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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
المملكة العربية السعودية
al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya
Flag Coat of arms
Motto"لا إله إلا الله محمدا رسول الله"
"There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" (the Shahada)[1]
Anthem"Aash Al Maleek"
"Long live the King"

(and largest city)
24°39′N 46°46′E / 24.65°N 46.767°E / 24.65; 46.767
Official language(s) Arabic
Demonym Saudi, Saudi Arabian
Government Islamic absolute monarchy
 -  King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
 -  1st Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz
 -  2nd Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz
Legislature Council of Ministers[2]
(appointed by the king)
 -  First Saudi State established 1744 
 -  Second Saudi State established 1824 
 -  Third Saudi State declared January 8, 1926 
 -  Recognized May 20, 1927 
 -  Kingdom Unified September 23, 1932 
 -  Total 2,149,690 km2 (14th)
1,071,000 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) negligible
 -  2009 estimate 28,686,633[3] (41st)
 -  Density 12/km2 (205th)
31/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $592.886 billion[4] (22nd)
 -  Per capita $23,814[4] (38th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $469.426 billion[4] (23rd)
 -  Per capita $18,855[4] (41st)
HDI (2007) 0.843[5] (high) (59th)
Currency Saudi Riyal (SR) (SAR)
Time zone AST (UTC+3)
 -  Summer (DST) (not observed) (UTC+3)
Drives on the Right
Internet TLD .sa
Calling code 966
1 Population estimate includes 5,576,076 non-nationals.
Saudi Arabia (officially Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is the largest Arab country of the Middle East. It is bordered by Jordan and Iraq on the north and northeast, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on the east, Oman on the southeast, and Yemen on the south. The Persian Gulf lies to the northeast and the Red Sea to its west. It has an estimated population of 28 million, and its size is approximately 2,149,690 square kilometres (830,000 sq mi).
The Kingdom is sometimes called "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. The two mosques are Masjid al-Haram and Masjid Al-Nabawi. The current Kingdom was founded by Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, whose efforts began in 1902 when he captured the Al-Saud’s ancestral home of Riyadh, and culminated in 1932 with the proclamation and recognition of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, though its national origins go back as far as 1744 with the establishment of the First Saudi State.
Saudi Arabia is full of petroleum. Petroleum exports fuel the Saudi economy.[6] Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports and nearly 75 percent of government revenues, facilitating the creation of a welfare state,[7][8] which the government has found difficult to fund during periods of low oil prices. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly expressed concern about the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia.



Although the region in which the country stands today has an ancient history, the emergence of the Saudi dynasty began in central Arabia in 1744. That year, Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the town of Ad-Dir'iyyah near Riyadh, joined forces with a cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. This alliance formed in the 18th century remains the basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today.
Over the next 150 years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula (see First Saudi State and Second Saudi State). The third and current Saudi state was founded in the early 20th century by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud (known internationally as Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud).

First Saudi State (1744–1818)

The first Saudi State was established in 1756 when Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab settled in Diriyah and Prince Muhammed Ibn Saud agreed to support and espouse his cause in the hope of cleansing Islamic practices of heresy. The House of Saud and its allies rose to become the dominant state in Arabia controlling most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia, including the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Concerned at the growing power of the Saudis, the Ottoman Sultan instructed Mohammed Ali Pasha to reconquer the area. Ali sent his sons Tusun Pasha and Ibrahim Pasha who were successful in routing the Saudi forces in 1818.

Second Saudi State (1824–1891)

After a rebuilding period following the ending of the First Saudi State, the House of Saud returned to power in the Second Saudi State in 1824. The state lasted until 1891 when it succumbed to the Al Rashid of Ha'il.

1900s to present day

Third Saudi State (present day) (Saudi Arabia)
The Third Saudi state was founded by the late King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. In 1902 Ibn Saud captured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, the rest of Nejd, and the Hejaz between 1913 and 1926.
Boundaries with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait were established by a series of treaties negotiated in the 1920s, with two "neutral zones" created, one with Iraq and the other with Kuwait. On January 8, 1926 Hussain Ibn Ali became the King of Sharqiya, with his sister and friend. On January 27, 1927 he took the title King of Nejd (his previous Nejdi title was Sultan). By the Treaty of Jeddah, signed on May 20, 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz's realm (then known as the Kingdom of Hejaz and Nejd). In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The discovery of oil on March 3, 1938 transformed the country. The country's southern boundary with Yemen was partially defined by the 1934 Treaty of Taif, which ended a brief border war between the two states.
Abdul Aziz's military and political successes were not mirrored economically until vast reserves of oil were discovered in March 1938. Development programmes, which were delayed due to the onset of the Second World War in 1939, began in earnest in 1946 and by 1949 production was in full swing. Oil has provided Saudi Arabia with economic prosperity and a great deal of leverage in the international community.
Prior to his death in 1953, Abdul Aziz, aware of the difficulties facing other regional absolute rulers reliant on extended family networks, attempted to regulate the succession.
Saud succeeded to the throne on his father's death in 1953. However, by the early 1960s the Kingdom was in jeopardy due to Saud's economic mismanagement and failure to deal effectively with a regional challenge from Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. As a consequence, Saud was deposed in favour of Faisal in 1964.
Intra-family rivalry was one of the factors that led to the assassination of Faisal by his nephew, Prince Faisal bin Musa'id, in 1975. He was succeeded by King Khalid until 1982 and then by King Fahd. When Fahd died in 2005, his half-brother, Abdullah, ascended to the throne.


Desert view in Saudi Arabia. The reddish color of sand and rocky hills in the background indicate this image was taken in the middle/eastern part of the kingdom
The Kingdom occupies about 80 percent of the Arabian peninsula. In 2000 Saudi Arabia and Yemen signed an agreement to settle their long-running border dispute.[9] A significant length of the country's southern borders with the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, are not precisely defined or marked, so the exact size of the country remains unknown. The Saudi government's estimate is 2,217,949 km2 (856,355 sq mi). Other reputable estimates vary between 1,960,582 km2[10] (756,934 mi) and 2,240,000 km2 (860,000 sq mi). The kingdom is commonly listed as the world's 14th largest state.
Saudi Arabia's geography is varied. From the humid western coastal region (Tihamah) on the Red Sea, the land rises from sea level to a peninsula-long mountain range (Jabal al-Hejaz) beyond which lies the plateau of Nejd in the center. The southwestern 'Asir region has mountains as high as 3,000 m (9,800 ft) and is known for having the greenest and freshest climate in all of the country, one that attracts many Saudis to resorts such as Abha in the summer months. The east is primarily rocky or sandy lowland continuing to the shores of the Persian Gulf. The geographically hostile Rub' al Khali ("Empty Quarter") desert along the country's imprecisely defined southern borders contains almost no life.
Mostly uninhabited, much of the nation's landmass consists of desert and semi-arid regions, with a dwindling traditional Bedouin population. In these parts of the country, vegetation is limited to weeds, xerophytic herbs and shrubs. Less than two percent of the kingdom's total area is arable land. Population centers are mainly located along the eastern and western coasts and densely populated interior oases such as Hofuf and Buraydah. In some extended areas, primarily the Rub' al-Khali and the Arabian Desert, there is no population whatsoever, although the petroleum industry is constructing a few planned communities there. Saudi Arabia has no permanent year-round rivers or lakes; however, its coastline extends for 2,640 km (1,640 mi) and, along the Red Sea, harbors world-class coral reefs, including the Gulf of Aqaba.
Native animals include the ibex, wildcats, baboons, wolves, and hyenas in the mountainous highlands. Small birds are found in the oases. The coastal area on the Red Sea with its coral reefs has a rich marine life.


King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
The central institution of the Saudi Arabian government is the Saudi monarchy. The Basic Law of Government adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of the first king, Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. It also claims that the Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of the Sharia (Islamic Law). According to The Economist's Democracy Index, the Saudi government is the seventh most authoritarian regime from among the 167 countries rated.
There are no recognized political parties or national elections, except the local elections which were held in the year 2005 when participation was reserved for male citizens only.[11] The king's powers are theoretically limited within the bounds of Shari'a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders (ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society. The Saudi government spreads Islam by funding construction of mosques and Qur'an schools around the world. The leading members of the royal family (appointed by Ramtin Jalali) choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.
Saudi kings have gradually developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by the king, has advised on the formulation of general policy and directed the activities of the growing bureaucracy. This council consists of a prime minister, the first prime minister and twenty ministers. Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'a. A 150-member Consultative Assembly, appointed by the King, has limited legislative rights. Justice is administered according to the Shari'a by a system of religious courts whose judges are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council, composed of twelve senior jurists. Independence of the judiciary is protected by law. The king acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon. Access to high officials (usually at a majlis; a public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established traditions.
The combination of relatively high oil prices and exports led to a revenues windfall for Saudi Arabia during 2004 and early 2005. For 2004 as a whole, Saudi Arabia earned about $116 billion in net oil export revenues, up 35 percent from 2003 revenue levels. Saudi net oil export revenues are forecast to increase in 2005 and 2006, to $150 billion and $154 billion, respectively, mainly due to higher oil prices. Increased oil prices and consequent revenues since the price collapse of 1998 have significantly improved Saudi Arabia's economic situation, with real GDP growth of 5.2 percent in 2004, and forecasts of 5.7% and 4.8% growth for 2005 and 2006, respectively.
For fiscal year 2004, Saudi Arabia originally had been expecting a budget deficit. However, this was based on an extremely conservative price assumption of $19 per barrel for Saudi oil and an assumed production of 7.7 Mbbl/d (1,220,000 m3/d). Both of these estimates turned out to be far below actual levels. As a result, as of mid-December 2004, the Saudi Finance Ministry was expecting a huge budget surplus of $26.1 billion, on budget revenues of $104.8 billion (nearly double the country's original estimate) and expenditures of $78.6 billion (28 percent above the approved budget levels). This surplus is being used for several purposes, including: paying down the Kingdom's public debt (to $164 billion from $176 billion at the start of 2004); extra spending on education and development projects; increased security expenditures (possibly an additional $2.5 billion dollars in 2004; see below) due to threats from terrorists; and higher payments to Saudi citizens through subsidies (for housing, education, health care, etc.). For 2005, Saudi Arabia is assuming a balanced budget, with revenues and expenditures of $74.6 billion each.


The Basic Law, in 1992, declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the progeny of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. It also declared the Qur'an as the constitution of the country, governed on the basis of Islamic law.[12]
Criminal cases are tried under Sharia courts in the country. These courts exercise authority over the entire population including foreigners (regardless of religion). Cases involving small penalties are tried in Shari'a summary courts. More serious crimes are adjudicated in Shari'a courts of common pleas. Courts of appeal handle appeals from Shari'a courts.[12]
Civil cases may also be tried under Sharia courts with one exception: Shia may try such cases in their own courts. Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before specialized administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the Settlement of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances.[12]
Main sources of Saudi law are Hanbali fiqh as set out in a number of specified scholarly treatises by authoritative jurists, other schools of law, state regulations and royal decrees (where these are relevant), and custom and practice.[13]
The Saudi legal system prescribes capital punishment or corporal punishment, including amputations of hands and feet for certain crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, drug smuggling, homosexual activity, and adultery. The courts may impose less severe punishments, such as floggings, for less serious crimes against public morality such as drunkenness.[14] Murder, accidental death and bodily harm are open to punishment from the victim's family. Retribution may be sought in kind or through blood money. The blood money payable for a woman's accidental death, or that of a Christian male [15] is half as much as that for a Muslim male.[16] All others (Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs) are valued at 1/16th. The main reason for this is that, according to Islamic law, men are expected to be providers for their families and therefore are expected to earn more money in their lifetimes. The blood money from a man would be expected to sustain his family, for at least a short time. Honor killings are also not punished as severely as murder. This generally stems from the fact that honor killings are within a family, and done to compensate for some 'dishonorable' act committed. Slavery was abolished in 1962. Work visa were introduced for external workers in 2004. A lot of laws related to these carry harsh punishments such as floggings for entering the incorrect type of visa.[17][18]

Human rights

Several international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Committee have issued reports critical of the Saudi legal system and its human rights record in various political, legal, and social areas, especially its severe limitations on the rights of women. The Saudi government typically dismisses such reports as being outright lies or asserts that its actions are based on its adherence to Islamic law.
In 2002, the United Nations Committee against Torture criticized Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under the Shari'a. The Saudi delegation responded defending its legal traditions held since the inception of Islam in the region 1400 years ago and rejected interference in its legal system.[19]
Saudi Arabia is also the only country in the world where women are banned from driving on public roads. Women may drive off-road and in private housing compounds — some of which extend to many square miles.[20] The ban may be lifted soon, although with certain conditions.[21]
The Government views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights. In 2000, the Government approved the October legislation, which the Government claimed would address some of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[12]
"The state protects human rights in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah."

