Where Saudi Arabia is on the world map
Map of Saudi Arabia with cities. Where Saudi Arabia is on the world map. The main geographical facts about Saudi Arabia - population, country area, capital, official language, religions, industry and culture
Saudi Arabia Fact File
Official name Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Form of government Monarchy with advisory Consultative Council
Capital Ar Riyadh (Riyadh)
Area 1,960,582 sq km (756,981 sq miles)
Time zone GMT + 3 hours
Projected population 2015 31,748,000
Population density 12 per sq km (31.1 per sq mile)
Life expectancy 68.4
Infant mortality (per 1,000) 49.6
Official language Arabic
Other language English
Literacy rate 78%
Ethnic groups Arab 90%, mixed African-Asian 10%
Religions Sunni Muslim 85% Muslim 15%
Currency Saudi riyal
Economy Agriculture 49%, services 37%, industry 14%
GNP per capita US$ 10,600
Climate Mainly hot and arid; some areas rainless for years
Highest point jabal Sawda' 3,1 33 m (10,279 ft)
Map reference Pages 220-21
Saudi Arabia occupies the majority of the Arabian Peninsula and covers an area about the size of western Europe. With one-quarter of the world's petroleum reserves, it supplies several major industrial nations with oil. Its role as the custodian of Islam's most holy places, Mecca (Makkah) and Medina (Al Madlnah), is an equally important feature of this country. Aloof from international affairs for many years, Saudis steeled themselves to fight Iraq (which they had earlier supported) in 1990-91. The 500,000 Western troops who entered the country (considered by many to be a profanation of Muslim land) were seen by Saudis as both necessary and unwelcome. The war highlighted tensions in a society which remains largely feudal in terms of politics (192 people were beheaded in 1995), yet because of its oil cannot entirely escape the influence of the modern world.
Mecca was Muhammad's birth-place (c. 570) and Medina (al Madinah) the place where Islam was born. In the eighteenth century the Sa'ud Bedouins adopted a severe branch of Islam—the Wahhabi Movement. With its austere criminal code, this was established by the Saudis throughout their country early in the twentieth century. During the 1930s most Saudis were still living traditional desert lives, but this changed dramatically when oil was found near Riyadh in 1937. The lavish spending for which the royal family was known in the 1960s and 1970s ended with the sharp drop in oil prices of the 1980s. This is now starting to have effects on society as a whole. People who were content to live under absolute monarchic rule with prodigious benefits may now increasingly be questioning the balance of power. Per capita income fell from $17,000 in 1981 to $10,600 in 2002.
A range of mountains extends northwest to southeast, parallel to the Red Sea, arising to ЗДЗЗ m (10,279 ft) at Jabal Sawda in the southwest, which is Saudi Arabia's highest peak. The Asir Highlands in this southwestern corner is the only region that receives reliable rainfall. Benefiting from the monsoon, the slopes are terraced to grow grain and fruit trees. Further east, separated from the mountains by a wide stretch of basaltic lava, is the high central desert plateau of Najd. The eastern border of this region is a vast arc of sandy desert, broadening into the two dune-wastes of Arabia: An Nafud in the north, and Ar Rub' al Khali, or "Empty Quarter", to the south—the latter being the world's largest expanse of sand. Some Bedouin nomads still live here as traders and herdsmen. Over 95 percent of Saudi Arabia is arid or semiarid desert.
Petroleum accounts for 75 percent of budget revenue, 35 percent of gross domestic product, and ninety percent of export earnings. Saudi Arabia has the largest known reserves of petroleum in the world (26 percent of the proven total), is the single largest exporter of petroleum, and has taken full advantage of this by developing world-class associated industries. For more than a decade, however, expenditures have outstripped income. The government plans to restrain public spending and encourage more non-oil exports. As many as 4 million foreign workers are employed in Saudi Arabia, and the 2 million pilgrims who come to make the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca each year also contribute largely to national income.
Pilgrims in Mecca (left). Saudis at a market wearing traditional dress (above). A Yemeni desert town (right page).