The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya, المملكة العربية السعودية, also Saudi Arabia or KSA) is a large country on the Arabian Peninsula. Ruled by The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the country is one of the few absolute monarchies left in the world. Shari'a (Islamic jurisprudence) is the official law of the Kingdom. The Kingdom was first declared on 8 January 1926 by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, and was brought together on 22 September 1932.
Saudi Arabia's 2007 population was estimated to be about 27.6 million, including about 5.6 million resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic or seminomadic; due to rapid economic and urban growth, more than 95% of the population now is settled. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer (2,600 per sq. mi). Saudi Arabia has undergone a population boom of sorts in the last few decades.
Saudi Arabia is known as the birthplace of Islam, which in the century following Muhammad's death in 632 A.D. spread west to Spain and east to India. Islam obliges all Muslims to make the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once during their lifetime if they are able to do so. The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative; the country adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic religious law (Shari'a). Cultural presentations must conform to narrowly defined standards of ethics. Men and women are not permitted to attend public events together and are segregated in the work place.
Most Saudis are ethnically Arab. Some are of mixed ethnic origin and are descended from Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, Africans, and others, most of whom immigrated as pilgrims and reside in the Hijaz region along the Red Sea coast. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There also are significant numbers of Asian expatriates mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are less than 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia.
The central institution of Saudi Arabian Government is the monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud, and that the Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a). There are no political parties or national elections; however, the country held its first municipal elections in 2005. The king's powers are limited because he must observe the Shari'a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the numerous Saudi royal family, religious leaders (ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society. The leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.
Saudi kings gradually have developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by and responsible to the king, has advised on the formulation of general policy and directed the activities of the growing bureaucracy. This council consists of a prime minister, the first and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense also is the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major autonomous organizations.
Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers and the Shura Council, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'a. Justice is administered according to the Shari'a by a system of religious courts whose judges are appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Supreme Judicial Council, composed of 12 senior jurists. The independence of the judiciary is protected by law. The king acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon. Access to high officials (usually at a majlis, or public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established traditions.
The kingdom is divided into 13 provinces governed by princes or close relatives of the royal family. All governors are appointed by the King.
In March 1992, King Fahd issued several decrees outlining the basic statutes of government and codifying for the first time procedures concerning the royal succession. The King's political reform program also provided for the establishment of a national Consultative Council, with appointed members having advisory powers to review and give advice on issues of public interest. It also outlined a framework for councils at the provincial or emirate level.
In September 1993, King Fahd issued additional reform decrees, appointing the members of the national Consultative Council and spelling out procedures for the new council's operations. He announced reforms regarding the Council of Ministers, including term limitations of 4 years and regulations to prohibit conflict of interest for ministers and other high-level officials. The members of 13 provincial councils and the councils' operating regulations also were announced in September 1993. In February, March, and April 2005, Saudis voted in the country's first municipal elections in more than 50 years. Women, and male members of the military, were not permitted to vote.
In July 1997, the membership of the Consultative Council was expanded from 60 to 90 members, and again in May 2001 from 90 to 120 members. In 2005, membership was expanded to 150 members. Membership has changed significantly during expansions of the council as many members have not been reappointed. The role of the council is gradually expanding as it gains experience.
In November 2006, King Abdallah announced the formation of an Allegiance Committee which, in the future, will select the Crown Prince.
Human rights issues
Despite close cooperation on security issues, the United States remains concerned about human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia. Principal human rights problems include abuse of prisoners and incommunicado detention; prohibitions or severe restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press, peaceful assembly and association, and religion; denial of the right of citizens to change their government; systematic discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities; and suppression of workers' rights.
They have strict laws that are punishable by beheading, such as sodomy convictions. If the criminal was convicted of lewd offenses, occasionally the Saudi's will crucify the victim in addition to head separation, in public. In 2008, 102 people were beheaded.
Saudi Arabia has strict gender segregation laws prohibiting women from holding jobs, meeting men other than their relatives, or living independently of a family of husband. These laws are enforced by an Islamic department of the police force, justified as measures to protect Islamic culture and morality.
As an Islamic country under strict Islamic law, Saudi Arabia has little of the religious freedom common in the west. Bringing a Bible or religious symbols such as a cross or a Star of David into the country will risk confiscation. Although Christianity is permitted, preaching to Muslims or attempting to convert them in public or private is a criminal offense, as is the production or distribution of Bibles.
Except for a few major cities and oases, the harsh climate historically prevented much settlement of the Arabian Peninsula. People of various cultures have lived in the peninsula over a span of more than 5,000 years. The Dilmun culture, along the Gulf coast, was contemporaneous with the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians, and most of the empires of the ancient world traded with the states of the peninsula.
