Saudi Arabia

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المملكة العربية السعودية

al-Mamlaka al-ʿarabīya as-saʿūdīya
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Flag of Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia Coat of Arms
flag emblem
Motto : لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله
Laa ilaha illa llāh Muhammadun rasūlu llāh.
( Arabic for "There is no god but Allah (God) and Mohammed is the Messenger of God.", see Schahāda )
Official language Arabic
Capital Riad
State and form of government Absolute Monarchy
Head of state , also head of government King and Prime Minister
Salman ibn Abd al-Aziz ( de jure )

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ( de facto )

surface 2,149,690 km²
population 34.3 million ( 41st ) (2019)
Population density 16 inhabitants per km²
Population development + 1.7% (estimate for 2019)
gross domestic product
  • Total (nominal)
  • Total ( PPP )
  • GDP / inh. (nom.)
  • GDP / inh. (KKP)
  • $ 793 billion ( 18. )
  • $ 1.7 trillion ( 17. )
  • 23,266 USD ( 42. )
  • 49,216 USD ( 26. )
Human Development Index 0.854 ( 40th ) (2019)
currency Saudi Riyal (SAR)
founding September 23, 1932 (union)
National anthem Asch al-Malik
(Long live the king)
Time zone UTC + 3
License Plate KSA
ISO 3166 SA , SAU, 682
Internet TLD .sa
Phone code +966
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Saudi Arabia (also outdated Saudi Arabia or Saudi Arabia , Arabic المملكة العربية السعودية al-Mamlaka al-ʿarabīya as-saʿūdīya , Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ) is an absolute monarchy in the Middle East . It is located on the Arabian Peninsula and borders on the neighboring countries (see land borders below), the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf . A resident of Saudi Arabia is known as a Saudi or a Saudi Arabian .

Two of the three holiest sites in Islam , the Kaaba in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina , are in Saudi Arabia. The country has existed in its current borders since 1932; absolutism as a form of government was enshrined in the 1992 constitution . The capital and largest city of the country is Riyadh , the second largest is the port city of Jeddah .

The Islam of the Hanbali legal school in the special form of Wahhabism is the state religion in Saudi Arabia , the public image of religion in the country is fundamentalist religious Islamic-conservative, and there is a conservative interpretation of Islamic law, the Sharia . Saudi Arabia supports and finances the spread of Islamist neo-fundamentalism . The views of the terrorist organization Islamic State were strongly shaped by the Saudi Arabian interpretation of Islam, of which they are a particularly violent continuation. For the situation of human rights see Human Rights in Saudi Arabia ; According to the Global Gender Gap Report , the country is among the lowest in the world when it comes to women's rights . Freedom of expression does not exist and punishments such as amputation , stoning , flogging and the death penalty are regularly carried out, the latter also for homosexuality . Under the de facto ruling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman , however, a cautious “modernization” of society was initiated.

Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world because of its oil exports; In terms of gross domestic product per capita (adjusted for purchasing power), it was ranked 14th worldwide in 2016. In 2019, it was 36th in the human development index . Thanks to its wealth, the country can afford to provide its population with generous social benefits, thus ensuring political stability internally. Increasing pressure on the national budget from the drop in oil prices since the beginning of 2015 is forcing the country to diversify its sources of income . This is to be realized with the reform project “Vision 2030”.


The Arabian Peninsula consists largely of an extensive highlands . In the west, the plateau forms a steep edge that runs parallel to the coast of the Red Sea . There is practically no coastal plain in the northwest. The highest peaks are in the southwest in the Asir Mountains . The highest mountain is the Jabal Sauda with 3133 meters.

To the east of the ridge, the inhospitable highlands gradually descend to the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf , the coast of which is lined with swamps and salt flats. The highlands mainly consist of a wide sandy desert and stretches of land made of bare volcanic rock. A broad band of desert, "the Empty Quarter" Rub al-Chali , extends over the entire south of the country.

National border

Jordan (744 km common border), Iraq (814 km), Kuwait (222 km), Qatar (60 km), the United Arab Emirates (457 km), Oman (676 km) and Yemen (1458 km) border Saudi Arabia km). Saudi Arabia and the island of Bahrain are connected by a motorway, the 26 km long King Fahd Causeway via bridges, dams and an artificial island. The state border with Bahrain is located on this island. What is striking about the border is that it is very straightforward, especially in the north, without large bulges.

Saudi Arabia borders on neighboring countries to the north, northeast and south, and is bordered by the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf to the east and west. Saudi Arabia has a total of 4,431 kilometers of land border, the longest section being the border with Yemen.

The border with Yemen was secured by barriers in 2003 and 2004 , which led to diplomatic resentment between the two countries. Border conflicts also arose with other neighboring countries, for example with the United Arab Emirates (1974) and with Kuwait (1975). Between 1981 and 1983 the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq was split up, and in 1971 the second neutral zone north of al-Hasa was split between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

EADS , now Airbus Group , is involved in the construction of the border installations and border security . Police officers from Germany were sent into the country to train the staff.

Climate and geology

Local family having a picnic in the desert at the foot of Jebel Tuwaiq, the men praying

Saudi Arabia has a predominantly hot and dry climate. The continental climate in the interior of the country shows considerable temperature differences, especially between day and night. In summer, maximum values ​​of 50 ° C are possible during the day, in winter the freezing point can be fallen below at night. The average annual temperature is 28 ° C. Most of the sparse annual rainfall falls between December and February.

The supply of drinking water has so far always been ensured due to the wealth of the country, although water scarcity is a growing problem because the groundwater reserves are slowly being depleted. Saudi Arabia has neither rivers nor lakes and is countering the water shortage with the construction of deep wells and seawater desalination plants , which consume a significant part of the energy. The coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea are partially oil polluted.

Geologically, Saudi Arabia lies on the Arabian Plate, which slopes to the east. In the west, with the exposed Precambrian rock of the Arabian Shield, partially covered by younger volcanic rock , it juts steeply out of the Tihama plain on the Red Sea. While the northern landscapes, like that of the Hejaz , tend to form a chain of mountains and hills along the coast, the Asir , which is located to the south, is shaped like Yemen by the more than 1000-meter-high fringing edge over long stretches . From this edge parallel to the coast, the land slopes gently to the east. From west to east, the vast scree deserts, covered in the west by many lava fields ( Harrat ) or basalt scree, form the monotonous landscape. Further to the east, younger layers have been preserved, each of which begins with a steep edge to overlay the older layers. The largest of these steep edges, both in height and in extent, is the edge of the Jebel Tuwaiq (Tuwaiq Escarpment), whose layers originate from the Jura and which is directly in front of a strip of sand on the west side. In the central area these sandstrips have names like (from north to south) Nafud as-Sirr, Nafud Qunaifidha and Nafud ad-Dahi. On the plain east of the Tuwaiq are the places around the wells of Khardj and the capital Riyadh, while further north are the places of the Qasim to the west of the northern Tuwaiq foothills, which eventually descend under the sands of the Great Nafud. This plain, which makes up a large part of the Najd landscape , is in turn accompanied over long stretches in the east by a steep drop, the Buwaib, whose layers belong to the Cretaceous period . The Dahna sand strip, which borders the entire central landscape to the east, runs on its level. This is over 100 kilometers wide in some places and feeds the Rub al-Chali in the south with sand from the Great Nafud Desert (an-Nafud al-Kabir) in the north. Further to the east, there are further, partially stepped plains, over which scree deserts extend to essentially limestone ground. In the east, dried up former lake basins and salt areas increase until you reach the coast, which, measured in geological time, slowly rises from the Persian Gulf. Together with the gradual decrease in precipitation since a brief wet phase a few thousand years ago - around the beginning of the Neolithic (Neolithic subpluvial) - this causes gradual silting and drying out along the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf. In the north and south of the country, the two great deserts of the Great Nafud and the Rub al-Kali dominate the landscape. Both reach the highlands of the western edge mountains in the west. The central Tuwaiq Escarpment encompasses the Arab shield like a huge arch open to the west, from which it is usually separated by the narrow sand fields.

Flora and fauna

In most of the country, vegetation is limited to low grass and small shrubs. Date palms grow in scattered oases . The Arabian oryx was characteristic of the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. However, the animals have been hunted to extinction in the recent past. Today, as a result of reintroduction programs , small numbers have returned to their original habitats. One population lives in the western part of Saudi Arabia, in a huge, fenced game reserve, the Mahazat-as-Sayd Conservation Area . The native fauna of Saudi Arabia also includes various gazelles, Arabian wolves and Nubian ibexes. Mantled baboons live in Asir National Park in the mountains in the southwest of the country. Some of the large animals of Arabia, such as the cheetah and the ostrich, are now extinct, while others, such as the leopard, have become very rare. Some bird species are also threatened with extinction.

Are common wild cats living in the desert flight chickens , cave-build rodents and desert rats and various reptiles and insects . The bald ibises , rediscovered in Syria a few years ago, are also moving to Saudi Arabia. The ringed parakeet can be found as a neozoon in many settlements. In the coastal waters of the Red Sea, there are many marine animals, especially in the coral reefs .

Tourist Attractions

Mada'in Salih , near the provincial town of al-Ula halfway between Medina and Ha'il in the north of the country, is by far the most famous ancient site in the country. This is an approx. 2000 year old rock burial site. What is remarkable about this are the rock inscriptions in Aramaic and Thamūdi , which are well preserved due to the dry weather . The particularly numerous rock formations in this area - created due to weather conditions - that appear to the viewer like images of animal and human figures are very unusual. Further sights are the skyscrapers Kingdom Center and Al Faisaliyah Center in Riyadh, the old town of Jeddah, the holy places of Islam or the ruined district of Diriyya , which testifies to the Ottoman-Saudi War . Jebel al-Qara is a sandstone formation in the province of al-Hasa. It is located to the west of the city of Hofuf and is a picturesque, approx. Two kilometers long and 1.2 kilometers wide formation.


Population growth in Saudi Arabia, about 4 million inhabitants in 1961 to nearly 32 million in 2015; FAO data , 2005.
Saudi Arabia has a young population and a high surplus of men due to the guest workers in the country
Population density in Saudi Arabia (person per km²), the most densely populated province is Jazan

Saudi Arabia has a population of over 33 million. Of these, over 11 million people are legally living in the country. The population has grown tremendously since 1950, when it was 3.5 million. The population of Saudi Arabia lives mainly in the cities and a few oases. The original inhabitants were almost exclusively Arabs . Today 90% of the population are of Arab descent, either native Saudis or people from the Arab region, primarily Egyptians , Jordanians , Palestinians , Syrians and Lebanese . The remaining 10% are mostly of African or Asian descent. Foreigners who are not of Arab origin are mostly employed as guest workers. The Kafala system applies to migrant workers in Saudi Arabia . The country is inhabited by about 400 tribes, over a tenth of the population are nomads or semi-nomads. The state social insurance GOSI is only available to nationals free of charge - millions of foreigners and guest workers live in the country.

Saudi Arabia has a population density of twelve people per km². 86% of the people live in the cities of the country. The average life expectancy is 75.7 years, although it is 77.8 years for women than for men (73.7 years).

