Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia

(säo͞o`dē ərā`bēə, sou`–, sô–), officially Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, kingdom (2015 est. pop. 27,752,000), 829,995 sq mi (2,149,690 sq km), comprising most of the Arabian peninsula. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea; on the east by the Persian Gulf, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; on the south by Yemen and Oman; and on the north by Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia formerly shared a neutral zone with Iraq and another with Kuwait; both are now divided between the countries. RiyadhRiyadh
or Riad
, city (1997 est. pop. 3,000,000), capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia, in the Nejd, central Saudi Arabia. It is situated in an oasis, c.240 mi (390 km) inland from the Persian Gulf.
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 is the capital and largest city. See also ArabiaArabia
, peninsula (1991 est. pop. 35,000,000), c.1,000,000 sq mi (2,590,000 sq km), SW Asia. It is bordered on the W by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, on the S by the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, on the E by the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, and on the N by Iraq
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, HejazHejaz
or Hedjaz
, region, c.150,000 sq mi (388,500 sq km), NW Saudi Arabia, on the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea. Mecca is the chief city. Extending S to Asir, Hejaz is mainly a dissected highland region lying between the narrow, long coastal strip and the interior
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, and NejdNejd
or Najd
, region, central Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, the country's capital and major city, is located there. The Nejd is a vast plateau from 2,500 to 5,000 ft (762–1,524 m) high.
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The south and southeast of the country are occupied entirely by the great Rub al-Khali desert. Through the desert run largely undefined boundaries with Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition to the Rub al-Khali, Saudi Arabia has four major regions. The largest is the Nejd, a central plateau, which rises from c.2,000 ft (610 m) in the east to c.5,000 ft (1,520 m) in the west. Riyadh is located in the Nejd. The Hejaz stretches along the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aqaba south to Asir and is the site of the holy cities of MeccaMecca
or Makkah
, city (1993 pop. 966,381), capital of the Hejaz, W Saudi Arabia. The birthplace c.A.D. 570 of Muhammad the Prophet, it is the holiest city of Islam, and the goal of the annual Muslim hajj. It is c.
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 and MedinaMedina
, Arabic Medinat an-Nabi [city of the Prophet] or Madinat Rasul Allah [city of the apostle of Allah], city (1993 pop. 608,226), Hejaz, W Saudi Arabia. It is situated c.
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. Asir, extending south to the Yemen border, has a fertile coastal plain. Inland mountains in the Asir region rise to more than 9,000 ft (2,743 m). The Eastern Province extends along the Persian Gulf and is the oil region of the country. The oasis of Al-Hasa, located there, is probably the country's largest. Saudi Arabia's climate is generally hot and dry, although nights are cool, and frosts occur in winter. The humidity along the coasts is high.


The population of Saudi Arabia is about 90% Arab, with Asian and African minorities. The vast majority belong to the WahhabiWahhabi
or Wahabi
, reform movement in Islam, originating in Arabia; adherents of the movement usually refer to themselves as Muwahhidun [unitarians]. It was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab (c.
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 branch of Sunni Islam, although there is a small percentage of ShiitesShiites
[Arab., shiat Ali,=the party of Ali], the second largest branch of Islam, Shiites currently account for 10%–15% of all Muslims. Shiite Islam originated as a political movement supporting Ali (cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam) as the
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, mainly in the Eastern prov. Islam is the only officially recognized religion; other faiths are not publicly tolerated. A large proportion of the population are farmers in the Hejaz. Nomads and seminomads raise camels, sheep, goats, and horses. The large number of foreigners living in Saudi Arabia work in the oil industry, as computer technicians and consultants, and as construction and domestic workers. Arabic is spoken by almost everyone.


Because of the scarcity of water, agriculture had been restricted to Asir and to oases strung along the wadis, but irrigation projects relying on aquifers have been used to reclaim desert for agriculture, particularly at Al Kharj, southeast of Riyadh, and HofufHofuf
or Al Hufuf
, town (1993 pop. 225,847), E Saudi Arabia. Textile manufacturing, food processing, and Arabian horse breeding are important economic activities. It is also a trade center for dates, wheat, and fruit and has a large mosque.
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, in the eastern part of the country. Water also is obtained by desalinizing seawater. Agricultural products include barley, tomatoes, melons, dates, and citrus fruit; and livestock is raised. Manufacturing, which has also increased, produces chemicals, industrial gases, fertilizer, plastics, and metals. Minerals include iron ore, gold, copper, phosphate, bauxite, and uranium. There is also ship and aircraft repair. Saudi Arabia has a growing banking and financial-services sector, and the country is beginning to encourage tourism, especially along the Red Sea coast. Mecca, Medina, and the port of JiddaJidda
or Jedda
, city (1993 est. pop. 2,058,000), Hejaz, W Saudi Arabia, on the Red Sea. Jidda is the port of Mecca (c.45 mi/72 km to the east) and annually receives a huge influx of pilgrims, mainly from Africa, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
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 have derived much income from religious pilgrims; the annual hajjhajj
, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, one of the five basic requirements (arkan or "pillars") of Islam. Its annual observance corresponds to the major holy day id al-adha, itself a commemoration of Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son on Divine orders.
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 brings more than 2 million pilgrims to Mecca.

The oil industry, located in the northeast along the Persian Gulf, dominates the economy, comprising 90% of Saudi export earnings. Imports include machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, motor vehicles, and textiles. Major trading partners are the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, and Germany. Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1936, and the country is now the world's leading exporter. It contains about one quarter of the world's known reserves; 14 major oil fields exist. A huge petroleum industrial complex has been developed in the town of Al Jubayl, as well as at Yanbu on the Red Sea. There are refinery complexes at Ras Tanura and Ras Hafji on the Persian Gulf; oil also is shipped to Bahrain for refining. The oil boom after World War II led to the construction of the Al Dammam–Riyadh RR, the development of Al Dammam as a deepwater port, and, especially since the 1970s, the general modernization of the country. Saudi Arabia, like other oil-rich Persian Gulf countries, depends heavily upon foreign labor for its oil industry; workers are drawn from Arab countries as well as S and SE Asia.


Saudi Arabia is governed according to Islamic law. The Basic Law that articulates the government's rights and responsibilities was promulgated by royal decree in 1992. The monarch is both head of state and head of government. The unicameral legislature consists of the Consultative Council, which has 150 members and a chairman, all appointed by the monarch for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into thirteen provinces.


Origins of Saudi Arabia

As a political unit, Saudi Arabia is of relatively recent creation. Its origins lay with the puritanical Wahhabi movement (18th cent.), which gained the allegiance of the powerful Saud family of the Nejd, in central Arabia. Supported by a large Bedouin following, the Sauds brought most of the peninsula under their control, except for Yemen and the Hadhramaut in the extreme south. The Wahhabi movement was crushed (1811–18) by an Egyptian expedition under the sons of Muhammad AliMuhammad Ali,
1769?–1849, pasha of Egypt after 1805. He was a common soldier who rose to leadership by his military skill and political acumen. In 1799 he commanded a Turkish army in an unsuccessful attempt to drive Napoleon from Egypt.
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. After reviving in the mid-19th cent., the Wahhabis were defeated in 1891 by the Rashid dynasty, which gained effective control of central Arabia.

