Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Area: 1,960,582 million sq. km. (1,176,349 mi.), about one-fourth the size of the continental United States.
Cities (1992 figures): Capital--Riyadh (pop. 2.5 million). Other cities--Jeddah (1.6 million), Makkah, (1.5 million), Dammam/Khobar/Dhahran, (1 million).
Terrain: Primarily desert with rugged mountains in the southwest.
Climate: Arid, with great extremes of temperature in the interior; humidity and temperature are both high along the coast.
Nationality: Noun--Saudi(s). Adjective--Saudi Arabian or Saudi.
Population (1997 embassy est.): 20 million (14 million Saudis, 6 million foreign nationals).
Annual growth rate: 3.8%.
Ethnic groups: Arab (90% of native pop.), Afro-Asian (10% of native pop.).
Language: Arabic (official).
Education: Literacy--male 73%, female 48%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--38/1,000. Life expectancy--male 65 years, female 68 years.
Work force (7.2 million--approx. 69% foreign workers): Government--34%; industry--28%; service and commerce--22%; agriculture--16%.
Type: Monarchy with Council of Ministers and Consultative Council.
Unification: September 23, 1932.
Constitution: The Holy Qur'an.
Branches: Executive--King (chief of state and head of government). Legislative--none; a Consultative Council with advisory powers was formed September 1993. Judicial--Islamic Courts of First Instance and Appeals. Administrative divisions: 13 provinces.
Political parties: None.
GDP (1997): $145.9 billion.
Annual growth rate (1997): 7.1% overall; non-oil share 4.5%.
Per capita GDP: $7,200.
Natural resources: Hydrocarbons, gold, uranium, bauxite, coal, iron, phosphate, tungsten, zinc, silver, copper.
Agriculture (est. 9% of GDP): Products--dates, grains, livestock, vegetables. Cultivated land--1%.
Industry (est. oil, 38% of GDP; non-oil industry, 8%): petroleum, petrochemicals, cement, fertilizer, light industry.
Trade (1997 embassy estimate): Exports--$54.3 billion: $47.3 billion, petroleum and petroleum products; $7 billion, non-oil exports. Imports--$26.9 billion: manufactured goods, transportation equipment, construction materials, processed food products. Major trading partners--U.S., Japan, Western Europe.
Saudi Arabia's 1997 population was estimated to be about 20.5 million, including about 6 million resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic or semi-nomadic; 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 (2,600 per square mile).
Saudi Arabia is known as the birthplace of Islam, which in the century following Muhammad's death in 632 spread west to Spain and east to India. Islam obliges all Muslims to make the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Makkah, at least once during their lifetime if they are able to do so. The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative; the country adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic religious law (Shari'a). Cultural presentations must conform to narrowly defined standards of ethics. Men and women are not permitted to attend public events together and are segregated in the work place.
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 expatriate workers from North America, South Asia, Europe, and East Asia.
Except for a few major cities and oases, the harsh climate historically prevented much settlement of the Arabian Peninsula. People of various cultures have lived there over a span of more than 5,000 years. The Dilmun culture, along the Gulf coast, was contemporaneous with the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians, and most of the empires of the ancient world traded with the states of the peninsula.
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 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. The modern Saudi state was founded by the late King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Ibn Saud). In 1902, Abdul Aziz recaptured 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. In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Boundaries with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait were established by a series of treaties negotiated in the 1920s, with two "neutral zones"--one with Iraq and the other with Kuwait--created. The Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone was administratively partitioned in 1971, with each state continuing to share the petroleum resources of the former zone equally. Tentative agreement on the partition of the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone was reached in 1981, and partition was finalized by 1983. The country's southern boundary with Yemen was partially defined by the 1934 Treaty of Taif, which ended a brief border war between the two states. It remains undefined in many areas. The border between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was agreed upon in 1974. Boundary differences with Qatar remained unresolved.
