|Facts & Figures|
Sovereign: King Salman (2015)
Land area: 829,995 sq mi (2,149,690 sq km)
Population (2014 est.): 27,345,986 (growth rate: 1.49%); birth rate: 18.78/1000; infant mortality rate: 14.58/1000; life expectancy: 74.82; density per sq mi: 31
Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Riyadh, 5.451 million
Other large cities: Jeddah, 3.578 millioin; Makkah (Mecca), 1.591 million
Monetary unit: Riyal
Saudi Arabia occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula, with the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba to the west and the Persian Gulf to the east. Neighboring countries are Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, Yemen, and Bahrain, connected to the Saudi mainland by a causeway. Saudi Arabia contains the world's largest continuous sand desert, the Rub Al-Khali, or Empty Quarter. Its oil region lies primarily in the eastern province along the Persian Gulf.
Saudi Arabia was an absolute monarchy until 1992, at which time the Saud royal family introduced the country's first constitution. The legal system is based on the sharia (Islamic law).
Saudi Arabia is not only the homeland of the Arab peoples—it is thought that the first Arabs originated on the Arabian Peninsula—but also the homeland of Islam, the world's second-largest religion. Muhammad founded Islam there, and it is the location of the two holy pilgrimage cities of Mecca and Medina. The Islamic calendar begins in 622, the year of the hegira, or Muhammad's flight from Mecca. A succession of invaders attempted to control the peninsula, but by 1517 the Ottoman Empire dominated, and in the middle of the 18th century, it was divided into separate principalities. In 1745 Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab began calling for the purification and reform of Islam, and the Wahhabi movement swept across Arabia. By 1811, Wahhabi leaders had waged a jihad—a holy war—against other forms of Islam on the peninsula and succeeded in uniting much of it. By 1818, however, the Wahhabis had been driven out of power again by the Ottomans and their Egyptian allies.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is almost entirely the creation of King Ibn Saud (1882–1953). A descendant of Wahhabi leaders, he seized Riyadh in 1901 and set himself up as leader of the Arab nationalist movement. By 1906 he had established Wahhabi dominance in Nejd and conquered Hejaz in 1924–1925. The Hejaz and Nejd regions were merged to form the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, which was an absolute monarchy ruled by sharia. A year later the region of Asir was incorporated into the kingdom.
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