macrohistory & world report

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Map of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia (capital Riyadh) and neighboring states


Saudia Arabia's population is more conservative than the Saudi monarchy. So claims Fareed Zakaria. The monarchy, indeed, has been trying to advance the country slowly while maintaining political and social stability and itself in power as the instrument of that stability. The monarchy is guarded regarding the Arab Spring. It has been advancing opportunities for women and local democracy. The monarchy favors tolerance among faiths and compatability with democracies. It is slow in relaxing strictures still adhered to with fervor by the country's conservative Muslim community.

World Factbook as of November 2014: "Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. It possesses about 16% of the world's proven petroleum reserves, ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 80% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. Saudi Arabia is encouraging the growth of the private sector in order to diversify its economy and to employ more Saudi nationals. Diversification efforts are focusing on power generation, telecommunications, natural gas exploration, and petrochemical sectors. Over 6 million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy, particularly in the oil and service sectors, while Riyadh is struggling to reduce unemployment among its own nationals. Saudi officials are particularly focused on employing its large youth population, which generally lacks the education and technical skills the private sector needs. Riyadh has substantially boosted spending on job training and education, most recently with the opening of the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology – Saudi Arabia's first co-educational university. As part of its effort to attract foreign investment, Saudi Arabia acceded to the WTO in 2005. The government has begun establishing six "economic cities" in different regions of the country to promote foreign investment and plans to spend $373 billion between 2010 and 2014 on social development and infrastructure projects to advance Saudi Arabia's economic development."

King Abdbullah

King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz

Per capita GDP
2013: 31,300, 44th among 228 countries.

GDP annual growth rate
2013: 3.1%
2012: 5.6%
2011: 8.6%

Military expenditures as percentage of GDP
2012: 7.98% of GDP, 3rd among 132 countries. Israel is 4th, the US is 9th.

Export/import ratio
2011: exports 3.3 times imports in cash value, an extremely favorable ratio.


Living in an urban area
2010: 82%

Ethnic groups
Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%

Factbook: "Muslim 100%"


One-fifth the size of the United States. On the west bank of the Persian Gulf. North of Yemen and Oman. Mostly uninhabited desert. Arable land 1.67 percent; Irrigated land 16,200 square kilometers, equivalent to 126 by 126 kilometers or roughly 79 by 79 miles. Capital: Riyadh.

Recent History

1979: A gang of fundamentalist Muslims seize the Grand Mosque at Mecca in an attempt to overthrow the Saud dynasty, which they believe corrupt. Shia Muslims in the east of the country join the revolt. The boldness and faith of the revolt's leader, Juhayman al-Otaibi, inspires Osama bin Laden and others – a prelude to the assassination of Egypt's Anwar Sadat.

1992 King Faud introduces Saudi Arabia's first constitution – the Basic Law of Government. Absolute power remains with the Saudi monarchy. There is a consultative council of 60 members appointed by the king that is to interpret laws and make recommendations. The first municipal governments are created.

1995-96: King Faud suffers a series of strokes and his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, takes over administration of the kingdom. 

The monarchy is on a course of political reform – but not showing a willingness to go so far as constitutional monarchy like those that exist in Europe, where the real power lies in parliament. The Saudi monarchy is providing its subjects more input in local affairs. The first nationwide municipal elections are held on February 10, 2005. The monarchy is said to be under pressure from conservative clerics and religiously devout subjects. This means slow reforms regarding rights and freedom for women. 

March 21, 2006: The Saud monarchy is described as authoritarian rather than autocratic. The speaker, a woman, describes the Saud family as not autocratic in its relation with the people of their kingdom but authoritarian.

The scholar Bernard Lewis speaks of Saudi Arabia's oil wealth as having discouraged democracy. The government did not have to tax people and with no taxation there was no demand for representation.

Yaroslav Trofimov, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, reports that only a Muslim can be a Saudi citizen. And he writes that "...any public expression of other religions – even by the six million or more foreign workers who make the Saudi economy run -- is a crime."

Trofimov describes McDonald's "restaurants" in Saudi Arabia as having separate sections for males and females and separate entrances.