King Abdul Aziz died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud, who reigned for 11 years. In 1964, Saud abdicated in favor of his half-brother, Faisal, who had served as Foreign Minister. Because of fiscal difficulties, King Saud had been persuaded in 1958 to delegate direct conduct of Saudi Government affairs to Faisal as Prime Minister; Saud briefly regained control of the government in 1960-62. In October 1962, Faisal outlined a broad reform program, stressing economic development. Proclaimed King in 1964 by senior royal family members and religious leaders, Faisal also continued to serve as Prime Minister. This practice has been followed by subsequent kings.
The mid-1960s saw external pressures generated by Saudi-Egyptian differences over Yemen. When civil war broke out in 1962 between Yemeni royalists and republicans, Egyptian forces entered Yemen to support the new republican government, while Saudi Arabia backed the royalists. Tensions subsided only after 1967, when Egypt withdrew its troops from Yemen.
Saudi forces did not participate in the Six-Day (Arab-Israeli) War of June 1967, but the government later provided annual subsidies to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria to support their economies. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Saudi Arabia participated in the Arab oil boycott of the United States and Netherlands. A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia had joined other member countries in moderate oil price increases beginning in 1971. After the 1973 war, the price of oil rose substantially, dramatically increasing Saudi Arabia's wealth and political influence.
In 1975, King Faisal was assassinated by a nephew, who was executed after an extensive investigation concluded that he acted alone. Faisal was succeeded by his half-brother Khalid as King and Prime Minister; their half-brother Prince Fahd was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Khalid empowered Crown Prince Fahd to oversee many aspects of the government's international and domestic affairs. Economic development continued rapidly under King Khalid, and the kingdom assumed a more influential role in regional politics and international economic and financial matters.
In June 1982, King Khalid died, and Fahd became King and Prime Minister in a smooth transition. Another half-brother, Prince Abdullah, Commander of the Saudi National Guard, was named Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister. King Fahd's brother, Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, became Second Deputy Prime Minister. Under King Fahd, the Saudi economy adjusted to sharply lower oil revenues resulting from declining global oil prices. Saudi Arabia supported neutral shipping in the Gulf during periods of the Iran-Iraq war and aided Iraq's war-strained economy. King Fahd played a major part in bringing about the August 1988 cease-fire between Iraq and Iran and in organizing and strengthening the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a group of six Arabian Gulf states dedicated to fostering regional economic cooperation and peaceful development.
In 1990-91, King Fahd played a key role before and during the Gulf war. King Fahd's action also consolidated the coalition of forces against Iraq and helped define the tone of the operation as a multilateral effort to reestablish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kuwait. Acting as a rallying point and personal spokesman for the coalition, King Fahd helped bring together his nation's GCC allies, Western allies, and Arab allies, as well as nonaligned nations from Africa and the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. He used his influence as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to persuade other Arab and Islamic nations to join the coalition.
King Fahd suffered a stroke in November 1995. By the end of 1997, Crown Prince Abdullah had taken on much of the day-to-day responsibilities of running the government.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The central institution of Saudi Arabian Government is the monarchy. The Basic Law adopted in 1992 declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the sons and grandsons of King Abd Al 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). There are no political parties or national elections. The king's powers are limited because he must observe the 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 leading members of the royal family choose the king from among themselves with the subsequent approval of the ulema.
Saudi kings gradually have developed a central government. Since 1953, the Council of Ministers, appointed by and responsible to 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 and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense is also the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major autonomous organizations.
Legislation is by resolution of the Council of Ministers, ratified by royal decree, and must be compatible with the Shari'a. 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 12 senior jurists. The 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, or public audience) and the right to petition them directly are well-established traditions.
The kingdom is divided into 13 provinces governed by princes or close relatives of the royal family. All governors are appointed by the King.
In March 1992, King Fahd issued several decrees outlining the basic statutes of government and codifying for the first time procedures concerning the royal succession. The King's political reform program also provided for the establishment of a national Consultative Council, with appointed members having advisory powers to review and give advice on issues of public interest. It also outlined a framework for councils at the provincial or emirate level.