Basic Law, Chapter 5, Article 26.[22]

The first independent human rights organization, the National Society for Human Rights was established in 2004. The Saudi Government is an active censor of Internet reception within its borders.[23] A Saudi blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, was jailed for five months in solitary confinement in December, 2007, without charges, after criticizing Saudi religious, business and media figures.[24]


Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 emirates[25] (manatiq, – singular mintaqah). The emirates are further divided into governorates.
Emirate Capital L. Map
Al Bahah Al Bahah city
Northern Border Arar
Al Jawf Al Jawf city
Al Madinah Medina
Al Qasim Buraidah
Ha'il Ha'il city
Asir Abha
Eastern Province Dammam
Al Riyadh Riyadh city
Tabuk Tabuk city
Najran Najran city
Makkah Mecca
Jizan Jizan city


Largest Cities by Population

Kingdom Tower at night.JPG Jeddah corniche rosewoood.JPG The Holy Kabbah in Makkah.jpg
Riyadh 4.7
Jeddah 3.6
Mecca 1.7
Medina 1.3 Riyadh Jeddah Mecca
Dammam 1.3 Masjid Nabawi. Medina, Saudi Arabia.jpg Dammam.jpg Khobar.jpg
Ta'if 0.9
Buraydah 0.7
Tabuk 0.6
Khamis Mushait 0.5
Abha 0.4
Al-Khubar 0.4 Medina Dammam Al-Khobar
Yanbu 0.4 Medina Dammam Al-Khobar


Aramco, the Saudi national oil company, whose main offices are in Dhahran
Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world
Saudi Arabia's 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 (4.1×1010 m3) of oil reserves, comprising about 24% of the world's proven total petroleum reserves.[26]
The government is attempting to promote growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecommunications. Saudi Arabia announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies in 1999, which followed the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. Shortages of water and rapid population growth may constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.
In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia experienced a significant contraction of oil revenues combined with a high rate of population growth. Per capita income fell from a high of $11,700 at the height of the oil boom in 1981 to $6,300 in 1998.[27] Recent oil price increases have helped boost per capita GDP to $17,000 in 2007 dollars,[28] or about $7,400 adjusted for inflation.[29]
Oil price increases of 2008-2009 have triggered a second oil boom, pushing Saudi Arabia's budget surplus to $28 billion (110SR billion) in 2005. Tadawul (the Saudi stock market index) finished 2004 with a massive 76.23% to close at 4437.58 points. Market capitalization was up 110.14% from a year earlier to stand at $157.3 billion (589.93SR billion), which makes it the biggest stock market in the Middle East.‏
OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) limits its members' oil production based on their "proven reserves." The higher their reserves, the more OPEC allows them to produce.[citation needed] Saudi Arabia's published reserves have shown little change since 1980, with the main exception being an increase of about 100 billion barrels (1.6×1010 m3) between 1987 and 1988.[30] Matthew Simmons has suggested that Saudi Arabia is greatly exaggerating its reserves and may soon show production declines (see peak oil).[31]
To diversify the economy, Saudi Arabia launched a new city on the western coast with investments exceeding $26.6 billion. The city, which is named "King Abdullah Economic City", will be built near al-Rabegh industrial city north to Jeddah. The new city, where construction work started in December 2005, includes a port which is the largest port of the kingdom. Extending along a coastline of 35 km, the city will also include petrochemical, pharmaceutical, tourism, finance and education and research areas. Saudi Arabia officially became a World Trade Organization member in December 2005.


Saudi Arabia is one of only a few fast-growing countries in the world with a high per capita income of $20,700 (2007). Saudi Arabia will be launching six "economic cities" (e.g. King Abdullah Economic City)[32] which are planned to be completed by 2020. These six new industrialized cities are intended to diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia, and are expected to increase the per capita income. The King of Saudi Arabia has announced that the per capita income is forecast, to rise from $15,000 in 2006 to $33,500 in 2020.[33] The cities will be spread around Saudi Arabia to promote diversification for each region and their economy, and the cities are projected to contribute $150 billion to the GDP.
However the urban areas of Riyadh and Jeddah are expected to contribute $287 billion dollars by the year 2020.[34]

Foreign labour

Despite the government's efforts to promote Saudization, the country draws a significant portion of its labour force from foreign countries, especially from South and Southeast Asia (notably India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka), East Asia, East Africa and from other Middle Eastern countries.[35] There are also some people from North America, South America, and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers and skilled workers from regions of the developing world migrate to Saudi Arabia, sometimes only for a short period of time, to work. Although exact figures are not known, skilled experts in the banking and services professions seek work in the Kingdom.


Demographics of Saudi Arabia, FAO data, 2005; Number of inhabitants in thousands
Saudi Arabia population density (person per Km2).
Saudi Arabia's population as of July 2006 is estimated to be about 27,019,731, including an estimated 5.5 million resident foreigners.[36] Until the 1960s, a majority of the population was nomadic; but presently more than 95% of the population is settled, due to rapid economic and urban growth. The birth rate is 29.56 births per 1,000 people and the death rate is 2.62 deaths per 1,000 people. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer (2,600/sq mi).
About 23% of the population is made up of foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia, although the actual percentage is not measured in state censes.[37] Approximately 12% of the population is South Asian or of South Asian ancestry, including Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. In addition, there are some citizens of Asian, Northeast African, and Sub-Saharan ancestry. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There are over eight million migrants from countries all around the world (including non-Muslims):[38] Indian: 1.5 million, Pakistani: 1.1 million, Bangladeshi: 1.0 million, Filipino: 950,000, Egyptian: 900,000, Yemeni i: 800,000, Indonesian: 500,000, Sri Lankan: 350,000, Sudanese: 250,000, Syrian: 100,000 and Turkish: 80,000.[39] There are around 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia, most of whom live in compounds or gated communities.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there was also a significant community of South Koreans, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, but most have since returned home.[40] Saudi Arabia expelled 800,000 Yemenis in 1990 and 1991 to punish Yemen for its opposition to the Gulf War against Iraq. An estimated 240,000 Palestinians are living in Saudi Arabia. They are not allowed to hold or even apply for Saudi citizenship, because of Arab League instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship in order "to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland". Palestinians are the sole foreign group that cannot benefit from a 2004 law passed by Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers, which entitles expatriates of all nationalities who have resided in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship with priority being given to holders of degrees in various scientific fields.[41] The Articles 12.4 and 14.1 of the Executive Regulation of Saudi Citizenship System can be interpreted as requiring applicants to be Muslim.[42] The Saudi royal family and official creed of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is Sunnism.


Street view of Mecca
A recreation park in Riyadh
Arabian Oud an important instrument in the country's music tradition.
Saudi Arabian culture mainly revolves around both Islamic and tribal values. Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, are located in the country. Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques which are scattered around the country. The weekend begins on Thursday due to Friday being the holiest day for Muslims. Most Muslim countries have a Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday weekend.[43] Saudi Arabia's cultural heritage is celebrated at the annual Jenadriyah cultural festival.

Music and dance

One of Saudi Arabia's most compelling folk rituals is the Ardha|Al Ardha, the country's national dance. This sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. Al-sihba folk music, from the Hejaz, has its origins in al-Andalus. In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument in the performance of the Mizmar (dance)|mizmar dance. The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. Samri is a popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung especially in the Eastern Region of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian Musical tradition depends heavily on the modern Arabian oud.
  • Ardha|Al Ardha (Arabic: العرضة‎) is a type of folkloric dance performed by the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian peninsula, It was tradition only performed before going to war, but nowadays is performed at celebrations or cultural events, such as the Jenadriyah festival. The dance, which is performed by men carrying swords or canes, is accompanied by drums and spoken verse.
  • Mizmar (Arabic: مزمار‎) is the name of a folkloric dance native to the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. The dance involves moving while twirling a bamboo cane (tool)cane, to the music of drums.
  • Samri (Arabic: سامري‎)is the name of a folkloric music and dance. It involves singing poetry while the daff drum is being played. Two rows of men, seated on the knees sway to the rhythm.


Saudi Arabian dress follows strictly the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing but covering garments are helpful in Saudi Arabia's desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle-length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. Women's clothes are decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques. Women are required to wear an abaya or modest clothing when in public.
  • Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره‎)Is a traditional headdress typically worn by Arab men made of a square of cloth (“scarf”), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly found in arid climate areas to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.
  • Agal (Arabic: عقال‎) Is an Arab headdress constructed of cord which is fastened around the Ghutrah to hold it in place. The agal is usually black in colour.
  • Thawb (Arabic: ثوب‎) Thawb is the standard Arabic word for garment. Its an ankle-length usually with long sleeves, similar to a robe.
  • Bisht (Arabic: بشت‎) Is a traditional Arabic men’s cloak usually only worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings


Arabic unleavened bread, or khobz, is eaten with almost all meals. Other staples include lamb, grilled chicken, falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), shawarma (spit-cooked sliced lamb), and Ful medames (a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon). Traditional coffeehouses used to be ubiquitous, but are now being displaced by food-hall style cafes. Arabic tea is also a famous custom, which is used in both casual and formal meetings between friends, family and even strangers. The tea is black (without milk) and has herbal flavoring that comes in many variations. Islamic dietary laws forbid the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol, and this law is enforced strictly throughout Saudi Arabia.

Film and theatre

Public theatres and cinemas were prohibited, as some Muslims' views deem those institutions to be incompatible with Islam. However, lately, a reform is undergone in the country and several cinemas and movies had been shown under high tensions from radical Saudi groups. Also an IMAX theater is available,[44] and in private compounds such as Dhahran and Ras Tanura public theaters can be found, but often are more popular for local music, arts, and theatre productions rather than the exhibition of motion pictures. DVDs, including American and British movies, are legal and widely available.


Some Saudi novelists have had their books published in Beirut, Lebanon, because of censorship in Saudi Arabia. Despite signs of increasing openness, Saudi novelists and artists in film, theatre, and the visual arts face greater restrictions on their freedom of expression than in the West. Contemporary Saudi novelists include:
  • Abdul Rahman Munif (exiled, now deceased)
  • Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
  • Abdu Khal
  • Turki al-Hamad (subject of a fatwā and death threats)
  • Ali al-Domaini
  • Ahmed Abodehman (now writes in French)
  • Abdullah Al-Qasemi


Due to the legal framework of the country, which does not provide legal protection for freedom of religion, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited. Though according to a 2009 Pew Forum report, there are about 25 million people who are Muslims, or 100 percent of the total population,[45]


When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, education was not accessible to everyone and limited to individualized instruction at religious schools in mosques in urban areas. These schools taught Islamic law and basic literacy skills. By the end of the century, Saudi Arabia had a nationwide educational system providing free training from preschool through university to all citizens.
The primary education system began in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. By 1945, King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, the country's founder, had initiated an extensive program to establish schools in the Kingdom. Six years later, in 1951, the country had 226 schools with 29,887 students. In 1954, the Ministry of Education was established, headed by then Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz as the first Minister of Education. The first university, now known as King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957.
Today, Saudi Arabia's nationwide public educational system comprises twenty eight (28) universities, more than 24,000 schools, and a large number of colleges and other educational and training institutions. The system provides students with free education, books and health services and is open to every Saudi. Over 25 percent of the annual State budget is for education including vocational training. The Kingdom has also worked on scholarship programs to send students overseas to the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and other nations. Currently thousands of students are being sent to higher-educations programs every year.
There is one university only in Mecca, the Umm Al Qura University which was founded in 1981.
The study of Islam remains at the core of the Saudi educational system. The Islamic aspect of the Saudi national curriculum is examined in a 2006 report by Freedom House.[46] The report found that in religious education classes (in any religious school), children are taught to deprecate other religions, in addition to other branches of Islam.[47] The Saudi religious studies curriculum is taught outside the Kingdom in madrasah throughout the world.


Men can often be found playing sports. Women rarely participate in sports, and always away from the presence of men; this often leads to indoor gyms. Even though association football is the most popular sport, Saudi Arabia has recently participated in the Summer Olympic Games and in international competitions in volleyball and other sports. The Saudi Arabian national youth baseball team has also participated in the Little League World Series. The Saudi Arabia national football team is often most known for competing four consecutive times in the FIFA World Cup and six times in the AFC Asian Cup, which the team won three times and was runner-up three times. Some popular football players include Majed Abdullah, Mohamed Al-Deayea, Sami Al-Jaber, Saeed Al-Owairan, Fahad Al-Bishi, Mohaisen Al-Jam'an, Mohammad Massad and Yousuf Al-Thunayan.


The Al Yamamah arms deals between Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom includes aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon
Saudi military was founded as the Ikhwan army, the tribal army of Ibn Saud. The Ikhwan had helped King Ibn Saud conquer the Arabian peninsula during the First World War. By expanding the military forces years later, Saudi Arabia today has many military branches.
  • Military branches of Ministry of Interior:
    • Saudi Arabian Police Force
    • Saudi Arabian Border Guard
      • Saudi Border Guard
      • Saudi Coast Guard
    • Al-Mujahidoon
    • Saudi Emergency Force

Foreign relations

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest contributors of development aid, both in term of volume of aid and in the ratio of aid volume to GDP.[48][49]
Much of Saudi Arabia's aid has gone to poorer Islamic countries or Islamic communities in non-Islamic countries. This aid has contributed to the spreading of Islam of the sort found in Saudi Arabia, rather than fostering the traditions of the receiving ethnic groups. The effect has been the erosion of regional Islamic cultures through standardization. Examples of the acculturizing effect of Saudi aid can be seen among the Minangkabau and the Acehnese in Indonesia, as well as among the people of the Maldives.[50][51][52][53]
On the 18 December 2008, the William J. Clinton Foundation released a list of all contributors. It included The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which gave between US$10–25 million.[54]
In addition, Saudi Arabia remains one of the United States' allies in the region, and relations between the two countries go back as far as 1931 when the US first extended diplomatic recognition. In 1945 President Roosevelt and King Abdul Saud met on board a ship to discuss relations between the two countries. Since then, the two have maintained close relations for economic reasons and political reasons.