The average age in 2016 was 26.2 years for women and 27.9 years for men. The overall average age is 27.2 years. In 2016, 50% of the 21 million locals were under 30 years of age. There are 13 infant mortality rates per 1,000 births and a maternal mortality rate of 12 per 100,000 births. This means that the Saudi Arabian population is growing by 1.5% annually. Due to the low average age combined with a relatively high life expectancy, the country has one of the lowest death rates in the world (3.3 per 1000 people). Since most of the guest workers in the country are male, the country has a high male surplus. In 2016 there were 116 men for every 100 women. The infection by HIV is very low due to the extremely strict sex regulations, the moral guards and the prudery . An increasing health problem is widespread obesity . In 2016, 69.7% of the adult population were overweight and 35.4% were obese . Both are among the highest rates in the world.

At 94.7%, the literacy rate of the Saudi Arabian population is above the world average. 91.1% of Saudi Arabian women are able to read and write, the men have a literacy rate of 97.0%. (Status: 2015). In Saudi Arabia there are an average of 2.1 doctors and 3.3 beds in a state hospital for every 1000 inhabitants.

Standard Arabic is the official language, English is the language of trade; there are also some Arabic dialects that are restricted to oral use, such as Yemeni Arabic in the southwest.

Guest workers

Almost 11 million guest workers are employed in Saudi Arabia. They mostly come from Asia - India , Pakistan , Bangladesh , Sri Lanka , Maldives , Malaysia , the Philippines , Indonesia , Brunei , Iran , Turkey , Central Asia - and the African region - Sudan , Ethiopia , Eritrea , Djibouti , Somalia , Kenya , Comoros , Chad , Mauritania and others. There are also a smaller number of highly qualified guest workers from Europe, North America and other regions. These guest workers from western countries mostly live in compounds. These are hermetically sealed and guarded settlements. These compounds have an autonomous infrastructure with shops, swimming pools, sports facilities and the like. A “western” way of life in these compounds is tolerated. In May 2004, 19 foreigners were killed in a terrorist attack on a compound. The US soldiers of the United States Military Training Mission (USMTM) in Saudi Arabia, who train the country's armed forces, also live in such compounds. USMTM is headquartered in Taif; there are also various branch offices.

The guest workers mainly work in areas in which Saudis do not want to work or do not have the necessary qualifications. About 67% of the five million working Saudis work in the public sector. A quota regulation (“ Saudisation ”) is intended to help increase the proportion of local residents in the private sector in 2016; for example, a quota of five to seven percent is aimed for in the construction industry and 10-25% in retail.

Most frequent countries of origin of migrants in Saudi Arabia by country of birth (as of 2015)
rank country Number of migrants
01 IndiaIndia India 1,894,000
02 IndonesiaIndonesia Indonesia 1,294,000
03 PakistanPakistan Pakistan 1,123,000
04th BangladeshBangladesh Bangladesh 0.967,000
05 EgyptEgypt Egypt 0.728,000
06th SyriaSyria Syria 0.623,000
07th YemenYemen Yemen 0.528,000
08th PhilippinesPhilippines Philippines 0.488,000
09 Sri LankaSri Lanka Sri Lanka 0.400,000
10 NepalNepal Nepal 0.381,000


Pilgrims in Mecca
The Prophet's Mosque (al-Masjid an-nabawi) in Medina

The main and state religion is Hanbali Islam in its Wahhabi form, to which 73% of the population, especially in the Najd and the north, belong.

Other Sunnis make up 12% of the population, Shiites around 10 to 15%. The Shiites live mainly in the east of the country, Ismaili Shiites in the southern province of Najran. Ever since Ibn Saud conquered the eastern province of al-Hasa in 1913, the Shiites had to be careful not to “molest” the Sunnis through their religious practice. Over the past few decades, especially since 2009, tensions between the Sunni majority and the Shiite minority have intensified. Since the Saudi ruling house sees itself as the guardian of pure (Sunni) Islam, the government tolerates anti-Shiite propaganda. Numerous Saudi-Sunni theologians condemn Shiite beliefs and practices in their writings; some - such as Nasir al-Umar ( The situation of deniers in the countries of monotheism , 1993) - even go so far as to call the Shiites “deniers” and deny them being Muslim.

In a 2012 survey by Gallup, 19% of the Saudi Arabians surveyed described themselves as "non-religious" and a further 5% as "staunch atheists".

The two holiest places of Islam, the Kaaba in Mecca and the resting place of the Prophet Mohammed in Medina, are in Saudi Arabia, so that the country is the destination of several million pilgrims every year , especially during the Hajj . Theft during Hajj can be punished with forcible amputation of one hand or with death. The holy Zamzam water source, the valley Minā and the mountain ʿArafāt , where the Prophet Mohammed delivered his last sermon, are also located in Saudi Arabia.

The influence of the clergy in the country is very great and has increased further in recent years. The Islamic way of life of a number of members of the Saudi royal family polarizes society. Commentators therefore believe that a religiously motivated coup by fundamentalist clerics is conceivable one day.

Clergymen in Saudi Arabia bear the title " Sheikh " or " Alim ". The Mufti or Grand Mufti is the chief spiritual scholar of Saudi Arabia. The current mufti, Sheikh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Āl al-Sheikh , preached on a pilgrimage against terrorism in 2005 and described its actions as an “attack and disreputation of Islam”. Well-known scholars in Saudi Arabia were Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz and Muhammad ibn al-Uthaymin .


The Arabian Peninsula , as Saudi Arabia was called earlier, has been inhabited by Semites since the beginning of historical tradition . Because of the harsh desert climate , nomadism was the predominant form of economy. Again and again the Akkadians , Amorites and Arameans pushed forward from the desert into the fertile regions of Mesopotamia and Syria . The largest of these movements arose in the 7th century with the spread of Islam by Muhammad. Within a few decades, Muslims conquered an empire that stretched from Spain to India .

With the relocation of the imperial center, Arabia soon lost its political importance again. The holy places of Mecca and Medina in the Hejaz (or Hijaz ) were visited annually by Muslim pilgrims.

Origin of the country

Territories on the Arabian Peninsula, 1914

Since the 18th century, the Arab tribe of the Saud allied itself with the very strict Islamic reform movement of the Wahhabis in order to unite and subdue the Arab Bedouin tribes in this way .

A first major expansion attempt under Emir Saud I (1803-1814) provoked a military intervention by the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt , Muhammad Ali , on behalf of the impotent Ottoman sultan , whose troops defeated Saud's son Abdallah I in 1818. Twice - 1818–1822 and again 1838–1843 - the Saudi territory in the Nedjd was occupied by Egyptian troops. After these setbacks, the considerably weakened Saudis came under the suzerainty of other Arab tribal princes who were loyal to the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire kept a close eye on the situation. ( See: Ottoman-Saudi War )

Only Emir Abd al-Aziz II. Ibn Saud (ruling Riyadh from 1902) freed his dynasty and their tribe from this subordination in the Ottoman Empire and used Wahhabi fundamentalism again for a victorious military expansion in Arabia. In 1921 he brought the emirate of Āl Rashīd under his control and united it with its territory to form the Sultanate of Najd . After the British withdrew from the Kingdom of Hejaz , Ibn-Saud achieved a military victory in 1925 over the rival dynasty of the Hashimites , who lost their original kingdom, Hejaz, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

After further conquests, the different areas were united on September 23, 1932 to form the new unitary state of Saudi Arabia. That is why September 23rd is a national holiday. In 1934 the Saudi-Yemeni war broke out , which ended with a victory for Saudi Arabia. Due to the rich oil reserves , Saudi Arabia achieved prosperity from 1938 and was of great importance for the economies of industrialized nations.

History after 1945

Faisal ibn Abd al-Aziz , king from 1964 to 1975

Saudi Arabia was a founding member of the United Nations and the Arab League in 1945 . The Arab League tried to prevent the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 with the Palestine War, in which Saudi Arabia was also involved. In the 1950s, the king allowed a Council of Ministers, but this only has an advisory role. In 1960 the kingdom was a founding state of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Saudi Arabia repeatedly supports individual parties in civil war states such as Yemen and thus comes into conflict with other Arab states (since Saudi Arabia supported the royalists in the Yemeni civil war, there were violent tensions with Egypt, which supported the republicans). In 1963 slavery was abolished, with the slaves being replaced by guest workers from neighboring Arab states as well as South and Southeast Asia and Africa . The guest workers are an important pillar of the country's economy to this day. In the 1960s and 1970s there were repeated border conflicts with South Yemen , which were settled with a peace treaty in 1976. The limit was not finally determined until 2000. The 1973 oil crisis was triggered after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War by the oil embargo of the OAPEC , of which Saudi Arabia is a founding member.

In November 1979, disputes over relations with the United States culminated in the occupation of the Great Mosque in Mecca under the leadership of Juhaimān al-ʿUtaibī and Muhammad ibn Abdallah al-Qahtani. The main points of criticism of the rebels, who were descendants of an Ichwān tribe and were active in the Saudi Muslim Brotherhood , were, in addition to the conquest of Saudi princes in the Hejaz , the un-Islamic conduct of the ruling family and relations with the USA. A total of 330 people, including hostages, hostage-takers and emergency services, were killed as a result of the occupation. 63 insurgents, including al-Utaibi, were publicly beheaded on January 9, 1980 in a mass execution in various cities in Saudi Arabia.

Gulf Wars

Fahd ibn Abd al-Aziz , the king who died in 2005

First Gulf War

In the First Gulf War (1980–1988), Saudi Arabia supported Iraq against Iran . As a result of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan , under King Fahd ibn Abd al-Aziz there has been an increased reliance on the United States since 1982, from which they had in the meantime somewhat distanced themselves. Associated with this are the development of an industry that is independent of oil, major investments in infrastructure , roads and airports and the consolidation of the relationship with neighboring countries through border agreements.

Second Gulf War

The precarious security situation in Saudi Arabia became clear in the Second Gulf War (1990–1991) when Iraq occupied Kuwait . Saudi Arabia had to form an alliance with the United States and other western states to protect itself and to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Saudi Arabia paid almost 40% of the cost of the war. The kingdom took part in the first largest infantry operation of the second Gulf War, the Battle of Chafji , and defeated Iraqi troops. However, the stationing of US troops in the country led to fierce criticism from some clergy and Islamic fundamentalists , which is increasingly directed against the royal family and in the recent past has led to violent clashes and terrorist attacks on Western institutions.

Third Gulf War

In the Third Gulf War (2003), the kingdom initially joined the so-called coalition of the willing , but then left it again and prohibited the United States from using its bases in Saudi Arabia. This ban was relaxed towards the end of the war.

Development since 2010

In 2011 and 2012 there were protests against the government. The demonstrations were violently suppressed and a strict demonstration ban was imposed (see Protests in Saudi Arabia 2011/2012 ).

In 2015, Saudi Arabia attacked militarily in Yemen on the part of government in the Houthi conflict and flies from March 2015 air strikes against the Huthi -Rebellen. In December, the Islamic Military Coalition was formed under Saudi leadership , a military alliance primarily made up of countries in the Middle East and North Africa . On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by a special command at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. The act attracted a great deal of attention worldwide.

