Saudi Arabia (SA)

Capital

Riyadh

Population

32 million

Constitution

Absolute monarchy and advisory Shura Council

Head of state

H.M King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques

National day

September 23rd

Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the UK

HRH H.E Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud

Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 30 Charles Street, London, W1J 5DZ

UK's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

H.E Mr Neil Crompton

British Embassy Riyadh, PO Box 94351, 11693 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia occupies most of the Arab peninsula. To its north, the Kingdom borders Jordan and Iraq. To the northeast lies Kuwait, and to its east the Persian Gulf, Qatar and the UAE. Oman and war-torn Yemen border Saudi Arabia to the south. The Kingdom is mostly arid desert. Its natural resources are oil, natural gas and metals such as gold and copper. 

Population

Approximately 80% of land is agricultural but just 1.5% of it is arable. Most economic activity and most of the population is located in the central part of the country.  

The population of the country is approximately 34 million people. The two main ethnic groups in the country are Arabs (90% of the population) with Afro-Asians making up the remainder. There is also a sizeable migrant worker population. Religious groups in the kingdom are overwhelmingly Muslim, with 85-90% being Sunni and the remainder Shia. 

Government

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. There are 13 administrative divisions. The country’s constitution is contained in the Basic Law of Government which is issued by royal decree and is based on Islamic principles, outlining the duties which the ruler of the Kingdom must fulfil. Any amendments come from the King or are proposed by the Consultative Assembly or Council of Ministers.  

Law in Saudi Arabia is a mixture of Sharia law with aspects of Egyptian and French law. There are various other codes that deal with specific kinds of legal affairs. The King is both the chief of state and head of government. The King also appoints ministers on a 4-year basis. 

The legislative is the Consultative Council, which is comprised of 150 representatives appointed by the monarch on 4-year terms.  

History 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia united into its current form in September of 1932. The first king was King Abdulaziz whose reign would be transformed by the discovery of oil in the Kingdom in 1938. This discovery would lead to the rise of the American-controlled Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), which would, over the decades, gradually witness Saudi's increased share in the company, until 1980 when the Kingdom was able to own the organisation outright and take full control.

King Abdulaziz was succeeded by Crown Prince Saud whose reign would see important moments in the development of the modern Kingdom, including its primary role in founding the oil producers organisation, OPEC. However, there were also two main political struggles that preoccupied the reign of King Saud; externally, an increasingly assertive Arab Nationalist movement which was being spearheaded by President Nasser of Egypt. His other challenge was an internal one: a power struggle with his brother Faisal which would eventually see him deposed in 1964. 

Assassination, the Mecca crisis and birth of the GCC

In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew. He was succeeded by his brother Khalid, who ruled for seven years before his own death in 1982. This again was a mixed period of challenge and success for the Kingdom, with the 1979 shock seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca by extremists softly followed by the Iranian Revolution emphasising the need for greater collaboration among Gulf states. This need for unity in the region led to economic and security union in the form of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981. 

After King Khalid’s death, King Fahd (Khalid’s brother) succeeded to the throne. His reign saw a number of internal governmental innovations, including the introduction of the “Basic System of Government” (which outlined the responsibilities of the ruler in the Kingdom) and also the creation of the Consultative Council as a form of legislature. Again, intense regional dynamics continued to shape the modernising state as did internal ones. Huge resources and strategic importance as well as the destabilising factors of both Gulf wars, the 9/11  attacks, domestic Jihadist attacks and calls for internal reform all helped shape the turbulent history of Saudi Arabia as it entered the 21st century.  

Greater roles for women

In 2005, the Kingdom had a new king, Abdullah, following the death of King Fahd. King Abdullah’s main internal tests came when trying to reform the more conservative parts of the Saudi religious establishment. This tied in with gradually increasing the rate at which Saudi women were given some of the rights as their male counterparts.

In recent years, women have been given more freedom and greater opportunities in the governing of the Kingdom. Women can drive and participate in sports from boxing to football and athletics. They  can now travel abroad unchaperoned, register a divorce and apply for official documents without the permission of a male guardian. Saudi women are ambassadors, high ranking military officers and representatives of the Kingdom's advisory Shura Council.

King Salman and MbS

In January 2015 King Abdullah died leaving King Salman as ruler of the Kingdom. Two-months later, a Saudi-led coalition launched strikes on targets in Yemen following a Houthi takeover of government, which many believed to have been covertly supported by Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival. This war continues to this day and, aside from the violence of war, has led to a huge humanitarian crisis for the people of Yemen.

Throughout his reign, King Salman has been grooming his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (now often known as MbS), for the future leadership of the Kingdom. An increasingly powerful Crown Prince was given unprecedented responsibility for shaping the strategic priorities of the Kingdom. This is mostly vividly articulated in MbS's Vision 2030 strategy, designed to place Saudi Arabia among the most sophisticated of nation states across all sectors by 2030 and to hasten the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s economy away from its reliance on oil.   