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Institute for Economics and Peace [1] Global Peace Index[55] 104 out of 144
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 62 out of 157
The Economist Worldwide Quality-of-life Index, 2005 72 out of 111
The Economist Democracy Index 159 out of 167
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 161 out of 167
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 70 out of 163
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 61 out of 177
A.T. Kearney/Foreign Policy Magazine Globalization Index 2005 45 out of 62
Fund for Peace Failed States Index 84 out of 177

See also


Notes and references

  1. ^ About Saufdi Arabia: Facts and figures, The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington D.C.
  2. ^ Politics of Saudi Arabia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  3. ^ CIA - The World Factbook - Saudi Arabia
  4. ^ a b c d "Saudi Arabia". International Monetary Fund. Retrieved 2009-10-01. 
  5. ^ "Human Development Report 2009: Saudi Arabia". The United Nations. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  6. ^ U.S. Energy Information Administration - Saudi Arabia Country Energy Profile
  7. ^ Social Services 2
  8. ^ Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia-London: The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia - A Welfare State
  9. ^ Yemen, Saudi Arabia sign border deal, BBC News, June 12, 2000. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
  10. ^ CIA World Factbook - Rank Order: Area
  11. ^ Saudi women barred from voting, BBC News, October 11, 2004. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
  12. ^ a b c d Saudi Arabia. JURIST
  13. ^ Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of
  14. ^ Human Rights in Saudi Arabia: A Deafening Silence
  15. ^ State Department
  16. ^ Saudi Arabian Government and Law
  17. ^ BBC - Religion & Ethics - Islam and slavery: Abolition
  18. ^ Welcome to Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Black History
  19. ^ Saudi 'torture' condemned by UN, BBC News, May 16, 2002. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
  20. ^ Hassan, Ibtihal; Hammond, Andrew. Car makers target Saudi women despite driving ban, Reuters, December 10, 2007. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
  21. ^ "Saudi Arabia to Allow Women to Drive — With Conditions" by Assyrian International News Agency, March 17, 2008
  22. ^ Saudi Arabia: Basic Law of Government
  23. ^ "Documentation of Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia"
  24. ^ Robertson, Nic; Drash, Wayne. "No freedom for 'dean of Saudi bloggers'", CNN, February 28, 2008. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
  25. ^ Saudi Arabia: Administrative divisions,,, retrieved 2008-09-21 
  26. ^ World Proved Reserves of Oil and Natural Gas, Most Recent Estimates
  27. ^ Country Profile Study on Poverty: Saudi Arabia (archived from the original on 2008-02-26)
  28. ^ List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita
  29. ^ CPI Inflation Calculator
  30. ^ Crude Oil Reserves
  31. ^ Simmons, Matthew (2005). Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. Wiley. ISBN 978-0471738763. 
  32. ^ Six New Economic cities in Saudi Arabia
  33. ^ Construction boom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  34. ^ Riyadh's Urban area will contribute $ 167 B and Jeddah's will contribute $ 111 Billion
  35. ^ "Bad Dreams: Exploitation and Abuse of Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia (PDF)". Human Rights Watch. July 2004. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  36. ^ Saudi Arabia (01/09)
  37. ^ Saudi Arabia
  38. ^ Saudi Arabia: International Religious Freedom Report 2008
  39. ^ Arab versus Asian migrant workers in the GCC countries
  40. ^ Seok, Hyunho (1991). "Korean migrant workers to the Middle East". in Gunatilleke, Godfrey (ed.). Migration to the Arab World: Experience of Returning Migrants. United Nations University Press. pp. 56–103. ISBN 9280807455. 
  41. ^ Expatriates Can Apply for Saudi Citizenship in Two-to-Three Months
  42. ^ 1954 Saudi Arabian Citizenship System
  43. ^ Sulaiman, Tosin. Bahrain changes the weekend in efficiency drive, The Times, August 2, 2006. Accessed June 25, 2008. Turkey has a weekend on Saturday and Sunday
  44. ^ IMAX Arabic
  45. ^ Mapping the World Muslim Population Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
  46. ^ Shea, Nona, et al. (2006), Saudi Arabia's Curriculem of Intolerence, Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House,, retrieved 2008-09-21 
  47. ^ Press Release: Revised Saudi Government Textbooks Still Demonize Christians, Jews, Non-Wahhabi Muslims and, Freedom House, May 23, 2006,, retrieved 2008-09-21 
  48. ^ Saudi Aid to the Developing World
  49. ^ Arab Aid
  50. ^ Ricklefs, M.C. A history of modern Indonesia since c.1200. Stanford. 2001 Stanford University Press.
  51. ^ Abdullah, Taufik. Adat and Islam: An Examination of Conflict in Minangkabau. 1966.
  52. ^ Indonesia's Population: Ethnicity and Religion in a Changing Political Landscape. 2003. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  53. ^ Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. 1999, ISBN 847254801 5
  54. ^ Contributor Information to the William J. Clinton Foundation
  55. ^ "Vision of Humanity". Vision of Humanity. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 


  • Jones, John Paul. If Olaya Street Could Talk: Saudi Arabia- The Heartland of Oil and Islam. The Taza Press (2007). ISBN 0-9790436-0-3
  • Lippman, Thomas W. "Inside the Mirage: America's Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia" (Westview 2004) ISBN 0-8133-4052-7
  • Mackey, Sandra, The Saudis: Inside the Desert Kingdom (Houghton Mifflin, 1987) ISBN 0-395-41165-3
  • Matthew R. Simmons, Twilight in the Desert The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, John Wiley & Sons, 2005, ISBN 0-471-73876-X
  • Ménoret, Pascal, The Saudi Enigma: A History (Zed Books, 2005) ISBN 1-84277-605-3
  • al-Rasheed, Madawi, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge University Press, 2002) ISBN 0-521-64335-X
  • Robert Lacey, THE KINGDOM: Arabia & The House of Sa'ud, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1981 (Hard Cover) and Avon Books, 1981 (Soft Cover). Library of Congress: 81-83741 ISBN 0-380-61762-5
  • Roger Owen, State, Power and Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East, 3rd Edition (Routledge, 2006) ISBN 0-415-29713-3
  • T R McHale, A Prospect of Saudi Arabia, International Affairs Vol. 56 No 4 Autumn 1980 pp622–647
  • Turchin, P. 2007. Scientific Prediction in Historical Sociology: Ibn Khaldun meets Al Saud. History & Mathematics: Historical Dynamics and Development of Complex Societies. Moscow: KomKniga, 2007. ISBN 5-484-01002-0

Further reading

terrorist town

External links

Other links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Saudi Arabia became a country in its current form in 1932. It is located in Asia and is currently the world's largest exporter of petroleum.


  • The women of Saudi Arabia are not just folded away behind swathes of hot black cloth - they live segregated lives.
  • Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of executions in the world in both absolute numbers and per capita. The death penalty applies to a wide range of non-violent activities such as apostasy and "witchcraft", "sexual offences", acts deemed to amount to "corruption on earth", and crimes such as drug dealing.

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Asia : Middle East : Saudi Arabia
Quick Facts
Capital Riyadh
Government Absolute Monarchy
Currency Saudi riyal (SAR)
Area total: 1,960,582 km2
water: 0 km2
land: 1,960,582 km2
Population 27,601,038 includes 5,576,076 non-nationals (July 2007 est.)
Language Arabic
Religion 100% Muslim (by law)
Electricity 110V (Riyadh), 110/220V (Jeddah), 220V elsewhere; plug types A, C, D, G all used
Calling Code 966
Internet TLD .sa
Time Zone GMT+3
Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula and has both Persian Gulf and Red Sea coast lines. Its surrounding countries are Jordan to the northwest, Iraq to the northeast, Kuwait and Qatar to the east, United Arab Emirates to the south east, Oman and Yemen to the south.
Saudi Arabia contains the holy Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina, to which all physically and financially able Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage at least once if possible (see Hajj).


Saudi Arabia is one of three countries named for their royal families, along with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and also Liechtenstein. The family were sheikhs of Nejd, the area around Riyadh, but were driven out by a neighbouring tribe, hiding with their relatives, the sultan of Kuwait. Then in 1902, young Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud and a few dozen lads rode out to raid their home territory. As it turned out, the invaders had been ruling badly, so many locals joined them. They not only re-captured Riyadh, but much of the surrounding territory.
After that, Abdul Aziz set out on a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula. The area united under him became known as Saudi Arabia.
In the 1930s, the discovery of oil transformed the country. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its sand for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. A burgeoning population, unemployment, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all major governmental concerns.


Saudi Arabia is an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia has the largest reserves of petroleum in the world (26% of the proven reserves), ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. About 25% of GDP comes from the private sector.
Roughly 4 million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy, for example, in the oil and service sectors. Riyadh expects to have a budget deficit in 2002, in part because of increased spending for education and other social programs.
The government in 1999 announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies, which follows the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. The government is expected to continue calling for private sector growth to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. Shortages of water and rapid population growth will constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.
Unemployment among young Saudis is a very serious problem. While part of this can be explained by Saudi reluctance to take many types of work, it is also true that imported labor is much, much cheaper than that of the locals.
mostly uninhabited, sandy desert
Elevation extremes 
lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m (0 ft)
highest point: Jabal Sawda' 3,133 m (10,279 ft)
Natural resources 
petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, copper
Land use 
arable land: 1.72%
permanent crops: 0.06%
other: 98.22% (1998 est.)


People tend to think of Saudi Arabia as an expanse of scorchingly hot desert punctuated with oil wells, and for most of the time in most of the country, they would be absolutely right. From May to September, the central areas of the country (basically everything except the coasts) bake in temperatures that average 42°C and regularly exceed 50°C in the shade. In July and August, in particular, all who can flee the country and work slows down to a crawl. The coasts, on the other hand, are moderated by the sea, which usually keeps temperatures below 38°C — but at the price of extreme humidity (85-100%), which may even be more uncomfortable than the dry heat of the interior, especially at night. Only the elevated mountainous regions stay cool(er), with the unofficial summer capital of Taif rarely topping 35°C and the mountaineous Asir region cooler yet.
In winter, though, it's a surprisingly different story. Daytime highs in Riyadh in December average only 7°C, and temperatures can easily fall below zero at night, occasionally even resulting in a sprinkling of snow in the southern mountains. The winter is also the only season when it rains at all in most of the country, although in many years this is limited to one or two torrential outbursts. In the south, though, this pattern is reversed, with most rain falling during the Indian Ocean's monsoon season between May and October.

Prayer times

Everything in Saudi is regulated by the five daily prayers. All shops and offices close during each prayer for a period of 20-30 minutes, and the religious police patrol the streets and pack loiterers off to the mosque. However, shopping malls do stay open (but with all shops inside closed) and taxis and other public transport continue to run normally.
The first prayer is fajr, early in the morning before the first glint of light at dawn, and the call to prayer for fajr will be your wake-up call in the Kingdom. After fajr, some people eat breakfast and head to work, with shops opening up.
The second prayer is dhuhr, held after true noon in the middle of the day. The Friday noon prayer (jummah) is the most important one of the week, when even less observant Muslims usually make the effort to go to the mosque. After dhuhr, people head for lunch, while many shops choose to stay closed and snooze away the heat of the day.
Asr prayers are in the late afternoon (1:30-2 hours before sunset), with many shops opening again afterward. Maghrib prayers are held at sunset and mark the end of the work day in much of the private sector. The last prayer is isha'a, held around 45 minutes to 1 hour after sunset, after which locals head for dinner. Expats refer to the time between maghrib and isha'a as the "prayer window", during which you can hit the supermarket and buy your groceries if you time it right.
Prayer times change daily according to the seasons and your exact location in the Kingdom. You can find the day's times in any newspaper, and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs maintains a handy online prayer time service [1].
Ramadan dates
  • 2010 (1431): Aug 11 - Sep 9
  • 2011 (1432): Aug 1 - Aug 29
  • 2012 (1433): Jul 20 - Aug 18
The festival of Eid ul-Fitr is held after the end of Ramadan and may last several days. Exact dates depend on astronomical observations and may vary from country to country.
The Saudi interpretation of Islam views all non-Muslim holidays as smacking of idolatry, and the public observance of Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, Halloween etc is prohibited. In fact, public holidays are granted only for two events: Eid ul-Fitr, the feast at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, some 70 days after Ramadan. Even Muhammad's birthday is not observed.
During Ramadan itself, visitors are required to abide by the restrictions of the fasting month, at least in public: no eating, drinking or smoking during the daylight hours. Some better hotels will be able to quietly supply room service during the day, but otherwise you'll have to do your preparations. All restaurants in the Kingdom are closed during the day, and while some offices stay open with limited hours, the pace of business slows down to a torpor. After evening prayer, though, all the restaurants in the bazaar open up and do a roaring trade until the small hours of the morning. Most of the shops are open as well, and the cool of the evening makes it a pleasant time to shop. A visitor can have a fine time joining in on these evenings, though having a stash in your hotel room for a quiet breakfast around ten will suit most visitors better than rising at four for a big pre-dawn Saudi breakfast.
There is also one secular holiday: Unification of the Kingdom Day, on September 23rd. Strictly speaking, it's not a public holiday or a festival, but it's treated rather like one anyway.


