(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘CIA FACT BOOK’)
|Introduction||Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to Islam’s two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina. The king’s official title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 by ABD AL-AZIZ bin Abd al-Rahman AL SAUD (Ibn Saud) after a 30-year campaign to unify most of the Arabian Peninsula. A male descendent of Ibn Saud, his son ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz, rules the country today as required by the country’s 1992 Basic Law. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. The continuing presence of foreign troops on Saudi soil after the liberation of Kuwait became a source of tension between the royal family and the public until all operational US troops left the country in 2003. Major terrorist attacks in May and November 2003 spurred a strong on-going campaign against domestic terrorism and extremism. King ABDALLAH has continued the cautious reform program begun when he was crown prince. To promote increased political participation, the government held elections nationwide from February through April 2005 for half the members of 179 municipal councils. In December 2005, King ABDALLAH completed the process by appointing the remaining members of the advisory municipal councils. The country remains a leading producer of oil and natural gas and holds more than 20% of the world’s proven oil reserves. The government continues to pursue economic reform and diversification, particularly since Saudi Arabia’s accession to the WTO in December 2005, and promotes foreign investment in the kingdom. A burgeoning population, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all ongoing governmental concerns.|
|History||Although the region in which the
country stands today has an ancient history, the emergence of the Saudi dynasty began in central Arabia in 1744. That year, Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the town of Ad-Dir’iyyah near Riyadh, joined forces with a cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. This alliance formed in the 18th century remains the basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today. Over the next 150 years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula (see First Saudi State and Second Saudi State). The third and current Saudi state was founded in the early 20th century by King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud).
In 1902 at the age of only 22, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud re-captured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty’s ancestral capital, from the rival Al Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, Al-Qatif, the rest of Nejd, and Hejaz between 1913 and 1926. On January 8, 1926 Abdul Aziz bin Saud became the King of Hejaz. On January 29, 1927 he took the title King of Nejd (his previous Nejdi title was Sultan). By the Treaty of Jeddah, signed on May 20, 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz’s realm, then known as the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd. In 1932, the principal regions of Al-Hasa, Qatif, Nejd and Hejaz were unified to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Abdul Aziz’s military and political successes were not mirrored economically until vast reserves of oil were discovered in March 1938. Development programmes, which were delayed due to the onset of the Second World War in 1939, began in earnest in 1946 and by 1949 production was in full swing. Oil has provided Saudi Arabia with economic prosperity and a great deal of leverage in the international community.
Prior to his death in 1953 Abdul Aziz, aware of the difficulties facing other regional absolute rulers reliant on extended family networks, attempted to regulate the succession.
Saud succeeded to the throne on his father’s death in 1953. However, by the early 1960s the Kingdom was in jeopardy due to Saud’s economic mismanagement and failure to deal effectively with a regional challenge from Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. As a consequence Saud was deposed in favour of Faisal in 1964.
Intra-family rivalry was one of the factors that led to the assassination of Faisal by his nephew, Prince Faisal bin Musa’id, in 1975. He was succeeded by King Khalid until 1982 and then by King Fahd. When Fahd died in 2005, his half-brother Abdullah ascended to the throne.
|Geography||Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, north of Yemen
Geographic coordinates: 25 00 N, 45 00 E
Map references: Middle East
Area: total: 2,149,690 sq km
land: 2,149,690 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly more than one-fifth the size of the US
Land boundaries: total: 4,431 km
border countries: Iraq 814 km, Jordan 744 km, Kuwait 222 km, Oman 676 km, Qatar 60 km, UAE 457 km, Yemen 1,458 km
Coastline: 2,640 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 18 nm
continental shelf: not specified
Climate: harsh, dry desert with great temperature extremes
Terrain: mostly uninhabited, sandy desert
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m
highest point: Jabal Sawda’ 3,133 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, copper
Land use: arable land: 1.67%
permanent crops: 0.09%
other: 98.24% (2005)
Irrigated land: 16,200 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 2.4 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 17.32 cu km/yr (10%/1%/89%)
per capita: 705 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: frequent sand and dust storms
Environment – current 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 oil spills
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography – note: extensive coastlines on Persian Gulf and Red Sea provide great leverage on shipping (especially crude oil) through Persian Gulf and Suez Canal
|Politics||The central institution of the Saudi Arabian government is the Saudi monarchy. The Basic Law of Government adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of the first king, Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. It also claims that the Qur’an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of the Sharia (Islamic Law). According to The Economist’s Democracy Index, the Saudi government is the ninth most authoritarian regime in the world.
