Saudi Arabia mapThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Rich in oil reserves and rich in history, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia deserves more than a superficial glance. The Saudi state began approximately 1750, and over the course of the next 150 years, the Saudi rulers fought with the surrounding countries and other Arabian tribes for control of the region.  The monarchy was established in 1932 as a regime based on Islam. Because it is an Islamic state, and its judicial system is based on Islamic law, the cultural environment is extremely conservative.

The discovery of oil in 1933 immediately secured the economic future of the new country. The kingdom is the largest producer and exporter of oil in the world, and oil wealth has made possible rapid economic development, transforming and modernizing the region. Among many improvements, the government provides free health care and education to its citizens.  However, there continues to be a discrepancy between the needs of the country and its available Saudi labor force, somewhat increased due to the employment restrictions on women, leading to the employment of millions of foreign workers.

Oil reserves and Saudi Arabia’s strategic location in the Arab world make its relationship with the United States of extreme importance. The country has been a strong ally in the campaign against terrorism, providing political, military and financial assistance. In September 2010 the U.S. began a new program to assist the Saudi military services with their defense modernization plans.

In spite of these friendly relations, the United States continues to be concerned about human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia, including severe restrictions on freedom of speech, press, religion and peaceful assembly, and discrimination against women and religious and ethnic minorities.
Observing the country through our Western lens, the geographic, political, and cultural climate appears harsh. Can you tolerate the extremes? Are you able to focus on the positive? Are you ready for the challenge?

Facts and Figures

Full Name:  Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Flag:  Green background with the Muslim creed in Arabic in white letters: “There is no god but God: Muhammad is the Messenger of God”
Emblem:  A date palm—representing vitality and growth— and two crossed swords—symbolizing justice and strength rooted in faith

Capital:  Riyadh

Area:  2.24 million sq. kilometers (864,869 sq. miles) Slightly more than 1/5 the size of the continental U.S.

Terrain:  Primarily desert, including the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter) – the world’s largest sand desert, and a mountain range of over 9,000 ft. in the southwest

Climate:  Arid with extreme temperature fluctuation; temperature and humidity high along coast

Population:  26,131,703 (July 2011 estimate)

Major Language:  Arabic (English is widely spoken in urban areas)

Major Religion:  Islam

Currency:  Saudi riyal

Main exports:  Oil, gas, cereals

International dialing code:  +966

Unusual facts:  Rich coral reefs can be found along Saudi Arabia’s Gulf coast. The work week is Saturday through Wednesday. There are no lakes or rivers in the country.


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