Saudi Arabia has also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic since spring 2020 . Pilgrimage tourism to Mecca and Medina, which brought more than $ 20 billion (almost 3% of annual gross domestic product) to Saudi Arabia in 2019, collapsed. The oil price fell significantly. In 2019, Riyadh recorded a loss of $ 35 billion in the state budget, and a loss of the equivalent of $ 79 billion has been forecast for 2020. The state was practically debt-free until 2014, when the price of oil fell from more than $ 100 to around $ 50 per barrel. Since then, the state has taken on debt, the national debt ratio is around 35% of GDP.


According to Articles 1 and 5 of its constitution, Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy . This makes the kingdom one of the last six absolute monarchies in the world, alongside Brunei , Vatican City , Qatar , Oman and Eswatini .

Saudi Arabia sees itself as a godly state and has anchored Sharia law in its constitution. This does not provide for a separation of powers: According to Article 12 of the Constitution, the sole ruling monarch has the duty to strive for the unity of the nation, but to keep away discord, revolt and division; according to Article 23 he should command the right and forbid the reprehensible . Based on Articles 12 and 50, he can intervene in the legislative , judicial and executive branches, the otherwise applicable independence of the courts under Article 46 is in this case no longer protected by law, since the king is above the law. Saudi Arabia is a full member of the group of the twenty most important industrialized and emerging countries .

State and religion

Although the kingdom is not a theocracy , it does not recognize any separation between state and religion . According to the basic order, the state religion is Islam , the trend of supporters of Salafism or the Wahhabis is formative .

The king has called himself the guardian of the holy places of Mecca and Medina since 1986 , which is supposed to enhance him and the royal family in the Islamic world. That is why the royal family attaches great importance to not separating politics from religion.

The king should maintain consensus between the royal house of Saud , the clergy and religious scholars ( ulema ) and other important elements of Saudi society. Since the ulema have a lot of influence on the population, the consensus with them is considered to be an important pillar of power for the royal family; the longstanding mutual ties of the royal family with the Islamic clergy contributed to anchoring the monarchy in Saudi Arabia in the past. In recent years the relationship between the clergy and the government has deteriorated.

The alliance of monarchy and religion is internally burdened because of a religious opposition disloyal to the royal family and is also criticized externally, especially by the United States, as an obstacle to a pluralistic social order. Compared to revolutionary Islamist groups, the class of religious scholars who support the state appears on the one hand as a stabilizing element. Accordingly, King Abdullah endeavored to present the traditional alliance of throne and religion as a particular strength of the system. On the other hand, this coalition repeatedly requires concessions to the religious establishment, which is becoming increasingly difficult to accept in an international context.

The reform steps were integrated into a Muslim-tinged discourse, so that in view of the need to defend the Muslim legacy against Islamist terror, it is unclear whether the Islamization of the discourse will bring about a political moderation in other sections of the population. The government is building on using the concept of an Islamic government to regain the initiative against the more radicalized critics and thus to save its own - Islamic - legitimacy. For quite a few observers, however, the government's move appears to be a half-hearted approach that merely reveals the government's lack of legitimacy.

Royal house

Previous kings

Since the founding of the state by Ibn Saud in 1932 , the kingdom has been ruled by six monarchs:

No. Surname Life dates Beginning of the term of office Term expires Remarks
1 Abd al-Aziz al Saud 1875-1953 September 22, 1932 November 9, 1953 Founder of Saudi Arabia
2 Saud 1902-1969 November 9, 1953 November 2nd, 1964 Son of King Abd al-Aziz
3 Faisal 1906-1975 November 2nd, 1964 March 25, 1975 Son of King Abd al-Aziz
4th Chalid 1912-1982 March 25, 1975 June 13, 1982 Son of King Abd al-Aziz
5 Fahd 1923-2005 June 13, 1982 August 1, 2005 1 Son of King Abd al-Aziz
6th Abdullah 1924-2015 August 1, 2005 1 January 22, 2015 Son of King Abd al-Aziz
7th Salman * 1935 January 22, 2015 continually Son of King Abd al-Aziz
1In November 1995, Abdullah effectively took over the state leadership as Crown Prince after Fahd suffered a stroke.

Articles 9 to 13 of the constitution explicitly deal with the royal family. Succession to the throne follows the principle of seniority , whereby it is possible that a prince can be skipped or appointed early, see Succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia . According to Article 9, the royal family is the core of Saudi society.

Head of state

The future King Abdullah with the then US President George W. Bush

The monarch ( Malik ) is both head of state and head of government and at the same time custodian of the two holy cities. He is " legibus solutus " ( Latin for "detached from the laws" ), which means that he is not subject to the laws that he himself enacts. According to Articles 60 and 61 of the constitution, the king is the supreme security body and the chief commander of the armed forces. He thus has the sole and unrestricted (absolute) authority over the police, the Mutawwa , the secret service ( al-Muchabarat al-'Amma ) and the Saudi military .

From August 1, 2005 until his death on January 23, 2015, this was King and Prime Minister Abdullah ibn Abd al-Aziz Al Saud. His deputy and thus the second head of government had been Crown Prince Salman ibn Abd al-Aziz ., Who succeeded him to the throne, since June 2012 . On April 29, 2015, King Salman ibn Abd al-Aziz replaced the previous Crown Prince Muqrin ibn Abd al-Aziz with his nephew Prince Mohammed ibn Naif , who later was replaced by his son Mohammed bin Salman . The rest of the royal family also hold important government offices. The 13 provinces are ruled by princes or close relatives of the royal family.

Since the founding of the Saudi state in 1932, seven kings, including Salman, have ruled the empire, all from the house of Al Saud. When a new king has to be appointed, the council of elders of the royal house meets to appoint him. In the event of a vacancy, the leading members of the royal family elect the new king from among their number. The king is the highest auditor and has the right to pardon . He himself stands above the law, the king's power is theoretically limited by the rules of Sharia law and the Saudi tradition, but in practice it is unlimited. He has sole state authority and can govern with unlimited powers. The king can rely on Article 55 of the constitution, which grants him this role as “leader and supervisor of the politics of the nation” .


The government consists of the Council of Ministers, established in 1953, chaired by the King, who also holds the post of Prime Minister. Key roles such as home affairs and defense are held by key members of the royal family. The following ministries exist:

  • Foreign Ministry: Adel al-Jubeir
  • Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
  • Ministry of Education
  • Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources: Chalid Al-Falih
  • Ministry of Finance and Economics
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Commerce / Ministry of Commerce
  • Ministry of Higher Education
  • Ministry of Industry and Electricity
  • Ministry of Information / Information Ministry
  • Ministry of the Interior / Ministry of the Interior: Mohammed ibn Naif
  • Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Religious Foundation, Proclamation of Islam and Orientation: Sālih ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz Āl al-Sheikh
  • Ministry of Justice / Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry of Local and Rural Affairs
  • Ministry of Agriculture and Water Management
  • Ministry of Public Works and Housing
  • Ministry of Pilgrimage
  • Ministry of Planning / Ministry of Planning
  • Department of Post and Telecommunications (Communications and Information Technology Commission CITC)
  • Ministry of Transport / Ministry of Transport
  • Ministry of Defense: Mohammed bin Salman
  • Ministry of Civil Services

Since February 2009 women have officially been involved in the country's government, the first of them being Nura bint Abdullah al-Fayez .

Consultative meeting

There is no parliament in Saudi Arabia, but the Consultative Assembly (also known as the Shūrā Council) has existed since 1992 with 150 members who are appointed by the king for this position for four years. The Consultative Assembly advises the government, takes a position on legislative proposals and can introduce its own legislative proposals. A budget law it does not have. The main features of the system of government were regulated in March 1992 by several decrees by King Fahd . For the first time, the process of succession to the throne was codified on this occasion . As part of the royal reform program, the advisory assembly was created at the same time. The reform program also included a framework plan for establishing advisory bodies at provincial level.

In September 1993, King Fahd issued further reform decrees, with which he gave the advisory body rules of procedure and appointed its members. The King also announced reforms affecting the Council of Ministers, which included a limitation of the term of office to four years and also contained provisions to avoid conflicts of interest of the ministers and other high officials. The rules of procedure of the 13 provincial councils and their members were also announced in 1993.

In July 1997 the number of members of the advisory body was increased from 60 to 90. In May 2001 there was another expansion to 120 and in 2005 to 150 members. Since many of the old members were not reappointed during the enlargements, the composition of the body has changed significantly. The role of the Council will also be gradually expanded in view of the growing experience of the body.

In June 2006, six women were appointed to the consultative assembly, which had previously only included men. Since January 2013, more than 30 female members have been represented on the body for the first time. They make up a fifth of the delegates. They appoint the deputy chairpersons in three committees. In the 2015 elections, women and men had the right to vote and stand for election for the first time.


There are no legal political parties . Opposition , trade unions and strikes are officially banned by the king. Traditionally, every citizen has access to high officials at public audiences and the right to petition them directly.

There are three noteworthy parties in Saudi Arabia, but they work underground due to the party ban and are prosecuted:

The best-known opposition group, however, is the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA) based in London . She advocates separation of powers , freedom of expression and women's rights , things that the MIRA denies the Saudi government. The group called for a demonstration in Saudi Arabia in 2003, during which the Saudi police made over 350 arrests. The chairman of the MIRA is the doctor Sa'ad al-Faqih . The Saudi government, as well as the US government allied with the Saudi government, classify him and his group as terrorist and therefore refuse to negotiate.

Political indices

Political indices issued by non-governmental organizations
Name of the index Index value Worldwide rank Interpretation aid year
Fragile States Index 68.8 out of 120 94 of 178 Stability of the country: Warning
0 = very sustainable / 120 = very alarming
Democracy index 2.08 out of 10 156 of 167 Authoritarian regime
0 = authoritarian regime / 10 = complete democracy
Freedom in the World 7 out of 100 --- Freedom status: not free
0 = not free / 100 = free
Freedom of the press ranking 62.73 out of 100 170 of 180 Very serious situation for freedom of the press
0 = good situation / 100 = very serious situation
Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 53 of 100 52 of 180 0 = very corrupt / 100 = very clean 2020

Domestic development


A reform of the slow “democratic opening” began under King Fahd . But a democratization of the country according to the western model was out of the question for Fahd, he justified this as follows: "The people of this region in the world are unsuitable for the democratic understanding of the western states of the world" .

The reforms took place without the concepts of democracy and the rule of law appearing in Saudi Arabia's political discourse. There are open reservations about the principles of popular sovereignty, the separation of powers and human rights. Article 1 of the constitution states that the Koran and the tradition of the Prophet (Sunna) form the constitution of the kingdom. Accordingly, it is not the task of politics to create consensus within the population, but rather - according to the "pure doctrine" - to bring God's commandments and prohibitions into effect in social life. Furthermore, since the tendency towards secular and secular democracy would call into question the legitimacy of the government, the introduction of secular and democratic principles is unlikely.

Strengthening of fundamentalism

Today, Saudi Arabia, along with Pakistan, is the global center of Islamic fundamentalism. The Muslim Brotherhood has existed in the kingdom since the 1930s. However, they appear neither as a reform movement nor as a party. Although their ideas about the state religion, Salafism , differ and there are differences of opinion, they are tolerated by the Saudi government. The Saudi interior minister has often criticized the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Their influence on the local population is rather small. The works of Sayyid Qutb are legal, they are partly praised and partly criticized by spiritual authorities. However, the works of some Islamic “hotheads” have recently been banned.

