Occupying most of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia covers an area the size of western Europe. It is the world’s largest oil producer and has a major petrochemicals industry.
Geography: Mostly desert or semi-desert plateau. Mountain ranges in the west run parallel to the Red Sea and drop steeply to a coastal plain.
Climate: In summer, temperatures often soar above 118°F (48°C), but in winter they may fall below freezing. Rainfall is rare.
People and Society: Most Saudis are Sunni Muslims who follow the strictly orthodox Wahhabi interpretation of Islam and embrace sharia (Islamic law) in their daily lives. Women are obliged to wear the veil, cannot hold a driver’s license, and have no role in public life. The al-Sa’ud family has had absolute rule since 1932. With the support of the religious establishment, it controls all political life.
The Economy: Vast oil and natural gas reserves. A third of workers are foreign. Attractive jobs for young Saudis are scarce, however.
Insight: Three million Muslims a year make the haj (pilgrimage) to the holy city of Mecca. Only practicing Muslims are allowed inside the city
Official Name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Date of Formation: 1932
Population: 25.7 million
Total Area: 756,981 sq. miles (1,960,582 sq. km)
Density: 32 people per sq. mile
Religions: (Native population) Sunni Muslim 85%, Shi’a Muslim 15%
Ethnic Mix: Arab 72%, foreign (mostly S or SE Asian) 20%, Afro-Asian 8%
Currency: Saudi riyal = 100 halalat