It was Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud, known as Ibn SaudIbn Saud
(Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud) , c.1880–1953, founder of Saudi Arabia and its first king. His family, with its regular seat at Riyadh in the Nejd, were the traditional leaders of the ultraorthodox Wahhabi movement in Islam.
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, a descendant of the first Wahhabi rulers, who laid the basis of the present Saudi Arabian state. Beginning the Wahhabi reconquest at the turn of the century, Ibn Saud took Riyadh in 1902 and was master of the Nejd by 1906. On the eve of World War I he conquered the Al-Hasa region from the Ottoman Turks and soon extended his control over other areas. He was then ready for the conquest of the Hejaz, ruled since 1916 by Husayn ibn AliHusayn ibn Ali
, 1856–1931, Arab political and religious leader. In 1908 he succeeded as grand sherif of Mecca and thus became ruler of the Hejaz under the Ottoman Empire.
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 of Mecca. The Hejaz fell to Saud in 1924–25 and in 1932 was combined with the Nejd to form the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, ruled under Islamic law. In much of the country, King Ibn Saud compelled the Bedouins to abandon traditional ways and encouraged their settlement as farmers.

Development of the Modern State

Oil was discovered in 1936 by the U.S.-owned Arabian Standard Oil Company, which later became the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). Commercial production began in 1938. Saudi Arabia is a charter member of the United Nations. It joined the Arab League in 1945, but it played only a minor role in the Arab wars with Israel in 1948, 1967, and 1973. An agreement with the United States in 1951 provided for an American air base at Dhahran, which was maintained until 1962. Ibn Saud died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, SaudSaud
(Saud bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud) , 1902–69, king of Saudi Arabia (1953–64), son of Ibn Saud, brother of Faisal. Saud, who had distinguished himself in several of his father's early campaigns, became viceroy of Nejd in 1926 and heir apparent in 1933.
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, who soon came to rely on his brother, Crown Prince Faisal (Faisal bin Abd al-Aziz al-SaudFaisal bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud
, 1905–75, king of Saudi Arabia (1964–75), son of Ibn Saud, brother of Saud. Faisal led several military campaigns in the making of Saudi Arabia. In 1958 he became premier and foreign minister in the cabinet of his brother, King Saud.
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), to administer financial and foreign affairs.

King Saud at first supported the NasserNasser, Gamal Abdal
, 1918–70, Egyptian army officer and political leader, first president of the republic of Egypt (1956–70). A revolutionary since youth, he was wounded by the police and expelled (1935) from secondary school in Cairo for leading an anti-British
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 regime in Egypt, but in 1956, in opposition to Nasser, he entered into close relations with the Hashemite rulers of Jordan and Iraq, until then the traditional enemies of the Saudis. He opposed the union in 1958 of Egypt and Syria as the United Arab Republic and became a bitter foe of Nasser's pan-Arabism and reform program. When, in Sept., 1962, pro-Nasser revolutionaries in neighboring Yemen deposed the new imam and declared a republic, King Saud, together with King Hussein of Jordan, dispatched aid to the royalist troops. The Saudi family deposed Saud, and Prince Faisal became king in Nov., 1964.

Relations with Egypt were severed in 1962, but after the defeat of Egypt by Israel in June, 1967, an agreement was concluded between King Faisal and President Nasser. According to the agreement, the Egyptian army was to withdraw from Yemen and Saudi Arabia was to cease aiding the Yemeni royalists. By 1970, Saudi Arabia had withdrawn all its troops, and relations with Yemen were resumed. Saudi Arabia also agreed to give $140 million a year to Egypt and Jordan, which had been devastated in the 1967 war with Israel. In view of Britain's withdrawal from the Persian Gulf area, King Faisal pursued a policy of friendship with Iran, while encouraging the Arab sheikhdoms that had been under British rule to form the United Arab EmiratesUnited Arab Emirates,
federation of sheikhdoms (2015 est. pop. 5,780,000), c.30,000 sq mi (77,700 sq km), SE Arabia, on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The federation, commonly known as the UAE, consists of seven sheikhdoms: Abu Dhabi (territorially the largest of the
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. King Faisal, however, maintained claims to the Buraimi oases, which were also claimed by the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi.

In 1972 the government of Saudi Arabia demanded tighter rein on its oil industry as well as participation in the oil concessions of foreign companies. Aramco (a conglomerate of several American oil companies) and the government reached an agreement in June, 1974, whereby the Saudis would take a 60% majority ownership of the company's concessions and assets. The concept of participation was developed by the Saudi Arabian government as an alternative to nationalization. King Faisal played an active role in organizing the Arab oil embargo of 1973, directed against the United States and other nations that supported Israel; as U.S. oil prices soared, Saudi revenues increased. Relations with the United States improved with the signing (1974) of cease-fire agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria (both mediated by U.S. Secretary of State Henry KissingerKissinger, Henry Alfred
, 1923–, American political scientist and U.S. secretary of state (1973–77), b. Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1938. A leading expert on international relations and nuclear defense policy, Kissinger taught (1957–69) at
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) and by the visit (June, 1974) of President Richard M. Nixon to Jidda.

Contemporary Saudi Arabia

As a result of Saudi Arabia's increased wealth, its quest for stability, and its improved relations with Western nations, the country began an extensive military build-up in the 1970s. On Mar. 25, 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew Prince Faisal. Crown Prince Khalid (Khalid bin Abd al-Aziz al-SaudKhalid bin Abd al-Aziz al-Saud
, 1913–82, king of Saudi Arabia (1975–82). He became king after the assassination of his half-brother Faisal. The son of Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, he was the third of Ibn Saud's sons to become king.
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) then became the new king, stressing Islamic orthodoxy and conservatism while expanding the country's economy, its social programs, and its educational structures. Saudi Arabia denounced the 1979 agreement between Israel and Egypt and terminated diplomatic relations with Egypt (since renewed). Saudi leaders opposed both the leftist and radical movements that were growing throughout the Arab world, and in the 1970s sent troops to help quell leftist revolutions in Yemen and Oman.

Saudi religious interests were threatened by the fall of Iran's shah in 1979 and by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. In Nov., 1979, Muslim fundamentalists calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government occupied the Great Mosque in Mecca. After two weeks of fighting the siege ended, leaving a total of 27 Saudi soldiers and over 100 rebels dead. Sixty-three more rebels were later publicly beheaded. In 1980, Shiite Muslims led a series of riots that were put down by the government, which promised to reform the distribution of Saudi wealth. Saudi Arabia supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq WarIran-Iraq War,
1980–88, protracted military conflict between Iran and Iraq. It officially began on Sept. 22, 1980, with an Iraqi land and air invasion of western Iran, although Iraqi spokespersons maintained that Iran had been engaging in artillery attacks on Iraqi towns
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 throughout the 1980s. In May, 1981, it joined Persian Gulf nations in the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to promote economic cooperation between the participating countries. Khalid died in June, 1982, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Prince Fahd bin Abdul AzizFahd bin Abdul Aziz
, 1923–2005, king of Saudi Arabia (1982–2005). A son of Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, Fahd served as education minister (1953–62) and interior minister (1962–75) and was named (1975) crown prince by his half-brother King
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By the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia had gained full ownership of Aramco. Saudi support of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War became increasingly problematic in the mid-1980s as Iran's threats, especially regarding oil interests, nearly led to Saudi entanglement in the war. Iranian pilgrims rioted in Mecca during the hajj in 1987, causing clashes with Saudi security troops. More than 400 people were killed. This incident, along with Iranian naval attacks on Saudi ships in the Persian Gulf, caused Saudi Arabia to break diplomatic relations with Iran.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in Aug., 1990, King Fahd agreed to the stationing of U.S. and international coalition troops on Saudi soil. Thousands of Saudi troops participated in the Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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 (1991) against Iraq. The country took in Kuwait's royal family and more than 400,000 Kuwaiti refugees. Though little ground fighting occurred in Saudi Arabia, the cities of Riyadh, Dhahran, and outlying areas were bombed by Iraqi missiles. Coalition troops largely left Saudi Arabia in late 1991; several thousand U.S. troops remained. In 1995 and 1996 terrorist bombings in Riyadh and Dharan killed several American servicemen.