In September 1993, King Fahd issued additional reform decrees, appointing the members of the national Consultative Council and spelling out procedures for the new council's operations. He announced reforms regarding the Council of Ministers, including term limitations of 4 years and regulations to prohibit conflict of interest for ministers and other high-level officials. The members of 13 provincial councils and the councils' operating regulations also were announced in September 1993.
In July 1997, the membership of the Consultative Council was expanded from 60 to 90 members, and 60 new members were appointed. The role of the Council is gradually expanding as it gains experience.
Principal Government Officials
King, Prime Minister, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques--King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Prince Saud Al Faysal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ambassador to the U.S.--Prince Bandar bin Sultan
The Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located at 601 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037; tel. 202-342-3800.
Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia by American geologists in the 1930s, although largescale production did not begin until after World War II. Oil wealth has made possible rapid economic development, which began in earnest in the 1960s and accelerated spectacularly in the 1970s, transforming the kingdom.
Saudi oil reserves are the largest in the world, and Saudi Arabia is the world's leading oil producer and exporter. Oil accounts for more than 90% of the country's exports and nearly 75% of government revenues. Proven reserves are estimated at more than 260 billion barrels--about one-quarter of world oil reserves.
More than 95% of all Saudi oil is produced on behalf of the Saudi Government by the parastatal giant, Saudi ARAMCO. In June 1993, Saudi ARAMCO absorbed the state marketing and refining company (SAMAREC), becoming the world's largest fully integrated oil company. Operating in the former neutral zone, the Japanese-owned Arabian Oil Company (AOC) and the Saudi subsidiary of Texaco, Saudi Arabian Texaco, provide the rest of Saudi crude oil production. Most Saudi oil exports move by tanker from terminals at Ras Tenure and Ju'Aymah. The remaining oil exports are transported via the east-west pipeline across the kingdom to the Red Sea port of Yanbu.
Due to a sharp rise in petroleum revenues in 1974 following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Saudi Arabia became one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. It enjoyed a substantial surplus in its overall trade with other countries; imports increased rapidly; and ample government revenues were available for development, defense, and aid to other Arab and Islamic countries.
But higher oil prices led to development of more oil fields around the world and reduced global consumption. The result, beginning in the mid-1980s, was a worldwide oil glut, which introduced an element of planning uncertainty for the first time in a decade. Saudi oil production, which had increased to almost 10 million barrels per day (b/d) during 1980-81, dropped to about 2 million b/d in 1985. Budgetary deficits developed, and the government drew down its foreign assets. Responding to financial pressures, Saudi Arabia gave up its role as the "swing producer" within OPEC in the summer of 1985 and accepted a production quota. Since then, Saudi oil policy has been guided by a desire to maintain market and quota shares.
However, beginning in late 1997, Saudi Arabia again faced the challenge of low oil prices. Due to a combination of factors--the East Asian economic crises, a warm winter in the West caused by El Nino, and an increase in non-OPEC oil production--demand for oil slowed and pulled oil prices down by over one-third. Saudi Arabia organized a series of oil production cutback agreements over the first half of 1998 but, as of late summer, prices had not recovered. Despite increased development of a petrochemical sector and of extensive natural gas resources, the health of the Saudi economy remains heavily dependent on the price of oil.
Through 5-year development plans, the government has sought to allocate its petroleum income to transform its relatively undeveloped, oil-based economy into that of a modern industrial state while maintaining the kingdom's traditional Islamic values and customs. Although economic planners have not achieved all their goals, the economy has progressed rapidly, and the standard of living of most Saudis has improved significantly. Dependence on petroleum revenue continues, but industry and agriculture now account for a larger share of economic activity. A shortage of skilled Saudi workers at all levels remains the principal obstacle to economic diversification and development; about 4.7 million non-Saudis are employed in the economy.
