Saudi Arabia

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Middle Eastern Countries

المملكة العربية السعودية
al-Mamlaka al-‘Arabiyya as-Su’ūdiyya
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi Arabia Coat of arms of Saudi Arabia
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "There is no god but God; Muhammad is His messenger" (the Kalima)
Anthem: " Aash Al Maleek"
"Long live the King"

Location of Saudi Arabia
Capital
(and largest city)
Riyadh
Official languages Arabic
Demonym Saudi, Saudi Arabian
Government Absolute monarchy
 -  King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
 -  Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz
Establishment
 -  Kingdom declared January 8, 1926 
 -  Recognized May 20, 1927 
 -  Unified September 23, 1932 
Area
 -  Total 2,149,690 km² ( 14th)
829,996  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) negligible
Population
 -  2007 estimate 27,601,038 ( 46th)
 -  Density 11/km² ( 205th)
29/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2007 estimate
 -  Total $446 billion ( 27th)
 -  Per capita $21,200 ( 41st)
HDI (2004) 0.812 (high) ( 61)
Currency Riyal ( SAR)
Time zone AST ( UTC+3)
 -  Summer ( DST) (not observed) ( UTC+3)
Internet TLD .sa
Calling code +966
1 Population estimate includes 5,576,076 non-nationals.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or KSA (Arabic: المملكة العربية السعودية‎, al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya) is the largest country of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Jordan on the northwest, Iraq on the north and northeast, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates on the east, Oman on the southeast, and Yemen on the south. The Persian Gulf lies to the northeast and the Red Sea to its west. It has an estimated population of 27.6 million, and its size is approximately 2,150,000 square km (830,000 square miles).

The Kingdom is sometimes called "The Land of The Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. In English, it is most commonly referred to as Saudi Arabia (pronounced /ˈsɒdɪ/ or /ˈsaʊdɪ əˈɹeɪbɪə/). The Kingdom was founded by Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, whose efforts began in 1902 when he captured 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 is the world's leading petroleum exporter and petroleum exports fuel the Saudi economy. Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of exports and nearly 75 percent of government revenues, facilitating the creation of a welfare state, which the government has found difficult to fund during periods of low oil prices. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly expressed concern about the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia, although these concerns have been dismissed by the Saudi government.

History

The founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, converses with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on board a ship returning from the Yalta Conference in 1945
The founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz, converses with U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on board a ship returning from the Yalta Conference in 1945

Although the region in which the country stands today has an ancient history, the emergence of the Saudi dynasty began in central Arabia in 1744. That year, Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of the town of Ad-Dir'iyyah near Riyadh, joined forces with a cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. This alliance formed in the 18th century remains the basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today. 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 (see First Saudi State and Second Saudi State). The third and current Saudi state was founded in the early 20th century by King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud).

In 1902 at the age of only 22, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud re-captured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, Al-Qatif, the rest of Nejd, and Hejaz between 1913 and 1926. On 8 January 1926 Abdul Aziz bin Saud became the King of Hejaz. On 29 January 1927 he took the title King of Nejd (his previous Nejdi title was Sultan). By the Treaty of Jeddah, signed on 20 May 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz's realm, then known as the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz. In 1932, the principal regions of Al-Hasa, Qatif, Nejd and Hejaz were unified to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Abdul Aziz's military and political successes were not mirrored economically until vast reserves of oil were discovered in March 1938. Development programmes, which were delayed due to the onset of the Second World War in 1939, began in earnest in 1946 and by 1949 production was in full swing. Oil has provided Saudi Arabia with economic prosperity and a great deal of leverage in the international community.

Prior to his death in 1953 Abdul Aziz, aware of the difficulties facing other regional absolute rulers reliant on extended family networks, attempted to regulate the succession.

Saud succeeded to the throne on his father's death in 1953. However, by the early 1960s the Kingdom was in jeopardy due to Saud's economic mismanagement and failure to deal effectively with a regional challenge from Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. As a consequence Saud was deposed in favour of Faisal in 1964.

Intra-family rivalry was one of the factors that led to the assassination of Faisal by his nephew, Prince Faisal bin Musa'id, in 1975. He was succeeded by King Khalid until 1982 and then by King Fahd. When Fahd died in 2005, his half-brother Abdullah ascended to the throne.