Following the Gulf War, King Fahd returned to a conservative Arab stance, wary of greater Western cooperation. Reforms instituted in the wake of the Gulf War included the revival of the Consultative Council, or Shura, with rights to review but not overrule government acts, promulgation of a bill of rights, and a revision in the procedures for choosing the king. However, these measures left the royal family's power basically undiminished. In 1995 the king created a Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, composed of royal family members and other appointees, in an apparent effort to establish a counterweight to the Ulemas Council, an advisory body of highly conservative Muslim theologians.

In the late 1990s, Crown Prince AbdullahAbdullah bin Abdul Aziz
, 1924–2015, king of Saudi Arabia (2005–15), b. Riyadh. Like his predecessor, King Fahd, he was a son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Ibn Saud, but by a different wife.
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, the king's half-brother and heir to the throne since 1982, effectively became the country's ruler because of King Fahd's poor health. Under the crown prince, the country was more openly frustrated with and critical of U.S. support for Israel. A treaty with Yemen that ended border disputes dating to the 1930s was signed in 2000, and early the next year both nations withdrew their troops from the border area in compliance with the pact.

The Saudi government restricted the use of American bases in the country during the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), and by Sept., 2003, all U.S. combat forces were withdrawn from the country. Also in 2003, a decree gave the Consultative Council the authority to propose new laws without first seeking his permission. The move was perhaps prompted in part by rare protests in favor of government reform; the kingdom also was shaken by violent incidents, including a massive car bomb attack against a residential compound in Riyadh, involving Islamic militants. Such terror attacks continued into 2005.

The country held elections for municipal councils in Feb.—Apr., 2005, permitting voters (men only) to choose half the council members; the rest of the members were still appointed. King Fahd died in Aug., 2005, and was succeeded by Abdullah. In Nov., 2009, fighting in N Yemen spilled over into Saudi Arabia when Yemeni Shiite rebels (Houthis) crossed the border. Saudi forces fought the rebels and sought to drive them back into Yemen and away from the border; the conflict ended by Feb., 2010, with the rebels withdrawn into Yemen (and a truce established there).

In early 2011 Saudi Arabia experienced relatively small-scale antigovernment protests compared to other Arab nations, and those were at times harshly suppressed; many demonstrations involved Shiites. Protests and confrontations continued to a limited degree into 2012. Saudi forces also helped suppress antigovernment demonstrations in neighboring Bahrain. At the same time, the government lavished funds on government employee bonuses, low-income housing, and religious organizations. Later in the year, the king announced that women, who have had limited civil rights in the country, would be allowed to participate in municipal elections after 2011 and would serve on the Consultative Council.

King Abdullah died in Jan., 2015, and was succeeded by Crown Prince SalmanSalman bin Abdul Aziz,
1935–, king of Saudi Arabia (2015–), b. Riyadh. Like his predecessor, King Abdullah, he is a son—by a different wife—of Saudi Arabia's founder, Ibn Saud.
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, his half brother. Saudi forces have led Arab air attacks against Houthi rebels and their allies in Yemen since Yemen's president was forced to flee the country in Mar., 2015. Subsequently, as the war continued, there also were clashes along the Saudi-Yemen border, naval and air blockades of Yemen, Houthi ballistic missile attacks against Saudi Arabia, and a 2019 drone attack against Saudi facilities that Iran was accused of mounting. The execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric, as part of mass execution of 47 condemned prisoners in Jan., 2016, was bitterly condemned by Iran; Saudi Arabia then broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.

In June, 2017, King Salman named his son Mohammed bin SalmanMohammed bin Salman,
1985–, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, b. Riyadh. The son of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, he received a law degree from King Saud Univ. (2007) and then worked in government and for several of the royal family's businesses and foundations.
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 crown prince, replacing his nephew and former heir apparent Mohammed bin Nayef. The king had previously appointed his son defense minister and head of a council charged with overseeing the economy. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and a few other nations, broke diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June, 2017, accusing it of supporting jihadi groups and destabilizing the region. Qatar rejected the nations' accusations and demands, and when tensions eased in Jan., 2021, the pre-2017 situation was largely restored as well.

In Nov., 2017, an anticorruption drive led to the investigation of several hundred prominent Saudis, many of whom paid large settlements and were pardoned (while also remaining under government surveillance); the campaign, which was declared ended in Jan., 2019, also was seen in part as an attempt by Mohammed bin Salman, regarded as the country's de facto ruler, to consolidate his power. The country also sought that month to force Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Hariri, to resign, in a possible attempt to discredit Hezbollah, and moved to suppress dissidents at home and abroad.

The Oct., 2018, murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, led the Turkish government to denounce and discredit the Saudis repeatedly, as the Saudis first denied that any killing had taken place and then several times changed their story concerning the killing before announcing arrests in the case. The murder provoked international outrage and damaged the reputation of the country and of Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis denied that he had any knowledge of the murder, but Turkish officials accused several of his security officials of involvement, and a UN investigation said (2019) there was credible evidence of the crown prince's involvement. In Mar., 2020, the king's full brother and the former crown prince were arrested; the two were seen as potential rivals to the crown prince's succession.


See C. L. Riley, Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Saudi Arabia (1972); E. A. Nakhleh, The United States and Saudi Arabia (1975), A. Al-Yassini, Religion and State in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (1985), M. Abir, Saudi Arabia in the Oil Era (1988), J. R. Presley and T. Westaway, A Guide to the Saudi Arabian Economy (2d. ed. 1989), S. al-Sowayan, ed., Encyclopedia of Folklore of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (2000), J. Kechichian, Succession in Saudi Arabia (2001), W. Stegner, Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil (1971, repr. 2007), R. Lacey Inside the Kingdom (2009), T. C. Jones, Desert Kingdom (2010), K. House, On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future (2012), T. W. Lippman, Saudi Arabia on the Edge (2012), S. Yizraeli, Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia: The Crucial Years of Development, 1960–1982 (2012), and D. H. Rundell, Vision or Mirage: Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads (2020); bibliography by H.-J. Philipp (2 vol., 1984–89).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Saudi Arabia


Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (al-Mamlakah al-Arabiyah al-Saudiyah).

Saudi Arabia is a state in southwestern Asia, occupying about two-thirds of the Arabian Peninsula and a number of coastal islands in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. It is bounded in the north by Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait, in the south and southeast by the Yemen Arab Republic, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, and in the east by Qatar. Area, more than 2.1 million sq km according to the UN Demographic Yearbook 1972, or between 1.6 million and 2.4 million sq km according to other sources; the borders on the south and southeast have not yet been precisely established. Population, 8.2 million (1974, estimate). The country’s capital is Riyadh. Administratively, Saudi Arabia is divided into four provinces: Hejaz (capital, Mecca), Asir (capital, Abha), Nejd (capital, Riyadh), and Eastern Province (formerly al-Hasa; capital, Dammam).

