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1UpTravel - Geography Info and Facts of Countries : . - Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Geography and Facts

Location: Middle East, bordering the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, north of Yemen

Geographic coordinates: 25 00 N, 45 00 E

Map references: Middle East

total: 1,960,582 sq km
land: 1,960,582 sq km
water: 0 sq km

Area - comparative: slightly more than one-fifth the size of the US

Land boundaries:
total: 4,415 km
border countries: Iraq 814 km, Jordan 728 km, Kuwait 222 km, Oman 676 km, Qatar 60 km, UAE 457 km, Yemen 1,458 km

Coastline: 2,640 km

Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 18 nm
continental shelf: not specified
territorial sea: 12 nm

Climate: harsh, dry desert with great extremes of temperature

Terrain: mostly uninhabited, sandy desert

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m
highest point: Jabal Sawda' 3,133 m

Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold, copper

Land use:
arable land: 2%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 56%
forests and woodland: 1%
other: 41% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 4,350 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: frequent sand and dust storms

Environment - current issues: desertification; depletion of underground water resources; the lack of perennial rivers or permanent water bodies has prompted the development of extensive seawater desalination facilities; coastal pollution from oil spills

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements

Geography - note: extensive coastlines on Persian Gulf and Red Sea provide great leverage on shipping (especially crude oil) through Persian Gulf and Suez Canal

Saudi Arabia, monarchy in southwestern Asia, occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is bounded on the north by Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait; on the east by the Persian Gulf and Qatar; on the southeast by the United Arab Emirates and Oman; on the south by the Republic of Yemen; and on the west by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.

The country's borders with Yemen and the United Arab Emirates are not precisely defined. Saudi Arabia has an area of about 2,240,000 sq km (about 864,900 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Riyadh.

Extreme heat and aridity are characteristic of most of Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Peninsula is one of the few places in the world where summer temperatures above 48 C (120 F) are common, while in winter frost or snow can occur in the interior and the higher mountains. Precipitation is sparse throughout the country.

Annual rainfall in Riyadh averages 100 mm (4 in) and falls almost exclusively between January and May; the average in Jiddah is 61 mm (2.4 in) and occurs between November and January. Because of the general aridity, Saudi Arabia has no permanent rivers or lakes.

Saudi Arabia is a large Middle Eastern nation that ranks as one of the world's leading producers of petroleum.

Much of the country consists of vast deserts where few people live and little or nothing grows.

But beneath the sand and rock of Saudi Arabia lie some of the largest petroleum deposits in the world.

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.

Saudi Arabia


Size: Estimates vary between 2,149,690 and 2,240,000 square kilometers.

Boundaries: Most land boundaries not demarcated, some not defined; twelve nautical miles territorial limit.

Topography: No rivers or permanent bodies of water. Highest peak 3,133 meters.

Climate: Hot desert climate except for Asir Province; coastal cities subject to high humidity.

Data as of December 1992

Saudi Arabia

The Society and Its Environoment

SAUDI ARABIA IN THE 1990s was a society of contrasts. After three decades of intense modernization, the country's urban infrastructure was highly developed and technologically sophisticated. Excellent hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, and universities offered free medical care and education to Saudi citizens. Shopping malls displayed Paris fashions; supermarkets sold vegetables flown in from the Netherlands; restaurants offered Tex-Mex, Chinese, or haute cuisine; and amusement centers with separate hours for male and female patrons dotted the urban landscape. Suburban neighborhoods with single-family houses and swimming pools hidden behind high walls ringed commercial districts, and satellite communications made a telephone call from Riyadh to New York as fast and as clear as a call to New York from Connecticut.

Massive oil revenues had brought undreamed-of wealth to the kingdom. Affluence, however, proved a two-edged sword. The dilemma that Saudis faced in the 1990s was to preserve their cultural and religious heritage while realizing the advantages that such wealth might bring. The regime sought to acquire Western technology while maintaining those values that were central to Saudi society.

It was not an easy quest. The country has its roots in the Wahhabism , an eighteenth-century reform movement that called for a return to the purity and simplicity of the early Islamic community. It was the alliance between the Wahhabi religious reformers and the House of Saud (Al Saud) that provided the Arabs of the peninsula with a new and compelling focus for their loyalties and helped to forge the unification of the peninsula under the leadership of Abd al Aziz ibn Abd ar Rahman Al Saud.

The kingdom was rooted in religion-based conservatism stemming from the Wahhabi reform movement. The strength of conservative opinion grew even as the pace of economic change increased. Religious conservatives and modernizers disagreed on what kinds of technology might be used appropriately and how best to use the kingdom's vast wealth. The dichotomy between the two was at the heart of much of the country's political affairs. There was, nonetheless, unanimous accord that Saudi Arabia's modernization--whatever form it might take--reflect its Islamic values.

Massive urbanization and the altered economic situation have fueled both the forces of change and conservatism. Urbanization brought with it new social groups--students, technical experts, and a vast corps of foreign workers among them. The government has made every effort to insulate the population from the influence of the foreign community; the task grew more difficult as the number of non-Saudis in the work force increased. Expansion of educational and economic opportunities polarized those who had pursued secular studies and those who had pursued religious studies.

Although Saudi Arabia stood with one foot firmly placed among the most highly developed nations of the world, the other foot remained in the Third World. Almost one-third of the population lived in rural areas very distant from developed urban centers, some living as nomadic and seminomadic herdsmen, and some as oasis agricultural workers. Other families were divided, caught between the devaluation of local products and the rising cost of living that accompanied development. Men went to distant towns to work as drivers, laborers, or soldiers in the Saudi Arabian National Guard, and women were left to tend family plots and livestock and raise children. Medical care and schooling were available to much of the population but were often located far from rural areas. For many rural people, lack of knowledge, a lack of incentive, illiteracy, physical distance, and bureaucratic obstacles limited access to the resources of Saudi Arabia's burgeoning society.

Saudi Arabia's population also presented a picture of cultural contrasts. On the one hand, Saudi people felt a strong, almost tangible conviction in the rightness of trying to live one's life according to God's laws as revealed through the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, the interpretation of what it meant to live according to God's laws had assumed different meanings to different groups of people: some wished to adjust traditional values to the circumstances of the present; others wished to adjust the circumstances of the present to traditional values. In no aspect of Saudi society was this tension more manifest than in the question of the role of women. The conservative view favored complete separation of women from men in public life, with the education of women devoted to domestic skills, whereas the liberal view sought to transform "separation values" into "modesty values," allowing the expansion of women's opportunities in work and education.

Politically, the early 1990s saw unprecedented expressions of political dissidence born of the economic imbalances and shifting social boundaries produced by the development process. In petitions to the king for reform in the political system and political sermons in the mosques, Saudis have sought representation in government decision making. They have begun to ask who should control the fruits of oil production, who should decide the allocation of resources, and whose version of the just society should be rendered into law? But among opposition voices there was another contrast: some demanded representation to ensure that the governing system would enforce sharia (Islamic law), whereas others demanded representation to ensure protection for the individual from arbitrary religious or political judgments.

The Persian Gulf War of 1991 has exacerbated these contrasts: as Saudi Arabia becomes more dependent on the United States militarily, the need to assert cultural independence from the West becomes proportionately greater. As Saudi Arabia abandons traditional alliances in the Arab world in favor of closer ties with the West, the need to assert its leadership as a Muslim nation among the Muslim nations of the world becomes greater. In the early 1990s, tradition and Westernization coexisted in uneasy balance in Saudi Arabian society.

Data as of December 1992



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