Geography

Map of Saudi Arabia
Map of Saudi Arabia

The kingdom occupies about 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula. In 2000 Saudi Arabia and Yemen signed an agreement to settle their long-running border dispute. A significant length of the country's southern borders with the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, are not precisely defined or marked, so the exact size of the country remains unknown. The Saudi government's estimate is 2,217,949 km² (856,356  miles²). Other reputable estimates vary between 1,960,582 km² (756,934 mi²) and 2,240,000 km² (864,869 mi²). The kingdom is commonly listed as the world's 14th largest state.

Saudi Arabia's geography is varied. From the western coastal region ( Tihamah), the land rises from sea level to a peninsula-long mountain range (Jabal al- Hejaz) beyond which lies the plateau of Nejd in the centre. The southwestern 'Asir region has mountains as high as 3,000 m (9,840 ft) and is known for having the greenest and freshest climate in all of the country, one that attracts many Saudis to resorts such as Abha in the summer months. The east is primarily rocky or sandy lowland continuing to the shores of the Persian Gulf. The geographically hostile Rub' al Khali ("Empty Quarter") desert along the country's imprecisely defined southern borders contains almost no life.

Mostly uninhabited, much of the nation's landmass consists of desert and semi-arid regions, with a dwindling traditional Bedouin population. In these parts of the country, vegetation is limited to weeds, xerophytic herbs and shrubs. Less than two percent of the kingdom's total area is arable land. Population centers are mainly located along the eastern and western coasts and densely populated interior oases such as Hofuf and Buraydah. In some extended areas, primarily the Rub' al-Khali and the Arabian Desert, there is no population whatsoever, although the petroleum industry is constructing a few planned communities there. Saudi Arabia has no permanent year-round rivers or lakes; however, its coastline extends for 2640 km (1640 miles) and, on the Red Sea side, offers world-class coral reefs, including those in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Native animals include the ibex, wildcats, baboons, wolves, and hyenas in the mountainous highlands. Small birds are found in the oases. The coastal area on the Red Sea with its coral reefs has a rich marine life.

Climate

Extreme heat and aridity are characteristic of most of Saudi Arabia. It is one of the few places in the world where summer temperatures above 50 ° C (122 ° F) have been recorded, 51.7 °C (124 °F) being the highest ever recorded temperature. In winter, frost or snow can occur in the interior and the higher mountains, although this only occurs once or twice in a decade. Lowest ever recorded temperature is -12.0 °C recorded at Turaif. The average winter temperature range is 8° to 20 °C (47° to 68 °F) in January in interior cities such as Riyadh and 19° to 29 °C (66° to 83 °F) in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. The average summer range in July is 27° to 43 °C (81° to 109 °F) in Riyadh and 27° to 38 °C (80° to 100 °F) in Jeddah. Nighttime temperatures in the central deserts can be famously chilly even in summer, as the sand gives up daytime heat rapidly once the sun has set. Annual precipitation is usually sparse (up to 100 mm or 4  inches in most regions), although sudden downpours can lead to violent flash floods in wadis. Annual rainfall in Riyadh averages 100 mm (4 inches) and falls almost exclusively between January and May; the average in Jeddah is 54 mm (2.1 inches) and occurs between November and January.

Government

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

The central institution of the Saudi Arabian government is the Saudi monarchy. The Basic Law of Government adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of the first king, Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. It also claims that the Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of the Sharia (Islamic Law). According to The Economist's Democracy Index, the Saudi government is the ninth most authoritarian regime in the world.

There are no recognized political parties or national elections, except the local elections which were held in the year 2005 when participation was reserved for male citizens only. The king's powers are theoretically limited within the bounds of Shari'a and other Saudi traditions. He also must retain a consensus of the Saudi royal family, religious leaders ( ulema), and other important elements in Saudi society. The Saudi government spreads Islam by funding construction of mosques and Qur'an schools around the world. The leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.

Saudi kings have gradually developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by 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 prime minister and twenty ministers.

Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'a. A 150-member Consultative Assembly, appointed by the King, has limited legislative rights. 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 twelve senior jurists. 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; a public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established traditions.