Saudi Arabia's first two development plans, covering the 1970s, emphasized infrastructure. The results were impressive--the total length of paved highways tripled; power generation increased by a multiple of 28; and the capacity of the seaports grew tenfold. For the third plan (1980-85), the emphasis changed. Spending on infrastructure declined, but it rose markedly on education, health, and social services. The share for diversifying and expanding productive sectors of the economy (primarily industry) did not rise as planned; but the two industrial cities of Jubail and Yanbu--built around the use of the country's oil and gas to produce steel, petrochemicals, fertilizer, and refined oil products--were largely completed.
In the fourth plan (1985-90), the country's basic infrastructure was viewed as largely complete, but education and training remained areas of concern. Private enterprise was encouraged, and foreign investment in the form of joint ventures with Saudi public and private companies was welcomed. The private sector became more important, rising to 70% of non-oil GDP by 1987. While still concentrated in trade and commerce, private investment increased in industry, agriculture, banking, and construction companies. These private investments were supported by generous government financing and incentive programs. The objective was for the private sector to have 70% to 80% ownership in most joint venture enterprises.
The fifth plan (1990-95) emphasized consolidation of the country's defenses; improved and more efficient government social services; regional development; and, most importantly, creating greater private-sector employment opportunities for Saudis by reducing the number of foreign workers.
The sixth 5-year plan (1996-2000) focuses on lowering the cost of government services without cutting them and will seek to expand educational training programs. The plan calls for reducing the kingdom's dependence on the petroleum sector by diversifying economic activity, particularly in the private sector, with special emphasis on industry and agriculture. It also continues the effort to "Saudiize" the labor force.
Saudi foreign policy objectives are to maintain its security and its paramount position on the Arabian Peninsula, defend general Arab and Islamic interests, promote solidarity among Islamic governments, and maintain cooperative relations with other oil-producing and major oil-consuming countries.
Saudi Arabia signed the UN Charter in 1945. The country plays a prominent and constructive role in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and Arab and Islamic financial and development assistance institutions. Formerly one of the largest aid donors in the world, it still gives some aid to a number of Arab, African, and Asian countries. Jeddah is the headquarters of the Secretariat of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and its subsidiary organization, the Islamic Development Bank, founded in 1969.
Membership in the 13-member OPEC and in the technically and economically oriented Arab producer group--the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries--facilitates coordination of Saudi oil policies with other oil-exporting governments. As the world's leading exporter of petroleum, Saudi Arabia has a special interest in preserving a stable and long-term market for its vast oil resources by allying itself with healthy Western economies which can protect the value of Saudi financial assets. It generally has acted to stabilize the world oil market and tried to moderate sharp price movements.
The Saudi Government frequently helps mediate regional crises and support the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. A charter member of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia supports the Arab position that Israel must withdraw from the territories which it occupied in June 1967, including East Jerusalem. Saudi Arabia supports a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict but rejected the Camp David accords, claiming that they would be unable to achieve a comprehensive political solution that would ensure Palestinian rights and adequately address the status of Jerusalem. Although Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic relations with and suspended aid to Egypt in the wake of Camp David, the two countries renewed formal ties in 1987.
In 1990-91, Saudi Arabia played an important role in the Gulf war, developing new allies and improving existing relationships between Saudi Arabia and some other countries. However, there also were diplomatic and financial costs. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya deteriorated. Each country had remained silent following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait but called for an end to violence once the deployment of coalition troops began. Relations between these countries and Saudi Arabia have returned to their pre-war status. Saudi Arabia's relations with those countries which expressed support for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait--Yemen, Jordan, and Sudan--were severely strained during and immediately after the war. For example, several hundred thousand Yemenis were expelled from Saudi Arabia after the Government of Yemen announced its position, thus exacerbating an existing border dispute. Saudi-Yemeni relations, especially in the wake of the 1994 Yemen civil war, remain fragile and of significant concern to the Saudi Government. The Palestine Liberation Organization's support for Iraq cost it financial aid as well as good relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Recently, though, Saudi Arabia's relations with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have improved, with the Saudi Government providing assistance for Palestinian Authority.
