About Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Middle East by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the third-largest Arab country. It is bordered by Jordan and Iraq on the north and northeast, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on the east, Oman on the southeast, and Yemen on the south. It is also connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway. The Persian Gulf lies to the northeast and the Red Sea to its west. Saudi Arabia has an estimated population of 25.7 million of which 5.5 million are non-citizens, and its size is approximately 2,149,690 square kilometers (830,000 sq mi).


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded by Abdul-Aziz bin Saud (known in the West as Ibn Saud) in 1932, although the conquests which eventually led to the creation of the Kingdom began in 1902 when he captured Riyadh. The kingdom is sometimes called "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam.


Saudi Arabia has the world's largest oil reserves and is the world's largest oil exporter. Oil accounts for more than 90% of exports and nearly 75% of government revenues, facilitating the creation of a welfare state.
   

Politics

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, although, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (that is, Islamic law) and the Quran. The Quran and the Sunna (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country's constitution.


The royal family dominates the political system. The family’s vast numbers allow it to control most of the kingdom’s important posts and to have an involvement and presence at all levels of government. The number of princes is estimated to be anything from 7,000 upwards, with most power and influence being wielded by the 200 or so male descendants of King Abdul Aziz. The key ministries are generally reserved for the royal family, as are the thirteen regional governorships.

By the 1970s, as a result of oil wealth and the modernization of the country initiated by King Faisal, important changes to Saudi society were under way and the power of the ulema was in decline.[85] However, this changed following the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by Islamist radicals. The government's response to the crisis included strengthening the ulema's powers and increasing their financial support: in particular, they were given greater control over the education system[86] and allowed to enforce stricter observance of Wahhabi rules of moral and social behaviour.[35] Since his accession to the throne in 2005, King Abdullah has taken steps to rein back the powers of the ulema, for instance transferring their control over girls' education to the Ministry of Education.

The ulema have historically been led by the Al ash-Sheikh, the country's leading religious family. The Al ash-Sheikh are the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th century founder of the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam which is today dominant in Saudi Arabia. The family is second in prestige only to the Al Saud (the royal family) with whom they formed a "mutual support pact" and power-sharing arrangement nearly 300 years ago. The pact, which persists to this day, is based on the Al Saud maintaining the Al ash-Sheikh's authority in religious matters and upholding and propagating Wahhabi doctrine. In return, the Al ash-Sheikh support the Al Saud's political authority thereby using its religious-moral authority to legitimize the royal family's rule. Although the Al ash-Sheikh's domination of the ulema has diminished in recent decades, they still hold the most important religious posts and are closely linked to the Al Saud by a high degree of intermarriage.

 

Law and human rights

The Quran is the official constitution of the country and a primary source of law. Saudi Arabia is unique in enshrining a religious text as a political document.

The primary source of law is the Islamic Sharia derived from the teachings of the Qu'ran and the Sunnah (the traditions of the Prophet). Sharia is not codified and there is no system of judicial precedent. Saudi judges tend to follow the principles of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence (or fiqh) found in pre-modern texts and noted for its literalist interpretation of the Qu'ran and hadith. Nevertheless, because the judge is empowered to disregard previous judgments (either his own or of other judges) and will apply his personal interpretation of Sharia to any particular case, divergent judgments arise even in apparently identical cases. Royal decrees are the other main source of law but are referred to as regulations rather than laws because they are subordinate to the Sharia. Royal decrees supplement Sharia in areas such as labor, commercial and corporate law. Additionally, traditional tribal law and custom remain significant.

The Sharia court system constitutes the basic judiciary of Saudi Arabia and its judges and lawyers form part of the ulema, the country's religious leadership. However, there are also extra-Sharia government tribunals which handle disputes relating to specific royal decrees.

Final appeal from both Sharia courts and government tribunals is to the King and all courts and tribunals follow Sharia rules of evidence and procedure.

 

Foreign relations

Saudi Arabia joined the UN in 1945 and is a founder member of the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, Muslim World League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation). It plays a prominent role in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and in 2005 joined the World Trade Organization. Saudi Arabia supports the intended formation of the Arab Customs Union in 2015 and an Arab common market by 2020, as announced at the 2009 Arab League summit. As a founding member of OPEC, its oil pricing policy has been generally to stabilize the world oil market and try to moderate sharp price movements so as to not jeopardize the Western economies.

 

Geography

Saudi Arabia occupies about 80 percent of the Arabian peninsula. Because the country's southern borders with the United Arab Emirates and Oman are not precisely defined or marked, the exact size of the country remains unknown. The CIA World Factbook's estimate is 2,149,690 km2 (830,000 sq mi) and lists Saudi Arabia as the world's 13th largest state.
Saudi Arabia's geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert and associated semi-desert and scrubland. It is, in fact, a number of linked deserts and includes the 250,000 square mile (647,500 square km) Rub' al Khali (“Empty Quarter”) in the southern part of the country, the world’s largest sand desert. There are virtually no permanent rivers or lakes in the country, but wadis are numerous. The few 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. The southwest province of Asir is mountainous, and contains Mount Sawda, which is generally considered the highest point in the country.

Except for the south western province of Asir, Saudi Arabia has a desert climate with extremely high day-time temperatures and a sharp temperature drop at night. Average summer temperatures are around 45°C, but can be as high as 54°C. In the winter the temperature rarely drops below 0°C. In the spring and autumn the heat is temperate; temperatures average around 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 millimeters of rainfall occurs during this period that is about 60 percent of the annual precipitation.

 

Administrative divisions

Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 provinces. The provinces are further divided into governorates, 118 in total. This number contains the provincial capitals, which have a different status as municipalities headed by mayors. The governorates are further subdivided into sub-governorates.

 

Economy

Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world.Saudi Arabia's command economy is petroleum-based; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product, compared with 40% from the private sector (see below). Saudi Arabia officially has about 260 billion barrels of oil reserves, comprising about one-fifth of the world's proven total petroleum reserves.

 

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