The combination of relatively high oil prices and exports led to a revenues windfall for Saudi Arabia during 2004 and early 2005. For 2004 as a whole, Saudi Arabia earned about $116 billion in net oil export revenues, up 35 percent from 2003 revenue levels. Saudi net oil export revenues are forecast to increase in 2005 and 2006, to $150 billion and $154 billion, respectively, mainly due to higher oil prices. Increased oil prices and consequent revenues since the price collapse of 1998 have significantly improved Saudi Arabia's economic situation, with real GDP growth of 5.2 percent in 2004, and forecasts of 5.7% and 4.8% growth for 2005 and 2006, respectively.

For fiscal year 2004, Saudi Arabia originally had been expecting a budget deficit. However, this was based on an extremely conservative price assumption of $19 per barrel for Saudi oil and an assumed production of 7.7 Mbbl/d (1,220,000 m³/d). Both of these estimates turned out to be far below actual levels. As a result, as of mid-December 2004, the Saudi Finance Ministry was expecting a huge budget surplus of $26.1 billion, on budget revenues of $104.8 billion (nearly double the country's original estimate) and expenditures of $78.6 billion (28 percent above the approved budget levels). This surplus is being used for several purposes, including: paying down the Kingdom's public debt (to $164 billion from $176 billion at the start of 2004); extra spending on education and development projects; increased security expenditures (possibly an additional $2.5 billion dollars in 2004; see below) due to threats from terrorists; and higher payments to Saudi citizens through subsidies (for housing, education, health care, etc.). For 2005, Saudi Arabia is assuming a balanced budget, with revenues and expenditures of $74.6 billion each.

In spite of the recent surge in its oil income, Saudi Arabia continues to face serious long-term economic challenges, including high rates of unemployment (12 percent of Saudi nationals), one of the world's fastest population growth rates, and the consequent need for increased government spending. All of these place pressures on Saudi oil revenues. The Kingdom also is facing serious security threats, including a number of terrorist attacks (on foreign workers, primarily) in 2003 and 2004. In response, the Saudis reportedly have ramped up spending in the security area (reportedly by 50 percent in 2004, from $5.5 billion in 2003). Saudi Arabia's per capita oil export revenues remain far below high levels reached during the 1970s and early 1980s. In 2007, Saudi Arabia's citizens earned around $20,700 per person, versus $22,589 in 1980, but it is catching up. This 80 percent decline in real per capita oil export revenues since 1980 is in large part because Saudi Arabia's young population has nearly tripled since 1980, while oil export revenues in real terms have fallen by over 40 percent (despite recent increases). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has faced nearly two decades of heavy budget and trade deficits, the expensive 1990-1991 war with Iraq, and total public debt of around $175 billion. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia does have extensive foreign assets (around $110 billion) which provide a substantial fiscal "cushion."

Saudi municipal elections took place in 2005 and some commentators saw this as a first tentative step towards the introduction of democratic processes in the Kingdom, including the legalization of political parties. Other analysts of the Saudi political scene were more skeptical.

Law

The Basic Law, in 1992, declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the progeny of King Abd Al Aziz Al Saud. It also declared the Qur'an as the constitution of the country, governed on the basis of Islamic law.

Criminal cases are tried under Sharia courts in the country. These courts exercise authority over the entire population including foreigners (regardless of religion). Cases involving small penalties are tried in Shari'a summary courts. More serious crimes are adjudicated in Shari'a courts of common pleas. Courts of appeal handle appeals from Shari'a courts.

Civil cases may also be tried under Sharia courts with one exception: Shia may try such cases in their own courts. Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before specialized administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the Settlement of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances.

Main sources of Saudi law are Hanbali fiqh as set out in a number of specified scholarly treatises by authoritative jurists, other schools of law, state regulations and royal decrees (where these are relevant), and custom and practice.

The Saudi legal system prescribes capital punishment or corporal punishment, including amputations of hands and feet for certain crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, drug smuggling, homosexual activity, and adultery. The courts may impose less severe punishments, such as floggings, for less serious crimes against public morality such as drunkenness. Murder, accidental death and bodily harm are open to punishment from the victim's family. Retribution may be sought in kind or through blood money. The blood money payable for a woman's accidental death is half as much as that for a man. The main reason for this is that, according to Islamic law, men are expected to be providers for their families and therefore are expected to earn more money in their lifetimes. The blood money from a man would be expected to sustain his family, for at least a short time. Honor killings are also not punished as severely as murder. This generally stems from the fact that honour killings are within a family, and done to compensate for some dishonorable act committed. Slavery was abolished in 1962.