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The king is the prime minister and commander in chief of the armed forces. He forms the government (the Council of Ministers) and appoints high government officials. The government drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties and agreements and oversees their observance, decides questions of foreign and domestic policy, economics, and finance, and formally establishes the body of state administration. The provinces are headed by governors appointed by the king. The three largest cities—Mecca, Medina, and Jidda—have municipal councils. Rural localities have district village and tribal councils.

The judicial system includes local and superior sharia courts, appellate courts, and the Judicial Supervisory Committee in Mecca (the highest court of appeal). Procedure is consistent with the Koran and sharia.

Saudi Arabia is bounded by the Red Sea in the southwest and by the Persian Gulf in the northeast. The coasts are generally low and sandy, with few indentations. Deserts—about 1 million sq km of them—are the dominant natural feature.

Terrain. The terrain of Saudi Arabia is characterized by plateau-like plains, which decrease in elevation from 1,000–1,300 m in the west to 200–300 m in the east and which are broken to some extent by dry riverbeds, or wadis. Lava flows, chiefly basalt, and stony deserts, or hammadas, occupy large areas. The largest sandy deserts are the Nafud, the Dahanah, and the northern part of the Ruba’ al Khali (Empty Quarter), with bar-chans up to 200 m high and sand ridges and hills scattered over a wide area.

A belt of cuesta uplands stretches across the central part of Saudi Arabia. In the west, the mountains of Hejaz and Asir, which rise to 2,500–3,000 m and in places even higher, parallel the coast of the Red Sea; to the northeast they drop off gently, but to the southwest they are abrupt and very rugged, descending in tiers to the narrow (70 km wide) coastal lowland of Ti-hamah. Along the Persian Gulf coast is the flat Hasa lowland (up to 150 km wide), which has solonchaks and marshy areas.

Geological structure and mineral resources. In the western part of Saudi Arabia, there is an outcrop of the Precambrian basement of the Afro-Arabian Platform—known as the Nubian-Arabian Shield, which is composed of Archean and Early Pro-terozoic gneisses and migmatites and a complex of Upper Pro-terozoic geosynclinal deposits over 10 km thick. Late and Early

Proterozoic intrusions—from ultrabasic to granitoid—are common. To the northeast the rocks of the shield are overlain by deposits of platform mantle, which begin with Wend complex and Paleozoic deposits and include Mesozoic and Paleogene deposits up to 6 and 7 km thick. Along the Persian Gulf coast are thick Neogene molasses of the Mesopotamian Foredeep, on the southern rim of which major deposits of crude oil occur. The Rub al Khali syneclise is another oil-bearing region. The Precambrian rocks of the Nubian-Arabian Shield are associated with deposits of ores of iron, chromium, copper, lead, zinc, gold, and rare earths; there are traces of beryllium and tin.

Climate. The climate is subtropical in the north and tropical, highly continental, and dry in the south. Summers are extremely hot, and the winters warm. The average July temperature in Riyadh is 33°C, and the average January temperature about 14°C. The maximum temperature in Riyadh is 48°C, and in the south, 54°C. There are occasional frosts in the north, with temperatures as low as - 11°C. In most of the country, the maximum annual precipitation is less than 100 mm. Most precipitation falls in spring in the central regions, in winter in the north, and in summer in the south. In some years there is no rain in the Rub al Khali and other regions. Hot south simoom winds often cause sandstorms in spring and early summer.

Rivers and lakes. Almost all of Saudi Arabia has neither outlets nor perennial rivers. Ephemeral streams appear only after heavy rains. Groundwater is the chief source of water and provides as much as 80 percent of the country’s irrigation needs. It is especially abundant in the east, in the al-Hasa lowland, whose many springs furnish water to the oases. It is often close to the surface in wadis. In most areas, water is supplied from a few deep wells and artesian wells.

Soil. Embryonic desert soils predominate. Vast areas have no soil cover at all, only salt crust. Coarse-grained subtropical si-erozems are found in the north, with solonchaks and solon-chak-meadow soils in the depressions.

Flora. Desert vegetation predominates, with semidesert vegetation in the north. Saxaul (Haloxylon persicum) and camel thorn (Alhagi camelorum) grow in some sandy areas, lichens in the hammadas, wormwood and Astragalus in the lava flows, isolated poplars and acacias in the wadis, with tamarisk in saltier areas, and halophytic shrubs along the coasts and in solonchaks. The productivity of natural pastures rarely exceeds 1 or 2 quintals per hectare (ha). Loose sands and hammadas are almost totally devoid of vegetative cover. Ephemerals are more common in the spring and in wet years. There are areas of savanna in the mountains of the south. The oases have groves of date palms, citrus fruits, and bananas and grain and vegetable crops.

Fauna. The common animals include the wolf, jackal, fennec, hyena, caracal, onager, antelope, gazelle, hyrax, and rabbit. There are many rodents (gerbils, susliks, and jerboas), reptiles (snakes, lizards, tortoises), and birds (larks, sandgrouse, and bustards). There are also locust breeding grounds.


Zarubezhnaia Aziia: Fizicheskaia geografiia. Moscow, 1956.
Petrov, M. P. Pustyni zemnogo shara. Leningrad, 1973.
Zaichikov, V. T. Iugo-Zapadnaia Aziia: prirodnye resursy i razvitie sel’skogo khoziaistva. Moscow, 1974.
”Severo-Vostochnaia Afrika i Araviia: Osnovnye tektonicheskie elementy.” In Geologiia ipoleznye iskopaemye Afriki. Moscow, 1973.

V. G. KAZMIN (geological structure and mineral resources) and M. P. PETROV (physical geography)

The overwhelming majority of the population are Arabs. About two-thirds are nomads or seminomads, who have largely preserved their tribal divisions. The largest tribal unions are the Anaza and Shammar. The largest tribes are the Harb, Mutayr, Murrah, Qahtan, Juhaina, Shararat, and Manasir. A sedentary village population lives in the mountains of Nejd and Hejaz and in the oases. In the coastal regions of Tihamah and al-Hasa and in the oases, Arabs have intermixed with Africans, brought to Arabia as slaves; here the population has negroid features. The cities and oases are also populated by about 50,000 Persians, by about 35,000 immigrants from Hindustan, about 80,000 immigrants from East Africa, and by about 15,000 British and Americans. The officiai language is Arabic. The official religion is Islam. The official calendar is the lunar Hegira; the Gregorian calendar is also used.

From 1963 to 1973 the population grew at an average annual rate of 2 percent, both from natural increase and from immigration connected with the development of oil production (500,000 immigrants in 1971). In 1970,2.1 million people were economically active, 60.5 percent in agriculture. About 50 percent of the rural inhabitants are nomads or seminomads. The sedentary population is concentrated in the oases and cities. The average population density is less than 4 persons per sq km. In 1970, 23.6 percent of the population was urban. The major cities are Riyadh (population, 384,000 in 1975), Jidda, Mecca, and Medina.