In the 1990s there were repeated accidents during the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj, attacks on foreign troops and protests against the royal family. Top terrorists like Ibn al-Chattab and Osama bin Laden come from Saudi Arabia, 15 of the 19 attackers on September 11, 2001 also come from the Kingdom. The pro-Western foreign policy and, for some years now, domestic policy of the royal family have contributed significantly to strengthening fundamentalism. The declared strategic goal of the terrorists is to overthrow the Saudi royal family. Serious attacks and hostage-taking with the aim of overthrowing the royal family had already occurred earlier, as was the case in the 1970s under Juhaiman al-Utaibi . Even after September 11th, there were repeated serious terrorist attacks in the kingdom. The targets are usually government institutions such as police buildings and institutions that stand for the West, especially the US, such as the US embassy in Jeddah, which was attacked in 2004.

After the wave of terror in 2003, a public discussion about extremism and fundamentalism in one's own society began for the first time, which is being carried out more and more openly in the country's media and within the framework of the institutionalized “national dialogue” . Many young people see religious zeal as an opportunity to protest against Western influence, especially against US politics in the Middle East, which are perceived as dominant and unjust.

According to the Saudi interior minister, Naif ibn Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, 22 terrorist attacks were carried out in the kingdom in 2003 and 2004, with 90 civilians and 37 Saudi security forces being killed. During the same period, 92 extremists were killed and 52 terrorist attacks were foiled in clashes with the police. As a result of the increased security measures, the ban on gatherings has been tightened, and people are often subjected to controls by heavily armed security forces.

Human rights

In Saudi Arabia, human rights are only recognized if they are in accordance with Sharia law. The royal family, which is absolutely ruling, takes action against opposition voices and critics. Among other things, this leads to many human rights being disregarded or violated in Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International's 2007 annual report lists the following facts and figures:

At least 158 ​​people were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2015, according to Amnesty International. Most executions are carried out by beheading . Since 1985 (up to June 2015) at least 2,208 people have fallen victim to the death penalty .

In 2004 the “National Authority for Human Rights” was founded. Your task should be to document and forward human rights violations. Its long-term goal is to improve the human rights situation. The authority was subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. Today there is a National Society for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.

Terrorism problem

In 2007 annual report, Amnesty International points out that, especially in the war on terror , the international law has been repeatedly violated. Clashes between security forces and armed groups continued in several parts of the country. In clashes with security forces in al-Yarmuk district , Riyadh region, at least five men on the government's wanted list for suspicious members of the al-Qaeda network were reportedly killed in a boarding house .

Numerous people suspected of being in contact with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network were arrested. In March, June and August, more than 100 people were reportedly arrested in Mecca, Medina and the capital Riyadh alone.

Fouad Hakim , a suspect, was apparently held without charge from December 2006 until his release in November 2007, according to Amnesty International. The doctor Muhiddin Mugne Haji Mascat was imprisoned for several months for allegedly treating a terrorist suspect with medical treatment.

In July 2006, Libyan Abdullah Hassan and British national Abdel Hakim Mohammed Jellaini were released without charge on charges of funding terrorist organizations. However, their passports have been confiscated so they cannot leave the country.

In May and June 2006, 24 inmates with Saudi citizenship and one inmate with Chinese citizenship were released from the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention center and taken to Saudi Arabia. Upon arrival, they were arrested and detained by the security forces. Some of them were sentenced to an additional year in prison for forgery and others were released.

freedom of speech

Torture Victim Raif Badawi (2012)

The non-governmental organization Reporters Without Borders assesses the press freedom situation in Saudi Arabia as "very serious". The main reason for this is the strict censorship and criminal prosecution of criticism of the royal family. Internet journalist Fouad Ahmad al-Fahrhan , who is critical of the government , was arrested on December 10, 2007 and was only released on April 26, 2008 without charge.

3 journalists are in custody in Saudi Arabia. There are also seven bloggers and citizen journalists in custody.

Demonstrations are prohibited (as of 2008), there is a general ban on gatherings . Around 2,000 people protested in several cities across the country in July and August 2006 against Israel's bombing raids on Lebanon in the 2006 Lebanon War . Several people were arrested in connection with this. In September, 300 Shiites demonstrated against the continued detention of several fellow believers who had been arrested in April 2000 in connection with protests and rioting. Some protesters were arrested.

In February 2007, the Shams newspaper was banned from appearing for six weeks. The newspaper had printed the Mohammed cartoons as part of its campaign for actions against the cartoons.

In March 2007, Mohsen al-Awaji was arrested after posting articles on the Internet criticizing the authorities and the royal family, and calling for censorship to be removed from websites. He was released without charge after eight days.

In the years before 2008, freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia improved somewhat. There were public discussions about topics that were previously considered taboo .

In July 2013, the liberal internet activist Raif Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes with the cane. The legal scholar Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak previously issued a legal opinion in March 2012 in which he declared Badawi to be an infidel "who must be tried and sentenced as he deserves". The court found it proven that Badawi had offended Islam. He was also convicted of disobedience to his father. He avoided the death penalty by pronouncing the Islamic Creed three times, thereby confirming that he was a Muslim. Raif Badawi founded the forum “Free Saudi Liberals” in 2008, with which he wanted to initiate a debate on politics and religion in the conservative kingdom. According to the prosecution, Badawi described Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists as being of equal value in some of the contributions. The appeals court increased the sentence to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes, to be carried out with 50 lashes each in 20 consecutive weeks after the Friday prayer. The serial torture of Raif Badawi began on Friday, January 9th, 2015 . The daily Kurier interviewed Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar , who has lived in Canada with children since 2013: The prison doctor is convinced that the flogging will continue on January 30, 2015. She calls for the closure of the Abdullah Center in Vienna and thanks everyone who campaigns for it. She is afraid that his wounds will not heal because of the diabetes Badawi developed when he was arrested. He also suffers from unsanitary conditions and malnutrition.

On September 17, 2015 it was announced that the clemency of the Shiite Ali Mohammed an-Nimr , the age of 17 in the last instance to death by decapitation with postmortem below crucifixion had been condemned, was refused. Amnesty International accuses the Saudi government of the fact that Ali Mohammed an-Nimr's confession was made under torture and that there was no evidence to support the alleged use of violence against-Nimr. Ali Mohammed an-Nimr is a relative of the Shiite Friday preacher of the city of al-Awamia , Ayatollah Nimr an-Nimr , who was also sentenced to death and executed on January 2, 2016 .

Religious freedom

The public practice of religions other than Wahhabi Islam is forbidden in Saudi Arabia, so the religious freedom of the Shiites is also restricted and they are not recognized as Muslim by the religious authorities. The Shiites are allowed to use customs that are incompatible with Sunni Islam, e.g. B. the Mutʿa marriage or the commemoration of Imam Hussain ( Ashura ), do not practice publicly. They are allowed to operate mosques, but these are not officially considered mosques. Accordingly, only Wahhabi religious instruction is given in schools .

Anyone who openly confesses to another non-Sunni group such as the Alevis , Ahmadiyya or Druze can be punished. Baha'i in particular (= believers of the post-Islamic world religion Baha'i) suffer religious persecution .

According to the strict interpretation of the state religion, there must be no non-Islamic place of worship on the land on which the two holy places are located. However, there are z. B. two German schools in Saudi Arabia where these laws do not apply; German laws apply within the school premises. Negative religious freedom (the freedom of people not to belong to any religion) is severely restricted in Saudi Arabia.

It is also illegal for guest workers and diplomats to celebrate a church service , to receive a baptism or an anointing of the sick . There are no churches , synagogues or other non-Islamic houses of prayer, and the construction of such is forbidden. If the rules are broken, this can result in arrest, flogging and torture. The 2017 World Persecution Index for Christians, published by the Open Doors mission and aid organization , currently rates the disadvantage of Christianity in Saudi Arabia as the 14th highest in the world.

The death penalty is imposed on apostasy - the apostasy from Islam ; it has already been imposed and carried out for this offense. In punishing Christians for violations of the Missionierungs -Verbot the penalty may differ depending on nationality. Nationals of Western allies - e. B. the United States , France , Germany or Austria - are mostly discreetly expelled from the country, while missionaries from other and, from the point of view of Saudi Arabia, "less important" countries - e. B. the Philippines - imprisoned and occasionally executed.

Position of woman

In Saudi Arabia, women do not have the same rights as men. All women must wear floor-length robes and headscarves in public. Men can be punished - in some cases archaic punishments such as lashes - if they appear in public with women. Saudi Arabia is ranked 138th out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report on Gender Equality.

Many professions were inaccessible to women. Today almost every job is available to women, provided that they are fully veiled and that the sexes are strictly segregated at work. As a result, they are severely restricted in their freedom of movement. A male relative's consent to study or work is no longer required by law.


In Saudi Arabia, women's rights are restricted; the country ratified the UN Women's Rights Convention on September 7, 2000 with reservations against Article 9, Paragraph 1 and Article 29, Paragraph 1, and has not yet ratified the Additional Protocol to the Women's Rights Convention.

The legal position of women is determined by the Wahhabi conservative interpretation of Islam. Local women are usually subject to statutory male guardianship . You are not legally competent and can not conduct legal transactions without the consent of your male guardian. The male guardian is usually the father, brothers or possibly an uncle until marriage. From marriage onwards, the husband is the male guardian. The male guardian is jointly responsible for the crimes committed by the woman; in the case of minor offenses it is often the case that the male guardian has to answer to the court, and in the case of larger offenses it is usually both. Since 2004 women have been allowed to run their own companies, i. H. bear your own responsibility for it.

Women can be released from their male guardian in court, but must be able to prove that he is abusing, raping, torturing or forcing them to do things that are incompatible with Islam (e.g. prostitution or anal sex ) . The male guardian will then be held accountable for these offenses, unless there is an out-of-court settlement between the couple after the delivery (e.g. compensation).

It is now mandatory that every woman has an identity card or travel document , but she was only allowed to renew it until August 2019 with the written consent of her male guardian, and could only leave the country until August 2019 with his consent. Women in Saudi Arabia have been able to travel freely since August 2019. Since the beginning of 2008 women have been allowed to live alone in a hotel; previously they were only allowed to do this if accompanied by a “male legal guardian”.

Because of this, there are often areas in the kingdom that are reserved for one gender, e.g. B. buses, shopping centers or restaurants. In March 2008, Hessah Al-Oun , the chairwoman of the city council of Rawda, a district of Jeddah, pushed through the construction of a public (state) leisure and sports park for women. Until then, such facilities were only offered by private owners.

In the health system , women are disadvantaged both as professionals and as patients. Women are not allowed to work outdoors as nurses . The treatment of a sick woman by male paramedics , even in urgent emergencies, is sometimes hindered by the process of veiling the woman before an ambulance transport for treatment in a clinic. It happened that a paramedic was only allowed to look at the birth when he was at home; When the umbilical cord was diagnosed by the head of the pushing out child and the prognosis of acute danger to life was declared, the paramedic in Riyadh was forbidden by the child's father to touch the woman and to intervene appropriately; the child died in transit. Two paramedics from Germany and Human Rights Watch complain about some specific female deaths that are preventable according to European standards. Became known z. For example, the death of a student as a result of a heart attack after the emergency doctors called for help were prevented from entering the university's women's wing for more than two hours by the security staff. In March 2002, 15 girls died in Mecca who were not allowed to leave a school on fire without being veiled.