Saudi Arabia is administratively divided into 13 provinces (mintaqah), but the traditional divisions of the country are more useful for making sense of it.
Southwestern highlands with a temperate climate and strong Yemeni influence.
Eastern Province
Covering the Gulf coast, the center of Saudi oil production
On the Red Sea coast, site of Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and the home of trade and commerce.
The central highlands centered on Riyadh, the home of the Sauds and the most conservative part of the country.
Rarely visited, home to the the Nabataean ruins of Madain Saleh.
  • Riyadh - the capital and "dead center" of the Kingdom
  • Abha - a summer tourist mountain resort city in the southwest near the Yemeni border
  • Dhahran - the home of Saudi Aramco, the world's largest petroleum company
  • Jeddah (Jiddah) - large metropolitan city on the Red Sea, and the gateway to Mecca and Medina
  • Jubail - the largest industrial city in the kingdom
  • Mecca (Makkah) - the holiest shrine of Islam
  • Medina (Madinah) - site of the Prophet's Mosque
  • Najran - Yemeni-influenced city with a remarkable fortress
  • Taif - moderate size mountain town and the unofficial summer capital
Expect significant variations in the English spellings of place names in schedules and even road signs: Al Wajh and Wedjh are the same place. In particular, Q/G and E/I are interchanged freely (Qassim/Gassim, Jeddah/Jiddah), H/A sometimes swap places (Al-Ahsa/Al-Hasa) and the definite article al- can be left on or off (Medina/Almadinah, Riyadh/Arriyadh).
My Kingdom will survive only insofar as it remains a country difficult to access, where the foreigner will have no other aim, with his task fullfilled, but to get out. -- King Abdul Aziz bin Saud, c. 1930
Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel policies in the world, and advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter. The only important exception are citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Also excluded from visa requirements are foreigners transiting through airports for less than eighteen hours, but many other entry requirements, such as the dress code and restrictions on unaccompanied females, still apply. Nationals of Israel and those with evidence of visiting Israel will be denied visas, although merely being Jewish in and of itself is not a disqualifying factor. Saudis prefer not to grant visas to unaccompanied women, but work permits are common in some fields (esp. nurses, teachers, maids) and possible for anyone if your sponsor has enough connections.
Authorized tour operators
The following five companies are the only ones authorized to issue tourist visas for Saudi:
  1. Jawlah Tours Company [2]
  2. Altayyar Group [3]
  3. Top Adventure Tours [4]
  4. Samallaghi Tours [5]
  5. Al Shitaiwi Tours [6]
However, things have loosened up a little compared to the past. Tourist visas, long near-impossible without a Saudi sponsor, are now available but only for guided tours. Transit visas are limited to some long-distance truck drivers and for plane trips. Generally, though, transit visas are free. Hajj (pilgrimage) visas are issued by the Saudi government through Saudi embassies around the world in cooperation with local mosques. Hajjis, and those on transit visas are prohibited from traveling freely throughout the kingdom. Most short-term Western visitors to Saudi arrive on business visas, which require an invitation from a local sponsor which has been approved by the Saudi Chamber of Commerce. Once this invitation is secured and certified, the actual process of issuing the visa is relatively fast and painless, taking anything from one day to two weeks. Word has it that the "new visas" (electronically generated) are only available through agencies within your country of residence. Getting a work visa is considerably more complex, but usually your employer will handle most of the paperwork.
The fun doesn't end when you get the visa, since visas do not state their exact expiry date. While the validity is noted in months, these are not Western months but lunar months, and you need to use the Islamic calendar to figure out the length: a three-month visa issued on "29/02/22" (22 Safar 1429, 1 March 2008) is valid until 29/05/22 (22 Jumada al-Awwal 1429, 28 May 2008), not until 1 June 2008! Depending on visa type, the validity can start from the date of issue or the date of first entry, and multiple-entry visas may also have restrictions regarding how many days at a time are allowed (usually 28 days per visit) and/or how many days total are allowed during the validity period. This all results in fantastic confusion, and it's not uncommon to get different answers from an embassy, from your employer and from Immigration!
If you have a work visa, exit visas are required to leave the country. (Business, tourism or Hajj visas do not require exit permits.) You cannot get an exit visa without a signature from your employer, and there have been cases of people unable to leave because of controversy with employers or even customers. For example, if a foreign company is sued in Saudi for non-payment of debts and you are considered its representative, an exit visa may be denied until the court case is sorted out.
Saudi Arabia has very strict rules for what may be imported: alcoholic beverages, pork, non-Islamic religious materials and pornography (very widely defined) are all prohibited. Computers, VCR tapes and DVDs have all been seized from time to time for inspection by the authorities. If you are unsure if the movie you watch or the video game you play is deemed un-Islamic, it probably be best not to bring them with you to the kingdom. In general, though, inspections aren't quite as thorough as they used to be and while bags are still x-rayed, minute searches are the exception rather than the rule.

By plane

Saudi Arabia has 3 international airports at Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. The airport at Dhahran is now closed to civil traffic, so passengers to the Eastern Region now fly into Dammam, or into nearby Bahrain (which is much better connected) and then cross into Saudi Arabia by car.
Saudi Arabia is served by the national airline Saudi Arabian Airlines [7], often referred to by its Arabic name Saudia. Saudia has a reasonable safety record, but many of their planes are on the old side and the quality of service, inflight entertainment etc tends to be low. Virtually all Gulf airlines and most major European airlines fly into Saudi. During the Hajj, numerous charter flights supplement the scheduled airlines.
Foreigners living in Saudi Arabia can often get sensational discounts on outbound flights during the Hajj. Airlines from Muslim countries are flying in many loads of pilgrims, and do not not want to go back empty.

By bus

SAPTCO [8] operates cross-border bus services to most of Saudi Arabia's neighbors and even beyond to eg. Cairo.
Probably the most popular service is between Dammam/Khobar and Bahrain, operated by the separate Saudi-Bahraini Transport Company (SABTCO) [9]. There are five services daily at a cost of SR50/BD5 and the trip across the King Fahd Causeway takes around two hours on a good day; see Bahrain for details.

By car

Automobile crossings exist on all the borders, although those into Iraq are currently closed. The eastern crossings to Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE are heavily used, all others rather less so.

By train

There are no railroads connecting Saudi Arabia with other countries, although in the North, you can still find bits and pieces of the Hejaz Railway that once led to Istanbul.

By boat

Infrequent passenger ferries run once a week or less from Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea to ports in western Saudi Arabia. Slow, uncomfortable and not particularly cheap, these are of interest primarily if you absolutely need to take your car across.
Camels at the Janadriyah festival — no longer a viable means of long-distance transport
Camels at the Janadriyah festival — no longer a viable means of long-distance transport
Internal travel permits are a thing of the past, so once you've gotten into Saudi, the country is your oyster. There are, however, three exceptions:
  • Many archaeological sites around the country, eg. Madain Saleh, require permits. The National Museum in Riyadh issues these free of charge, but you should apply at least a week in advance.
  • The area around Mecca and Medina is off-limits to non-Muslims; conversely, those on Hajj visas are prohibited from leaving the area (and transit points like Jeddah). The exclusion zone is well signposted.
  • Some remote areas, notably around the Iraqi and Yemeni borders, are restricted military zones. You're exceedingly unlikely to stumble into them by accident.

By plane

Saudi Arabia is a large country, which makes flying the only comfortable means of long-distance travel. State carrier Saudia has the best schedules, with near-hourly flights on the busy Riyadh-Jeddah sector (90 min) and walk-up one-way fares costing a reasonable SR280 (~US$80). Low-cost competitors Nas [10] and Sama [11] can be even cheaper if you book in advance, but their schedules are sparser, changes will cost you money and there's no meal on board.
A standard-issue SAPTCO bus
A standard-issue SAPTCO bus
The Saudi Arabian Public Transport Company (SAPTCO) [12] operates long-distance buses linking together all corners of the country. Buses are modern, air-conditioned and comfortable, but often slow, and the bus stations are more often than not located several kilometers away from the city center. The Riyadh-Dammam service, for example, costs SR60 and takes around 6 hours.
Special "VIP" services operate on the Riyadh-Dammam and Riyadh-Bahrain sectors. For a surcharge of about 50%, you get a direct, non-stop city center-to-city center services, plush seating and a meal on-board -- all in all, quite good value, if the sparse schedules match your plans.
First class on a Saudi train
First class on a Saudi train
The railway network in Saudi Arabia is seriously underdeveloped, with only one line running between Riyadh, Al-Hofuf and Dammam, but it's still the only passenger train service in the entire Gulf. There are plans to extend the network to Jeddah and build a Mecca-Medina link during the next few years.
The trains are operated by Saudi Railways Organization [13] and have 3 classes: Second, First and the delightfully named Rehab. First and Second classes are very similar, with aircon and two-by-two seating, but First has a few inches of extra legroom. Rehab (VIP) class, on the other hand, has plush leather seats, roof-mounted flat-panel TVs showing Arabic entertainment, and slick waiting lounges at stations. There are no reserved seats, so show up early to claim yours, and beware that most carriages reserve the forward-facing seats at the front of each carriage for families. Trains have a cafeteria car serving up drinks and snacks, as well as push-trolley service.
A ticket from Riyadh to Dammam costs SR60/75/120 in Second/First/Rehab. There are four trains each day in both directions, and the trip takes 4-5 hours. (Note that, as of May 2008, the timetables on SRO website are outdated.) It is advisable to buy tickets in advance as the trains are often sold out. You can reserve tickets by calling their service center in Dammam (+966 3 827 4000) and then pick up the tickets from the nearest railway station 24 hours before departure.

By car

Car rental is available, highways are excellent, and gasoline is some of the cheapest in the world. However, there are important reasons to think twice about car rental. Although a fair percentage of Saudi drivers are suicidal, homicidal or insane, the majority of Saudi drivers are all three, and the country has some of the highest accident rates in the world. Accidents are common, and if a visitor is involved in one, they would be exposed to the extremely punitive Saudi legal system; see elsewhere on this page for the warnings about that.
If you are involved in a car accident all parties are required to stay where they are and wait for the Traffic Police (call 993) to turn up, which can take up to four hours. English is unlikely to be spoken by the police, even in big cities, so try to use the waiting time to arrange a translator. The police will issue an accident report, which you have to take to the traffic police station and get it stamped a few times in different queues (this takes most of a morning). Only then can any damage to the car be repaired, as car garages are not allowed to do body work without this report.
It is not uncommon for the traffic police to resolve the incident there and then by determining the guilty party and deciding compensation. So, should it be your fault the Police will ask you to pay an amount to the other party - have money with you.
At the present time, access to car rentals is limited to males 21 and older. Women cannot drive on public roads or ride bicycles.

By taxi

Within cities, taxis are the only practical means of transportation. Standardized throughout the country, metered fares start at SR 5 and tick up at SR 1.60/km, but outside Riyadh you'll often have to haggle the price in advance. Solo passengers are expected to sit up front next to the driver: this has the advantages of being next to the full blast of the air-con and making it easier to wave your hands to show the way.


Arabic is the official language of the Kingdom, although English might be understood. Hindi and Urdu is extensively used in the marketplaces and by sub-continent expatriates. All major languages are spoken in the markets of Makkah. There is a significant Tagalog-speaking expatriate minority as well.
Nearly all road signs are in English as well as Arabic, although the vast majority of speed limit signs use only Arabian numerals.


The Saudi currency is the Saudi riyal (ريال, SAR), which trades at a fixed 3.7450 to the US dollar since 1986. The riyal is divided into 100 halalas, which are used to mark some prices, but, in practice, all payments are rounded to the nearest riyal and odds are you probably will never see any halala coins. Bills come in values of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 riyals, with two series in circulation.
The riyal is also pegged to the Bahraini dinar at a 10:1 ratio. If you are considering travelling to Bahrain, some businesses will accept riyals, but the dinar is not easily convertible in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is still largely a cash society, and credit card acceptance is surprisingly poor outside luxury hotels and malls. ATMs are ubiquitous, although those of many smaller banks do not accept foreign cards; Samba and SABB are probably your best bets. Moneychangers can be found in souks, but are rare elsewhere. Foreign currencies are generally not accepted by merchants.


Prices are generally fairly expensive: figure on US$50/100/200 for budget, midrange and splurge-level daily travel costs.
Tipping is generally not expected, although service staff are always happy to receive them and taxi fares are often rounded up (or, not uncommonly, down). Expensive restaurants often slap on a 10% service charge, although due to lax regulation many employers simply usurp it (ask your waiters if they receive any of it or not if you would like to tip them). There are no sales taxes in Saudi, and for that matter, there aren't any income taxes either!

What to buy

Few local products are of interest to tourists. Locally grown dates are of high quality, and religious paraphernalia is widely available, but almost exclusively imported. Copies of the Koran are produced in a wide range of editions and sold at very low prices. Zam zam water is available throughout the Western Region and at all airports.
Carpets are a favorite purchase, most of these coming from nearby Iran. Jeddah in particular has lots of carpets, many brought by pilgrims who sell them there to help finance their trip to Mecca.
Large gold and jewelry markets are prominent in all major cities. Bargaining is a norm in most small to medium sized stores. Mecca and Medina offer a lot of variety in terms of luggage, clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys, food, perfume, incense, and religious literature, audio, and paraphernalia.
Large, well maintained air-conditioned malls and grocery stores (i.e. Safeway, Giant Stores, Carrefour [14]) are scattered throughout the kingdom. Note that all shops, even those selling women's clothing and lingerie, are staffed exclusively by men and have no dressing rooms. You may be offered use of a back storeroom for trying on clothes, but it is best to not accept the offer — a number of women have been raped this way.


Entertainment in Saudi Arabia is very family-oriented. There are few activities for just couples or singles. Single men are not allowed in family areas: family beaches are partitioned from the bachelor beaches, for example. Women are expected to be accompanied by a male relative in public, although single women may be admitted into family areas.
Desert excursions are particularly popular with the native Arabs. There are few desert dune bashing tour operators, if any, but ATV rentals are often found along the roadside on the outskirts of major cities and expats often arrange convoy trips into the desert. The Empty Quarter has the most awesome scenery — and requires the most preparation.
Scuba diving is popular on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast. Jeddah has a number of dive operators.
Amusement parks (many of them indoor) are often found near malls or beaches. Many large cities have public parks and small zoos. Horseback riding, camel riding, etc. are also available at horse-racing tracks and some popular beaches. Many upscale hotels provide light activities (especially hotels located along the beaches).
Movie theatres are banned in the Kingdom, but DVD shops abound, although the selections are often tame and/or censored. DVDs in Saudi Arabia are invariably Region 2, though bootleg DVDs (which are widely available in smaller video shops) are usually region-free, and often uncensored as well. Satellite TV and downloading entertainment from the Internet is thus very popular.
Video games are an eternal obsession of Saudi youth, and one which is capitalized upon rather well by local retailers. Video game shops are ubiquitous in all of the major cities. Authentic games are offered by most of the larger stores, as US or European imports for an average of ~270SR (~$70), while the smaller ones usually only offer bootlegs (which are illegal, but still lucrative enough that almost all sell them) at very low prices of 10-15SR ($2.5-$4). Wii and Xbox 360 bootlegs reign supreme, but certain stores offer Nintendo DS and PSP games as well, downloaded on a customer's removable media on request.


Eating is one of the few pleasures permitted in Saudi Arabia, and the obesity statistics show that most Saudis indulge as much as they can.