As early as the second millennium B.C., nomadic Arabian tribes inhabited what is now Saudi Arabia. In the seventh century A.D., in the Hejaz, the new religion of Islam sprang up, and the first Muslim theocratic state—the Arabian Caliphate—was formed, with its capital in Medina. In the seventh and eighth centuries, most of what is now Saudi Arabia was part of the caliphate of the Umayyads, and in the mid-eighth through ninth centuries, the caliphate of the Abbasids. From the tenth through 12th centuries, independent emirates and sultanates were formed in parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The Hejaz was a dependency of the Fatimids, then of the Ayyubids, and from the mid-13th century to the early 16th, of the Mamelukes. Because of the economic and religious-political importance of the Hejaz—where the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located—the caliphs strove to maintain their rule over the Hejaz. The Nejd—central Arabia—enjoyed considerably more independence.

Early in the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire extended its rule to the Hejaz. In the 18th century, the Muslim religious and political movement of Wahhabism arose in the Nejd, which in fact remained an independent emirate. In 1745, Muhammad ibn Saud, who ruled an emirate in the Nejd from 1726–27 to 1765 and who was a member of the Saudi dynasty that ruled in Saudi Arabia, initiated a struggle to unify Arabia under the banner of Wahhabism. By the early 19th century, most of Arabia had been unified in the feudal state of the Saudis, a state that drew its support from the nomadic and sedentary Arab elite. Between 1811 and 1818 most of the Arabian Peninsula was seized by the Egyptian pasha Muhammad Ali, and the Saudi state was dismembered and occupied. Taking advantage of the discontent of the local population with the Egyptian occupation and the breakdown of trade relations, the Saudis twice—in the periods 1821–38 and 1843–65—reestablished their rule over the Nejd, moving the capital from Dariya to Riyadh. After 1840 the Hejaz was under Ottoman rule.

From the mid-19th century, Asir—the southern part of what is now Saudi Arabia and a part of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century—enjoyed considerable autonomy. In the second half of the 19th century, the Wahhabite state was seized by the rulers of Shammar in northern Arabia—the Rashidis. In 1902 the emir Ibn Saud, with the support of Mubarak, ruler of Kuwait, seized Riyadh and defeated the main Rashidi forces. He then restored Saudi rule in the Nejd and proceeded to expand his own dominions, exploiting the conflicts of interest between the other Arab emirates and the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain attempted to use Ibn Saud for its own colonialist purposes. In December 1915 an Anglo-Saudi agreement was concluded, under which Great Britain recognized the independence of the Nejd and granted Ibn Saud yearly subsidies and arms. However, Great Britain did not succeed in drawing the Nejd into the war against the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, a secret correspondence in 1915 between McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, and Husayn, the sharif of Mecca, led to an agreement under which Husayn pledged to incite the Arabs to rebel against the Ottoman Empire, and in exchange, Great Britain pledged to recognize the independence of a future Arab state headed by Husayn.

In 1916 detachments of the tribes of the Hejaz, led by Husayn’s son, the emir Faisal, and the British secret agent T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), began military actions against the Ottoman Empire. In 1918, Husayn assumed the title “king of the Arabs”; however, the Entente recognized him only as king of the Hejaz.

After World War I, Ibn Saud continued the struggle for the unification of Arabia. In 1920 he established a protectorate over part of Asir (all of Asir was subordinated in 1930); in 1921 he subordinated Shammar. However, Great Britain was reluctant to countenance the expansion of the new state and in 1922 provoked an attack against Ibn Saud by its own henchmen, the sons of Husayn—Faisal, king of Iraq, and Abdullah, emir of Transjordan. The Saudis were defeated, and in 1922 Ibn Saud had to sign treaties in Uqair on the demarcation of the borders with Iraq and Kuwait; border—that is, neutral—zones were created. However, as a result of a war between Nejd and Hejaz in 1924 and 1925, Ibn Saud annexed Nejd to Hejaz. In January 1926 he declared himself king of Hejaz and sultan of Nejd and of the regions he had annexed. On Feb. 16, 1926, the Soviet Union recognized the Saudi state—it was the first to do so—and established diplomatic and trade relations with the new state; the international position of the Saudi state was thereby considerably strengthened. In January 1927, Ibn Saud was proclaimed king of Hejaz, Nejd, and the regions he had annexed. In the same year, Great Britain was obliged to recognize the independent Saudi state, which since 1932 has been known as Saudi Arabia.

In 1934, after Saudi Arabia defeated Yemen in a war provoked by Great Britain, which wished to prevent the consolidation of Saudi Arabia, Yemen recognized, in the Treaty of Taif, the Saudis’ possession of Asir, Qizan, and part of Najran.

During the world economic crisis of 1929–33, the influx of pilgrims into Mecca—the chief source of Saudi Arabia’s income—declined sharply. Extremely poor harvests made the situation worse. Amid these conditions, the US oil monopolies obtained concessions to explore and drill for oil in much of Saudi Arabia; commercial extraction began in 1938.

During World War II, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with fascist Germany (1941) and Italy (1942), but it did not enter the war.

At the end of the war and especially after the war, the USA gained an increasing influence in Saudi Arabia. In 1943 it established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and extended the Lend-Lease Act to include Saudi Arabia. Until 1972, oil production in Saudi Arabia—the largest oil producer in the capitalist world after the USA—was carried on chiefly by the US oil company Aramco. A US military air base was built in Dhah-ran.

The feudal-theocratic regime and absolutist methods of governing provoked discontent in Saudi Arabia. The working class rose up to fight for a better economic and political life and for the democratization of Saudi Arabia. This was especially true of the oil workers, who in the 1960’s constituted more than 20,000 of the approximately 70,000 industrial workers in Saudi Arabia. The most significant event was the strike by Aramco oil workers in 1953. King Saud, who came to power in 1953 after the death of Ibn Saud, issued laws forbidding strikes and demonstrations and providing for extremely harsh penalties, including execution, for actions against the royal regime. A political crisis ensued, the result of difficulties and contradictions in economic development, deterioration of the internal political situation, Saud’s systematic interference in the internal affairs of other Arab countries, and enormous expenditures for the royal court.

In 1962, Saud was forced to confer de facto power on emir Faisal; on Nov. 2, 1964, he was compelled to abdicate in favor of Faisal. Faisal’s government, which drew its support from the wealthy feudal elite and the nascent national bourgeoisie, carried through a series of reforms in the economy (such as the creation of new industrial enterprises) and public education.

From the mid-1960’s, Saudi Arabia pursued a dual foreign policy. On the one hand, it took the lead in 1966 in organizing the Muslim states in the Islamic Pact, attempting to establish control over much of the Persian Gulf region, and actively supported anti-Communism. On the other hand, it consistently supported the struggle of Arab countries against Israeli aggression and, from 1967, gave considerable financial aid to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, the countries that had fallen victim to Israeli aggression. In October 1973, during the Middle East conflict, Saudi Arabia sent small military units to the Syrian and Egyptian fronts and offered Egypt and Syria free financial aid. From October 1973 to December 1973, it reduced the production and delivery of oil to countries that supported Israel and placed a temporary embargo on the export of oil to the USA and the Netherlands. In October 1974, during a conference of Arab leaders in Rabat, Saudi Arabia supported recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the sole representative of the Arab nation of Palestine.

