Saudi Arabia Facts

 

Map of Saudi Arabia

 

Saudi Arabia, officially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is an Arab sovereign 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 Arabia is geographically the fifth-largest state in Asia and second-largest state in the Arab world after Algeria. Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and 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 Israel and 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 mountains.

The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct regions: Hejaz, Najd and parts of Eastern Arabia (Al-Ahsa) and Southern Arabia (‘Asir). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was 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 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 Arabia was 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.

Population: 31.54 million (2015)

Languages

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. The three main regional variants spoken by Saudis are Hejazi Arabic (about 6 million speakers, Najdi 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 Egyptian Arabic (300,000).

Currency

The Saudi riyal is the currency of Saudi Arabia. It is abbreviated as ر.س or SR (Saudi riyal). It is subdivided into 100 halalas.

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Geography

Saudi 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 (“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 the 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 country.

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, that is about 60% of the annual precipitation.

Religions

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, considering Wahhabi derogatory and is often described as ‘puritanical’, ‘intolerant’, or ‘ultra-conservative’ by observers, and as “true” Islam by its adherents. It was founded in the Arabian Peninsula by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century. Other denominations, such as the minority Shia Islam, are systematically suppressed.

According to estimates there are about 1,500,000 Christians in Saudi Arabia, almost all foreign workers. Saudi Arabia allows 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, as Saudi 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 Hindu 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 “terrorists”. Apostasy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, hence non-believers hardly ever come out.

Culture

Saudi Arabia has centuries-old attitudes and traditions, often derived from 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. Wahhabi Islam has been called “the predominant feature of Saudi culture.”

Sport

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 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 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 King’s 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.

Cuisine

Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding countries in the Arabian Peninsula and the wider Arab world, and has influenced and been influenced by Turkish, Indian, Persian, and African food. 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 the Arabic style, is the traditional beverage but tea and various fruit juices are popular as well.

Transport in Saudi Arabia

Sea transportation. Saudi Arabia has a well development sea transport network developed primarily to support the transport of petrochemicals. Saudi Ports Authority is the ports management organization in the country, overseeing the operations.

Road transportation

Roads in Saudi Arabia vary from eight-laned roads to small two-lane roads in rural areas. The city highways and other major highways are well maintained, especially the roads in the capital Riyadh. The roads have been constructed to resist the consistently high temperatures and do not reflect the strong sunshine. The other city highways such as the one linking coast to coast are not as great as the inner-city highways but the government is now working on rebuilding those roads. In October 2013, a group of auto enthusiasts drove some 2,000 km (1,200 mi) through Saudi Arabia in search of the best driving road, and named the Jeddah-Taif-Al-Hada highway as “motoring nirvana”.

Sea transportation

Saudi Arabia has a well development sea transport network developed primarily to support the transport of petrochemicals. Saudi Ports Authority is the ports management organization in the country, overseeing the operations.

Air transportation

There are an estimated 203 airports in Saudi Arabia (2003 est.).

Rail transport

As a result of over-reliance on road and air travel, the rail transport has not received a similar level of investment in Saudi Arabia. However, there are now plans to add more tracks and develop new railway routes.

There is a large scale railway project Haramain High Speed Rail Project underway in the Western province, connecting Makkah with Jeddah and Madinah city. The primary objective of this railway line is to provide an alternative for the Muslim pilgrims travelling between the three cities.

The Al Mashaaer Al Mugaddassah Metro Southern Line is part of the Makkah Metro rail transit system, which was developed in Makkah city. This is a 18.1 kilometers (11.2 miles) track developed as exclusive shuttle a forecasted 8 million pilgrims between Mecca, Mount Arafat, Muzdalifa and Mina in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

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