Fast food

Fast food is a huge business in Saudi Arabia, with all the usual suspects (McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway) and not a few chains that rarely venture outside America elsewhere (Hardee's, Little Caesars, Cinnabon, Dunkin' Donuts). Meals invariably served with fries and Coke cost SR10-20. Some local imitators worth checking out include:
  • Al-Baik - fried chicken- in Jeddah, Mecca and Medina, but not Riyadh
  • Baak - Pizza (thin crust and quite good), fried chicken, lasagna, sandwiches
  • Kudu - Saudi sandwich chain [15]
  • Herfy Burger [16] - biggest fast food chain in the country, 100% Saudi owned
  • House of Donuts - "The Finest American Pastries" - a chain begun by Saudi students who studied in America
Cheaper yet are the countless curry shops run by and for Saudi Arabia's large Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi community, which serve up large thali platters of subcontinental fare for under SR10. Just don't expect frills like air-conditioning.

Local cuisine

The Middle Eastern staple of shwarma (doner kebab) is widely available in dedicated little joints, with SR 3-4 being the standard price for a sandwich. The Egyptian mashed fava bean stew foul is another cheap staple, and these shops usually also offer felafel (chickpea balls) and a range of salads and dips like hummus (chickpea paste) and tabbouleh (parsley salad).
Finding restaurants that serve actual Saudi cuisine is surprisingly difficult, although many larger hotels have "Arabian" (usually Lebanese) restaurants. Your local Saudi or expatriate host may be able to show you some places or, if you're really lucky, an invitation to dinner at home.
  • Mandi — Chicken or mutton cooked with rice in a pot suspended above a fire.


With alcohol, dancing, playing music in public and mingling with unrelated women all banned, it's fair to say that nobody comes to Saudi Arabia for the nightlife.

Coffee shops

Pretty much the only form of entertainment for bachelors is the ubiquitous coffee shop, which serve not only coffee and tea, but water pipes (shisha) with flavoured tobacco. These are strictly a male domain, and in some cities like Riyadh establishments that offer shisha are banished to the outskirts of town.
If, on the other hand, you're looking for a hazelnut frappucino, Starbucks and its legion competitors have established a firm foothold in the Kingdom's malls. These usually welcome women, although 2008 saw several arrests of unmarried couples "mingling".
As for the coffee (kahwa) itself, try mirra, made in the Bedouin style. Sometimes spiced with cardamom, it's strong and tastes great, particularly drunk with fresh dates. Tea (chai) usually comes with dollops of sugar and perhaps a few mint leaves (na'ana).


Alcoholic beverages are strictly forbidden throughout the country, although the police generally turn a blind eye to goings-on inside compounds for foreign expats, not a few of which have full-size English pubs serving up homebrew beer and wine on Wednesday nights. However, if they catch people involved in smuggling or distilling booze in quantity, then expat or not, Saudi law applies. A foreigner may not get the sentence a local would, but can expect a few days or weeks jail, public flogging, and deportation.
Do not drink and drive! is good advice anywhere, but especially in Saudi Arabia. If you have an accident, or otherwise attract police attention, the consequences might be serious indeed.
The locally-brewed white lightning called Arak. In addition to being illegal, it's also extremely potent (anything up to 90-odd percent alcohol), remarkably unpalatable and may contain dangerous impurities.
In Saudi, this non-alcoholic apple-flavored Bud's for you
In Saudi, this non-alcoholic apple-flavored Bud's for you
As elsewhere in the Gulf, Saudis are big fans of various fruit juices, ranging from the ordinary (apple, orange) to the downright bizarre (banana-lemon-milk-walnut, anyone?).
Non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks are popular. Two of the most common are Saudi champagne, basically apple juice and Sprite or soda water, and malt beverages, ie. non-alcoholic beer, always sweet and often strongly flavored with mango, strawberry, apple, lemon etc essences. You can even get apple-flavored Budweiser!

Tap water

Tap water in the major cities is considered safe, although it's not always particularly tasty, and in the summer can be very hot. Bottled water is readily available and cheap at SR2 or less for a 1.5L bottle. Many residents prefer to buy drinking water from purification stations.


Hotels of all types are available throughout the Kingdom. Most tourist cities (i.e. Makkah, Medina, Taif, Al Abha) will also have very affordable and spacious shigka-maafroosha (short-term furnished rental apartments). Shigka-maafroosha owners generally loiter in hotel lobbies. Often, they will approach civilized-looking people (generally families) and make an offer. Prices for shigka-mafrooshas and small hotels are always negotiable to a great degree. Smaller hotels will only accept cash, normally in advance.
Larger, more expensive hotels are abundant in all major cities. After the lull caused by the insurgency in 2003, prices have been rising again, and you can expect to pay north of US$200 for a weekday night at a good hotel in any of the big Saudi cities. In exchange, you usually get excellent service and the ability to work around some restrictions (eg. restaurants that stay open through prayer hours and daytime room service during Ramadan).

Stay healthy

There are no major health risks for traveling in Saudi Arabia: water is generally drinkable and food is usually, but not always, hygienic. No vaccinations are required for general travel to the Kingdom, but for pilgrims joining the Hajj and its extraordinary concentrations of pilgrims from all corners of the globe, a comprehensive series of vaccinations is required as a condition for entry. See the Hajj article for details.
Smoking is the one sin that the Wahhabis haven't gotten around to banning yet, and consequently everybody smokes everywhere: hotel lobbies, airport lounges, shopping mall food courts, drivers in their taxis, etc. If this is a problem, be sure to request non-smoking rooms in hotels.
The Kingdom has a wide-reaching national health-care system, but the services provided by this program are quite basic. Private hospitals are often run with the participation of foreign partners. These facilities range from fairly rudimentary to very advanced and very expensive. Pharmacies are widely available and prescriptions are not required for most medications. Psychoactive medications are tightly controlled and available only through government pharmacies.
Bottled water is easily available, and as they say, is more expensive than gasoline.


There are quite a few jobs for expatriates in Saudi Arabia. While the pay is good, foreigners often find that the strictly Muslim society and the near-total lack of employees' rights makes the country a most difficult place to work and live.
To get a working visa, you must have a Saudi sponsor. Then to get an exit visa, you need your sponsor's signature. This can lead to major problems.

Stay safe

Realistically speaking, the biggest danger a visitor to Saudi Arabia faces is the lethal driving — drive or pick your drivers carefully and buckle up your seatbelt.
A low-level insurgency which targets foreigners in general and Westerners in particular continues to bubble. The wave of violence in 2003-2004 has been squashed by a brutal crackdown by Saudi security forces and there have been no major attacks in the cities for several years, security remains tight and it is prudent not to draw too much attention to yourself. Foreigners should register their presence with their embassy or consulate. Emergency alert systems using e-mail and cell phone messages are maintained by many governments for their guest workers.
Four French tourists, part of a larger group that had been camping in the desert, were shot and killed by terrorists near Madain Saleh in early 2007. Due to this, mandatory police escorts — which can be an interesting experience, but can also be annoying, restrictive hassles — are sometimes provided for travel outside major cities, in areas like Abha, Najran and Madain Saleh.
While Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, a certain background level of non-violent opportunistic theft like pickpocketing and purse snatching does exist. Lock doors and keep valuables on your person.
Saudi society endeavours to keep men and women separate, but sexual harassment — leers, jeers and even being followed — is depressingly common. Raising a ruckus or simply loudly asking the harasser anta Muslim? ("are you Muslim?") will usually suffice to scare them off.
Violations of Saudi law can bring a visitor into contact with the local police and justice systems. The Saudi justice system is notoriously harsh and gives no leeway to non-Saudis, and embassies can provide only limited help in these situations. See Respect for how to stay out of trouble.
Think before you act
Think before you act
Visitors to Saudi Arabia are required to respect local conventions, in particular regarding Islam. While first-timers in Saudi Arabia are often regaled with tales of beheadings, amputations and whippings, the full harshness of Saudi law is reserved for true criminals like drug smugglers. With a modicum of common sense you'll be just fine, and should a visitor accidentally cause some minor offense, the reaction will generally be amusement rather than anger.

Law and morality

The really important rules to beware of are enshrined in written Saudi law, with criminals subject to the full strength of the infamous Saudi penal system. In addition to obvious crimes like murder (punishable by beheading) and theft (amputation of the hand for repeat offenders), acts considered severe crimes include adultery, homosexuality and possession of alcohol or drugs.
In practice, though, most visitors will be primarily concerned with the code of morality, involving things like women not covering up properly, not observing prayer or (during Ramadan) fasting times, etc. These rules are enforced by the infamous muttawa (pl. mutawain), the zealous volunteers of the religious police formally known as the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Confusingly, the exact rules and their enforcement vary greatly both with time and from region to region, with the Nejd region around Riyadh being the most strict, the Eastern Province being the least strict, and the Hejaz around Jeddah being somewhere in the middle. However, 99% of the time, encounters with the muttawa (especially for non-Muslims) simply result in verbal warnings. The muttawa do have the power to detain those suspected of un-Islamic conduct, but — in theory — must hand them over to the police before interrogation, and neither can they apply judicial punishments like whipping without a trial. Reports of abuse and even deaths in muttawa custody are still depressingly common.
No women at the hotel gym
No women at the hotel gym
Everything in Saudi Arabia is segregated by sex to ensure that unrelated men and women have no possibility of "mingling" (khulwa, a punishable crime). Under the rules of segregation, all people are divided into three groups:
  • Families. The basic unit of Saudi life, families consist of women accompanied by their mahrams (legal male guardians) — father, brother, husband, uncle, nephew — and children.
  • Single men (bachelors). Men not accompanied by their families. Despite common use of the word "bachelor", it is irrelevant whether the man is married or not; a husband will dine in the bachelor section at lunch when alone and in the family section at dinner when with his wife. It is against the law to be accompanied anywhere by a woman who is not your wife or a family member. Religious police pay particular attention to interracial couples.
  • Single women. Women not accompanied by their families. Anathema to Saudi society, this is by far the most restricted group. Most of the facilities for families will admit single women, but they are never allowed in the men's section. It is against the law to be accompanied anywhere by a man who is not your husband or a family member. The punishment will be worse for the woman than for the man.
Typical examples of segregation include:
Establishment Segregation
Banks Separate branches for men and women.
Coffeeshops Mostly men only, although a few have family sections.
Hotels Single women may require written permission to be allowed to check in. Gyms, pools and spa are generally restricted to men only.
Museums Separate opening hours for families, men and (rarely) women.
Restaurants Separate sections for families and men. Most, but not all, will allow single women into the family section.
Shopping malls Allow all visitors, but often with some days (typically Wed-Fri) reserved for families and single women only.
Shops Usually allow all visitors.


Locals almost universally wear a thobe (white robe with sleeves) with a ghutra (headdress), but the standard dress code for foreign men in Saudi Arabia is long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt. Short-sleeved shirts are unusual, although T-shirts are increasingly common among rebellious youth, while shorts are rarely seen outside the gym or beach.
Men with long hair might want to consider a cut before entering the kingdom; although shoulder-length locks can be considered reasonable, anything longer can be considered as grounds for ejection from shopping malls and public places by the muttawa.
Homosexuality is punishable by death. It is common for Saudi men to walk hand in hand as a sign of friendship, but it would be unwise for Western men to attempt the same. Sharing a hotel room as a way of cutting costs is normal, but don't even think about asking for one bed for two. That said, homosexuality still happens, only very discreetly, and it's not uncommon for a foreign man to be approached by an amorous, young unmarried Saudi.


Women, be they local or foreign, are all required to wear an abaya, a long and loose black robe. (This is strictly enforced in Riyadh, but less so in Jeddah and the Eastern Province.) While a headscarf is optional for non-Saudi females, one should at least be brought along in order to avoid possible harassment from the religious police or to be used as a means of deflecting attention from potentially aggravating men, especially in case of blondes.
Saudi law prohibits women from mingling with unrelated men, even if married: for example, many family restaurants will not (knowingly) allow a married couple to dine together with a single man. Women may not drive cars, although as of 2008 there are — not for the first time — rumblings that this may soon change. In theory, women may not even be driven by unrelated people (eg. taxi drivers), although this is widely ignored and rarely enforced.
A woman may travel alone with her mahram's permission, and in the case of foreign women, even without it. They may also stay alone in hotels, although hotels may require written permission on check-in.
While all this legally applies to foreign women as well, in practice foreign women are not restrained by their families in the way that Saudi women are, and can have considerable leeway if they choose to take it. For example, a foreign woman and her boyfriend (or even male coworker) can simply claim to be husband and wife, and thus mingle freely — although, if caught doing so, the consequences can be severe.
A single woman accosted by the police or the muttawa and requested to come with them does not have to (and, for their own safety, should not) go with them alone: you have the right to call your mahram and have them arrive, and you should use it. However, you may be required to surrender your ID, and you may not leave until the police/muttawa allow you to.