On Mar. 25, 1975, King Faisal was assassinated, and Khaled ibn Abd al-Aziz became king. The new government pursued a more active foreign policy, taking part in efforts to settle the Middle East crisis and resolve the differences between individual Arab states. Saudi Arabia uses its growing financial power—chiefly its oil revenues, which amounted to 30 billion dollars in 1974—to strengthen its influence in Asia and Africa, especially in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea countries.


Beliaev, E. A. Araby, islam i arabskii khalifat ν rannem srednevekov’e. Moscow, 1965.
Lutskii, V. B. Novaia istoriia arabskikh stran, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1966.
Noveishaia istoriia arabskikh stran. Moscow, 1968.
Vasil’ev, A. M. Puritane islama? Moscow, 1967.
Proshin, N. I. Saudovskaia Araviia. Moscow, 1964.
Beliaev, I. P. Amerikanskii imperializm ν Saudovskoi Aravii. Moscow, 1957.
Bodianskii, V. L., and M. S. Lazarev. Saudovskaia Araviiaposle Sauda. Moscow, 1967.
Al-Mukhtar, Salah al-Din. Tarikh al-Mamlakah al-Arabiyah al-Sau-diyah (History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), vols. 1–2. Beirut, 1957–60.
Pirenne, J. Otkrytie Aravii. [Moscow, 1970.] (Translated from French.)
Musil, A. The Northern Negd. New York, 1928.
Philby, H. St. J. B. Saudi Arabia. London, 1955.
The Arabian Peninsula. London, 1952.
Riley, C. L. Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Saudi Arabia. London, 1972.


General state of the economy. Before World War II, stock raising played the major role in the economy of Saudi Arabia. After the war, the production and export of oil assumed decisive importance. In 1973, Saudi Arabia’s revenues from oil exports were $5.9 billion, and in 1974, as a result of price increases, about $30 billion. In the early 1970’s, oil accounted for more than 95 percent of all the country’s exports. In the period 1972–73 agriculture accounted for 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product (current prices), the extractive industry (chiefly oil) 65 percent, the processing industry 6 percent, electrical power, gas, and water supply 0.8 percent, construction 4.5 percent, transportation and communication 5.2 percent, trade and services 3.8 percent, and other sectors 11.9 percent.

From about the mid-1940’s, the Saudi Arabian oil industry was controlled by Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil companies, and by the Getty Oil Company (USA) and the Arabian Oil Company (Japan). In 1962 the state oil company Petromin was formed. On the basis of an agreement between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which Saudi Arabia is a member, and the oil monopolies, Saudi Arabia’s share of the revenues from oil operations was increased to 55 percent in 1971; in the middle of 1974, Saudi Arabia obtained a 60-percent share of Aramco’s capital. An agreement was reached by which Saudi Arabia will eventually have full control over the oil industry, including both production and refining, with full compensation to the company.

Saudi Arabia’s five-year program of economic development for 1970/71–1974/75 provided for the creation of new industrial sectors based upon the oil industry, the construction of major irrigation projects and agricultural centers, and the development of power engineering and infrastructure. The five-year program for 1975/76–1979/80 went into effect in June 1975.

Industry. The oil-producing and oil-refining sectors are the most advanced sectors. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s major oil producers and has about one-fourth of the proven oil reserves of the capitalist and developing countries (over 22 billion tons in early 1975). The production of oil has grown rapidly, reaching 426 million tons in 1974. The largest producing oil fields are in the east and on the Persian Gulf shelf—at Ghawar, Khurays, Saffaniyah, Abqaiq, and Khursaniyah. Most of the oil is exported as crude; about 30 million tons are transported each year through the trans-Arabian pipeline Tapline, which is 1,720 km long and runs from Abqaiq to the port of Saida (Si-don) on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon. Pipelines also run from the Qizan oil field to the Saudi Arabian ports of al-Khubar and Ra’s Tannurah and to Bahrain. Some of the oil is refined at Ra’s Tannurah (about 25 million tons a year) and in the cities of Jidda and Riyadh. Natural gas is also extracted.

Since the late 1960’s, the petrochemical industry has made significant strides. A plant in Abqaiq produces sulfur. A chemical-fertilizer plant in Dammam was completed in 1969, and a plant for the production of lubricants went into operation in Jidda in 1970.

In addition to oil-refining and the petrochemical industry, other industries have grown rapidly, especially in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Metallurgy is represented by a converter plant in Jidda, the paper industry by a factory in Dammam, and the food-processing industry by vegetable-oil mills and a confectionery factory in Mecca, a tomato-paste factory in Riyadh, a vegetable-canning and fruit-juice factory in Jidda, and plants that process dates in Hufuf and Medina.

The building-materials industry is also growing. Cement production increased from 30,300 tons in 1959 to 910,000 tons in 1972. A plant near Dhahran produces 10,000 tons of glass a year. The production of bricks has also increased. The largest cement factories are in Jidda, Dammam, and Riyadh. Several steam power plants, fueled by oil, serve primarily the oil-related industries. The installed capacity of electric power plants was 244,000 kilowatts (kW) in 1973, up from 130,000 kW in 1966. The production of electric power amounted to 1.21 billion kilowatt-hours (kW-hr) in 1973–74, up from 377 million kW-hr in 1966.

Handicrafts and cottage industries, including the manufacture of gold and silver jewelry, retain their importance. Jidda and Mecca are known for their leather and pottery. Hufuf, Jidda, and Taif are known for their handwoven fabrics.

Agriculture. Agriculture is the most backward sector of the economy, where feudal relations and survivals of the tribal order have to a great extent been preserved. The land is generally owned in large parcels but is worked on a small scale. About 60 percent of all cultivated land is owned by large and medium landowners, such as the royal family, tribal leaders, religious leaders, and various notables, who lease the land out in small plots; some land is owned by foreign monopolies.

In 1974 agriculture supplied one-fourth of the country’s food requirements. In 1971 the land area suitable for agriculture was 86 million ha, chiefly in oases. The main agricultural region was Asir Province in the southwest, where about 60 percent of the land under cultivation in 1970 was not irrigated and 30 to 40 percent, depending upon the year, is irrigated. Since the 1960’s, crop yields have been increasing, owing to mechanization, the use of fertilizers and improved agricultural practices, the expansion of areas with irrigation and drainage systems (such as the dam in Wadi Jaza, 250 km east of Qizan), and an increase in the area of lands irrigated by artesian wells. Agriculture has increasingly been put on an industrial basis. In 1975 construction was being completed on an irrigation complex in Eastern Province.

The most important crop plant is the date palm, which is grown in Eastern, Hejaz, and Asir provinces; the annual yield of dates is between 220,000 and 250,000 tons. Grains are cultivated throughout the country except in the east. The most widespread are wheat (125,000 ha, 150,000 tons in 1973), sorghum (chiefly durra; 135,000 ha, 175,000 tons), millet, barley, and corn. Outside the cities vegetables, including potatoes, eggplants, onions, and tomatoes, are cultivated; bananas, apricots, pomegranates, figs, peaches, and citrus fruits are also raised.

Stock raising is extensive in character and is the chief occupation of the nomads and seminomads. Camels are raised (600,000 in 1973), along with sheep (3 million) and goats (1.7 million). In farm areas, cattle (300,000 head) are raised.

The waters of the Red Sea yield tuna, mackerel, sardines, sharks, lobster, crabs, and shrimp; in 1973 the catch was 39,000 tons. The Red Sea also yields pearls, black coral, and amber.

