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Saudi Arabia

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 0

Saudi Arabia's National Flag

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (المملكة العربية السعودية‎) is the largest Arab country in the Middle East and is known as the birthplace of Islam. It covers nearly 2.1 million square kilometres (830,000 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 28 million. Saudi Arabia is often called "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques" and the king's title is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. Both titles are in reference to the two holiest shrines in Islam that are found in the country: Masjid al-Haram in Mecca and Masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina.

Saudi Arabia possesses the world's greatest oil reserves, accounting for 90% of its exports.

Its capital city is Riyadh.

Language

While the official language remains Arabic, English is used extensively as its working language given the large population of foreign and transient labour in the country.

Geography

From the CIA World Factbook

Saudi Arabia occupies 80% of the Arabic peninsula, and is the world's fourteenth largest nation state. It borders Jordan and Iraq in the north, Oman and Yemen to the south and the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait to the east. Saudi Arabia has a long coast on the Red Sea and similarly to the northeast with the Persian Gulf.

Much of the country is uninhabited as the majority of the kingdom's land is arid. Population centres are found mainly on the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, as well as interior oases of Buraydah and Hofuf.

History

Although the region possesses great significance in ancient and religious history, the modern Saudi state began to form in the 18th century.

From 1744 - 1818, the First Saudi State was formed between the well-established Islamic scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab who settled in Diriyah, and Prince Muhammed Ibn Saud. Muhammed Ibn Saud agreed to support the Imam's cause in cleansing Islamic practices of heresy, and so the House of Saud began to rise to its position as the dominant state on the Arabic peninsula. The First Saudi State controlled much of the present region of Saudi Arabia, including Mecca and Medina.

The Ottoman empire grew concerned about the rising power of the Saudis and sent an army to reconquer the region.

A second, rebuilt Saudi State formed in 1824 and lasted till 1891, after loyalists to the last Saudi Imam were defeated by the Al Rashid dynasty of Ha'il.

In 1902, Ibn Saud (Abdul Aziz) reconquered Riyadh, the first step in the reconquest and formation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. Boundaries with Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq were formed in a series of treaties during the 1920s. In 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz's realm, then the Kingdoms of Hejaz and Nejd, in the Treaty of Jeddah. By 1932, these two regions were combined to form the present day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 1938, the discovery of oil changed the economy of the Kingdom. Development programs began shortly after the end of the Second World War, and the Saudi Arabia continues to enjoy the economic prosperity from its oil exports to this day.

Government

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and the King of Saudi Arabia is both head of state and head of government. The Basic Law, adopted in 1992, declared that the monarchy is ruled by the male descendents of Abd Al Aziz Al Saud, and that the Qur'an serves as the constitution of the country. Saudi Arabia is governed by Shari'a or Islamic law, which theoretically limits the king's powers. In 2006, a committee of princes called the Allegiance Institution were formed to decide and vote on the eligibility of future kings. The committee includes sons and grandsons of King Abdul Aziz. Participants of the committee can vote on one of three princes that the king nominates.

In 1953, a Council of Ministers, appointed by the king, was formed to direct national policy and to manage the bureaucratic organs.

The Ulema, or the religious establishment, is another important political body. This body is led by descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of the Wahhabi sect.

Law

Saudi Arabia does not have a formal criminal code. However, it has a well developed civil and commercial code to encourage foreign investment and economic development. Legislation comes from the Council of Ministers but must be ratified by royal decree. The proposed legislation must also conform with Shari'a law.

Shari'a law is ruled through a system of religious courts. This judiciary is independent of the legislative body. A well established tradition is the petitioning of the king, as he acts as the highest court of appeal in the country and possesses the power to pardon.

Shari'a law is enforced by the Mutaween, a religious police arm of the government bureaucracy. The Mutaween also enforces the banning of practicing religions other than Islam amongst regular citizens of Saudi Arabia.

There is some criticism from human rights activists to Saudi law. Saudia Arabia does not practice religious freedom, employs capital and corporal punishments, and women have restricted freedoms - may not drive and may not being allowed to travel without the consent of a closest male relative.

People

As of July 2010, Saudi Arabia is estimated to have a population of 27,136,977. 8.5 million, or roughly 30%, are estimated to be foreign nationals. Of this, a large portion are South Asian, from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. There are also Asians, North Africans citizens. Arabs of neighbouring countries are also employed in Saudi Arabia.

About 100,000 Westerners live in Saudi Arabia in gated communities or compounds.


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