comfort
zone". The Economist. 3 March 2012. , House, p. 221
The Economist magazine lists an estimated 9 million: "Go home, but
who will replace you?". The Economist. 16 November 2013. out of
a population of 30 million: "Saudi
Arabia No satisfaction". The
Economist. 1 February 2014.
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سكان المملكة 27 مليوناً بينهم 8 ملايين
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on human rights and fundamental freedoms: a world survey, BRILL, p.
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^ "Slavery". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 1
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^ Mapping the World Muslim Population(October 2009), Pew Forum on
Religion & Public Life. p. 16 (p. 17 of the PDF).
^ Data for Saudi
Arabia comes primarily from general population
surveys, which are less reliable than censuses or large-scale
demographic and health surveys for estimating minority-majority
^ "Demography of Religion in the Gulf". Mehrdad Izady. 2013.
Arabia ... 24.8%
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Shia Muslims". Pew Forum. 7 October 2009. Retrieved 12 March
Arabia ... Approximate Percentage of Muslim Population
Shia .... 10–15
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for rights". bbc. Although they only represent 15% of the overall
Saudi population of more than 25 million ...
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Shia Muslims in the Mideast".
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potentially powerful Shiite are found throughout the Gulf States ...
Arabia (15 percent)
Shia Revival, (2006) p.236
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Islam: Second Edition. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 54.
^ a b The Daily Star Lamine Chikhi 27 November 2010.
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Shia Equally". Human Rights Watch. 3 September
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past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future. Knopf. p. 235.
Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency (28 April 2010). "Saudi Arabia". The
World Factbook. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
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world's atheists live. Washington Post, online
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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
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barriers on Yemeni border".
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^ the time varying according to sunrise and sunset times
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Turkey has a weekend on
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commitments. (source: "Weekend shift: A welcome change",
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^ Tripp, Culture Shock, 2009: p.35
^ a b Rodenbeck, Max (21 October 2004). "Unloved in
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state television's airtime is devoted to religious issues, as is about
half the material taught in state schools" (source: By the estimate of
an elementary schoolteacher in Riyadh, Islamic studies make up 30
percent of the actual curriculum. But another 20 percent creeps into
textbooks on history, science, Arabic, and so forth. In contrast, by
one unofficial count the entire syllabus for twelve years of Saudi
schooling contains a total of just thirty-eight pages covering the
history, literature, and cultures of the non-Muslim world.)
^ Rodenbeck, Max (21 October 2004). "Unloved in
The New York Review of Books. 51 (16). Nine out of ten titles
published in the kingdom are on religious subjects, and most of the
doctorates its universities awards are in Islamic studies.
^ Review. "Unloved in Arabia" By Max Rodenbeck. The New York Review of
Books, Volume 51, Number 16 · 21 October 2004.
^ from p.195 of a review by Joshua Teitelbum,
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New Generation in Saudi
Arabia by anthropologist Mai Yamani, quoting
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the kingdom to remain a Muslim society ruled by an overtly Muslim
state. Secularist are simply not to be found. [Both traditional and
somewhat westernized Saudis she talked to mediate their concerns]
though the certainties of religion.
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Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to
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19 April 2006
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Wake-up Call, The American Muslim. Retrieved 17 January 2011 Other
historic buildings that have been destroyed include the house of
Khadijah, the wife of Muhammad, the house of Abu Bakr, now the site of
the local Hilton hotel; the house of Ali-Oraid, the grandson of
Muhammad, and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, now the location of the King's
palace in Mecca. (source: 'Shame of the House of Saud: Shadows over
Mecca', The Independent, 19 April 2006)
^ KSA Properties inscribed on the World Heritage List (4), Unesco,
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^ "This medieval Saudi education system must be reformed", The
Guardian, 26 November 2010.
^ Friedman, Thomas L. (2 September 2015). "Our Radical Islamic BFF,
Saudi Arabia". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 19
^ "Secondary School Studies Plan 1438 Hijri" (PDF). Saudi Ministry of
Education Official Website. Saudi Ministry of Education. Archived from
the original (PDF) on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 23 September
^ a b Reforming Saudi Education Slate 7 September. 2009.
^ Eli Lake (25 March 2014). "U.S. Keeps Saudi Arabia's Worst Secret".
The Daily Beast.
^ Al-Kinani, Mohammed SR9 billion Tatweer project set to transform
education Archived 11 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.. The Saudi
Tripp, Harvey; North, Peter (2009). CultureShock! A Survival Guide to
Customs and Etiquette. Saudi
Arabia (3rd ed.). Marshall
Tripp, Harvey; North, Peter (2003). Culture Shock, Saudi Arabia. A
Guide to Customs and Etiquette. Singapore; Portland, Oregon: Times
Media Private Limited.
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Arabia in the oil era: regime and
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Persian Gulf Crisis. ISBN 978-0-415-09325-5.
Al-Rasheed, Madawi (2010). A History of Saudi Arabia.
Bowen, Wayne H. (2007). The History of Saudi Arabia.
Hegghammer, Thomas (2010). Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and
Islamism Since 1979. ISBN 978-0-521-73236-9.
House, Karen Elliott (18 September 2012). On Saudi Arabia: Its People,
Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future. Alfred A. Knopf.
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Malbouisson, Cofie D. (2007). Focus on Islamic issues.
Otto, Jan Michiel (2010).
Sharia Incorporated: A Comparative Overview
of the Legal Systems of Twelve Muslim Countries in Past and Present.
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