Transportation. A single-track railroad 594 km long runs from Riyadh through Hufuf oasis to the Persian Gulf port of Dammam. In 1972 a branch line 35.5 km long was constructed to al-Kharj. Since 1964, the Hejaz railroad, which was destroyed during World War I, has been under reconstruction; 740 km now run through the waterless desert of Saudi Arabia and 463 km through Syria and Jordan.

In 1974, Saudi Arabia had 10,300 km of asphalt roads and 5,700 km of dirt roads. The asphalt roads run between Jidda and Mecca (72 km), Jidda and Medina (425 km), and Taif and Mecca (89 km). In 1975 construction was proceeding on a 715-km highway linking Taif, Abha, and Qizan. Saudi Arabia had 174,000 motor vehicles in 1974. In the east the road network connects the oil fields with the Persian Gulf ports and Eastern Province with Riyadh and cities in neighboring countries.

Foreign trade is carried on chiefly by sea. Jidda, on the Red Sea, is one of the main ports. It handled 784,000 tons of cargo in 1969; most of the country’s imports and most of the pilgrims to Mecca and Medina pass through Jidda. Dammam, on the Persian Gulf, is another port; it handled 804,000 tons of cargo in 1969. Oil is exported primarily through the Persian Gulf ports of Ra’s Tannurah (169.8 million tons in 1971), al-Khubar, and Mina Sa’ud. Foreign shipping companies carry most of the foreign trade.

Saudi Arabian Airlines has air routes between Riyadh and the capitals of the Middle East. There are international airports in Dhahran, Jidda, and Riyadh.

Foreign trade. In 1972, Saudi Arabia’s exports were worth 22.761 billion riyals, and its imports, 4.705 billion riyals. Oil (375 million tons in 1974) and petroleum products are the main exports. Small quantities of dates, hides, and dried fish are also exported. With respect to imports, machinery and equipment accounted for more than 35.7 percent of the value of all Saudi Arabia’s imports in 1972, food for 25.9 percent, building materials for 10.2 percent, chemical goods for 5.2 percent, and textiles and clothing for 7.3 percent. Saudi Arabia’s main trading partners are Japan (in 1970 accounting for 21.3 percent of the value of all Saudi Arabia’s exports and 10.1 percent of its imports), Italy (10.8 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively), the Netherlands (9.1 percent and 4.5 percent), Great Britain (8 percent and 6.9 percent), the Federal Republic of Germany (2 percent and 9.9 percent), the USA (1 percent and 18.2 percent), and Lebanon (0.3 percent and 11.2 percent).

The monetary unit is the Saudi riyal; 3.52 riyals equal $1 US (July 1975). Saudi Arabia gives aid to Arab countries that have suffered from Israeli aggression, particularly Egypt and Syria. There is a tourist industry, which in 1972 generated revenues of $156 million. Many visitors to Saudi Arabia are Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca and Medina.


Ozoling, V. V. Saudovskaia Araviia. Moscow, 1968.
Proshin, N. I. Saudovskaia Araviia. Moscow, 1964.
Strany Aravii: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1964.


The armed forces consist of an army, an air force, and a navy. There is also a national guard and a border and coast guard. The king is the commander in chief; the defense minister and the General Staff have direct command over the armed forces. Volunteers bring the army up to its prescribed strength. In 1974 the armed forces numbered about 42,500 men, the national guard and border and coast guard about 70,000. The army, numbering about 36,000 men, consists of four brigades and several separate battalions and large units, including ten Hawk antiaircraft guided-missile batteries. The air force has about 5,500 men and about 100 combat aircraft. The navy has about 1,000 men and as many as 20 cutters of various kinds.

Medicine and public health. There are no figures on the birthrate, general mortality, and infant mortality in Saudi Arabia. The main health problems are tuberculosis, malaria (throughout the country), trachoma (infects up to 90 percent of children under three years of age in some localities), and veneral diseases. Dysentery and other intestinal disorders are widespread. From 80 to 90 percent of the population suffer from intestinal parasites—for example, from such diseases as helminthiasis and amebiasis. Cutaneous leishmaniasis, wuchereriasis, and onchocerciasis also occur. The influx of pilgrims presents a considerable danger of epidemics.

According to the World Health Organization (1973), in 1970 there were 47 hospitals, with 6,800 beds, or 0.9 bed per 1,000 inhabitants. Outpatient care is provided by 206 dispensaries and 303 medical stations (1968). In 1969 there were 1,500 physicians, or 1 physician per 11,100 inhabitants, 353 stomatologists, 594 pharmacists, and about 2,000 intermediate-level medical personnel. Physicians and pharmacists are trained at the university in Riyadh; there are also seven secondary schools of medical education. In 1968 expenditures for public health totaled 2.9 percent of the state’s budget.


Veterinary services. Highly dangerous infectious diseases occur in Saudi Arabia, including rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease, sheep pox, African horse sickness, cattle peripneumonia, and camel trypanosomiasis. Saudi Arabia has neither a central institution of veterinary medicine nor research or educational institutions of veterinary medicine. The absence of veterinary services throughout such a vast country poses a potential danger to other countries of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia had 33 veterinarians in 1973.

A law of 1926 provides for compulsory primary education and the creation of secular state schools; there are also private schools. In 1960 compulsory education was extended to girls, and pedagogical schools for women were established. A law of 1964 provided for the establishment of higher educational institutions for girls. Elementary education is free. There are centers to eliminate illiteracy. However, about 80 percent of the population was illiterate in 1972. Nomad children do not attend school, and not all girls attend school.

Children enter school at the age of six. Primary school lasts six years. Secondary school has two levels: a first course of three years and a second course of another three years. Boys and girls are taught separately.

In the 1972–73 academic year, the primary schools had 475,000 pupils; the secondary schools had more than 118,000 students. The four-year vocational schools take graduates of the primary schools; advanced vocational schools—of two or three years—take the graduates of the ordinary vocational school or of the first secondary-school course, respectively. In the 1972–73 academic year, the ordinary vocational schools had 14,300 students, and the advanced vocational schools, 3,100 students. There is an obstetrics and nurses’ school, an industrial arts technicum, and various agricultural schools. Teachers are trained at the Pedagogical Institute, the Institute of Sports Instructors, the Men’s Pedagogical College, and the Women’s Pedagogical College—all in Riyadh.

The most important institutions of higher learning are the University of Riyadh (founded in 1957), the University of Abd al-Aziz in Jidda (1967), the Islamic University in Medina (1961), and the Higher Institute of Technology in Riyadh. The College of Petroleum and Minerals is in Dhahran.

The major libraries are the National Library (founded 1968; 16,000 volumes), the Saudi Library (14,800 volumes and 200 manuscripts), and the Library of the University of Riyadh (65,000 volumes)—all in Riyadh. The Mahmudia Library (4,500 volumes and 500 manuscripts), the Arif Hikmat Library (1,500 volumes and 4,500 manuscripts), and the Library of the Islamic University (30,000 volumes) are in Medina.


In 1974 more than 20 newspapers and periodicals were published in Saudi Arabia. Those in Arabic include the government newspaper al-Bilad (The Nation, founded 1934; circulation 20,000), al-Nadwah (The Forum, founded 1958, circulation 10,000), Al-Madinah al-Munawwarah (Medina the Radiant, founded 1937; circulation 20,000), and al-Riyadh (founded 1964; circulation 10,000). News From Saudi Arabia is an English-language bulletin published by the Ministry of Information since 1961.

