Fast Facts

Population:
24,573,000
Capital:
Riyadh; 5,126,000
Area:
1,960,582 square kilometers (756,985 square miles)
Language:
Arabic
Religion:
Muslim
Currency:
Saudi riyal
Life Expectancy:
72
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $11,400
Literacy Percent:
79
Flag: Saudi Arabia
Map: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula and is the largest country in area in the Middle East—but 95 percent of the land is desert. Mountains running parallel to the Red Sea slope down to plains along the Persian Gulf (called Arabian Gulf by Arab states). Below the arid landscape, oil has made this desert kingdom one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

The oil-enriched economy has brought some 5.6 million resident foreigners—mostly from Arab states or South Asia. The mismatch between the job skills of Saudi graduates and the needs of the job market, as well as constraints on employment for Saudi women, are reasons for the large number of foreign workers. Unemployment for young Saudi males is high.

Pumping the lifeblood of industrial economies, Saudi Arabia exports more oil than any other nation and holds 25 percent of the world's proven reserves. To increase non-oil exports, economic diversification emphasizes more dependence on manufacturing and on irrigated farming, which draw on limited underground water supplies.

King Abd al-Aziz Al Saud merged warring Bedouin tribes to form Saudi Arabia in 1932. Succession has fallen in turn to his sons, governing through consultation with others in the royal family, religious leaders, and technocrats. A major supporter of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf war, the country served as operations base for coalition forces. Relations with the U.S. were strained after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—carried out mainly by Saudi citizens. In this conservative society, underpinned by Islamic law, women live in veiled segregation. Saudi Arabia is keeper of Islam's most sacred cities: Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad received the word of Allah, and Medina, where Muhammad died in A.D. 632.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Crude oil production, petroleum refining, basic petrochemicals, cement
  • Agriculture: Wheat, barley, tomatoes, melons; mutton
  • Exports: Petroleum and petroleum products

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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