Photography is probably the easiest way for a visitor to inadvertently get into trouble. Do not take pictures of any government-related building (ministries, airports, military facilities etc) or any building that could possibly be one, or you risk being hauled off to jail for espionage. As strict Wahhabi belief prohibits making images of any living creature, do not photograph any Saudi men without permission and do not even point your camera in the general direction of any women, period. Even government publications avoid pictures of people and often resort to mosaicing out faces if they have to use one!
Playing music in public is also prohibited. However, personal music players and listening to music in private is fine, and there are plenty of music shops in the country's shopping malls if you don't mind permanent marker over Britney's hemline on the cover. It is not uncommon to hear young Saudis blasting the latest hip-hop music in their vehicles, at least when the muttawa are not around.
Religious items for religions other than Islam, including Bibles, crucifixes and any religious literature, are technically forbidden, although these days items for personal use are generally ignored. However, anything that hints of proselytism is treated very harshly, and the muttawa often bust illicit church assemblies and the like. Public observance of religions other than Islam is technically a crime in Saudi Arabia.
Catholic visitors must not be members of the Knights of Columbus. It is banned very strictly, perhaps even more strictly than any other fraternal society, under anti-proselytism law.
The flag of Saudi Arabia bears the Islamic declaration of faith, and desecration or any other inappropriate use of the flag is considered insulting.
Insulting the King and the Royal Family is extremely serious in Saudi Arabia and results in serious punishments.
Useful numbers
  • Police: 999
  • Car Accidents: 993
  • Ambulance: 997
  • Fire: 998
  • Phone Directory (Fees Apply): 905
The three mobile operators in Saudi, incumbent Al Jawal [17], Emirati rival Mobily [18] and Kuwaiti newcomer Zain [19] (Vodafone Network) are fiercely competitive, with good coverage (in populated areas) and good pricing. A starter pack with prepaid SIM and talktime starts from about SR 75, and you can sign up in most any larger mobile shop (bring your passport). Local calls are under SR 0.5/minute, while calls overseas are around or less than SR 2/min.
And yes, you can bring in your own phone: despite grumblings from the mullahs, both camera phones and multimedia messaging (MMS) are now legal.

By net

Internet cafes abound in major Saudi cities, and many shopping malls feature a gaming parlor or two. Rates are around SR5/hour.
While Internet in Saudi Arabia is cordoned off by a filter, it aims primarily at pornography, non-Islamic religious and domestic political sites in Arabic, and (from the traveller's point of view) is nowhere near as strict as, say, China's. Google, Skype, Wikipedia, all major webmail providers etc are all accessible.

By mail

Saudi Post [20] has a good network of post offices around the country, but offices are closed Thursday and Friday. Stamps for postcards to anywhere in the world cost SR4. The bigger problem is actually finding postcards, as the mutawwa periodically crack down on the celebration of non-Islamic holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas or even birthdays, causing all cards of any sort to disappear from bookstores! Your best bet is thus gift shops in major hotels. Mail coming in to the country from overseas is notoriously unreliable. Stories abound of thing arriving months after they were sent or never arriving at all. The are branches of DHL and FedEx operating throughout the kingdom so a good rule of thumb is to have anything important sent through those channels.
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Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Part of the Comparative Law and Justice Wikiversity Project.
Scale of justice 2 new.jpeg Subject classification: this is a law resource .
GorkoTheDuck 08:26, 20 November 2009 (UTC)
Flag of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Arabic: المملكة العربية السعودية, al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya) is a monarchical state which practices Shari'ah theocratic law. Saudi Arabia is populated mostly by Arab people who practice the Sunni branch of the Islamic faith. Its economy relies mostly upon the country's petroleum industry, which the state directly protects and controls. Founded by Abdul Aziz Al-Saud in 1932, Saudi Arabia has grown into one of the Middle East's most influential states due to its thriving economy and propagation of a conservative religiopolitical ideology.


Brief History

Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the founder and first King of the modern state of Saudi Arabia, alongside President of the United States of America Franklin D. Roosevelt at the close of the Yalta Conference of 1945.
Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the founder and first King of the modern state of Saudi Arabia, alongside President of the United States of America Franklin D. Roosevelt at the close of the Yalta Conference of 1945.
Saudi Arabia's coat of arms. The crossed swords represent the uniting of the Hedjazi and Najdi regions by the House of Saud as well as the alliance between the Saudi clan and Wahhabi religious movement in the early Saudi state.
Saudi Arabia's coat of arms. The crossed swords represent the uniting of the Hedjazi and Najdi regions by the House of Saud as well as the alliance between the Saudi clan and Wahhabi religious movement in the early Saudi state.
The modern state of Saudi Arabia - as opposed to the First Saudi State which existed between 1744 and 1818 as a semi-religious revolt against Ottoman rule in the region, or the Second Saudi State which existed between 1824 and 1891 as a continuation of the first revolt by the royal House of Saud - began in the early 1900's. Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, also known as Ibn Saud, was a Bedouin Arab and resident of the interior city of Riyadh. Ibn Saud had been forced into exile from the Najdi region to Kuwait by the House of Rashid, a dynastic faction opposed to his own Saudi power bloc. Ibn Saud opted to use the state stipends he garnered as a noble from the Ottoman Empire to hire and fund nomadic forces; with these, Ibn Saud raided and assaulted the Najd region from his base in exile. In 1902, he launched an attack upon his family's former seat at Riyadh and recaptured the city with less than two dozen men.
Saud bin Abdul Aziz, eldest son of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (Ibn Saud) and second King of Saudi Arabia. After spending his early life as a fighter in his father's forces, Saud inherited the Saudi throne in 1953 and changed the state's succession laws to favor direct primogeniture from father to son as opposed to Salic law. After years of internal conflict, he was deposed in 1964 by members of the Saudi clergy and the House of Saud; he was replaced with his half-brother Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.
Saud bin Abdul Aziz, eldest son of Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (Ibn Saud) and second King of Saudi Arabia. After spending his early life as a fighter in his father's forces, Saud inherited the Saudi throne in 1953 and changed the state's succession laws to favor direct primogeniture from father to son as opposed to Salic law. After years of internal conflict, he was deposed in 1964 by members of the Saudi clergy and the House of Saud; he was replaced with his half-brother Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.
Saudi expansion after the recapture of Riyadh was rapid. Within the next two years, the House of Saud had recaptured much of the lands they had formerly administered up to and including Najd, a region controlled by the Rashidi. The Ottoman Empire opted to support Ibn Rashid, the leader of the House of Rashid, in militarily rebounding advancing Saudi forces; this ended shortly, as the Turks left the region to focus on growing instability in the rest of the Empire. By 1912, Abdul Aziz Al-Saud had gained much territory from the House of Rashid and had begun to move against the Hashemite Sharifate of Hedjaz, a British protectorate which held authority over the regional centers of Mecca and Medina.
Mecca in 1937, several years after Ibn Saud's conquest and the declaration of Saudi Arabia.
Mecca in 1937, several years after Ibn Saud's conquest and the declaration of Saudi Arabia.
The two-front war faced by the burgeoning Saudi did not seem to slow down Ibn Saud, who continued to gain territory by the month. After gaining British favor for his own forces, the House of Saud officially collapsed the Al-Rashidi Dynasty in 1922; by 1925, Ibn Saud had captured the Hedjaz after the Battle of Jiddah. After several diplomatic agreements with Britain, Ibn Saud managed to unite the Arabs of the region and in 1932, proclaimed his state of "Saudi Arabia" and himself King of Saudi Arabia and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

Geographic Information

This nation is the largest state on the Arabian Peninsula at 2,149,690 square kilometers in size and it possesses the twenty-first largest amount of territory held by any nation on Earth[1]. As it is part of the Arabian Peninsula (Jazīrat Al-ʿArab, "Island of the Arabs") - a landmass at the juncture between the continents of Africa and Asia, and central to the geopolitical Middle East region - it is considered a part of Southwestern Asia by contemporary geographers[2]. Its generally undefined and porous boundaries border the United Arab Emirates to the slight northeast, Oman to the direct east, Yemen to the south and southwest, Jordan to the northwest as well as Iraq and Kuwait to the northeast[3]. Saudi Arabia also borders the Red Sea to its west and the Persian Gulf to its northeast.
Map of Saudi Arabia
Map of Saudi Arabia
Due to its positioning in a subtropical territory, the climate of Saudi Arabia can be described as one of extreme heat. The coastal cities of Jiddah, Qizan and Al-Jubayl are cooler due to their proximity to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, respectively, and experience temperatures of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit; in some cases, weather phenomenons such as monsoons are experienced on the coast as a result of climate interaction with the Indian Ocean[4]. In the country's interior, rainfall is less common than on the coast and the average temperature is approximately 110 degrees Fahrenheit, though they can commonly rise to 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months[5].
Satellite image of sand dunes in the Empty Quarter.
Satellite image of sand dunes in the Empty Quarter.
Some of Saudi Arabia's more notable geographical landmarks are it deserts. These bodies of land are also referred to as ergs, the Arabic term meaning "dune fields" or "sea of dunes"; they possess larger sand dunes than other geographical regions and virtually no vegetation[6]. The Syrian Desert, which spreads across Syria, Iraq and Jordan also reaches into in the northernmost region of Saudi Arabia near the city of Al-Jawf. An-Nafud, an erg desert, spreads across the width of Saudi Arabia below the Syrian Desert. The country's interior desert, the Ad-Dahna Desert, connects the An-Nafud to the Arabian Peninsula's largest desert and one of the largest deserts in the world: the Rub' Al-Khali (Arabic for the "Empty Quarter").
Riyadh, the capital, center of government and population center of Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh, the capital, center of government and population center of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's largest cities include the capital city of Riyadh with an urban area population of 3,627,700 residents, the coastal center of Jiddah which possesses an urban population of 2,674,000 residents, Ad-Dammam with an urban population of 1,549,200 residents, the nation's religious center of Mecca at 1,541,800 residnets and the historic Arabian center of Medina with 818,800 residents[7].
Based mostly around former oasis camps, Saudi Arabia's population is spread out drastically between population centers; in 2005, there were approximately 12 people per square kilometer in Saudi Arabia[8].

Politics and Government

Former American president George W. Bush alongside King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Former American president George W. Bush alongside King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's government is best described as an absolute monarchy. It is currently led by Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, King of Saudi Arabia and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques; he acts as both head of government as well as head of state. The Saudi family, as headed by whoever is the leader at that time has full control over all government apparatuses and may act unchallenged by any other authority in the state. The authority of the government lies within several spheres: the opinions of the Saudi family as well as the ulama - Islamic scholars and officials - are starkly important for the current monarch, as the family and its religious supporters has proven able to remove those they feel unsuitable for rule from power. Saud bin Abdul Aziz, the second monarch in Saudi Arabia's history, is an example of this: he was forced out of his position due to his perceived inability to rule when opposed by the pan-Arabism of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser[9] In terms of the ulama's authority, the Qur'an is the declared constitution of Saudi Arabia - a factor not only displays the source of Saudi Arabia's legal system but also gives those who support it and execute it a large amount of political power due to their knowledge of Islamic law. In 1992, the monarchy made attempts at forming a Saudi legal code to work alongside the Qur'an, formalizing it as the nizam or "lead code" of the state[10]. It disallowed arbitrary arrests and basic government abuses but did not guarantee the rights of Saudi subjects to personal freedoms or political participation[11].
In Saudi Arabia, officials are appointed by members of the royal family and are usually also aristocrats themselves. Just below the monarch is the Royal Diwan, the kingdom's top executive office which concerns itself with matters of state including the regulation of Saudi politics, foreign relations and Islamic law; government departments including all wings devoted to Islamic propagation and religious doctrine reside within the Royal Diwan, as do the top officials within the "Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice", Saudi Arabia's religious police force[12]. The Council of Ministers (founded in 1953) functions as a form of bureaucratic cabinet for the King and contains several executive-appoint offices such as Prime Minister, two Deputy Prime Ministers, two Ministers of State and twenty general Ministers. Below the Council of Ministers is the Civil Service and Independent Agencies Board, which is responsible overlooking the state-owned economic companies such as Saudi AramCo as well as civil service projects concerning infrastructure and resources.
Local government consists of fourteen geographically distributed provinces ("emirates"), each with a governor ("emir") who answers to the Minister of the Interior and is appointed by the sovereign. Town mayors, deputy emirs and other local officials are all ultimately appointed by the emir or an executive official. The districts resided over by the emirs include:
Current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin alongside Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Emir of Ar-Riyadh from 1962 until the present.
Current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin alongside Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Emir of Ar-Riyadh from 1962 until the present.
  • Al-Banah
  • Al-Hudud Ash-Shamaliyah
  • Al-Jawf
  • Al-Madinah
  • Al-Qasim
  • Al-Qurayyat
  • Ar-Riyadh
Current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Saud Al-Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia.
Current Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Saud Al-Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia.
  • Ash-Sharqiyah
  • Asir
  • Hail
  • Jizan
  • Makkah
  • Najran
  • Tabuk
Elections are largely nonexistent throughout the kingdom's history, although local municipal elections were in 2005 - over 50 years since the prior elections - with male citizens over the age of 21 eligible to vote. The 2009 elections, promised by the state as a move toward recognizing not only calls for political reform but also for the participation of women in Saudi politics, were canceled without explanation. It is also worth noting that political parties are completely banned in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi family - which amounts to approximately twenty thousand people[13] retains true power within the government, and tend to actually populate all government positions from the Council of Ministers down to the various emirates which make up the country's districts. Political alliances between family members and sub-clans are common and ensure the political clout of prominent statesmen such as King Abdullah.

Population Characteristics

The total population of Saudi Arabia stands at approximately 28,686,633 in a July 2009 estimate. This statistic includes the over five million residents who are not formal citizens of the country while still residing there[14]. Over a third (38%) of Saudi Arabia's population is the under the age of fourteen years, while the rest of the population (52%) range from fifteen years of age and higher with the country's median age at about twenty-two years[15].
Saudi Arabia's gender ratio prefers males: there are 1.05 males to females at birth, 1.04 males to females under the age of fourteen, almost 1.30 males aged fifteen to sixty-four to females aged the same and 1.06 males to females above the age of sixty five[16]. Infant mortality rates stand, by a 2009 estimate, at 13.15 deaths for every 1,000 male births and 9.91 deaths for every 1,000 female births; life expectancies average at 76.3 years but stand at 74.23 years for males and 78.48 for females, putting Saudi Arabia in the sixty-ninth spot on the list of highest life expectancies[17][18].
Most (82%) of Saudi Arabia's residents - and more (2.5%) every year - can be found in urban areas due to the harshness of the outlying territory and the potential for economic prosperity within urban areas such as Riyadh and Jiddah[19].
Literacy and education of Saudi residents are a growing focus of the Saudi government, which is attempting to bolster these qualities in order to assist in the transformation of its economy[20]. 78.8% of the total Saudi population is literate by the state's definition with a notable gap in literacy between the genders (84.7% males versus 70.8% females) in accordance with a 2003 study[21].

