|Background: In 1902 Abdul al-Aziz Ibn SAUD captured Riyadh and
set out on a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian peninsula. 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 soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. A burgeoning
population, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on
petroleum output and prices are all major governmental concerns.
Government type: monarchy
Currency: 1 Saudi riyal (SAR) = 100 halalah
Geography of Saudi Arabia
Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, north of
People of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's 2001 population is estimated to be about 22.7 million, including about 6.4 million resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic or seminomadic; due to rapid economic and urban growth, more than 95% of the population now is settled. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer (2,600 per sq. mi).
Saudi Arabia is known as the birthplace of Islam, which in the century following Muhammad's death in 632 A.D. spread west to Spain and east to India. Islam obliges all Muslims to make the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah, at least once during their lifetime if they are able to do so. The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative; the country adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic religious law (Shari'a). Cultural presentations must conform to narrowly defined standards of ethics. Men and women are not permitted to attend public events together and are segregated in the work place.
Most Saudis are ethnically Arab. Some are of mixed ethnic origin and are descended from Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, Africans, and others, most of whom immigrated as pilgrims and reside in the Hijaz region along the Red Sea coast. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There also are significant numbers of Asian expatriates mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are less than 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia.
SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State
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