Religion 

Saudi Arabia is a country intrinsically associated with Islam. It is both the birthplace of the religion and home to its two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. Every year, it welcomes Muslims from across the globe who come to perform Hajj, the pilgrimage that all Muslims - those who are physically and materially able to -  must complete.

Modern day Saudi Islam is majority Sunni. The particular interpretation of Sunni Islam that is most present is the Wahhabi form, a conservative interpretation that gets its name from the 18th century Islamic scholar Mohammed ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. 

There is also a Shia minority in Saudi Arabia that comprises roughly 10% of the population. This community has on occasion been a flashpoint for domestic tension in the country, perhaps most recently after protests over the execution of the prominent Saudi Shia scholar Nimr al-Nimr. 

Minority religions in the country are found in the various migrant communities, as is the case in many Gulf countries.  

Culture

Saudi culture centres around Arab-Islamic culture. The country’s conservative interpretation of Islam leaves a significant cultural mark, although in recent years Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has been making international headlines by easing previously strict laws around cultural life in the country. This included the 2018 lifting of a ban on cinemas and on women driving. 

Those watching Saudi culture should expect significant developments in forthcoming years. Strong traditions of Bedouin, Arab and Islamic life will remain central to the Saudi identity. A key ambition at the heart of Vision 2030 is to carefully modernise this heritage into one that also accommodates and increases the awareness and openness of younger generations to international culture and education. 

Economy and Vision 2030

The Saudi economy is still overwhelmingly based on its oil output. It is the world's largest oil exporter and owns approximately 16% of global oil reserves. Climate change and economic necessity have combined to convince the country that it needs to diversify its economy and society, which it now hopes to realise through Vision 2030. There is now a major drive to diversity the economy. This not only applies to the economy’s current reliance on oil, but also on migrant workers.

Current efforts are aimed at the provision of  jobs for Saudi Arabia’s young population and to increase the country's own self-reliance. This is seeing major investments in relatively new industries in the Kingdom, including opening up tourism, something which had previously only really existed for religious pilgrims. Notable examples of diversification include the 2016 announcement that state-owned Saudi Aramco would take the hitherto unprecedented move of listing some of its shares to allow external investors to buy them. 

GDP per capita is estimated to be around $54,500. Primary industries include oil, cement, ship and aircraft repair and booming construction sectors. Unemployment stands at around 6%.