August 12, 2007: According to Al Jazeera, in the city of Medina in Saudi Arabia, members of a commission commonly known as the Muttawa (who can be described as morality police) arrest a Bangladeshi man for washing his car during a time of day when he should have been at prayer. It makes the news because, according to the news item, he died of fright. The commission's official title is Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

July 19, 2008: King Abdullah opens an "unprecedented" Interfaith-Conference in Madrid. Saudi Arabia has been pursuing a successful program against advocacy of violence by hardliner fundamentalists – in the monarchy's interest because those fundamentalists are hostile to the monarchy and its efforts at reform. King Abdullah's policies have also resulted in the closing down of websites by clerics opposed to his programs for modernization.

In the US, meanwhile, some fear exists regarding the king's age. He is 86. His designated successor, Crown Prince Sultan, is 82 and ill. After him comes Prince Nayev, who is now around 77. Prince Nayef is described by the Weekly Standard as "the most rigid and anti-Western of the heirs to Ibn Saud, founder of he modern Saudi state." The Weekly Standard describes Prince Nayef as a "protector of the Wahhabi clerics" and "the first Saudi leader to declare that 9/11 was a Zionist conspiracy."

October 31, 2008: King Abdullah is reported to have announced plans to build the first women-only university in the kingdom. He vows that will be the largest women's university in the world.

April 5, 2010: King Abdullah's Council of Ministers endorse the general objectives of the Ninth Five-Year Development Plan. The plan focuses on human rights, education, national security, sustained progress and balanced development of regions. Culture and Information Minister, Abdul Aziz Khoja, says the plan will work to improve the living standards of all citizens and create more opportunities for them to gain education and training.

September 18, 2010: Complaints are made about the failure of Western media to give King Abdullah credit for his efforts at reform and progress

February 23, 2011: King Abdullah announces a $10 billion increase in welfare spending. According to Michael Slackman of the New York Times this is "to help young people marry, buy homes and open businesses, a gesture seen as trying to head off the kind of unrest that fueled protests around the region."

February 24, 2011 King Abdullah announces a gift of $36 billion for Bahrain. According to its purpose is "to ease the economic burdens of its restive people, offering them interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance, and debt forgiveness."

March 5, 2011: The Saudi Interior Ministry declares on state television a ban on all protests and marches.

May 25, 2011: An article by Diana Al-Jassem at Arab headlines "Parents seek to quell blooming Arab Spring — at the dinner table." Ms Al-Jassem writes: "Muna Falah, a primary teacher at an international school in Jeddah, says she is hearing children tell jokes about Arab leaders and the revolutions that are taking them down."

May 26, 2011: In an effort to accelerate the pace of reform in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah has made new appointments to a number of top government posts, including the Council of Ministers. The new political appointments are a significant step in the Kingdom's overall liberalization initiative, as the appointees are expected to bring new moderate voices to the Saudi political system, as well as greater transparency and representation. These are the first major changes in the cabinet since King Abdullah ascended the throne in 2005.

June 13, 2011: The Arab News, a paper published in Saudi Arabia, editorializes: "... throughout much of the region women are still being imprisoned by tradition and culture – and let's be frank, men's fears, ego or mistrust."

April 11, 2013: An article in Al Arabiya regarding Syria addresses the belief that "Saudi Arabia is now acting against Assad because the latter happens to hail from the Alawite minority, while Syria is predominantly Sunni." According to the article, "This is laughable because the same regime has been ruling Syria for 42 years, so anyone who actually believes this is insinuating that it took the Saudis four decades to find out the Assad family's religious background." The article's Saudi source told Al Arabiya, Bashar is politically immature and a pathological liar. He had full Saudi support when he first assumed office, but the support quickly began to vaporize until none was left at all following the assassination of (former) Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005." The article continues: "Hariri was a moderate Sunni leader whom Saudi Arabia nurtured and supported. His rise to power came as a result of the Saudi-brokered Taif Accord of 1989, which effectively ended 15 years of Lebanese civil war. Syria was responsible for Lebanon's security as per the Taif Accord, which is why upon the assassination, fingers were quickly pointed at Damascus and its ally, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah."

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.