Saudi Arabia has had radio broadcasting since 1948; three state-owned radio stations, located in Jidda, Riyadh, and Dammam, broadcast in both Arabic and English. For listeners abroad, there are broadcasts in Urdu, Indonesian, Persian, and Swahili. There has been television broadcasting since 1965. The country’s seven television stations belong to the Ministry of Information.

Ancient and medieval literature in what is now Saudi Arabia developed within the framework of a common Arabic culture. In the Hejaz, Bedouin poetry—for example, that of Imru al-Qais, who died between A.D. 530 and 540—flourished in the fifth through seventh centuries A.D., and the Koran was compiled in the first half of the seventh century. Both are considered classics throughout the Arab countries. After the caliphate came into existence and the centers of literary life shifted to Damascus, Baghdad, and Cairo, the development of literature in Saudi Arabia lost its impetus; folk poetry became the predominant genre.

The growth of a new literature in Saudi Arabia was long constrained by a conservative social order and the Wahhabite ideology. Since the 1920’s, influenced by the literature of its Arab neighbors, Saudi Arabia has produced poets, journalists, and various other writers; its literature has been distinguished by didacticism, romanticism, and realism.

The founders of the romantic school—Muhammad Surur al-Sabban (born 1898) and Muhammad Hasan Awwad (born 1906), who wrote the divans Past and Forgotten, Buds, To the New Life, and The Great Magician—tend toward a psychological approach to poetry. Husayn Sirhan (born 1915) celebrates nature. Moods of anxiety characterize the poetry of Muhammad Hasan Fiqi (born 1930; wrote Being and the Poet) and that of Muhammad al-Amar al-Rumayh (born 1929; The Call of Life). The poems of Abdallah al-Karaawi (born 1935) also belong to the romantic school. In the work of Ahmad ‘Abd al-Ghafur Attar (born 1918), the life of the working people and condemnation of social injustice are important themes, as shown in his collection of verses Passion and Youth. Abd al-Rahman al-Majid al-Mansur (born 1925) writes revolutionary poetry—The Birth of a Man, the divans We Are the Masses and Roses and Thorns, and the collection The Holy Invasion.

Realist prose appeared after World War II in the short stories of Amin Salam Rumayh (the collection The Ears Love Too), Abdallah Muna’a (Searchings), and Yusuf ibn al-Shaykh Ya-qub (The Thief and other stories) and in the novellas of Hasan Nasif (Notes of a Former Student) and ‘Abd al-Salam Hashim Hafiz (The Imprisoned Girl, Talking Hearts). ‘Abd al-Ghafur Attar is a prominent short-story writer. Elements of sentimentalism—excessive emotionality and an overly exalted style—still figure strongly in the works of the realist writers.

In 1957, Abd al-Salam Hashim Hafiz published the first novel concerned with women’s rights, Samra of Hejaz. In the same year, Hamid Damanhuri published the first major work touching upon questions of family life and traditions, The Price of Sacrifice. Many contemporary writers speak out in defense of the national interests and respond to the anti-imperialist struggle of the young working class. The publicistic writings and literary criticism of the 1950’s are represented by the works of Muhammad Hasan Awwad (Candid Thoughts, Inspired by the Life of the People, and Thoughts About Literature and Life), Abd al-Ghafur Attar (Drop From a Reed Pen), Abdallah ban Halis, Sa’ad al-Bawaridi (born 1930), and the progressive literary critic Abdallah Abd al-Jabbar (Schools of Contemporary Literature in the Central Arabian Peninsula; 1959).


Krachkovskii, I. Iu. Izbr. sock, vols. 2–4. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956–57.
Strany Aravii: Spravochnik. Moscow, 1964. Pages 138–48.
Sovremennaia arabskaia literatura: Sb. statei. Moscow, 1960. Pages 124–31. (Translated from Arabic.)
Sharbatov, G. “Literatura Aravii.” Aziia i Afrika segodnia, 1962, no. 10.
Hasan Abdallah al-Qirshi. Shawq wa ward (Desire and Roses). Riyadh, 1959.
Juhayman, ‘Abd al-Karim al-. Asatir sha’abiya min qalb Jazirat al-Arab (Popular Fables From the Heart of the Arabian Peninsula), vols. 1–3. Beirut [1968–69].
Hindawi, H. al-. “Al-Harakah al-adabiyah fi al-Mamlakah al-Saudiyah (Literary Movements in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). Al-Adib (Literature), 1972, no. 12.


The oldest archaeological remains in Saudi Arabia are fragments of stone statues with generalized, crude facial features and stone reliefs depicting animals; these date back to the seventh through second centuries B.C. and have been found at Ula and Mada’in Salih. Ruins of Nabataean cities in the northern Hejaz date from the period between the second century B.C. and first century A.D.; these ruins include rectangular sanctuaries and cliff tombs with facades denticulated at the top. Examples of medieval Arabic architecture—mosques, minarets, and madrasas—have been preserved in Mecca and Medina.

Homes in Saudi Arabia have traditionally been built of clay and mud brick with an eye toward the area’s natural conditions. In Jidda and Medina multistory tower houses are protected from the sun by latticed balconies (mashrabiya). In Abha the houses have rows of slate cornices that protect the facades from rain. The nomads live in tents covered with cloth made of goat hair.

Since the 1950’s, multistory buildings, hotels, stadiums, and airports have been built in such cities as Jidda and Riyadh. Silver and gold jewelry, lead amulets, and souvenirs for the pilgrims are made in the cities; gold embroidery is highly developed. Bedouin tents are decorated with bright, striped woolen curtains; utensils of various kinds are covered with simple decorative designs. The handcrafting of woolen and leather objects is widespread.


Voronina, V. L. Narodnoe zhilishche arabskikh stran. Moscow, 1972.
Esin, E. Mecca, the Blessed, Madinah, the Radiant. London-New York [1963].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Saudi Arabia

Official name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Capital city: Riyadh

Internet country code: .sa

Flag description: Green, a traditional color in Islamic flags, with the Shahada or Muslim creed in large white Arabic script (translated as “There is no god but God; Muham­mad is the Messenger of God”) above a white horizontal saber (the tip points to the hoist side); design dates to the early 20th century and is closely associated with the Al Saud family which established the kingdom in 1932

Geographical description: Middle East, bordering the Per­sian Gulf and the Red Sea, north of Yemen

Total area: 784,233 sq. mi. (1,960,582 sq. km.)

Climate: Harsh, dry desert with great temperature extremes

Nationality: noun: Saudi(s); adjective: Saudi or Saudi Arabi­an

Population: 27,601,038 (includes 5,576,076 non-nationals; July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%

Languages spoken: Arabic

Religions: Muslim 100%

Legal Holidays:

National DaySep 23
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

Saudi Arabia

a kingdom in SW Asia, occupying most of the Arabian peninsula between the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea: founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud, who united Hejaz and Nejd; consists mostly of desert plateau; large reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Official language: Arabic. Official religion: (Sunni) Muslim. Currency: riyal. Capital: Riyadh (royal), Jidda (administrative). Pop.: 24 919 000 (2004 est.). Area: 2 260 353 sq. km (872 722 sq. miles)
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