There are no recognized political parties or national elections, except the local elections which were held in the year 2005 when participation was reserved for male citizens only. The king’s powers are theoretically limited within the bounds of Shari’a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders (ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society. The Saudi government spreads Islam by funding construction of mosques and Qur’an schools around the world. The leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.
Saudi kings have gradually developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by the king, has advised on the formulation of general policy and directed the activities of the growing bureaucracy. This council consists of a prime minister, the first prime minister and twenty ministers.
Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari’a. A 150-member Consultative Assembly, appointed by the King, has limited legislative rights. Justice is administered according to the Shari’a by a system of religious courts whose judges are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council, composed of twelve senior jurists. Independence of the judiciary is protected by law. The king acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon. Access to high officials (usually at a majlis; a public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established traditions.
The combination of relatively high oil prices and exports led to a revenues windfall for Saudi Arabia during 2004 and early 2005. For 2004 as a whole, Saudi Arabia earned about $116 billion in net oil export revenues, up 35 percent from 2003 revenue levels. Saudi net oil export revenues are forecast to increase in 2005 and 2006, to $150 billion and $154 billion, respectively, mainly due to higher oil prices. Increased oil prices and consequent revenues since the price collapse of 1998 have significantly improved Saudi Arabia’s economic situation, with real GDP growth of 5.2 percent in 2004, and forecasts of 5.7% and 4.8% growth for 2005 and 2006, respectively.
For fiscal year 2004, Saudi Arabia originally had been expecting a budget deficit. However, this was based on an extremely conservative price assumption of $19 per barrel for Saudi oil and an assumed production of 7.7 Mbbl/d (1,220,000 m³/d). Both of these estimates turned out to be far below actual levels. As a result, as of mid-December 2004, the Saudi Finance Ministry was expecting a huge budget surplus of $26.1 billion, on budget revenues of $104.8 billion (nearly double the country’s original estimate) and expenditures of $78.6 billion (28 percent above the approved budget levels). This surplus is being used for several purposes, including: paying down the Kingdom’s public debt (to $164 billion from $176 billion at the start of 2004); extra spending on education and development projects; increased security expenditures (possibly an additional $2.5 billion dollars in 2004; see below) due to threats from terrorists; and higher payments to Saudi citizens through subsidies (for housing, education, health care, etc.). For 2005, Saudi Arabia is assuming a balanced budget, with revenues and expenditures of $74.6 billion each.
In spite of the recent surge in its oil income, Saudi Arabia continues to face serious long-term economic challenges, including high rates of unemployment (12 percent of Saudi nationals), one of the world’s fastest population growth rates, and the consequent need for increased government spending. All of these place pressures on Saudi oil revenues. The Kingdom also is facing serious security threats, including a number of terrorist attacks (on foreign workers, primarily) in 2003 and 2004. In response, the Saudis reportedly have ramped up spending in the security area (reportedly by 50 percent in 2004, from $5.5 billion in 2003). Saudi Arabia’s per capita oil export revenues remain far below high levels reached during the 1970s and early 1980s. In 2007, Saudi Arabia’s citizens earned around $20,700 per person, versus $22,589 in 1980, but it is catching up. This 80 percent decline in real per capita oil export revenues since 1980 is in large part because Saudi Arabia’s young population has nearly tripled since 1980, while oil export revenues in real terms have fallen by over 40 percent (despite recent increases). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has faced nearly two decades of heavy budget and trade deficits, the expensive 1990-1991 war with Iraq, and total public debt of around $175 billion. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia does have extensive foreign assets (around $110 billion) which provide a substantial fiscal “cushion.”
Saudi municipal elections took place in 2005 and some commentators saw this as a first tentative step towards the introduction of democratic processes in the Kingdom, including the legalization of political parties. Other analysts of the Saudi political scene were more skeptical.
note: includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 38% (male 5,458,023/female 5,245,911)
15-64 years: 59.5% (male 9,470,353/female 7,284,696)
65 years and over: 2.4% (male 356,910/female 330,764) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 21.5 years
male: 22.9 years
female: 19.8 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.954% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 28.85 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 2.49 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: -6.82 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.3 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.08 male(s)/female
total population: 1.19 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 11.94 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 13.58 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 10.23 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 76.09 years
male: 74.04 years
female: 78.25 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 3.89 children born/woman (2008 est.)