The Saudi state began in central Arabia in about 1750. A local ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, joined forces with an Islamic reformer, Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula. The modern Saudi state was founded by the late King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud).
In 1902 Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud captured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abdul Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, the rest of Nejd, and the Hijaz between 1913 and 1926. On January 8, 1926 Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud became the King of Hijaz. On January 29, 1927 he took the title King of Nejd (his previous Nejdi title was Sultan). By the Treaty of Jedda, signed on May 20, 1927, the United Kingdom recognized the independence of Abdul Aziz's realm (then known as the Kingdom of Hijaz and Nejd). In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The discovery of oil on March 3, 1938 transformed the country economically, and has given the kingdom great legitimacy over the years. Today Saudi Arabia enjoys a close relationship with the many western nations who purchase Saudi oil.
The central institution of Saudi Arabian Government is the dictator. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and that the Holy Qur'an is the constitution of the country, which is governed on the basis of Islamic law (Shari'a). The formation of political parties is forbbiden, and no nationalelections take place.
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, but his decrees are not subject to democratic approval or accountability. The state's ideology is Wahhabism. This sect of Islam is attempting to gain adherents by funding the building 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.
The House of Saud rules the nation, which is named after it.
The current king, Fahd is largely incapacitated and ill. Current rule of the kingdom is in the hands of his younger brother Crown Prince Abdullah who acts as regent.
The kingdom occupies eighty percent of the Arabian Peninsula. Most of the country's boundaries with the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen are undefined, so the exact size of the country remains unknown. The Saudi government estimate is 2,217,949 square kilometers. Other reputable estimates vary between 2,149,690 square kilometers and 2,240,000 square kilometers. Less than 1 percent of the total area is suitable for cultivation, and in the early 1990s population distribution varied greatly among the towns of the eastern and western coastal areas, the densely populated interior oases, and the vast, almost empty deserts.
The climate is harsh, dry desert with great extremes of temperature and the terrain is mostly uninhabited, sandy desert. Saudi Arabia is considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the so-called "Cradle of Humanity."
In most parts of the country, vegetation is limited to weeds and shrubs. Wild animals like the Oryx Antelope have been exterminated by Saudi hunting companies using machine guns. The coastal area of the Red Sea, especially the coral reefs, have a rich marine fauna.
Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. Saudi Arabia is first in the world in proven reserves of petroleum (24% of the proved total), ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 75% of budget revenues, 40% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. About 35% of GDP comes from the private sector. Saudi Arabia was a key player in the successful efforts of OPEC and other oil producing countries to raise the price of oil in 1999 to its highest level since the Gulf War by reducing production. Although oil prices are expected to remain relatively high in 2000, Riyadh expects to have a $7.5 billion budget deficit in part because of increased spending for education and other social problems. The government in 1999 announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies, which follows the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. The government is expected to continue calling for private sector growth to lessen the kingdom's dependence on oil and increase employment opportunities for the swelling Saudi population. Shortages of water and rapid population growth will constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has experienced a significant contraction of oil revenues combined with a high rate of population growth. Per capita income has fallen from $25,000 in 1980 to $8,000 in 2003.
Saudi Arabia's 2001 population is estimated to be about 22.7 million, including about 6.4 million resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic or seminomadic; due to rapid economic and urban growth, more than 95% of the population now is settled. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer.
Most Saudis are ethnically Arab. Some are of mixed ethnic origin and are descended from Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, Africans, and others, most of whom immigrated as pilgrims and reside in the Hijaz region along the Red Sea coast. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There also are significant numbers of Asian expatriates mostly from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines. There are less than 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia.
Culture has only very narrow avenues of expression and is heavily censored. It has to be "traditional"and has to serve Islam.
Public theatres and cinemas are prohibited, as the ruling family clan believes those institutions to be incompatible with Islam.
The cultural heritage is celebrated at the annual Jenadriyah Cultural festival.