A Philippine parliamentary committee speaks of “de facto slavery” about the working conditions of domestic workers . Because guest workers need a guarantor (usually the employer) in the country. According to an HRW survey from 2008, one third of houseworkers complained of sexual assault, and many newborns as a result of rape are exposed.


A law from 1977 guaranteed all citizens the right to vote without specifying any particular restrictions on women. In 2000, Saudi Arabia signed an international treaty undertaking to ensure that women were allowed to vote on the same terms as men in all elections . The electoral law of August 2004 guaranteed universal suffrage without restrictions. However, only men were allowed to vote in the 2005 sub-municipal elections. Technical reasons, such as the difficulty of setting up a polling station for women, were used to explain why women did not participate. On the basis of a decree from 2011 - issued during the upheavals of the Arab Spring - women in Saudi Arabia were finally admitted to local elections for the first time in December 2015. 20 women were elected.

In 2001, Soraya Obaid was the first time a Saudi woman became director of the United Nations Population Fund .

Driving ban for women until 2018

Women were not allowed to drive a car until 2018. Although there was no official ban, no driver's licenses have been issued to women since 1957. In October 2005, King Abdullah declared that nothing would change in the near future. There have been multiple protests and civil disobedience actions by women. The king himself supported the lifting of the driving ban, but made it dependent on the approval of the general public. On September 26, 2017, the Saudi state press agency SPA announced that the government would work on behalf of King Salman to draw up regulations to lift the driving ban for women from mid-2018. On June 4, 2018, Saudi Arabia issued driver's licenses to women for the first time: ten women who already had a driver's license from another country and took an additional test received their driving licenses on that day. Since June 24, 2018, women with a driver's license have been officially allowed to sit behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Official Saudi Arabian authorities reckoned that around 2,000 women would have obtained their driver's license by that time. In the long term, hundreds of thousands to millions of new road users were expected, and the automotive industry made it clear in advance that it was interested in the new potential customers. In the longer term, an increase in economic growth is expected due to the increased participation of women in economic life.

Women have been allowed to ride bicycles since 2013, but only if they do so in recreational areas accompanied by a male relative and in compliance with the legal clothing regulations.

Education and Women's University

Girls have only been allowed to attend schools since 1966. In the meantime, liberalization in the education sector has advanced so far that the majority of students are women. You have to follow the lectures of male lecturers on the screen, because in the university as in the whole public space the principle applies that women are not allowed to have any personal contact with unrelated men and that men are not allowed to have any personal contact with unrelated women. The consent of a male relative to start studying is no longer required.

In Riyadh there is a very large women's university, the Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University . It was only through automatic driving that both conditions could be met with an internal means of transport, namely that women do not drive vehicles - and (without supervision) do not meet male drivers.

Situation of foreigners

About eleven million foreigners live in Saudi Arabia with a total population of about 33 million people. According to estimates by the TV broadcaster al Jazeera from 2013, up to 1.5 million foreigners are staying in the country without a valid residence permit. Large numbers of people from North and East African countries work in the service and construction industries in Saudi Arabia at wage rates well below those for Saudi workers. The Saudi state wants to curb the mostly illegal employment and in 2013 founded its own 1200-strong task force that has been combing shops, construction sites, restaurants and other workplaces since then. In April 2013, Saudi Arabia gave immigrants seven months to legalize their stay. Around one million people then left and around four million more found permanent jobs and were allowed to stay in the country.

According to police, people were killed in unrest in a district of Riyadh in November 2013, which is predominantly inhabited by foreigners. In the Manfuhah district, locals and foreigners attacked the police with stones and knives, whereupon security forces intervened. A Saudi Arab and another person with an unknown identity were killed. Another 68 people were injured and more than 560 people were arrested by police. Hundreds of illegal immigrants surrendered to the police after the riot and were bused to a deportation center.

Foreign relations

Locations of the diplomatic missions of Saudi Arabia
Countries with diplomatic representation in Saudi Arabia
King Abdullah with United States Political Representatives
King Abdullah with US Vice President Dick Cheney in Jeddah on March 16, 2002

Saudi Arabia enjoys a special status with the other Islamic countries because the two holiest cities of Islam are located in this country.

Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States . The good relationship with the United States is a central element of Saudi foreign policy. The United States and the Kingdom signed a treaty on a military base in the Persian Gulf, on the question of Palestine, and a military alliance in February 1945. Since then, the United States has been a close ally of the Kingdom. However, during the third Gulf War, Saudi Arabia initially refused the US to use its military bases on Saudi soil.

The close relationship between the two countries can be described as an exchange of access to oil for security guarantees. The USA is therefore often described in the global media as the American hegemonic and protective power of Saudi Arabia or as a big brother . In return, the US has in the past often called for an increase in oil supplies to its refineries in order to lower the price and ease the economic situation in the country, most recently in March 2008 at a meeting between Vice President Dick Cheney and King Abdullah.

The relations between Germany and Saudi Arabia are based in large part on economic interests and armaments and security exchanges. With regard to the hegemonic dispute with Iran (during the military intervention in Yemen in 2015 , in Syria and in Iraq ), however , the German foreign intelligence service BND warned against an increasingly destabilizing role of Saudi Arabia, with the work of the Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, who has been in office since January 2015 The following was viewed particularly critically: "The previous cautious diplomatic attitude of the older senior members of the royal family" will be replaced by an "impulsive intervention policy".

Recently, Saudi Arabia's relations with Turkey, and particularly with the People's Republic of China, have been growing .

Attitude in the Middle East conflict

The kingdom did not take part in the military actions of the Arab-Israeli wars ; However, it supported the common cause of the Arabs with massive financial aid to the Palestinian organizations and by temporarily reducing oil supplies to the western world under King Faisal . See: Oil Crisis .

Saudi Arabia has been officially at war with Israel since 1948 ( Palestine War), the State of Israel is still not recognized, and there are no political contacts between the two countries.

In recent years the kingdom has been working for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict . From the Saudi perspective, progress cannot be made without US involvement in the peace process.

In 2002, Abdullah launched the so-called “ Arab Peace Initiative ”, which many saw as the beginning of the Saudi attempt to make peace with Israel. The plan envisaged the surrender of almost all of the Israeli-occupied territories to the Palestinians and the recognition of the Palestinian state with the capital East Jerusalem. In return, Abdullah offered far-reaching concessions for the first time, including the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a peace treaty as well as the recognition of Israel and the establishment of “normal relations” between the Arab states and Israel. The plan was abandoned after criticism from Israel as well as from Arab states.

King Abdullah succeeded in ordering the warring Palestinian leaders of the Fatah organization and the Islamist terrorist group Hamas to sign a peace treaty in the holy city of Mecca on February 8, 2007. In the medium term, however, this should prove to be an ineffective means of resolving the internal conflicts of the Palestinians in the long term. In the past, Hamas has often asked the Saudi government not to take part in peace-promoting measures such as the Middle East conference in the United States.

Relations with Iran and Syria

To defuse the nuclear dispute with Iran, Saudi Arabia relied on diplomacy and a peaceful solution, although it is unofficially part of the "Cold Religious War" with Shiite Iran. At the end of 2007, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to Hajj by King Abdullah . This was primarily of symbolic value, as it was the first time in Saudi Arabia's history that a king officially invited a Shiite leader to the Hajj. Political issues are also said to have been discussed. Both countries then made it clear that they were relying on “peaceful coexistence” . The Saudi government said that it, together with the other Gulf states, wanted to avoid a military attack on Iran and to arbitrate the matter of the Iranian nuclear program . The kingdom made an earlier compromise proposal for the peaceful uses of atomic energy in the Near and Middle East: uranium is to be enriched in a neutral country and made available to the states of the Middle East. However, the Iranian government immediately rejected the idea as "meaningless".

Protest against the war in Yemen (2017)

Saudi Arabia also had its own nuclear program . In the course of the civil war in Syria , Saudi Arabia sided with the opposition, which also supplied them with weapons. A military strike against Assad is also supported .

Since the execution of the prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on January 2, 2016, along with 46 other people, including terrorists and peaceful opposition activists, there has been a serious diplomatic crisis with Iran. On January 3, 2016, Iranian demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and partially set it on fire. The supreme leader of Iran , Ayatollah Khamenei , threatened the Saudi royal family with “God's vengeance”. On the same day, the Saudi foreign minister announced the severance of diplomatic relations with Iran. On January 4, Saudi Arabia also announced the end of all economic relations with Iran, including air traffic, and the expulsion of all Iranian nationals.

International aid funds

Salafist Islam, which is considered strictly dogmatic, is widespread in the kingdom in particular, with Saudi Arabia being its home. This current of Islam continues to spread through financial aid from Saudi Arabia and the king in the establishment of mosques and Koran schools around the world. The country is therefore suspected of exporting Sunni extremism worldwide. Saudi Arabia also supports other conservative currents in Islam, such as: B. also the Deobandis and the Ahl-i Hadith .

When the Islamic militia in Afghanistan, the Mujahedin , fought against the Soviet army in the 1980s, the kingdom provided around half of the finances, the other half came from the USA. Since 2000, the kingdom has provided over US $ 307 million in aid to the Palestinians , and a further US $ 230 million to Afghanistan , including under Taliban rule .

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the kingdom has distributed $ 1 billion in soft loans to the country and provided $ 187 million in direct aid. In addition, there is the private US $ 10.3 million of Prince al-Walid ibn Talal .

Furthermore, the king pledged 500 million US dollars to Lebanon for the reconstruction of the country after the Lebanon war in 2006 and another 250 million dollars for the Palestinians over the coming years . Further noteworthy aid funds are flowing into Sudan .

Aid funds are also flowing into the Pakistani arms industry . It is largely certain that Saudi Arabia “financed the Pakistani nuclear program to a not inconsiderable extent”, unofficially it is said that 50%. After the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 , the kingdom also provided US $ 153 million in aid.

Unofficial donations, with which the government says it is not directly involved, also go to the radical Islamic Hamas and even to the Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah . Of the millions donated to Saudi aid organizations, some are said to go to Sunni resistance groups in Iraq and Southeast Asia.

King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue

The King Abdullah Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue was founded by King Abdullah in 2011, opened in Vienna in 2012 and is supported by Spain and Austria. The center sees itself as an inter-governmental organization that wants to strengthen global dialogue and cooperation as well as mutual respect between people of different beliefs and cultures.

In January 2015, the dissolution of the cooperation was discussed in Austria's politics, as the goals of the organization were seen in contradiction to the country's human rights policy.

