Saudi Arabia Country Facts

Saudi Arabia, a monarchy in the Middle East that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula. According to, it is limited to the north with Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait; to the east with the Persian Gulf and Qatar; to the southeast with the United Arab Emirates and Oman; to the south with Yemen, and to the west with the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The capital and largest city is Riyadh.


The desert occupies more than half of its surface. Rub al-Jali’s extends to the southeast. In the north is that of An Nafud, which is a plateau of red sand. Ad Dahna is a narrow extension of An Nafud that joins it with that of Rub al-Jali. The central plateau region is crossed by waterways that are almost always dry. A mountain range extends along the eastern end of the regions of Al Hijaz and Assyria. Between this and the Red Sea is a narrow coastal plain. Along the Persian Gulf, a low-lying region known as Al Hasa has large deposits of oil. Most of Saudi Arabia is characterized by extreme heat and aridity. Meanwhile, it has fertile oases and pasture regions in Ad Dahna. On the plateau, vegetation is sparse. In the oasis, where there is water, there are fruit trees, cereals and vegetables.


The population is mainly composed of Arabs (56%). An important minority (18%) are immigrants who arrived in the 1950s. Another group is the Bedouin nomads (23%). The national language is Arabic. All Saudis are Muslims: most are Sunnis and some are Shiites. The population (1993) is 17,615,310 inhabitants. The average density is 8 inhab / km2. The capital, Riyadh (1994), has 2,500,000 inhabitants. Other important cities are Jeddah, Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. The government is based on Islamic law (sharia).


Agriculture and livestock are the basic activities. However, since the development of the oil industry, industrial diversification has been sought. Gross domestic product (1992) is 118.5 billion US dollars. It is an important country within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading exporter of crude oil and only the former Soviet Union and the United States produce more oil. It is also an outstanding producer of natural gas. The high number of pilgrims who visit Mecca and Medina each year is another important source of foreign exchange. The currency unit is the riyal.


Arabia was probably the homeland of the Semites who, since the beginning of the fourth millennium BC, moved to Mesopotamia and Palestine. In the first millennium BC, the Mineu kingdom was well established along the coast of the Red Sea; they were nomads and shepherds. Then the Nabataeans settled a little further north. The country was the object of a struggle for hegemony between the Ethiopians and the Persians. As of the 5th century, Mecca replaced, in importance, the Nabatean city of Petra. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was born in Mecca.

In 630, after the Hegira (withdrawal of Muhammad and his followers to the city of Medina), Islamism started a rapid expansion throughout the Middle East. The caliphate first settled in Damascus, and then in Baghdad. The Ottoman Empire gained control when it conquered Egypt in 1517, but was unable to extend its authority to the interior. In the 15th century, the Saud dynasty was founded. In the mid-18th century, an Arab state was established that lasted until 1865, when the kingdom was divided between the various clans and the Ottomans.

In 1902, Abd al-‘Aziz III ibn Saud began the reconquest and in 1932, after the unification of the territories, he renamed his vast domains as Saudi Arabia. With the oil currencies, it developed a broad modernization program, strengthened relations with other states in the Middle East and adopted a policy of friendship with the United States and Great Britain.

In 1953, he was succeeded by Ibn Abdul Aziz Saud who defended Arab neutrality in the Cold War. As a result of the nationalization of the Suez Canal and after the Israeli, British and French attack on Egypt in 1956, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Britain and France, and cut off its oil supply. In 1957, it entered into agreements with the United States. Relations with Egypt had deteriorated and after the Yemen revolution in 1962, it broke diplomatic relations (Egypt supported the new republican government).

Prince Faysal succeeded the throne to Saud in 1964. Around 1967, in the face of the intensification of the Arab-Israeli conflict before the Six Day War, the king expressed his support for Egyptian President Nasser, who sent soldiers to face Israel. In 1975, King Faysal was assassinated and succeeded by Prince Jalid, although Crown Prince Fahd ibn Abd al-Aziz took power. The country maintained its conservative line and its influence in OPEC to maintain the increase in prices. Domestic inflation and difficult compliance with development programs were continuing problems. Saudi Arabia was against the conciliatory policy of Egyptian President Sadat; standing against Israel in 1977.

After the signing of the peace treaty between both countries in 1979, diplomatic relations with Egypt broke. As a consequence of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990, Arabia allowed US and Allied troops to settle in its territory. Saudi forces fought Iraq in the Persian Gulf war. Saudi Arabia has increased its crude oil production. Economic problems became apparent in 1993. The United States insisted that Saudi Arabia contribute to the spending caused by the war conflict, which contributed to the widening deficit in the Saudi economy since 1983.

Saudi Arabia Country Facts