Human rights

Several international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Committee have issued reports critical of the Saudi legal system and its human rights record in various political, legal, and social areas, especially its severe limitations on the rights of women. The Saudi government typically dismisses such reports as being outright lies or asserts that its actions are based on its adherence to Islamic law.

In 2002, the United Nations Committee against Torture criticized Saudi Arabia over the amputations and floggings it carries out under the Shari'a. The Saudi delegation responded defending its legal traditions held since the inception of Islam in the region 1300 years ago and rejected "interference" in its legal system.

Saudi Arabia is also the only country in the world where women are banned from driving on public roads. (Women may drive off-road and in private housing compounds - some of which extend to many square miles.) The ban may be lifted soon.

The Government views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights. In 2000, the Government approved the October legislation, which the Government claimed would address some of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

"The state protects human rights in accordance with the Islamic Shari'ah."

Basic Law, Chapter 5, Article 26.

The first independent human rights organization, the National Society for Human Rights was established in 2004. The Saudi Government is an active censor of Internet reception within its borders. A Saudi blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, was jailed for five months in solitary confinement in December, 2007, without charges, after criticizing Saudi religious, business and media figures.

Economy

Aramco, the Saudi national oil company, whose main offices are in Dhahran
Aramco, the Saudi national oil company, whose main offices are in Dhahran

Saudi Arabia's economy is Petroleum-based; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product, compared with 40% from the private sector (see below). Saudi Arabia officially has about 260 billion barrels (4.1×1010 m³) of oil reserves, comprising about 24% of the world's proven total petroleum reserves.

Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world
Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world

The government is attempting to promote growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecom. Saudi Arabia announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies in 1999, which followed the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. Shortages of water and rapid population growth may constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.

In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia experienced a significant contraction of oil revenues combined with a high rate of population growth. Per capita income fell from a high of $11,700 at the height of the oil boom in 1981 to $6,300 with in 1998. Recent oil price increases have helped boost per capita GDP to $17,000 in 2007 dollars, or about $7,400 adjusted for inflation.

Recent oil price increases have triggered a second oil boom, pushing Saudi Arabia's budget surplus to $28 billion (110SR billion) in 2005. Tadawul (the Saudi stock market Index) finished 2004 with a massive 76.23% to close at 4437.58 points. Market capitalization was up 110.14% from a year earlier to stand at $157.3 billion (589.93SR billion), which makes it the biggest stock market in the Middle East.‏

OPEC limits its member's oil production based on its "proven reserves." The higher their reserves, the more OPEC allows them to produce. Saudi Arabia's published reserves have shown little change since 1980, with the main exception being an increase of about 100 billion barrels (1.6×1010 m³) between 1987 and 1988. Some have suggested that Saudi Arabia is greatly exaggerating its reserves and may soon show production declines (see peak oil).

To diversify the economy, Saudi Arabia launched a new city on the western coast with investments exceeding 26.6 billion dollars. The city which is named " King Abdullah Economic City" will be built near al-Rabegh industrial city north to Jeddah. The new city, where construction work started in December 2005, includes a port which is the largest port of the kingdom. Extending along a coastline of 35 km, the city will also include petrochemical, pharmaceutical, tourism, finance and education and research areas.

Saudi Arabia officially became a World Trade Organization member in December 2005.

Development

Saudi Arabia is one of the few fastest growing countries in the world with a high per capita income of $20,700 (2007), Saudi Arabia will be launching six economic cities ( King Abdullah Economic City) which will be completed by the year 2020. These six new industrialized cities will diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia, and will also increase the per capita income to a high level. The King of Saudi Arabia has announced that the per capita income is forecast, to rise from $ 15,000 in 2006 to $33,500 in 2020. The cities will be spread around Saudi Arabia to promote diversification for each region and their economy, and the cities will contribute $ 150 billion to the GDP.

However the urban areas of Riyadh and Jeddah will contribute $287 billion dollars by the year 2020.