Membership in organizations

Saudi Arabia in 1981 was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council ( Gulf Cooperation Council , GCC) and its leading power, still it belongs to the Non-Aligned Movement on. It is the only Arab country at the G20 meetings. The kingdom is also a member of the following international organizations:

Armed forces

The armed forces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ( Arabic القوات المسلحة الملكية العربية السعودية) with a total strength of about 230,000 men are considered to be one of the most powerful in the Middle East after those of Israel . They consist of the five armed forces

  • Ground forces
  • Air Force
  • marine
  • National Guard (SANG), which also supports the police at home
  • Saudi Special Emergency Forces , an anti-terrorist unit

There is no conscription , the armed forces are purely professional , the minimum age for entry is eighteen years. Women can also serve in the Saudi armed forces. Due to the strong population growth, the Saudi Arabian military has been expanded considerably in recent decades. In the mid-1980s the troop strength was still around 60,000 men.

With 63 billion dollars the country had in 2016 the world's fourth highest military expenditure after the United States, China and Russia. Saudi Arabia spent more than 10% of its economic output on its armed forces, one of the highest rates in the world and a burden on the country's national budget .

Buying weapons in Germany

Bild am Sonntag reported that the Federal Security Council decided on January 21, 2015 to stop arms exports to Saudi Arabia by rejecting or postponing export applications. In 2013, the Federal Security Council of the FRG still approved arms exports for 360 million euros. In a survey by Emnid for Bild am Sonntag, 60% of Germans (503 respondents) refused to do business with Saudi Arabia at all in view of the human rights violations , while 78% refused to export arms there. According to the arms export report, the German government approved armaments worth almost 500 million euros in 2016. The former Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy , Sigmar Gabriel , spoke of a “restrictive and responsible arms export policy”.

Although Saudi Arabia's arms imports rose sharply between 2011 and 2015, the main suppliers of arms for Saudi Arabia are the USA (46%), the United Kingdom (30%) and Spain (5.9%).



Provinz Nadschran Provinz Dschāzān Provinz Dschāzān Provinz Baha Provinz Qasim Provinz Mekka Provinz Medina Provinz Riad Provinz Tabuk Provinz al-Dschauf Provinz al-Hudud asch-schamaliyya Provinz asch-Scharqiyya Provinz Ha'il Provinz Asir Eritrea Sudan de-facto Ägypten - von Sudan beansprucht Ägypten Israel Gazastreifen Westjordanland Jordanien Syrien Irak Kuwait Bahrain Katar Iran Vereinigte Arabische Emirate Oman JemenThe provinces of Saudi Arabia
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The country is divided into 13 provinces (singular: minṭaqa , plural: manāṭiq ). In addition, the provinces are divided into a total of 118 governorates.

All provincial governors are appointed by the king. Villages are usually governed by a village council or a council of elders.

No. province Population 2017
1 al-Baha 0.491,900
2 al-Hudud ("northern region") 0.383.100
3 al-Jauf 0.528,400
4th Medina 2,154,100
5 al-Qasim 1,464,800
6th ar riad 8,276,700
7th Ash-Sharqiyya ("Eastern Region") 4,977,500
8th Asir 2,288,500
9 Ha'il 0.715,400
10 Jazan 1,636,600
11 Mecca 8,479,400
12th Najran 0.607.100
13th Taboo 0.946,300

Overview of the largest cities

Neighborhood in Riyadh
Road to Medina in Jeddah

The largest cities in Saudi Arabia are Riyadh , Jeddah , Mecca , Medina , Dammam , Hofuf and Ta'if . Mecca and Medina are completely closed to non-Muslims. The first four are megacities. As the world's largest crude oil exporter, Saudi Arabia has flourishing economic development and an excellent infrastructure in all respects: From completely free medical care to the connection of all important cities via a motorway-like road network.


The largest city in Saudi Arabia is the capital Riyadh with around 4.1 million inhabitants. It is located about 150 kilometers north of the tropic between the two largest deserts in the country, relatively central in the eastern part of the center of the country. Riyadh has been the capital since Saudi Arabia's independence in 1932. Historically, Riyadh is a very important transit point of the Arab region, the pilgrimage routes to Mecca and Medina, the most important pilgrimage sites of Islam. The main palace of the Saud royal family has been located in Riyadh since 1824. Riyadh, sometimes also spelled Er-Riad in German , was originally an oasis that gradually developed into a metropolis, especially after the oil boom in the middle of the 20th century.


The second largest city is Jeddah on the Red Sea . Jeddah has 2.8 million inhabitants and is the main export port for petroleum products and livestock (goats, sheep and camels). The city is around 300 years old and has undergone a gigantic development since 1947: At that time it had around 30,000 inhabitants and was limited to a small area within its city walls. The best way to see the size of the city is by looking at its boulevard "Corniche", which, lined with hotels and palaces, runs 60 km along the Red Sea coast. The city is nestled between the sea and the Asir Mountains .


Next up is Mecca, the most important city in Islam. In the center of the city is the most important sanctuary of Islam, the Kaaba , the most important destination of Islamic pilgrimages ( Hajj ). Around 1.5 million people live in Mecca. At the time of Hajj, several million pilgrims are in the city. The journey is mostly made via the port and the airport of Jeddah and then a good 100 km by land. Most of them are housed in tent cities and provided with food and drink by the Saudi government.

Mecca has historically been of great importance as a trading city and the junction of many caravan routes from Asia and Africa to Europe. All Muslims worldwide pray towards Mecca / Kaaba. Mecca is inland about 200 kilometers south of the Tropic of Capricorn in the mid-west of the country. Because of its special religious significance, rule over the city has often changed throughout history, depending on which Muslim power had the greatest influence.


Medina has around 1.75 million inhabitants and is the second holiest city for Muslims. It is located in the middle of the country, west of Riyadh. The Islamic era began in Medina in 622, when the Prophet Mohammed moved from Mecca to the Yathrib oasis, today's Medina ( Hijra ). Mohammed is buried in Medina, which makes the city an important place of pilgrimage. Medina was a major caravan town and an important trading center, which was conquered in 1932 by the troops of the Saudi king against the army of the Hashimites and incorporated into the kingdom.

Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Economy and Infrastructure

Economic structure

Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Arab world, so the gross domestic product per capita is 38 times that of Yemen and 16 times that of Egypt . The country applied to join the WTO in 1993 and was admitted in 2005. Accession has accelerated the international opening of the Saudi market. The stock exchange is the Tadawul .

The kingdom had the largest surplus of all time in 2006 (approx. 70 billion US dollars with a surplus of 150 billion US dollars), significantly surpassing the record surplus of 2005 (approx. 55.5 billion US dollars). After the natural resources, the service sector, especially tourism with more than three million pilgrims every year, is an important economic sector.

Real economic growth in 2015 was 3.5%. The currency in the kingdom is the Saudi riyal , it has a fixed exchange rate peg to the US dollar . 12% of Saudis generate 3% of GDP in agriculture, while 25% of the workforce is in industry. This sector generates the greatest profit with 63.7% of GDP. With 63% employment in the service sector , it is the largest sector. 33% of GDP is generated there.

In 2015, Saudi Arabia exported goods to the value of 201.5 billion US dollars (of which oil and oil products: approx. 90%), while imports amounted to 163.8 billion US dollars, so - as in the Previous years - the trade balance had a stable surplus of $ 37.7 billion, which has been decreasing in recent years due to the fall in oil prices. The most important recipient countries of Saudi Arabian exports are China, Japan, the USA and now also South Korea and India; the main importing countries are the USA, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea. Imports from Germany are increasing continuously, with the import of machines from Germany increasing by 55.2% in 2006 and the import of iron and steel products by 90.16%. In 2015, Saudi Arabia imported goods worth 7.3 billion euros from Germany. The exports amounted to 0.9 billion euros.

In 2005, the approximately six million guest workers are said to have made remittances to their home countries amounting to 14 billion US dollars. The country holds high foreign exchange reserves ($ 492 billion in April 2017). The country has two sovereign wealth funds : the Public Investment Fund and SAMA Foreign Holdings (part of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority ) .

In the Global Competitiveness Index , which measures a country's competitiveness, Saudi Arabia was ranked 30th out of 137 countries (2017-2018). In 2017, the country was ranked 64th out of 180 countries in the Index for Economic Freedom .

So far, there have been generous subsidies on water and petrol. However, this course has now been significantly adjusted. From now on there is a VAT - and gasoline is drastically more expensive. A liter of super now costs the equivalent of 45 euro cents - more than twice as much as before. This is intended to curb the rapid increase in energy consumption in the country, according to the ministry.

labour market

The total unemployment rate in 2017 was 5.8% and for the local population it was 12.8%. In 2005, 6.7% of the total workforce worked in agriculture, 21.4% in industry and 71.9% in the service sector. The total number of employees is estimated at 13.8 million for 2017.

Women are granted the right to employment in all areas. However, you are not allowed to work at night, but you are entitled to maternity leave and in larger companies (from 50 employees) to child minders or even (from 100 employees) to a kindergarten. Women currently (2017) make up 16.2% of the workforce; women now have a higher rate of university graduates than men. Women work primarily in education, social services , health, and the media.

On April 23, 2006, a new labor law came into force. The most important labor market policy instrument in this is the Saudization program , which is to increasingly replace the approximately six million guest workers with their own nationals. The companies are obliged to increase their share of the Saudi Arabian workforce to 75%. The Minister of Labor can reduce this percentage if there are no qualified Saudi Arabian workers available.

The new labor law strengthens the rights of guest workers: employers are obliged to have written employment contracts as well as to assume all costs of entry and exit and to grant vacation. On the other hand, the law also provides for companies to be obliged to provide training in order to gradually replace guest workers with Saudi workers. This program is accompanied by a strict visa policy. According to the will of the Minister of Labor, the number of visas for foreign workers should be reduced considerably - by 100,000 visas annually. At the same time, there are minimum quotas for the use of local workers in the private sector to prevent youth unemployment; however, they prefer administrative jobs and are generally poorly qualified.

Due to the slump in revenues from oil exports and the absence of subsidies for many jobs as well as the foreseeable loss of income of the management elite and the middle classes, a sharp rise in unemployment among the approximately 9 million foreign workers is predicted; however, important positions in the private sector cannot be filled with inadequately qualified nationals. There is therefore a threat of an increase in youth unemployment, especially among domestic residents.

Vision 2030

The "Vision 2030" is an ambitious economic project of the Saudi leadership, the details of which were announced on April 25, 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman . The plan aims to significantly reduce Saudi Arabia's dependence on oil. The share of oil and gas in Saudi Arabia's gross domestic product is to be reduced from 47% today to 11% in 2030. With investments of 109 billion dollars, Saudi Arabia wants to become world market leader in the field of photovoltaics ; at least a quarter of the electricity should come from solar energy. Overall, within the framework of the green Saudi Arabian initiative, half of the energy consumption is to be generated from renewable energy sources . Part of Vision 2030 is to significantly increase the proportion of women in the workforce. Furthermore, the country wants to invest specifically in the education of the young population and their employment situation as well as in the infrastructure of the kingdom. In order to get the needed money, there will be tax increases and parts of the state oil company Saudi Aramco are to be sold. The country is also trying to attract foreign investors and is planning to remove barriers to foreign investment. Despite the introduction of a tourist visa, the plan to open the country to global tourism (away from Muslim pilgrims) is sometimes viewed as overambitious and unrealistic, as it requires a change in mentality and culture among its population and political leadership.

The plan is considered the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's favorite project .