Key dates

1000 BC
The Arab Peninsula is populated by nomadic Arabs. Their lives improve around 1000 BC when they develop a way of saddling camels, to enable the transportation of large loads, and trade
570 AD
MUHAMMAD: The Prophet Muhammad is born to the Quraysh tribe in Mecca, ending what Muslims refer to as the Jahiliya, or The Time of Ignorance
610 AD
QUR'ANIC REVELATION: The beginning of Muslims believe that the Qur'anic Revelation was made to Muhammad in the Cave of the Hira on the Jabal an-Nour, the Mountain of Light near Mecca
613 AD
After secretly gathering his first followers, Muhammad starts spreading the message of iIslam openly to all Meccans
622 AD
THE HIJRA: Muhammad embarks on his flight, or Hijra, to Medina
630 AD
CONQUEST OF MECCA: Conquest of Mecca follows treaty between the Quraysh and Muslims in Medina
632 AD
DEATH OF MUHAMMAD: Muhammad dies after uniting almost all Arabian tribes and is succeeded by Abu Bakr, the first Caliph
622 - 750 AD
SPREAD OF ISLAM: Islam spreads rapidly under first the Rashidun caliphs and then the Umayyads, and by 750 stretches from Iran to the Pyrenees
900s to 1517
The Hashemite Sharifs of the Hejaz are in control but come under the suzerainty of a series of empires , including the Abbasids and Mamluks
1517
Ottomans acquire Medina and Mecca and, during the following decades, annex the Hejaz and Sir regions and the al-Hasaa region on the Persian Gulf in what would become Saudi Arabia
1744
RISE OF THE HOUSE OF SAUD: Muhammad bin Saud, tribal ruler of the town of Diriyah, joins forces with the religious leader, Muhammad ibn And al-Wahhab
1744
FIRST SAUDI STATE:The First Saudi State is established in area around Riyadh and through a series of conquests annex most of what is now Saudi Arabia, including the 2 holy cities
1818
Egypt -based Ottoman viceroy, Mohammed Ali Pasha, reconquers the area and destroys the power of Al Saud
1824
SECOND SAUDI STATE: Al Saud returns to power, but area of control is restricted to the central Saudi heartland of Najd
1902
Ibn Saud seizes Riyadh
1912
The Ikhwan (Brotherhood) is founded baseded on strict Wahhabi Sunni Islam, and provide ibn Saud with key support
1919 - 1920
Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, a defeated belligerent in the First World War
Sept' 1932
THE RISE OF KING ADULAZIZ: Ibn Saud unites his lands as Saudi Arabia and becomes King Abdulaziz
1938
Oil is discovered in Saudi Arabia and production starts under the US-controlled Aramco (the Arab American Oil Company)
Nov' 1953
King Abdulaziz dies and is succeeded by Crown Prince Saud, whose reign is marked by a power struggle with his brother Faisal at home and rivalry with Arab Nationalist Egypt
1960
Saudi Arabia is a founding member of OPEC, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries)
Nov' 1964
King Saud is deposed by his brother Faisal
1972
Saudi Arabia gains control of 20% of Aramco, gradually lessening US control over Saudi oil
1973
Saudi Arabia leads an oil boycott against the Western countries that supported Israel in the October so-called Yom Kippur War. Oil prices quadruple
March 1975
King Faisal is assassinated by his nephew and is succeeded by his brother Khalid
1979
Extremists seize the Grand Mosque of Mecca. The government regains control after 10 days and the captured militant are executed
1980
Saudi Arabia takes full control of Aramco from the US
May 1981
Saudi Arabia becomes a founding member of the new economic and political union, the Gulf Cooperation Council
June 1982
King Khalid dies and is succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Fahd
1986
King Fahd adds the title "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques" to his name
1987
Saudi Arabia resumes diplomatic relations with Egypt, severed since 1979
1990
Saudi Arabia condemns Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and calls on the US to intervene
1990 - 1991
Saudi Arabia participates in both US-led air and land attacks on Iraq during the liberation of Kuwait
March 1992
King Fahd proposes establishment of a consultative council, the Majlis al-Shura
Dec' 1993
The Consultative Council is established. It is composed of a chairman and its 60 members are all appointed by the King. 3 years later thei number is increased to 90
1994
Saudi Arabia strips Osama bin Laden of al-Qaeda of his citizenship
Oct' 1999
20 Saudi women attend the Consultative Council for the first time
Sept' 2001
9/11 ATTACKS: 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks of September 11th on Nw York and Washington are Saudi nationals
Dec' 2001
Government issues ID cards to women for the first time
May 2002
Revised criminal code includes right of suspects to legal representation and a ban on torture
Nov' 2003
King grants wider powers to Consultative Council, enabling it to propose legislation without his permission
Feb' 2004
Stampede at the Hajj pilgrimage leaves 251 people dead
Feb' - April 2005
First-ever nationwide municipal elections. Women do not take part
Aug' 2005
King Fahd dies and is succeeded by Crown Prince Abdullah
Nov' 2005
Saudi Arabia joins World Trade Organisation
Jan' 2006
363 Hajj pilgrims are killed in a crush during a stone-throwing ritual in Mecca. Another 70 dies when a hostel collapses
July 2007
Religious police are banned from detaining suspects
Feb' 2009
King Abdullah sacks head of religious police, most senior judge and head of the central bank in a rare government clear-out
2009
King Abdullah appoints first woman minister
Oct' 2009
The US announces it will will $60 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, the biggest arms deal in history
March 2011
ARAB SPRING: Saudi troops participate in crackdown on unrest in neighbouring Bahrain
Sept 2011
King Abdullah announces more rights for women, including the right to vote and run in local elections
June 2012
The Kingdom allows its woman athletes to compete in the Olympics for the first time
Sept' 2014
Saudi Arabi is one of 5 Arab states to participate with the US in airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria
Jan' 2015
King Abdullah dies and is replaced by King Salman
March 2015
Saudi-led coalition start campaign of airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen
May 2015
The Saudi branch of Islamic State claim responsibility for the suicide bombing of 2 Shia mosques in Eastern Province which kill 25 people
Sept' 2015
109 people are killed in Mecca when a a crane collapses at the Grand Mosque and 100s more die in a stampede near Mecca during annual Hajj
Nov' 2015
Women stand in local elections for the first time and 20 are elected
April 2016
VISION 2030: Government announces far-reaching strategy to diversify the economy away from oil
Feb' 2020
Women are appointed to head the Saudi Stock Exchange and a major bank
June 2017
Saudi Arabia and 3 other Arab nations sever diplomatic relations with Qatar which they accuse of supporting terrorism and initiate a land, sea and air boycott against Doha
June 2017
ASCENT OF MbS: King Salman appoints his son, Mohammed bin Salman as Crown Prince and gives him central role in governing the Kingdom
Sept' 2017
Ban on women driving is formally lifted
Nov' 2017
Crown Prince MbS instigate clear-out of political and business leaders
Oct' 2018
International outcry over the the killing of emigre Saudi reporter in Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A subsequent trial in which 8 are convicted of the murder is criticised by UN Special Rapporteur
Sept' 2019
2 significant Saudi oil refineries are damaged in air attacks claimed by Houthi militants. Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and the countries blame Iran
January 2021
In talks brokered by Kuwait and the US, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region reach agreement with Qatar and end doha's ostracisation
Oct' 2021
VISION 2030 AND CARBON NEUTRALITY BY 2060: Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman announces that KSA plans to be carbon neutral by 2060 in advance of COP26 climate change conference, & announces a series of measures aimed at diversifying & de-carbonising economy

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