The region is a province occupying four-fifths of a peninsula. Having an area of about 870,000 square miles, it is bounded west by the Red Sea and Egypt, north by Jordan and Iraq, east by Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, and south by Yemen. Southern Yemen and Oman, which border on the ocean.
The highlands of the west, 9000 feet high, slope down to 2000 feet at the Persian Gulf. This plateau is an arid, barren desert, inhabited by wandering tribes of Bedouins. Camels are the chief form of wealth among the tribesmen, who maintain themselves at oases. Mainly from the oases also come agricultural products, including dates, honey, hides, wool, barley, and clarified butter known as ghi.
The country is one of the richest oil-producing regions of the world, and oil royalties provide most of the income of the country, paying expenses of government and providing free medical service to the inhabitants.
The capital is Riyadh. Mecca and Medina are two sacred cities of the Islamic World, and pilgrims and tourists visit them in great numbers. The country is an early amalgamation of two kingdoms, Hejaz and Nejd. Several other shiekdoms are associated with the country including Oman at the southeastern extremity of the peninsula.
The current monarchy was formally established in 1926 when Ibn Saud, Sultan of the Nejd, conquered Hejaz and joined these two territories. Government takes the form of a feudal autocracy although a constitution was issued in 1926 and was subsequently ammended. The Religious law of Islam is the common law of the region and is administered by religious courts.
At a very early period the country was settled by two groups of Semites, one of which occupied the South, the other the North.
Those of the south adopted a settled agricultural life more readily than the northern tribes, and are said to have maintained a kingdom, perhaps that of Yemen, for 2000 years. It was a period of Semitic migrations eastward into Mesopotamia and northward into Syria.
Since Roman power affected only portions of the north, many Christian sects took refuge in the area, where they preserved valuable ancient manuscripts. Found at a convent on Mt. Sinai was the oldest known Bible (4th century), which is antedated only by sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
With the coming of Mohammed arose a brilliant period. From the 7th to the 15th century they swept out in conquest, established many centers of civilization, and contributed to the progress of science and art among the Western countries. But their homeland was still a group of petty states around the interior of the Peninsula.
In 1517 the Turks subdued Hejaz and Yemen on the Red Sea coast. Oman on the Persian Gulf, maintained independence except during the 16th century, when for a time it was subject to Portugal.
In 1917 the grand Sherif of Mecca, or "Keeper of the Holy Places," proclaimed the independence of Hejaz and assumed the title of King. His troops cooperated with British Forces in Syria and penetrated northward as far as Damascus. The king of Hejaz aspired to rule all the land, but was conquered in 1924 by the sultan of the Nejd.
He also captured Jebel Shammar and created the sultanate of Hejaz and the Nejd which was renamed in 1932.
OFFICIAL NAME(S) Al Mamlakah al Arabiyah as Suudiyah CAPITAL: Riyadh FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Monarchy HEAD OF STATE: King assisted by Prime Minister HEAD OF GOVERNMENT: King and Prime Minister ABDALLAH bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (since 1 August 2005); Heir Apparent Crown Prince SULTAN bin Abd al- Aziz (half brother of the monarch, born 5 January 1928) note - the monarch is both the chief of state and head of government MONETARY UNIT: Riyal (SAR) OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Arabic POPULATION: 28,161,417 RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Islam ETHNIC COMPOSITION: Bedouins 90%, Afro-Asian 10% LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH : total population: 75.88 yrs male: 73.85 female: 78.02
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