Key figures

Change in gross domestic product (GDP), real World Bank
year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Change in% yoy 2.8 1.9 6.3 −2.1 5.0 10.0 5.4 2.7 3.7 4.1 1.7 −0.7 2.2
Development of GDP (nominal), World Bank
absolute (in billion USD) per inhabitant (in thousands of USD)
year 2015 2016 2017 year 2015 2016 2017
GDP in billions of euros 665 644 684 GDP per inhabitant (in € thousand) 20.7 20.0 20.8
Foreign Trade Development (GTAI)
in billion US dollars and its year-on-year change as a percentage
2013 2014 2015
Billion USD % yoy Billion USD % yoy Billion USD % year-on-year
import 163.0 +7.8 168.2 +3.2 163.8 −2.6
export 375.4 +4.1 341.9 −8.9 201.5 −41.1
balance +212.3 +173.7 +37.7
Main trading partner of Saudi Arabia (2016), source: GTAI
Export (in percent) to Import (in percent) of
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 11.6 United StatesUnited States United States 14.8
JapanJapan Japan 10.5 China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 14.3
United StatesUnited States United States 9.6 GermanyGermany Germany 6.5
IndiaIndia India 9.3 United Arab EmiratesUnited Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates 5.4
Korea SouthSouth Korea South Korea 8.9 JapanJapan Japan 5.3
United Arab EmiratesUnited Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates 6.5 Korea SouthSouth Korea South Korea 4.4
other countries 43.6 other countries 49.3

State budget

Due to high oil prices from 2003 - as the world's largest oil producer - Saudi Arabia, viewed as a whole, was able to generate massive budget surpluses , despite economic fluctuations and the global economic crisis from 2007 onwards . In 2010 the budget deficit was USD 23.4 billion. However, the budget surplus rose from USD 77.63 billion in 2011 to USD 99.75 billion in 2012, then fell to a surplus of USD 54.9 billion in 2013, and fell to a deficit of USD 39 billion in 2014 with the fall in the price of oil and closes 2015 with a budget deficit of USD 98 billion. In order to reduce the deficit of around 15% of GDP in 2015, the government announced that it would cut subsidies for water, electricity and fuel.

The state budget in 2016 comprised expenditures equivalent to US $ 236.7 billion, which was offset by revenues equivalent to US $ 149.7 billion. This results in a budget deficit of 15.1% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The national debt in 2016 was 79.3 billion US dollars or 12.4% of the gross domestic product.

The American rating agency Standard & Poor’s rated the country 's government bonds with the grade A− (as of January 2019).

In 2006 the share of government expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) was in the following areas:

Natural resources

The most important mineral resources of Saudi Arabia are: petroleum , natural gas , gold , limestone , gypsum , marble , clay , salt , iron ore and phosphorus .


Aramco, the national oil producer and the largest oil company in the world, has its headquarters in Zahran

Saudi Arabia has the world's second largest oil reserves and is one of the largest producers. The country is a leading member of OPEC . Oil production was started by Standard Oil of California (SoCal) in 1938 and oil exports began in 1944. Today's oil production company Saudi Aramco went public in 2019 and has since been considered the most valuable corporation in the world.

In 2000, 12.3% of the world's oil came from Saudi Arabia. The reserves amount to 35 to 36 billion tons or 262.7 billion barrels, which is 25% of all known oil reserves in the world. The country has the eighth largest refining capacity in the world. Since the products made from refining such as heating oil , gasoline , kerosene and diesel by far exceed the needs in the kingdom, these are exported to countries that do not have their own refining industry.

With the exception of the temporary oil boycott in the wake of the Yom Kippur War , the kingdom played a reliable and constructive role for the West, particularly during the Cold War and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Second Gulf War in 1991 would also have been difficult to manage without Saudi Arabia: It threw all of its reserve capacity onto the market to compensate for the loss of Iraqi and Kuwaiti production, thereby stabilizing the markets. The importance of Saudi Arabia is not only measured on the basis of high production and oil reserves, but also on the basis of its role as a "bottleneck compensator" in the world oil market: It has reserve capacities that can be thrown onto the market in times of scarcity and withdrawn again in times of abundance .

In the past (until 2006), Saudi Arabia produced the most oil per day, most recently over 9 million barrels. In 2006, 3.942 billion tons of crude oil were produced worldwide, most of it, 525.0 million tons, from the kingdom (see petroleum / tables and graphs ). Since 2007, Russia has been producing more than 9.4 million barrels per day, while Saudi Arabia's production has fallen below 9 million for the first time since 2004, with an average of 8.7 million barrels per day. Ghawar , the largest oil field in the world, from which about 6% of the world production comes, is located in the kingdom. Experts assume that Saudi Arabia has deliberately reduced its production volumes in order to increase the oil price . The United States has recently called for production quotas to be increased again. In March 2008 the kingdom promised a higher subsidy; its production and refining capacities will be ramped up again, the country will work together with producers and consumers in order to avoid "harmful speculation". At a crisis summit on June 22nd, 2008, King Abdullah said they wanted to increase production to 9.7 million barrels a day in order to lower the price of oil. Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter, in 2006 the kingdom produced 525 million tons of oil, of which it exported 360 million tons, which corresponds to 16.2% of the world's oil exported (see oil table for export ).

The kingdom is considered to be the mainstay of global oil production: over 16% of the world's oil comes exclusively from this state with 49 known oil fields and 28 gas fields. 92% of the Saudi production in 2002 came from just seven giant oil fields; the six of them with a flow rate of more than 300,000 barrels per day are:

Distribution of world oil reserves, Canada including tar sands
Oil field found Production 2000
Ghawar 1948/49 ≈4.5 mbpd
Abqaiq 1940 ≈0.6 mbpd
Shayba 1975 ≈0.6 mbpd
Safaniya 1951 ≈0.5 mbpd
Zuluf 1965 ≈0.5 mbpd
Berri 1964 ≈0.4 mbpd

(mbpd: million barrels per day)

Peak oil

It has recently been seen that oil production from these seven fields is declining, but the degree of development of the Saudi oil fields is still not comparable to that of the US.

In April 2006, Aramco announced that all of their older oil fields have reached stagnation and the production rate will decrease by 8% per year. This is in line with the findings of Texas investment banker and oil expert Matthew Simmons . An increase in production in these old fields was only possible with significantly more drilling rigs; a further increase in oil production is therefore only possible by tapping other oil fields.

With the Manifa oil field, Saudi Arabia has another considerable supply of oil that has not yet been tapped.

Economic relationship with the USA in questions relating to petroleum

The kingdom bills its oil deliveries in US dollars. After the dollar remained weak in February and March 2008, the country's central bank governor rejected rumors that there were plans to settle supplies in euros. The news gave the US economy a sigh of relief, as Saudi Arabia is the largest foreign oil supplier and the United States is the largest buyer of Saudi oil. Settlement in euros would increase the purchase price in dollars and seriously damage the US economy .

natural gas

Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest natural gas reserves worldwide, in terms of production it (ARAMCO) ranks seventh (see also: Natural gas / tables and graphics ). Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that lie in the so-called strategic ellipse .

Electricity industry

oil and gas

Saudi Arabia covers its electricity needs almost exclusively with oil and gas power plants (as of 2017).

Renewable energy

In the future, the energy sources are to be further diversified. Renewable energies such as wind energy and solar energy should cover 10 percent of electricity generation within six years . The first tenders for wind and solar energy have already taken place. According to energy minister Chaled al-Falih, the restructuring of the electricity supply will have similarly drastic effects as the discovery of the oil wells in the 1930s. As of 2013, around 41 GW of photovoltaic systems should be installed by 2032 . In March 2018, the company Softbank and the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented significantly more extensive expansion plans for photovoltaics. According to this, a solar park is to be built in Saudi Arabia by 2030 , which will gradually be expanded to a capacity of 200 GW. The total investment for the project is given as around 200 billion dollars. Compared to Saudi Arabia's current mix of oil and gas, solar power is expected to save around $ 40 billion in electricity costs.

Nuclear energy

In the longer term, the government is also relying on nuclear energy , namely, mineral resources also include uranium-containing ore. In March 2018, the cabinet passed a concept for the construction of 16 nuclear power plants in the country. But since the uranium enrichment plants are also suitable for the production of weapons-grade material, a new danger arises in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman stated unequivocally: “Saudi Arabia does not want to have an atomic bomb. But if Iran builds one, we will, without a doubt, follow suit as soon as possible ”. The USA with its company Westinghouse Electric are very interested in the contract to build nuclear power plants in the country, which is worth at least 80 billion dollars. The first reactor near the capital is expected to go into operation in 2020.


Around 25% of the workforce in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is employed in the industrial sector.

The most important branch of industry is petroleum refining , followed by natural gas refining . In addition, basic petrochemical products , fertilizers , cement , steel and textiles are important export products.

In 2005 the king laid the foundation stone for the establishment of the King Abdullah Economic City .


A lack of water and poorly fertile soils set natural limits for agricultural use. A high percentage of food has to be imported: in 2011 food for 15 billion US dollars was imported.

Since the 1970s, large farms have been set up in the Arabian desert, in which cattle are raised in an artificial climate and at great financial expense, in order to make the country less dependent on meat imports (for example, the Al Safi farm with at least 37,000 cattle is the largest cow farm in the World). In addition, practically everything is grown with varying degrees of effort. Plants with long growing seasons (maize, rice) and the dairy industry consume a particularly large amount of water. The water for agriculture comes from wadis, deep wells, oases and seawater desalination. Due to the wealth of oil, there are hardly any financial limits. The deep wells, which have only been known since the oil boom, however, rely on fossil resources and will eventually be exhausted. The renewable natural sources are around 120 m³ per year and inhabitant (Germany: 2080 m³ / year). In doing so, Saudi Arabia also avoids political dependencies that water imports from other countries such as Iraq would bring. The strong population growth and political plans for the further expansion of industrial and agricultural facilities increase the consumption of water and electricity by around 8% per year. It is estimated that investments of US $ 250 billion will be required by 2025 to meet rising consumption. The Saudi government intends to raise the majority of the costs. Some of the investments come from the private sector.


Some of the media in Saudi Arabia is owned by the state, and there are also private media. However, these are monitored by the Saudi Ministry of Culture. Content against the royal family is prohibited. Every newspaper, magazine and television station needs royal permission to appear and broadcast.


Screenshot of a censored page

In Saudi Arabia, the Internet has been available through the state telecommunications authority KACST since 1999; it is monitored by a special department and is censored. Mainly pages that are classified as immoral, un-Islamic or oppositional are censored. The Saudi Arabian authorities officially state that they are preventing access to around 400,000 websites. Its aim is "to protect citizens from offensive content and content that violates social norms and the principles of Islam". The blocked sites do not deal primarily with "offensive" or religious topics, but with political content against the royal family. Attempts to circumvent them are recorded and displayed; Internet cafés all have to acquire a specific license and are regularly checked by the authorities.

In 2019, 96 percent of Saudi Arabia's residents used the internet . For young people in particular, it is one of the few entertainment options due to the lack of cultural offers. Saudi Arabia has one of the highest Twitter usage rates in the world.

watch TV

Television in Saudi Arabia is also controlled by the Ministry of Culture. It often happens that western films, series and cartoons are censored or cut in some places. Criticism of the government is also prohibited and will be stopped. The television programs of the religious channels and the state channels (Saudi TV) are interrupted five times a day during prayer times and switch live to prayer, to the great mosque in Mecca or Medina. The largest broadcasters in the country are:

Nine Saudi Arabian television channels can also be received via satellite television . Via Eutelsat Hot Bird (13 ° East), via BADR (26 ° East) and via Eurobird 9 (9 ° East).

