Saudi Arabia Overview
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occupies most of the
Arabian Peninsula and borders in the north on Jordan,
Iraq and Kuwait, in the east on the Persian Gulf, Qatar
and the United Arab Emirates, in the south on Oman and
Yemen, in the west the Red Sea. The total area of 2
240 000 km² (the country is about four times the size of
France) includes numerous islands in the Persian Gulf
and the Red Sea (eg Farasan Islands).
The majority of Saudi Arabia consists of sand and
stone deserts. In the south and southeast is the Arabian
Desert (Rub al Khali), which occupies a third of the
country with an area of around 700,000 km². To the
north is the Nefud Desert (An Nafud), approximately
60,000 km² in size and consisting mainly of red sand.
The Ad Dahna desert in the east of the country connects
the Nefud Desert and the Arabian Desert, where the
so-called Neutral Zone was located, an oil-rich area
that belonged to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia until 1966 and
is still exploited by both countries today. In the west
of Saudi Arabia there are two large mountain systems,
Hejaz (Hijaz) in the north and - afterwards - Asir,
which run parallel to the Red Sea coast. In the Asir is
the highest elevation in the country, the Jabal Sawda
with 3 133 m. The land drops steeply towards the Red Sea
to a coastal plain that is between 20 and 50 km wide.
The central highlands (Nejd), which lies at around 1,000
m, are divided by deep valleys (wadis) and descend in
marked steps to the east towards the Persian Gulf. The
capital Riyadh (Al Riyad) is located in the center of
the Arabian Peninsula.
The climate is desert-dry in the interior and hot and
humid in the coastal areas. In the capital Riyadh, mean
values of 15 ¡ã C are measured in January and 34 ¡ã C in
July. Precipitation is very low and does not exceed 100
mm on an annual average.
In Djidda (Jiddah) on the Red Sea coast, the average
temperature in January is 24 ¡ã C, in July 32 ¡ã C. Here
too, the amount of precipitation is low (around 100 mm),
but there is still high humidity. Up to 600 mm of
precipitation is sometimes measured on the western
slopes of the Asir Mountains.
Flora and fauna
Large parts of the country are almost without
vegetation: While there is no plant growth in the
Arabian Desert and parts of the Nefud Desert, thorn and
hard bushes and steppe grasses can be found in the
central highlands and coastal areas. Forests exist only
in the western coastal mountains (Asir), holm oaks and
cedars grow here. An exception are the oases, which are
mostly located in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia: In
the middle of dry areas, springs extract groundwater.
Many of the oases are cultivated intensively
(vegetables, fruit trees, date palms).
The deserted and semi-deserts in Saudi Arabia form
ideal retreat areas for many animal species that have
already become extinct in other parts of the world or
are very rare. Desert monitor lizards, hawks and sand
cats, caracals, white oryx antelopes and Nubian ibex
live here. In addition, wolves, jackals, foxes,
ostriches, leopards and wild sheep live in the country.
There is a diverse bird life on the coasts (including
pelicans, flamingos, Socotra cormorants).
The population of Saudi Arabia comprises just under
26.42 million people, of whom over 5.5 million are of
non-Saudi origin. The largest minorities come from Yemen
(9.5% of the total population), Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan,
Pakistan, Syria, India and Kuwait. In addition, around
100,000 Palestinian refugees live in Saudi Arabia. Islam
is the state religion, 99% of the residents are Muslim
Sunni (Wahabites). There are smaller groups of Hindus
and Christians among the foreign workers. Islamic law,
Sharia law, is the basis for the entire legal system of
the state. The national language is Arabic, English is
used as the commercial language.
The majority of Saudi Arabians (over 80%) live in the
cities of the coastal regions or oasis towns in the
center of the country, large parts of the state are not
or only temporarily inhabited (nomads). The largest city
is the capitalRiyadh with 4.55 million residents in the
urban area, followed by Djidda (3.19 million). In the
west of the country are the cities of Mecca (Makkah) and
Medina (Al Madinah), birthplace and tomb of the Prophet
Mohammed and the two most important holy places of
Islam. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter both cities.
The standard of living is very high in urban areas,
but sometimes low in rural areas. Life expectancy is a
good 75 years, and population growth despite a tendency
to emigrate is 2.4%. According to COUNTRYAAH,
the literacy rate is given as 79%.
Saudi Arabia is a kingdom, the head of state is the
king (Salman Ibn Abd al-Aziz since January 2015). The
king also holds the office of head of government and is
also nominally the spiritual leader. The Koran and the
Shari'ah form the basis of the state and legal system.
All political and military power is in the hands of the
royal house, important posts such as that of the
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense or the
provincial governors are occupied by the king's brothers
The legislation is also in the hands of the royal
family; the Majlis Asshura, a gathering of 150 members
appointed by the king for four years, has a purely
advisory role. This "Consultative Assembly", which is
mainly made up of experts, scientists and technocrats,
has a say in the management of state affairs and a
so-called right to ask questions.
Political parties and unions are not permitted in
Saudi Arabia, there is an extensive ban on assembly,
freedom of expression and the press are restricted.
Public life is strictly controlled, non-Islamic
religious practice is punished.
Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 regions (mintaqat),
there are also two neutral zones.
Because of its huge oil reserves, which have been
extracted since 1938 and exported since 1944, Saudi
Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world and
the largest oil producer in the world. A quarter of the
world's known reserves are located on Saudi state
territory. In addition to petroleum, the country also
has deposits of natural gas, gold, silver, iron and tin.
The unemployment rate among the local population is
officially 12%, according to unofficial estimates 30%.
With the help of the high profits from petroleum
exports, an efficient economy that is largely
independent of raw material exports has been built up in
recent years. On the Persian Gulf (Al Jubayl) and on the
Red Sea (Yanbu), for example, new industrial centers
with large companies in the petrochemical and steel
industries were created, and cooperation with foreign
companies is also carried out here. Nevertheless, the
state still generates 90% of its export earnings from
oil; economic growth of 5% on average is also due to the
Agriculture also benefits from the profits of oil
exports through subsidies. Around 4% of all workers are
employed in this area, which generates around 2% of the
gross domestic product. With the help of
state-of-the-art irrigation systems, the areas under
cultivation of wheat, millet, rice, vegetables and
especially dates could be expanded over a large area.
Saudi Arabia is the largest date exporter in the world.
Cattle breeding is still predominantly practiced today
by nomads or semi-nomads.
The financial services sector is also growing
steadily. An important source of income for Saudi Arabia
is the pilgrims who travel to the two holy cities of
Islam (about 2.5 million annually). There is hardly any
The country's most important trading partners are
China, the USA, Japan, South Korea and the EU countries.
The currency is the Saudi rial (also riyal; = 100