The Saudi state began in central Arabia in about 1750. A local ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, joined forces with an Islamic reformer, Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. Over the next 150 years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula. The modern Saudi state was founded by the late King Abdul Aziz Al Saud (known internationally as Ibn Saud). In 1902, Abdul Aziz recaptured Riyadh, the Al Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, the rest of Nejd, and the Hijaz between 1913 and 1926. In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Boundaries with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait were established by a series of treaties negotiated in the 1920s, with two "neutral zones"--one with Iraq and the other with Kuwait--created. The Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone was administratively partitioned in 1971, with each state continuing to share the petroleum resources of the former zone equally. Tentative agreement on the partition of the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone was reached in 1981, and partition was finalized by 1983. The country's southern boundary with Yemen was partially defined by the 1934 Treaty of Taif, which ended a brief border war between the two states. A June 2000 treaty further delineated portions of the boundary with Yemen. The location and status of Saudi Arabia's boundary with the United Arab Emirates is not final; a de facto boundary reflects a 1974 agreement. The border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was resolved in March 2001. The border with Oman also is not demarcated.
King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud, who reigned for 11 years. In 1964, Saud abdicated in favor of his half-brother, Faisal, who had served as Foreign Minister. Because of fiscal difficulties, King Saud had been persuaded in 1958 to delegate direct conduct of Saudi Government affairs to Faisal as Prime Minister; Saud briefly regained control of the government in 1960-62. In October 1962, Faisal outlined a broad reform program, stressing economic development. Proclaimed King in 1964 by senior royal family members and religious leaders, Faisal also continued to serve as Prime Minister. This practice has been followed by subsequent kings.
The mid-1960s saw external pressures generated by Saudi-Egyptian differences over Yemen. When civil war broke out in 1962 between Yemeni royalists and republicans, Egyptian forces entered Yemen to support the new republican government, while Saudi Arabia backed the royalists. Tensions subsided only after 1967, when Egypt withdrew its troops from Yemen.
Saudi forces did not participate in the Six-Day (Arab-Israeli) War of June 1967, but the government later provided annual subsidies to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria to support their economies. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Saudi Arabia participated in the post war Arab oil boycott of the United States and Netherlands. A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia had joined other member countries in moderate oil price increases beginning in 1971. After the 1973 war, the price of oil rose substantially, dramatically increasing Saudi Arabia's wealth and political influence.
In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by a nephew, who was executed after an extensive investigation concluded that he acted alone. Faisal was succeeded by his half-brother Khalid as King and Prime Minister; their half-brother Prince Fahd was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Khalid empowered Crown Prince Fahd to oversee many aspects of the government's international and domestic affairs. Economic development continued rapidly under King Khalid, and the kingdom assumed a more influential role in regional politics and international economic and financial matters.
In June 1982, King Khalid died, and Fahd became King and Prime Minister in a smooth transition. Another half-brother, Prince Abdullah, Commander of the Saudi National Guard, was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Fahd's brother, Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, became Second Deputy Prime Minister. Under King Fahd, the Saudi economy adjusted to sharply lower oil revenues resulting from declining global oil prices. Saudi Arabia supported neutral shipping in the Gulf during periods of the Iran-Iraq war and aided Iraq's war-strained economy. King Fahd played a major part in bringing about the August 1988 cease-fire between Iraq and Iran and in organizing and strengthening the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six Arabian Gulf states dedicated to fostering regional economic cooperation and peaceful development.
In 1990-91, King Fahd played a key role before and during the Gulf war. King Fahd's action also consolidated the coalition of forces against Iraq and helped define the tone of the operation as a multilateral effort to reestablish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait. Acting as a rallying point and personal spokesman for the coalition, King Fahd helped bring together his nation's GCC allies, Western allies, and Arab allies, as well as nonaligned nations from Africa and the emerging democracies of eastern Europe. He used his influence as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to persuade other Arab and Islamic nations to join the coalition.
King Fahd suffered a stroke in November 1995. From 1997, Crown Prince Abdullah took on much of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the government. Upon King Fahd's death on August 1, 2005, Abdullah assumed the throne as King. Prince Sultan, Minister of Defense and Aviation, became Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister.
Notable Saudi Arabians
- Osama bin Laden
- Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud: ranked 11th richest person in the world by USAToday in 2002.
- Saudis Behead, Crucify Convicted Child Molester, Murderer AP, May 30, 2009
- Christian Examiner, Sept. 2007, Vol 25, No 9, Pg. 20
|License:||This work is in the Public Domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States Federal Government under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the U.S. Code|
|Source:||File available from the United States Federal Government.|