However, many foreign channels are also received, especially from neighboring Arab countries, the most popular of these being the Qatar- based channel Al Jazeera . This is not subject to the censorship of the Saudi authorities and sends controversial views and criticism of the Saudi government. Reception of the station is officially prohibited, Saudi companies are prohibited from booking advertising with Al Jazeera. The Saudi government tried several times to buy a majority stake in Al Jazeera and thus to gain control of the station, but failed. Al -Arabiya was founded with Saudi funds to compete with Al Jazeera .

Newspapers (selection)

Newspapers enjoy more freedom than other media, their published texts are not checked before publication, but they must not be oppositional either , in which case the Ministry of Culture can prevent the publication of the respective newspaper and have the copies recalled. The texts are usually checked after they have been published. Opposition journalists are being prosecuted.

The largest newspapers in the country are:


Courtyard of the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah


There is compulsory schooling for both sexes for nine years. The state pays the training costs from elementary school to university degree. The school enrollment rate is 91%. In Saudi Arabia, the mean school attendance of over 25s increased from 5.7 years in 1990 to 9.6 years in 2015. The educational expectation of the current generation is already 16.1 years. There are eight universities and 65 colleges, including in Hofuf, Zahran, Jeddah, Medina and Riyadh. 17 colleges are reserved for women. As in society as a whole, there is gender segregation: educational institutions are either only for men or only for women. The students follow lectures by male lecturers on a screen.

Share of women and gender segregation

Women now make up most of the teaching staff at schools and universities. 60% of all Saudi professorships are held by women. 56% of the teachers are female. While in the past many teachers came from abroad, now, due to a pronounced nationalization policy, it is mostly Saudis; they are considered to be less well qualified.

The gender segregation in schools is at the same time the basic condition of sexual education in school lessons; Recently, subjects have also been taught that explain social contact and dealing with the opposite sex. It is hoped that this will also lower the divorce rate.

Science and higher education

Saudi Arabia has a wide range of educational opportunities related to the Islamic religion. In addition to the Islamic sciences, another focus is on the technical sciences. The kingdom has renowned educational institutions in the field of crude oil and its processing.

The language of instruction at the country's universities is usually English. The most widely studied languages ​​are English, German, French and Japanese.

Studying abroad is also seen as a useful component of a teaching geared towards tolerance and modern content, for which thousands of government scholarships are awarded every year; the state has for some time provided the second largest (after the military) individual amount of its state budget for education Available.

To promote scientific exchange, the government built a 36 square kilometer island of free research, on which the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an elite university, was established. The cost of this is $ 12.5 billion. 2000 students and 600 faculty members from all over the world will work on campus, be equipped with the best technological equipment and carry out top-level research in an internationally networked manner. Cooperation with numerous western and Asian countries is planned. With Israel she was excluded because the Kingdom does not recognize the State of Israel, there are no diplomatic relations and therefore no visas can be issued for Israeli citizens. Women and men study together, women are also allowed to drive on the island.

Religious education

Saudi children receive their “basic education” in Koran schools that are in every small village. Boys and girls are taught equally. Just over half of university graduates are female. Internal studies have shown that female graduates do better than male graduates.

Even in the new school books, reformed in 2007 under pressure from the United States, there is no longer propaganda against the Shiite branch of Islam, but against Christians, Jews and non-Muslim religions.


Road traffic

The Zahran-al-Chubar Highway

The road network is 221,372 km long, of which 47,529 km (including 3891 km of expressways) are paved. In 2013, there were a total of 27.4 road deaths for every 100,000 inhabitants in Saudi Arabia. For comparison: In Germany there were 4.3 deaths in the same year. A total of 7,900 people were killed in traffic.

Rail transport

The rail network is 3500 kilometers long and is operated by the Saudi Railways Organization (SRO). The first railway line was the now closed Hejaz Railway . Railway traffic should, inter alia. will be greatly expanded through the construction of a high-speed line from Medina to Mecca .

air traffic

There are three international airports: King Fahd International Airport , Jeddah airport and Riyadh Airport . The national airline is Saudi Arabian Airlines . About half of all travelers are pilgrims to Mecca. Since pilgrimages are concentrated on one month a year, Jeddah Airport, only 100 km away, is being expanded accordingly for foreign pilgrims.

Water transport

Satellite photo of the port city of Yanbu

The two oil ports of Ra's Tanura near Dammam on the Persian Gulf and Yanbu on the Red Sea occupy a dominant position .

Coastal shipping is of great regional importance for trade and transport. A large proportion of the pilgrims from the region travel by ship via the generously developed port of Jeddah to Mecca, about 100 km away.


An east-west pipeline runs from the oil fields on the Persian Gulf to Yanbu on the Red Sea. It is 2200 kilometers long.


Although the country's outward appearance may have been completely changed by its wealth, the Saudis are unwaveringly clinging to Salafist Islam. Clinging to dogmatic Salafi Islam is an important guarantee for the survival of the monarchy.

The country's culture is largely shaped by Islam. The country occupies a special position in the Islamic world, as the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located on the national territory. The culture and social life in Saudi Arabia follow precisely defined rules: those of the Salafist denomination of the Islamic religion.

Saudi Arabia is trying to set an example for the rest of the Islamic world in interpreting the Koran and the way of life prescribed by Sharia law, which also seems to be working. Many guest workers and Muslims abroad consider Saudi Arabia to be an exemplary Islamic state. This can be seen in almost all areas of social life, for example in the calendar. In the kingdom, according to Article 2 of its constitution, the Islamic calendar applies . The weekend has been since 28/29. June 2013 on Friday and Saturday, previously Thursday was partly a day of rest and Friday was a complete day of rest.

Because the Al Saud royal family insisted on its responsibility to Islam, public theaters, cinemas and theaters were banned for a long time. Cinemas have been permitted again since 2018, as a result of Vision 2030. Theaters and playhouses are to be built. If the topic presented in literature, for example, turns to theology or the presentation of other countries, it is usually taboo and is frowned upon. Since the opening of cinemas, these have become more and more popular.


The country's cultural heritage is cultivated , for example, at the annual Dschanadriyya Culture Festival . Traditional music and dances are performed here.

public holidays

National holidays

date Surname
September 23rd National Day (اليوم الوطني al-Yaum al-watanī , day of the unification of Hejaz and Nejd to form the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia )

On September 23, 2006, the national holiday was declared an official holiday on which all authorities and shops in the kingdom are closed. All of the Kingdom's missions and consulates abroad are also closed.

Islamic Holidays

Islamic date Name / description
1 Shawwal 1st day after the fasting month of Ramadan ( ʿĪd al-fitr ,عيد الفطر
10 Dhū l-Hijjah ʿĪd al-Adhā festival of sacrifice, climax of the pilgrimage,عيد الأضحى 

According to Article 2 of the constitution, the ʿĪd al-fitr and the ʿĪd al-Adhā are the only official holidays in the kingdom. They are set in the Islamic lunar calendar , which is why their date changes every year in the Gregorian calendar.

The Id al-fitr is celebrated for 3 days, while the Id al-Adha is celebrated for 4 days.


Marriage is not understood as a sacrament, but as a civil contract. This contract is to be signed by witnesses and specifies a certain bridal gift that the man has to pay to the woman.

The marriage contract can also specify a certain amount to be paid to the woman in the event of a divorce or certain other conditions, such as: B. assure the woman the right to get a divorce in the event that the man marries a second wife, or that in this case the woman has custody of the children. In the event of divorce, children usually stay with their father, and small children with their mother. According to Islamic understanding, the intimate areas of life of marriageable women and men are fundamentally separate; marriage is the only place where this separation is legitimately broken. A man has the right to marry up to four women.

Couples wishing to marry have to undergo gene tests. The tests provide information about the possible endangerment of future offspring from genetic sickle cell or Mediterranean anemia . The government has announced that it will also introduce an HIV test as a prerequisite for marriage.

The divorce rate in the Kingdom is relatively high for a Middle Eastern country, with almost half of all marriages concluded in divorce after three years. In the event of a divorce, the husband is obliged to provide maintenance to the wife; men cannot claim maintenance from women. After a divorce, the woman must wait at least four months to remarry. The law is taken directly from the Koran and is intended to rule out misunderstandings about fatherhood.

movie theater

The conservative leadership of the kingdom banned cinemas in the wake of re-Islamization in the early 1980s. In December 2017, the Saudi government announced that it wanted to allow public cinemas again. The country's first cinema opened in Riyadh on April 18, 2018, and the US chain AMC received the license for it. As part of the “Vision 2030”, 350 cinemas are to be built by then.


The most popular sport is soccer, followed by horse and camel races.

The Saudi Arabian national soccer team took part in the 1994 soccer world championship in the USA and reached the round of 16 there. She also took part in the finals in France in 1998 , in South Korea / Japan in 2002 , in Germany in 2006 and in Russia in 2018 , where she was eliminated in the group stage. For the tournaments 2010 and 2014 she missed the qualification.

Sport for women is allowed, but only in closed complexes to which men are not allowed. Women’s soccer games take place in closed stadiums or on private property to which only women are allowed; the referees are women too. Female team sports are mostly organized privately. In the course of the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and the participation of a Saudi Arabian show jumper, demands are increasing to officially permit and promote girls' sport. Since January 2018, women have been allowed access to the sports stadiums for the football matches of Saudi Arabian teams.

At the soccer World Cup 2006 for people with disabilities , the national team of Saudi Arabia won the final against the team from the Netherlands on September 16, 2006 in the Leverkusen BayArena in front of 14,500 spectators (9: 8 on pens). After regular playing time it was 4: 4.

Another popular sport, especially among wealthy members of society, is falcon hunting, which has a long tradition among Bedouin peoples.

From 2020, the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) will host the Dakar Rally and the Saudi Tour .


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  • Madawi al-Rasheed: A History of Saudi Arabia . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002, ISBN 0-521-64335-X ; 2nd edition 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-76128-4 (bound) or ISBN 978-0-521-74754-7 (paperback).
  • Madawi Al-Rasheed: Contesting the Saudi State. Islamic Ideas from a New Generation . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2007, ISBN 978-0-521-85836-6 .
  • Madawi Al-Rasheed: Kingdom without Borders. Saudi Arabia's Political, Redligious and Media Frontiers . Columbia University Press, New York 2009, ISBN 978-0-231-70068-9 .
  • Matthew R. Simmons : Twilight in the Desert. The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy . Wiley, Hoboken NJ 2005, ISBN 0-471-73876-X .
  • Guido Steinberg: Saudi Arabia. Politics history religion . CH Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51112-0 .
  • Alexei Vassiliev: The History of Saudi Arabia . New York University Press, New York 2000, ISBN 0-8147-8809-2 .
  • Who's who in the Saudi Arabia 2006. Asia Pacific Infoserv, Sydney 2006, ISBN 0-9758426-3-3 .

Web links

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Coordinates: 24 °  N , 44 °  E