Foreign labour

Despite the government's efforts to promote Saudization, many men and women from South, South East (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka), East Asia, Africa">East Africa (Egypt) and the Middle East continue to seek work in Saudi Arabia. There are also some people from North America, South America, and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of low- skilled workers and skilled workers from regions of the developing world migrate to Saudi Arabia, sometimes only for a short period of time, to work. Although exact figures are not known, skilled experts in the banking and services professions seek work in the Kingdom.

Demographics

Saudi Arabia's population as of July 2006 is estimated to be about 27,019,731, including about 5,576,076 resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, a majority of the population was nomadic; but presently more than 95% of the population is settled, due to rapid economic and urban growth. As recently as the 1950s, the Saudi Arabia’s slave population was estimated at 450,000 — 20% of the population. Slavery was finally abolished in 1962. The birth rate is 29.56 births per 1,000 people. The death rate is 2.62 deaths per 1,000 people. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer (2,600/sq mi).

Around 85 percent of Saudis are ethnically Arab. Approximately 12% of the population is South Asian or of South Asian ancestry, including Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. In addition, there are some citizens of Asian and sub-Saharan/East African ancestry. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There are over seven million migrants from countries all around the world, including (including non-Muslims): Indian: 1.4 million, Bangladeshi: 1 million, Filipino: 950,000, Pakistani: 900,000, Egyptian: 900,000, Yemeni: 800,000, Indonesian: 500,000, Sri Lankan: 350,000, Sudanese: 250,000, Syrian: 100,000 and Turkish: 80,000. There are around 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia, most of whom live in compounds or gated communities.

Saudi Arabia expelled 800,000 Yemenis in 1990 and 1991 to punish Yemen for its opposition to the war against Iraq. An estimated 240,000 Palestinians are living in Saudi Arabia. They are not allowed to hold or even apply for Saudi citizenship, as the new law passed by Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers in October 2004 (which entitles expatriates of all nationalities who have resided in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship, with priority being given to holders of degrees in various scientific fields) has one glaring exception: Palestinians will not be allowed to benefit from the new law because of Arab League instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship in order "to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland."

The majority of the population adheres to a theological interpretation within Islam most commonly known as Salafism or Wahhabism. The Shia population of the country is estimated at around 15-25 percent, primarily in the eastern provinces on the Gulf, southwestern provinces bordering Yemen, Makkah and particularly, Medina, as well as other larger cities in the Kingdom.

Education

When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932, education was not accessible to everyone and limited to individualized instruction at religious schools in mosques in urban areas. These schools taught Islamic law and basic literacy skills. By the end of the century, Saudi Arabia had a nationwide educational system providing free training from preschool through university to all citizens. The modern Saudi educational system provides quality instruction in diverse fields of modern and traditional arts and sciences. This diversity helps meet the Kingdom's growing need for highly-educated citizens to build on its rapid progress.

The primary education system began in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. By 1945, King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, the country's founder, had initiated an extensive program to establish schools in the Kingdom. Six years later, in 1951, the country had 226 schools with 29,887 students. In 1954, the Ministry of Education was established, headed by then Prince Fahd bin Abdulaziz as the first Minister of Education. The first university, now known as King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957.

Today, Saudi Arabia's nationwide public educational system comprises twenty universities, more than 24,000 schools, and a large number of colleges and other educational and training institutions. The system provides students with free education, books and health services and is open to every Saudi. Over 25 percent of the annual State budget is for education including vocational training. The Kingdom has also worked on scholarship programs to send students overseas to the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and other nations. Currently thousands of students are being sent to higher-educations programs every year.

The study of Islam remains at the core of the Saudi educational system. The Islamic aspect of the Saudi national curriculum is examined in a recent report by Freedom House. The report found that in religious education classes (in any religious school), children are taught to deprecate other religions, in addition to other branches of Islam. The Saudi religious studies curriculum is taught outside the Kingdom in madrasah throughout the world.

Sports

Men can often be found playing sports. Women rarely participate in sports, and always away from the presence of men; this often leads to indoor gyms. Even though football is the most popular sport, Saudi Arabia has recently participated in the Summer Olympic Games and in international competitions in volleyball and other sports. The Saudi Arabian national youth baseball team has also participated in the Little League World Series. The Saudi Arabia national football team is often most known for being in four consecutive times in the FIFA World Cup">FIFA World Cup and six times in the AFC Asian Cup, which the team won three times and was runner-up three times. Some popular football players include Majed Abdullah, Mohamed Al-Deayea, Sami Al-Jaber, and Saeed Al-Owairan.