Ethnic Information

Bedouin falconer with camel.
Bedouin falconer with camel.
Saudi Arabia's major ethnic group (approx. 87% of the population) are the Saudi Arabs, a Semitic people who have lived in region for thousands of years. This group is divided into several different strands within Saudi Arabia. The two major groups are the modernized urban Arabs and those with Bedouin - nomadic or otherwise pastoral - cultural roots, including those of western Saudi Arabia in the Hedjaz historic region[22].
Countries which belong to the Arab League, a multinational organization that recognizes each member state as one populated mostly by Arabs.
Countries which belong to the Arab League, a multinational organization that recognizes each member state as one populated mostly by Arabs.
Not included within these two groups are immigrants from other ethnic Arab countries or territories with separate cultural identities such as Egyptians Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, Lebanese Arabs, Yemeni Arabs (Mahra), Omani Arabs (Shahara) and Syrian Arabs. Non-Arabic peoples, too, populate Saudi Arabia: Persians (0.7%), Africans (1.6%) and Asians (9.6%) as well as Europeans (0.3%) and Americans (0.2%) make up notable minorities in Saudi Arabia[23]. Many of these minorities migrated to Saudi Arabia in a search for employment and occupy the position of 'foreign worker' to the Saudi state due to their inability to gain citizenship[24].

Linguistic Information

Countries which utilize the Arabic language and alphabet - dark green are the states which have nominated Arabic as the official script and states labeled light green which have named Arabic as semi-official or regional.
Countries which utilize the Arabic language and alphabet - dark green are the states which have nominated Arabic as the official script and states labeled light green which have named Arabic as semi-official or regional.
Arabic is by far the most popularly used language in Saudi Arabia[25]. Arabic has been formally name Saudi Arabia's official language and is used on all official documents and correspondences[26]. Within this lingual framework, Najdi Arabic (approx. eight million speakers) and Hedjazi Arabic (approx. six million speakers) are the two most spoken forms of Arabic in the country with Gulf Arabic trailing far behind[27].
Beyond Arabic, languages such as Tagalog (3.8%), Urdu (2.2%) and several languages from the Indian sub-continent (0.7%) make up the largest non-Semitic percentages[28].

Religious Demographics

The most prominent religion in Saudi Arabia is Islam (approx. 90%-99%), specifically of the more mainstream and globally accepted Sunni branch (approx. 76%). Many Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia follow the state-supported Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence - the most conservative school of Islamic legal interpretation[29]. Sunni Islam is the state's official religion and courts revolving around Shari'ah (Islamic legal doctrine) are the nation's main legal system. In the past, the state has sponsored a particulary conservative interpretation of Islam referred to as Wahhabism, an ideology best described as a strand of the Islamic ideology of Salafism, which stresses the purity of the first few generations of Muslims as led by Muhammad. Wahhabism emphasizes the emulation of such individuals due to their personal righteousness and unfaltering support of Islam, maintaining that a conservative interpretation of the Qur'an (Islamic holy text) and the Hadith (recorded statements of Muhammad) will lead to a similar religious purity. These conservative beliefs have roots with the initial rise of the House of Saud during the First Saudi State as they were originally the ideas of Muhammad ibn Abd-Al-Wahhab, a Nejdi Islamic scholar of the 1700's who allied with the Saudi Dynasty during their early days of nomadism. A distinct Wahhabi belief is a denouncing of bid'ah (Arabic for "innovation"), acts which are not distinctly mentioned in either the Qur'an or the Hadith; such practices include Sufism, a regionally-varying Islamic folk movement based on Islamic mysticism and the importance of spiritual leaders or saints.
Road signs in Saudi Arabia, dictating religious segregation using both Arabic and English written languages.
Road signs in Saudi Arabia, dictating religious segregation using both Arabic and English written languages.
There also exists a nominal (15%) percentage of Shi'ah Muslims - a religious group focused largely around Iraq, Iran and Pakistan - who face marginalization and harassment by the conservative Sunni authorities of Saudi Arabia[30]. This harassment is due to the Saudi association of Shi'ah Islam - a belief system which differs theologically and historically from their own - with foreign powers such as Iran, a regionally powerful state which has been considered a religious counterweight or rival to Saudi Arabia's promotion of conservative Sunni Islam due to their funding of revolutionary Shi'ah Islam[31].
Non-Islamic faith denominations which make up slightly notable religious minorities in Saudi Arabia include Christianity (3.5%), Hinduism (0.6%) and Baha'i (approx. 1%)[32]. However, the public declaration or practicing of faiths that are non-Islamic is banned by Saudi theocratic law and, in some cases, non-Muslims who challenge this ruling have been forced to publicly convert to Islam or face state punishment[33].
Persecution of religious minority groups in Saudi Arabia is fairly common. Religious authorities known as the mutawi'iyn (Arabic for "subjugated people") enforce the state religious doctrine and have been known to target non-Muslims minorities including Christians in their work[34]. Religious segregation is commonplace in Saudi Arabia, as non-Muslims are not allowed within the urban boundaries of Mecca and Medina due to their positions as holy cities within the Islamic faith. Non-Muslims attempting to enter either locale can be either fined or deported, depending on the conditions[35]. In the past, followers of Judaism have actually been banned from entering the country altogether[36] although this statute has been largely unenforced.

Economic Development

Saudi Arabia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately $576.5 billion (US) dollars according to a 2008 estimate, placing it as twenty-third in the listing of the world's highest GDP; per capita, Saudi Arabia's GDP is about $20,500 (US) dollars which places it as the one hundred and second highest per capita GDP nation[37].
The headquarters of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned petroleum extractor and distributor, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
The headquarters of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned petroleum extractor and distributor, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter of petroleum, as the country holds over 20% of the world's oil reserves; the economy revolves around this industry and the government exerts a strong regulatory hand over the industry[38]. Petroleum is thus the country's largest export - responsible for 80% of the state's annual income and 45% of its total GDP - and dominates the general Saudi Arabian export market[39]. In order to stabilize their economy, the Saudi government has begun promoting its private sector as a means of balancing out the impact of the oil industry; thus, fields such as service sector and telecommunications are beginning to grow and assist in the lessening of Saudi Arabia's high unemployment[40]. Saudi Arabia's recent participation in the Word Trade Organization has been seen as an attempt to further expand the country's emerging fields of business[41].
The entrance to King Abdullah Economic City, a settlement on the Red Sea north of Jiddah and one of the six new Saudi Arabian "industry cities".
The entrance to King Abdullah Economic City, a settlement on the Red Sea north of Jiddah and one of the six new Saudi Arabian "industry cities".
To facilitate the growth of these new industries, Saudi Arabia is constructing what will be six new "economic cities" in various places across the country as hubs for new business and trade[42]. Foreign workers from nations such as Turkey, India and China have been working for several years on the restructuring of the city of Rabigh for increased economic input; although based currently on oil production, the city is being planned with the production of raw materials for export in order to increase the potential for Saudi Arabia to become an "economic powerhouse"[43].
Religious pilgrims on the Plains of Arafat during the Hajj outside of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Religious pilgrims on the Plains of Arafat during the Hajj outside of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
A unique aspect of Saudi Arabia's economy is its role as a focal point of religious pilgrimage. In accordance with Islam, millions[44] of Muslims make the Hajj pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in accordance with Islamic tradition every year. The Hajj is one of the "Pillars of Islam" - important religious rules which support the faith - and is largely thought to be required by every Muslim as long as they are able to accomplish the trip. As the largest annual pilgrimage in the world[45], the Hajj naturally has a notable impact upon Mecca's tourism and service economies. In preparation for the event - which usually occurs sometime between October and January - the Saudi government devotes billions of dollars to yearly infrastructure, medical services and public safety to ensure the stability of the event and the safety of both its participants and the residents of the two involved cities[46].

Legal System and Courts

Saudi Arabia's legal system is based largely on Shari'ah theocratic doctrine, a body of law which emerged during the Rashidun Caliphate of the mid-seventh century. It adapted over time to fit more contemporary issues, technologies and social constructs but remains a generally conservative body of law which promotes strict adherence to Islam over all other practices. The state promotes a legal opinion based in the Islamic jurisprudential school known as the Hanbali fiqh. Hanbali is largely regarded as the most conservative school of Islamic legal interpretation[47] and its interpretation of Islamic law is regarded as possessing harsher punishments than other schools of jurisprudence.
A document in Arabic language detailing the proper punishment for apostasy, as issued by the Al-Azhar University's Fatwa Council; it is worth noting that the institution issuing this document does not practice Saudi Arabia's Hanbali fiqh but the Shafi'i fiqh, a similarly conservative school of jurisprudence.
A document in Arabic language detailing the proper punishment for apostasy, as issued by the Al-Azhar University's Fatwa Council; it is worth noting that the institution issuing this document does not practice Saudi Arabia's Hanbali fiqh but the Shafi'i fiqh, a similarly conservative school of jurisprudence.
As Saudi law relies heavily on Shari'ah, it is thus a substantive legal system due to its position as a statutory, written doctrine which defines the role of the state as well as the rights (to a point) of the people. Saudi legal cases do not fit the textbook definitions of adversarial or inquisitorial - they function within the specific realm of Islamic law and all cases are judged under the established Hanbali precedents as assisted by Islamic scholars referred to as the ulama[48] However, Reichel also makes the comment that Saudi Arabia leans toward inquisitorial in its legal methods even within its Islamic legal framework.[49]
The primary actors in the court are the the qadis - religiously-trained judges versed in Shari'ah - as well as the prosecuted and those who defend them such as lawyers (who are also usually trained in Islamic law). Juries have no role in Saudi courts, as the decisions are passed down by an Islamic judge with few outside sources impacting the legal conclusion of the case. In Saudi Arabia, the courts are not an independent entity but exist within the political realm of Saudi Arabia - its officials actively participate in Saudi court politics[50]. While the courts are officially headed by the Minister of Justice, who looks over the more than three hundred Shari'ah courts in Saudi Arabia and is a representative of the nation's highest-educated ulama or religious scholars, administrative roles are also filled in by the Minister of Justice-appointed Supreme Judicial Council, an organization whose members work as supervisors to major cases and must be addressed and personally referenced in order to follow up on court decisions which assign capital punishment or corporal punishment as a result[51]. Below these legal supervisors are the qadis themselves, individuals who are selected from the highest-educated religious scholars in Saudi Arabia by the Ministry of Justice[52]; these people act as the judges for cases which go through regional courts. In serious cases, particularly those which may result in the assigning of corporal punishment or capital punishment - such as murder, rape or elevated levels of theft - may be overseen by as many as three qadis at once[53].
Non-Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia occupy a unique position within the Saudi legal format. While Shi'ah Muslims are allowed to use their own religious rules to determine non-criminal cases - albeit as interpreted by Saudi judges - foreign residents and non-Muslims must still bring their case up before the qadi-headed Shari'ah court[54];. Outside of seldomly-used secular tribunals, there is no other form of legal recourse for non-Sunni Muslims in Saudi Arabia.
Appeals in Saudi Arabia are not addressed by the senior judges of the Supreme Judicial Council. They are moved to a seperate court of appeals which determines the possibility and validity of all appeals[55]. The King's decree is the highest form of appeal within the Kingdom, and the sovereign has been called upon by foreign organizations to utilize this privelege in bettering the image of Saudi Arabia in pertinance to its use of corporal punishment and capital punishment[56].
Secular courts do exist in Saudi Arabia but fulfill specialized roles. Establishable only by the royal decree of the reigning monarch, these non-Shari'ah courts deal with cases relating to motor vehicles and government grievances. In addition, internal ministries may have their own courts appointed: the Ministry of the Interior possesses its own courts in dealing with legal issues pertaining to their police forces, and labor disputes are brought before the courts of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs[57]. These special tribunals have begun to gain new prominence as of October 2009, as the Saudi courts have vowed to move in a more secular direction as a means of better accomodating foreign commercial involvement in the Kingdom's affairs and for the purpose of streamlining the Saudi legal process[58].
The effectiveness of judicial review in Saudi Arabia is not up to par with the standards of the Human Rights Watch, which claims that the country has submitted prisoners to reeducation programs and have denied rights to free trials in the first place as opposed to submit to the concept of judicial review [59] Government agencies have actually moved to block judicial review from occurring despite reforms promoted by the current monarch to move in such a direction, making the review process difficult to initiate.
It is interesting to note that the courts are regarded as, despite being political, one of the few aspects of Saudi society and government that is not dominated by the personal politics of the House of Saud[60].

Citizenship and Family Law

Saudi citizenship is granted on a strict basis; it is required for any person to remain a contender in legal cases pertaining to inheritance, marriage and other family law issues. Those who are born in Saudi Arabia and those who have lived there as registered residents are able to acquire citizenship if they can prove membership in a local Islamic community, and sponsors are also required in gaining citizenship. Those who gain citizenship, however, are often subjected to ridicule due to their immigrant status and are sometimes labeled 'counterfeit Saudis'[61]. Women can obtain citizenship and foreign women who marry Saudi men often consider it a boon, as they are not otherwise in legal control of their residency and can be deported at the request of their husbands[62].
Family law in Saudi Arabia is based around traditional regional tribal custom. Families are strongly patrilineal and the roles of women within society and family decision making is markedly low due to both cultural gender conservatism and the strict Islamic statutes under which Saudi Arabia operates. Marriage laws are secular, as opposed to sacramental as they are in other Islamic countries; dowries are still a common practice in Saudi Arabia as well, amounting to large amounts of money[63]. Children of Saudi couples are largely considered the effective property of the father with the mother possessing little or no influence over their behavior or lives[64]. According to Quranic and Saudi law, men are permitted to marry up to four women as long as they are financially able to support their entire family and this does occur in Saudi Arabia. Divorce is a decision executable only by Saudi men - and thus an issue which may result in a change of the initial dowry - and may result in the legal separation of Saudi mothers from their children in pertinance to inheritance and other court matters[65].
The state has actively taken steps to prevent its own citizens from marrying foreigners and bringing outside elements into the country, leading to criticism from the press on the subject of the possibility that the banning of marriage to foreign individuals could lead to punishment of some sort for those Saudis who engage in it[66]. Recent controversy and international questioning over the legitimacy of Saudi marriage and family laws, mostly based around the question of the minimum age of a bride in state-sanctioned marriages, have led to Saudi Arabia's promise to reform marriage and family law[67].
Saudi inheritance laws revolve around Shari'ah law with some secular twists. Generally speaking, non-Muslims may not inherit from Muslims in Saudi Arabia and the legitimacy of wills and inheritance must be determined by religious court officials[68]. In a recent event, gender roles have been taken into consideration by Saudi courts: a transsexual Saudi won a legal case in defending his given inheritance from his siblings, who demanded that his inheritance be dropped by 50% due to his behavior. The court disagreed, stating that the inheritance had been granted before the man's gender switch and closed the case[69].

