Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
756,984.94 sq mi
1,960,582.00 sq km
22,023,506 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
62.8% total, 71.5% male, 50.2% female (1995 est.)
66.11 male, 69.51 female (2000 est.)
1 Saudi riyal (SR) = 100 halalah
GDP (per capita)
$9,000 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 12%, industry 25%, services 63% (1999 est.)
crude oil production, petroleum refining, basic petrochemicals, cement,
construction, fertilizer, plastics
wheat, barley, tomatoes, melons, dates, citrus; mutton, chickens, eggs,
petroleum and petroleum products 90%
machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, motor vehicles, textiles
petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, copper
Current Environmental Issues
desertification; depletion of underground water resources; the lack
of perennial rivers or permanent water bodies has prompted the development
of extensive seawater desalination facilities; coastal pollution from
Telephones (main lines in use)
3.1 million (1998)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
Parts of what is now eastern Saudi Arabia were first settled in the
fourth or fifth millenium BC by migrants from what is now southern Iraq.
The Nabateans had the biggest of the early empires, stretching as far
as Damascus around the first century BC.
early 18th century the Al-Saud, the ruling family of modern Saudi Arabia,
were the ruling sheikhs of the oasis village of Dir'aiyah, near modern
Riyadh. When they formed an alliance, in the mid-18th century, with
Mohammed bin Abdul Wahhab, the result was Wahhabism, the back-to-basics
religious movement that is still Saudi Arabia's official form of Islam.
By 1806, the converting armies of Wahhabism had conquered most of modern
Saudi Arabia as well as a large part of southern Iraq.
this went down well in Constantinople, as western Arabia was, at least
in theory, part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1812 the empire retook western
Arabia, and by the end of the 19th century the Al-Saud had retreated
to Kuwait, where they were given sanctuary.
left one of the great Al-Saud leaders, known as Ibn Saud, who brewed
up an irresistible combination of piety, strategy and diplomacy and
retook Riyadh and then, in 1925, Jeddah.
Chevron found commercial quantities of oil in Saudi Arabia, and when
WWII started, oil production really took off. By 1950 the kingdom's
royalties were running at about 1000000 a week, and by 1960, 80% of
the government's revenues came from oil. The Arab oil embargo, in 1973-74,
increased the price of oil fourfold and Saudi Arabia became something
of a world power. As the government raked in the cash, a building boom
began and Saudi Arabia became one immense construction site. But the
oil boom attracted a lot of interest from outside the country, and Saudi
Arabia's relations with its neighbours became increasingly strained.
The massacre of 400 Iranian pilgrims at the 1987 haj resulted in Iran
boycotting the pilgrimage for several years.
invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Saudis started getting nervous, and asked
the USA to send troops to defend the kingdom. Although Saudi Arabia
was not invaded, the crisis stirred up demands for political change,
and in 1993 the king set up a Consultative Council - members are appointed
by the king and can comment on proposed laws.
of easy oil money are just a fond memory and the country's population
is growing rapidly (the average Saudi woman bears six children), presenting
Saudi Arabia and the aging King Fahd with an impressive challenge. Two
generations of generous public assistance haven't inculcated the country's
youth with the strongest work ethic, either.
the first high-end tour groups entered the difficult-to-visit nation,
but visas remain officially restricted to business travellers, Muslims
making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, and those few lucky
folk able to convince a Saudi national to sponsor their visit.
attacks in the US in September 2001 were something of a landmark event
for Saudis too. Most of the suspects subsequently arrested turned out
to be Saudi nationals, and the rumours of state sponsorship of terrorism
are not going away. The US military pulled out of the country in 2003
following the invasion of Iraq hoping this would ease the outrage in
some pockets of the Islamic world who found its presence in the kingdom
intolerable. Some observers are predicting an increasingly turbulent
future for the Saudi royal family, as the voices of change get louder.