Culture

Street view of Mecca
Street view of Mecca
A recreation park in Riyadh
A recreation park in Riyadh

Saudi Arabian culture mainly revolves around the religion of Islam. Islam's two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina, are located in the country. Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques which are scattered around the country. The weekend begins on Thursday due to Friday being the holiest day for Muslims. All Muslim countries have a Thursday-Friday or Friday-Saturday weekend. The public practice of any religion other than Islam, including Christianity and Judaism, the presence of churches, and possession of non-Islamic religious materials is not allowed except in Aramco compounds in which many expatriates attend church services. Saudi Arabia's cultural heritage is celebrated at the annual Jenadriyah cultural festival.

However, secret negotiations are rumored to be taking place between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia regarding authorization to build Catholic Churches in the Kingdom.

Music and dance

One of Saudi Arabia's most compelling folk rituals is the Al Ardha, the country's national dance. This sword dance is based on ancient Bedouin traditions: drummers beat out a rhythm and a poet chants verses while sword-carrying men dance shoulder to shoulder. Al-sihba folk music, from the Hejaz, has its origins in al-Andalus. In Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, dance and song incorporate the sound of the mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument in the performance of the mizmar dance. The drum is also an important instrument according to traditional and tribal customs. Samri is popular traditional form of music and dance in which poetry is sung.

Dress

Saudi Arabian dress follows strictly the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing but covering garments are helpful in Saudi Arabia's desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle-length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak ( bisht) over the top. Women's clothes are decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques. Women are required to wear an abaya or modest clothing when in public.

Food

Islamic dietary laws forbid the eating of pork and the drinking of alcohol, and this law is enforced strictly throughout Saudi Arabia. Arabic unleavened bread, or khobz, is eaten with almost all meals. Other staples include lamb, grilled chicken, falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), shawarma (spit-cooked sliced lamb), and Ful medames (a paste of fava beans, garlic and lemon). Traditional coffeehouses used to be ubiquitous, but are now being displaced by food-hall style cafes. Arabic tea is also a famous custom, which is used in both casual and formal meetings between friends, family and even strangers. The tea is black (without milk) and has herbal flavoring that comes in many variations.

Film and theatre

Public theatres and cinemas are prohibited, as Wahhabi tradition deems those institutions to be incompatible with Islam. However, an IMAX theatre is available, and in private compounds such as Dhahran and Ras Tanura public theaters can be found, but often are more popular for local music, arts, and theatre productions rather than the exhibition of motion pictures. Recently, plans for some cinemas that will be allowed to feature Arabic cartoons for women and children were announced. DVDs, including American and British movies, are legal and widely available.

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Literature

Some Saudi novelists have had their books published in Beirut, Lebanon, because of censorship in Saudi Arabia. Despite signs of increasing openness, Saudi novelists and artists in film, theatre, and the visual arts face greater restrictions on their freedom of expression than in the West. Contemporary Saudi novelists include:

  • Abdul Rahman Munif (exiled, now deceased)
  • Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
  • Abdu Khal
  • Turki al-Hamad (subject of a fatwā and death threats)
  • Ali al-Domaini (in jail)
  • Ahmed Abodehman (now writes in French)
  • Raja'a Alem
  • Abdullah Al-Qasemi
  • Rajaa Al Sanie, author of best-selling novel Girls of Riyadh

Foreign relations

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest contributors of development aid, both in term of volume of aid and in the ratio of aid volume to GDP.

Much of Saudi Arabia's aid has gone to poorer Islamic countries or Islamic communities in non-Islamic countries. This "aid" has contributed to the spreading of a uniform and puritanical form of Islam, disregarding the needs and traditions of the different ethnic groups. Therefore Saudi Arabia has spearheaded the erosion of formerly mellow and colorful Islamic cultures through rigid standardization. Examples of the acculturizing effect of Saudi aid can be seen among the Minangkabau and the Acehnese in Indonesia, as well as among the people of the Maldives.

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 62 out of 157
The Economist Worldwide Quality-of-life Index, 2005 72 out of 111
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 161 out of 167
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 70 out of 163
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 61 out of 177
A. T. Kearney/ Foreign Policy Magazine Globalization Index 2005 45 out of 62

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