Law Enforcement

1911 photograph of Ibn Saud's Ikhwan forces, which initially fulfilled the role that would later be taken over by both the Military of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Public Security Forces.
1911 photograph of Ibn Saud's Ikhwan forces, which initially fulfilled the role that would later be taken over by both the Military of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Public Security Forces.
According to Philip Reichel's Comparative Criminal Justice Systems: A Topical Approach, Saudi Arabia's police structure is representative of the text's "centralized single police force" as there exists one police force, run with an emphasis on state as opposed to local influence, which is applied to all acts of law enforcement within the state[70].
It is important to note the relationship between the Saudi police and military forces. As both are branches of the same state apparatus - the Armed Forces of Saudi Arabia, although to different Ministries (the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense, respectively) - the two forces have been known to work hand-in-hand in dealing with both criminal activity as well as population control[71]. Thus, the military and police work to compliment one another in dealing with problems faced by the state.
The structure of Saudi Arabia's police force has one dominant branch with two smaller yet important offshoots. Saudi Arabia's main policing force, the Public Security Forces, was brought about in its modern form in the 1960's, after heavy reform in the direct away from its initial existence as a tribally-influenced militia system[72]. This structure works primary as a reactive entity, pursuing criminals and dealing with the results of crime. A smaller branch, the Investigative Police Force, works in a similar manner but uses elements of espionage in its practice. This has resulted in it being labeled a "secret" or state undercover police force by some sources[73]. The third division in the Saudi Arabian police force is the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and and the Prevention of Vice - Saudi Arabia's religious and moral police force - as staffed by the mutawi'iyn, officers trained in conservative Islamic legal precedents and law enforcement. As the Saudi state was founded on religious ideals and the Kingdom maintains the Qur'an as its constitution, Islamic legal figures prominently into how the nation functions on a day to day basis and the mutawi'iyn are extensions of this. Although they hold staunchly high authority over other branches of law enforcement, the Saudi religious police have had their powers curtailed slightly over the last decade as a result of international pressure stemming from harshly-regarded legal decisions[74].

Human Rights

Nominally, human rights in Saudi Arabia are protected by the kingdom's legal adherence to Shari'ah law[75]. Generally speaking, human rights in Saudi Arabia are considered destitute and nearly nonexistant: the Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia states that the kingdom's discriminatory practices cause great difficulty for females, non-Muslim religious minorities and any dissenters to Saudi authority[76]. Human Rights Watch reports that Saudi Arabia actively persecutes its Shi'ah religious minorities, including arrests of religious leaders and repeated police closures of Shi'ah mosques[77].
Domestic workers are also subject to discrimination and abuse by their employers and although Saudi Arabia has taken steps to alleviate their conditions, their efforts rest far below the expected global standard[78]. Human Rights Watch also reports that Saudi Arabia has commited numerous acts against their own citizens, in violation of international law, in order to further the state's counter-terrorism message[79].
As a result of the state's conservative interpretation of Islamic law, standards toward women and homosexuals are very strict - women are actively discriminated against in public and government settings while homosexuals are, if discovered guilty of their sexual preference in Shari'ah court, executed[80]. The state claims to be making strides toward bridging the gender gap through traditional values, citing the high number of women in Saudi educational institutions. The government refused to respond to the impact that the legal inability of women to drive or vote in local elections may have on this process[81]. In addition, promises by the Saudi government to decrease the number of incidents in which a woman requires a man's permission to engage in an activity - including both surgery and local travel - have not been addressed in a timely manner[82].
Although Islamic law provides a standard for basic social equality and gender equality as stated with the Quran[83], Saudi Arabia does not regard this view as legitimate and thus does not profess it.

Criminal Statistics

Over the course of the last few years, crime "has risen dramatically in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but continues to remain at levels below most major metropolitan areas in the United States"[84]. Typical crimes include assault - reported 13,864 times annually in comparison to the United States' annual reporting of 2,238,480 occurrences - as well as car theft (18,717 reports compared to the American report of 1,246,096), which occur with an insistence that has led to its reporting by the US Bureau of Consular Affairs as a crime of consistency against visitors to the Saudi state[85][86].
Key crimes such as homicide and general theft are moderate to low in comparison to other nations. Homicide is reported at a rate of 202 per year (approx. 0.004 per 1,000 people), placing Saudi Arabia as 28th out of 49 reporting nations[87]. In 2002, theft represented 47% of the crime in Saudi Arabia while still remaining generally low in comparison to more metropolitan states; the US Bureau of Consular Affairs lists it as an incident experienced by a number of tourists or other visitors to Saudi Arabia[88][89].
Countries with Shari'ah law. Saudi Arabia utilizes it on the state level and in dealing with most criminal cases.
Countries with Shari'ah law. Saudi Arabia utilizes it on the state level and in dealing with most criminal cases.
Corruption stands as a moderate issue in Saudi Arabia. Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Saudi Arabia as 80 out of 180, placing it just below the midpoint of measured corruption[90]. According to their 2009 measurement,corruption in Saudi Arabia does not have any particular focal point in the country - law enforcement is affected but is not extreme, nor is corruption in the private sector - in comparison to other states[91]. Saudi Arabia's police have been known to detain travelers for lengthy amounts of time due to their participation in criminal cases, and in some incidents have retained any items taken from those detained for their own personal gain[92].
Rape is a complicated issue in Saudi Arabian crime statistics. Rape is reportedly low, at 59 reported cases per year[93]. The low number of reported rapes may be due to the harsh sentences meted out by the state to rape victims, who are considered, by Saudi Arabia's interpretation of Shari'ah theocratic doctrine, as partially responsible for the conditions leading up to their own rape[94]. In one case, a rape victim titled the "Girl of Qatif" was sentenced for a second time after voicing her displeasure with the treatment she received by Saudi courts; the punishment was doled out in lashes, per Saudi Arabia's Islamic legal interpretation, in addition to prison time[95]. In addition, marital rape - an act largely unclassified as a crime in much of the the world's countries - is an issue in Saudi Arabia, with 93% of polled women reporting such problems in a 2007 survey[96]. For these reasons, rape may be reported at levels significantly less than they actually occur in Saudi Arabia.
Human trafficking. Main origin countries of trafficked people (red) and destination countries for trafficked people (blue).
Human trafficking. Main origin countries of trafficked people (red) and destination countries for trafficked people (blue).
Saudi Arabia is regarded as a hub for human trafficking within the Afro-Asian sphere[97]. South Asians and Southeast Asians voluntarily move from their homes to Saudi Arabia looking for employment, while others from the same regions as well as the African continent and other Arab states are moved involuntarily to Saudi Arabia for participation in practices comparable to slavery, including sex slavery[98]. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi Arabia "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking [of humans]", which greatly complicates its legal grounds due to a serious lack of reporting of the crime[99].
In addition to Saudi Arabia's lack of legal regard for human trafficking is the state's procedure in dealing with crimes committed by both illegal and foreign workers. The method in which the Saudi courts deal with crimes - particularly capital crimes - committed by foreign workers in Saudi Arabia has been regarded as overly harsh, resulting in foreign workers receiving much harsher penalties (including the death penalty in comparison to Saudi nationals[100].

Punishment and Prisons

Corporal and capital punishment are used in enforcing Saudi law. The Saudi death sentence can be applied to cases including smuggling, armed robbery, homicide, acts of adultery and rape[101]. Apostasy from the state religion, Islam, is also a crime by Saudi standards and is punishable with the death sentence[102]. While capital punishment is usually put to use through beheading by sword or in some cases stoning - done in a public setting, at Deera Square in the capital city of Riyadh[103] - corporal punishments are issued with the use of a whip to inflict lashes upon the convicted criminal or criminals. Caning is also put to use as a punishment in Saudi Arabia for crimes including very mild forms of religious apostasy or misconduct and acts of "public misconduct"[104].
Saudi Arabia's rate of use for the death penalty has amounted in much criticism for the kingdom. According to Hands Off Cain, Saudi Arabia put capital punishment to use in its various forms at least one hundred times in 2008[105]. Saudi Arabia's policy policy of executing juvenile offenders is controversial, and places it among other states such as China and Iran which receive large amounts of international protest as a result of theur use of execution as a punishment against younger criminals[106].
Use of the death penalty. Nations marked blue do not enforce the death penalty, nations marked light yellow do not enforce the death penalty in peace time, nations marked dark yellow do not enforce the death penalty in practice while retaining it in penal code, nations marked brown enforce the death penalty. Saudi Arabia falls into the last category.
Use of the death penalty. Nations marked blue do not enforce the death penalty, nations marked light yellow do not enforce the death penalty in peace time, nations marked dark yellow do not enforce the death penalty in practice while retaining it in penal code, nations marked brown enforce the death penalty. Saudi Arabia falls into the last category.
In some cases, specific types of corporal punishments, including legal decisions which reflect Hammurabi's Law of "vengeful" physical harm such as the removal of a criminal's eye in return for his wounding of a person, are enforced by Saudi courts[107]. The convicted, a migrant worker, had wounded a Saudi citizen in a 2003 fight; instead of receiving a monetary compensation as the court orders in some assault cases, the victim demanded that Shari'ah law be put to use and the migrant worker was convicted through it[108].
Saudi Arabia's prison systems have incurred many pleas for reform from international organizations. According to the Library of Congress, overcrowding and mistreatment are common in Saudi prisons - as up to 200 prisoners would be asigned to one room without any bedding - and malnourishment is constant due to underfeeding of prison residents[109]. Medical treatment is not attended to properly, according to some prisoners, and the lack of activities for prisoners to spend time on has led to further criticism and shows a lack of focus on rehabilitation[110]. Terance D. Miethe and Hong Lu reported Saudi Arabia's imprisonment rates as 45 persons out of 1,000 persons in 2005 - a number considered low by the authors in comparison to other Muslim nations such as Lebanon and Iran[111].
While the Library of Congress states that violence is low among the prison population, authorities have been known to engage in physical violence against male prisoners including foreign citizens; Ron Jones, a non-Saudi who was convicted of executing a car bombing in Riyadh, reported constant physical abuse in order to extract his confession[112]. Allegations of torture have also risen from critics of the Saudi prison system: the Human Rights Watch issued a demand for reform upon the leak of a video which depicted Saudi prison guards effectively torturing and physically debilitating inmates[113].
While Saudi Arabia's apparent focus is on imprisonment as opposed to rehabilitation, special cases have been made for certain inmates. The kingdom's capture and convinction of al-Qaeda operatives led to its announcement that those specific criminals would be rehabilitated through a complex and well-developed program executed through the use of new prison facilities meant specifically for high-security prisoners[114].

See Also

External Links

Works Cited

  1. Central Intelligence Agency. 2009. The World Factbook, "Country Comparison: Area." Website accessed 10/11/2009,
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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun

Saudi Arabia
  1. Country in the Middle East, named after the Saud family. Official name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


See also

Simple English

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
المملكة العربية السعوديةsometimes also called "the land of the two holy mosques"
Official flag
National information
National motto: There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah (Arabic:لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله) (the Shahada)
National anthem: Aash Al Maleek
About the people
Official languages: Arabic
Population: (# of people)
  - Total: 25,192,720 (ranked 46)
  - Density: 11 per km²
Geography / Places
[[Image:|250px|none|country map]] Here is the country on a map.
Capital city: Riyadh
Largest city: Riyadh
  - Total: 2,149,690 (ranked 14)
Politics / Government
Established: 1932
Leaders: King
Economy / Money
(Name of money)
Saudi Riyal
International information
Time zone: +3
Telephone dialing code: +966
Internet domain: .sa

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Arabic: المملكة العربية السعودية,al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Saʻūdiyya) is mostly sunny Muslim country in the Middle East. Other religions are not allowed to practice. It is a kingdom headed by the Saudi royal family, also called the House of Saud. Much of the world's crude oil supply comes from Saudi Arabia. Because of this, the Saudi royal family is very wealthy.

Saudi Arabia has cities that are important to the Muslim religion. Many Muslims from around the world visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia to make a pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam. Other big cities are Riyadh and Jeddah and Dammam. The pilgrimage is called hajj in the Arabic language. Somebody who makes a pilgrimage to Mecca is called a hajj in the Arabic language. People who are not Muslim are not allowed to enter Mecca.

Saudi Arabia is home to the largest mass of sand on earth, known as the Rub-al Khali desert (Rub-al Khali means "empty quarter"). The temperature is very hot.

Most people speak the Arabic language. Many people from other countries work in Saudi Arabia. They are called expatriates or expats.

The countries of Yemen and Oman are south of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is west of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, and Jordan. All of these countries except Jordan and Iraq make the Arabian Peninsula.

The money, or currency is called the Saudi Riyal.

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rue:Саудьска Арабія

Citable sentences

Up to date as of December 04, 2010

Here are sentences from other pages on Arabic language, which are similar to those in the above article.

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