During and after the Gulf war, the Government of Saudi Arabia provided water, food, shelter, and fuel for coalition forces in the region. There also were monetary payments to some coalition partners. Saudi Arabia's combined costs in payments, foregone revenues, and donated supplies were $55 billion. More than $15 billion went toward reimbursing the United States alone.
U.S.-SAUDI ARABIAN RELATIONS
Saudi Arabia's unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world's largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States. Diplomatic relations were established in 1933; the U.S. embassy opened in Jeddah in 1944 and moved to Riyadh in 1984. The Jeddah embassy became a U.S. Consulate. Meanwhile, a U.S. Consulate opened in Dhahran in 1944.
The United States and Saudi Arabia share a common concern about regional security, oil exports and imports, and sustainable development. Close consultations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have developed on international, economic, and development issues such as the Middle East peace process and shared interests in the Gulf. The continued availability of reliable sources of oil, particularly from Saudi Arabia, remains important to the prosperity of the United States as well as to Europe and Japan. Saudi Arabia is often the leading source of imported oil for the United States, providing more that 20% of total U.S. crude imports and 10% of U.S. consumption. The U.S. is Saudi Arabia's largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia is the largest U.S. export market in the Middle East.
Since 1933, the Saudi Arabian Government has relied on the U.S. Government and private organizations for technical expertise and assistance in developing its human and mineral resources. The two countries established a Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation in June 1974. Under commission auspices, cooperation between the two countries has grown in technical training and education, agriculture, science and technology, transportation, government administration, industrialization, and solar energy research.
In addition to economic ties, a longstanding security relationship continues to be important in U.S.-Saudi relations. A U.S. military training mission established at Dhahran in 1953 provides training and support in the use of weapons and other security-related services to the Saudi armed forces. The United States has sold Saudi Arabia military aircraft (F-15s, AWACS, and UH-60 Blackhawks), air defense weaponry (Patriot and Hawk missiles), armored vehicles (M1A2 Abrams tanks and M-2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles), and other equipment. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had a long-term role in military and civilian construction activities in the Kingdom.
The Gulf war demonstrated U.S.-Saudi cooperation in the areas of cultural accommodation, as well as in military operations. For example, the United States military issued general orders prohibiting the consumption of alcohol and setting guidelines for off-duty behavior and attire. Saudi Arabia accommodated U.S. culture and its military procedures by allowing U.S. servicewomen to serve in their varied roles throughout the kingdom--a major step for a highly patriarchal society.
Despite close cooperation on security issues, the United States remains concerned about human rights conditions in Saudi Arabia. Principal human rights problems include abuse of prisoners and incommunicado detention; prohibitions or severe restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press, peaceful assembly and association, and religion; denial of the right of citizens to change their government; systematic discrimination against women and ethnic and religious minorities; and suppression of workers' rights.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Wyche Fowler, Jr.
Deputy Chief of Mission--Albert A. Thibault, Jr.
Counselor for Consular Affairs--Allen J. Kepchar
Counselor for Economic Affairs--John L. Moran
Counselor for Political Affairs--Marc J. Sievers
Counselor for Political-Military Affairs--Frederick W. Axelgard
Counselor for Public Affairs--Richard J. Schmierer
Consul General, Dhahran--Douglas C. Greene
Consul General, Jeddah--Stephen W. Buck
The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia is located in the Diplomatic Quarter of Riyadh (tel. 966-1-488-3800). The Consulate General in Jeddah is located on Palestine Road, Ruwais, Jeddah (tel. 966-2-667-0080); and the Consulate General in Dhahran is located between ARAMCO Headquarters and the Dhahran International Airport (tel. 966-3-891-3200). The Embassy and consulates are open for business Saturday through Wednesday, in accordance with the official work week of Saudi Arabia.