With the opening up of the Kingdom, gentle winds of change are ushering in a wave of progress and transparency, making it more business friendly in all spheres.
With greater socio-economic diversification, Saudi Arabia is becoming increasingly accessible, attracting more global attention and developing a wider understanding about this country which has so much to offer. In reality, many commonly held ideas about this Middle Eastern homeland are misconceptions. For instance, geographically, the nation’s diversity surprises travellers with its mountain peaks, lush oases, pristine deserts, natural coral reefs and beaches. Whilst socio-economically, this regional powerhouse is an intricate mix of the old and the new, it is rapidly evolving as a viable template for the modern Islamic state of today.
Welcome to the largest Arab country of the Middle East, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Bordered by Jordan and Iraq on the north/northeast and Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain as well as the United Arab Emirates on the east, it neighbours Oman on the southeast and Yemen on the south. With the Arabian Gulf to the northeast and the Red Sea to the west, it has an estimated population of 28 million, with a size of roughly 2,149,690 square kilometres.
Saudi Arabia, is also known as ‘The Land of the Two Holy Mosques’ thanks to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam to be found there, the two mosques are: Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca) and Masjid Al-Nabawi (in Medina). Even though its national origins date back to 1744 with the establishment of the First Saudi State, this current Islamic monarchy was founded by Abdul-Aziz bin Saud in 1902 after capturing the Al-Saud’s ancestral home of Riyadh, and culminated in 1932 with the proclamation and recognition of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s geography is varied. From the sultry western coastal Tihamah region on the Red Sea, the land ascends towards a peninsula-long mountain range Jabal al- Hejaz that leads to the Nejd plateau in the middle. The southwestern ‘Asir area boast peaks as high as 3,000 m (9,843 ft) and is famous for its green environment and fresh climate, attracting Saudis to resorts such as Abha during the summer. The rocky lowland to the east leads to the shores of the Arabian Gulf. Whilst the famous Rub’ al Khali, ‘Empty Quarter’, desert along the country’s porous southern borders contains sparse life. Less than two percent of the kingdom’s total area is arable land and the populated areas are to be found along the eastern and western coasts and densely populated interior oases such as Buraydah and Hofuf. Vast tracts of land, mainly the Rub’ al-Khali and Arabian Desert, are empty with no population whatsoever. Nevertheless, the petroleum industry has built integrated communities to support the oil and gas industry. Saudi Arabia has no year-round rivers or lakes; however, its coastline stretches for 2,640 km (1,640 miles) and along the Red Sea, harbours splendid coral reefs, including the Gulf of Aqaba.
Named after the ruling Al Saud family that came to power in the 18th century, the country includes the Hijaz region - the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the fulcrum of Islam.
The country was established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz - known as the Lion of Najd, and united the country under his family’s rule. Since his death in 1953, he has been succeeded by various sons. The Al Saud dynasty’s succession of kings have all concentrated on modernisation and strengthening the country’s role as a regional power. Its international role has been most prominent as a founder member the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) a permanent, intergovernmental Organization, created at the Baghdad Conference on September 10–14, 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The five Founding Members were later joined by nine other members.
Saudi Arabia’s population as provided by the OPEC Annual Statistical Bulletin in 2009 was 25.4 million people including an estimated 5.5 million resident foreigners. Until the Sixties, a nomadic population prevailed; however nowadays over 95 percent is settled, thanks to the nation’s swift economic growth and urbanisation. While the birth rate of 29.56 births per 1,000 people is high relative to many other countries this brings advantages in having a youthful workforce and potential for sustainable economic growth going forward.
King Abdullah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz Al Saud is the most senior member of the Al Saud dynasty that has ruled the nation since its foundation. King Abdullah succeeded the late King Fahd, his brother, in August 2005.
A statesman of global stature, who is nevertheless still attuned to the traditional tribal way of life, he favours reforms which are balanced with a respect for Saudi traditions. The kingdom has embarked on an $800 billion investment program running from 2008 to 2014 that could help create jobs and provide opportunities here which will give young Saudis a prosperous future.
Saudi Arabia is a peace loving country and one of the largest contributors of development aid globally, both with regards to volume of aid and in terms of the ratio of aid volume to GDP. Much of financial assistance goes to poorer Islamic countries or Islamic communities in non-Islamic nations. This sense of fairness extends to its philosophy regarding oil production and pricing and Saudi Arabia plays a moderating force balancing pricing that will allow for continued investment in the oil industry and continued global growth.
Photos Courtesy of Fahad Bahada and Husain Al Ahdal