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
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
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
lowest point: Persian Gulf 0 m
highest point: Jabal Sawda' 3,133 m
Natural resources: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, gold,
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
Size: Estimates vary between 2,149,690 and 2,240,000
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
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