Saudi Arabia, officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), is an Arab state in Western Asia constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. With a land area of approximately 2,150,000 km2 (830,000 sq mi), Saudi Arabia is geographically the fifth-largest state in Asia and second-largest state in the Arab World after Algeria. Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast, and Yemen to the south. It is separated from Israel and Egypt by the Gulf of Aqaba. It is the only nation with both a Red Sea coast and a Persian Gulf coast, and most of its terrain consists of arid desert or barren landforms.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. He united the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia has since been an absolute monarchy, effectively a hereditary dictatorship governed along Islamic lines.
The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct regions. Saudi Arabia is sometimes called “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca), and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam. The state has a total population of 28.7 million, of which 20 million are Saudi nationals and 8 million are foreigners.The state’s official language is Arabic.
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. However, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (Islamic law) and the Quran, while the Quran and the Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country’s constitution. No political parties or national elections are permitted. Critics regard it as a totalitarian dictatorship.
In the absence of national elections and political parties, politics in Saudi Arabia takes place in two distinct arenas: within the royal family, the Al Saud, and between the royal family and the rest of Saudi society. Outside of the Al-Saud, participation in the political process is limited to a relatively small segment of the population and takes the form of the royal family consulting with the ulema (the body of Islamic religious leaders and jurists), tribal sheikhs and members of important commercial families on major decisions. This process is not reported by the Saudi media.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest percentages of military expenditure in the world, spending more than 10% of its GDP in its military. The Saudi military consists of the Royal Saudi Land Forces, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Navy, the Royal Saudi Air Defense, the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG, an independent military force), and paramilitary forces, totaling nearly 200,000 active-duty personnel.
Saudi Arabia’s command economy is petroleum-based; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. It is strongly dependent on foreign workers with about 80% of those employed in the private sector being non-Saudi.
Saudi Arabia encouraged desert agriculture by providing substantial subsidies as well as consuming 300 billion cubic meter of mostly non-renewable water reserves free of charge to grow alfalfa, cereals, meat and milk in the Arabian Desert. Consuming non-renewable groundwater resulted in the loss of an estimated four fifths of the total groundwater reserves by 2012.
Institutional capacity and governance in the sector are weak, reflecting general characteristics of the public sector in Saudi Arabia. Since 2000, the government has increasingly relied on the private sector to operate water and sanitation infrastructure, beginning with desalination and wastewater treatment plants. Since 2008, the operation of urban water distribution systems is being gradually delegated to private companies as well.
Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are suited to Saudi Arabia’s desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear a white ankle length garment woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by an agal) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by an agal) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. In public women are required to wear a black abaya or other black clothing that covers everything under the neck with the exception of their hands and feet, although most women cover their head in respect for their religion. This requirement applies to non-Muslim women too and failure to abide can result in police action, particularly in more conservative areas of the country. Women’s clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques.