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Official Name: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Area: Approximately 864,900 square miles
Location: Saudi Arabia is separated from Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia by the Red Sea to the west; from Iran by the Persian Gulf to the east; and from Bahrain by the Gulf of Bahrain, also to the east. It shares land boundaries with seven other Arab countries: Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to the north; the Republic of Yemen and Oman to the south; and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to the east.
Principal Physical Features: Plateau regions, deserts, mountains
Mountain Ranges: Asir Mountains, Hejaz Mountains, Jebel Tuwayq
Climate: Almost all of Saudi Arabia has a desert climate with scant, unreliable rainfall and extremely hot temperatures for many months of the year. The north receives less than 1 inch of rainfall annually and the south has even less rainfalls. Only the mountainous Asir region in the southwest receives appreciable quantities of rainfall from Indian Ocean monsoons.
In summer, daytime temperatures are hot everywhere except at the higher elevations. Maximum temperatures in the interior often reach 130 F (54 C). In winter, temperatures in the interior are mild during the day (in the 70's F or 20's C) but often fall below freezing at night.
Saudi Arabia lacks permanent rivers and lakes and must rely heavily on groundwater. Fortunately, wells and springs are plentiful in the Al Hasa region.
Population (1996 estimate): 18,426,000. 21.1 persons per square mile
City Population Year of Estimate Riyadh
Major Religion: Islam (official)
Most Saudi Arabians also follow the teachings of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahab, an 18th-century Muslim reformer who advocated a strict, puritanical Islam. Not all Saudis, however, belong to the same sect of Islam. A large majority of the population are Sunny Muslims, but there are an estimated 400,000 Shiite Muslims, most of whom live in eastern Saudi Arabia in the vicinity of Al Hasa and at Al Qatif oases.
Foreigners in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia has a large foreign population whose number is thought to exceed 4.6 million. Makkah has large Indian and Indonesian communities. Madinah has many Syrians and Egyptians, and Jeddah has many Persians, Yemenis, and Africans.
Foreign workers outnumber native Saudis in the labor force by nearly two to one. They are vital to the petroleum, construction, commerce, finance, and health sectors. More than 50 per cent of these workers come from neighboring Arab countries, particularly Yemen, but a growing number come from Pakistan, Korea, the Philippines, and other Asian countries. Many Americans also work in the kingdom, especially in the petroleum industry. Saudi Arabia hopes to reduce its reliance on foreign workers and to that end has made the education of its population a high priority.
Major Language: Arabic (official)
Literacy: 62.8 percent
- Islamic University, Madinah
- Islamic University of Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud
- King Saud University , Riyadh
- King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah
- King Faisal University, Damman
- University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran
Until the mid-1960s the only surfaced roads were in the Jeddah-Makkah-Madinah region. The government has made road building a top priority since then, and by the mid-1990s the kingdom had approximately 94,000 miles of roads.
There are principal ports: Jeddah, Yenbo, and Qizan on the red Sea and Damman and Jubail on the gulf. There are 24 airports, with the main international terminals at Jeddah, Dhahran, and Riyadh. Rail transportation is relatively insignificant. The main line connects Damman on the gulf with Riyadh.
Form of Government: Monarchy
Head of Government: King
(13 administrative regions)
4. Al-Hudud ash-Shamaliyah
12. Ash-Sharqiyah (Eastern Province)
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy in which Islamic law serves as the constitution. The king, in order to rule, must obtain the support of the royal family, which is believed to have several thousand members. Royal princes hold all the key national security positions, though a growing number of technocrats from outside the family operate government departments concerned with economic and social development.
(Source: Compton's Deluxe Interactive Encyclopedia)
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