What Is Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia is a country in the Middle East that has made a great impact on the rest of the world. It holds valuable fossil fuels and lots of wealth, along with an incredibly conservative religious populace. If you pay attention to the news, you probably have heard lots of talk about it. Saudi Arabia is a place that everyone seems to have an opinion on.
In the West, many have mixed feelings on Saudi Arabia. Some view the nation as an important ally, crucial to helping maintain stability in the Middle East. Others would argue that America’s ties with Saudi Arabia should be cut, citing the country’s suppression of many basic human rights.
So what is Saudi Arabia? Where is Saudi Arabia? And what’s really going on with it?
Where Is Saudi Arabia Located?
Saudi Arabia is located in Southwest Asia and occupies the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the Red Sea on the west and the Persian Gulf on the east. It is a large state that has more than 830,000 square miles of land, making it slightly larger than Mexico.
Saudi Arabia is bordered by Yemen, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar. It also shares maritime borders with Sudan, Bahrain, Iran, Eritrea, and Egypt. In 2016, the country had a population of 31.7 million people. The largest city is Riyadh, which is also the capital, with Arabic being the spoken language. The country is predominantly Muslim, with the state religion being Wahhabism, which is an ultraconservative form of Sunni Islam.
Saudi Arabia is home to the city of Mecca. As the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, Mecca is the holiest city in Islam. Medina, another holy city, is also located in Saudi Arabia. This is where the Prophet Muhammad is buried.
A Brief History of Saudi Arabia
Human history on the Arabian Peninsula goes back tens of thousands of years, however, the history of Saudi Arabia in its current form as a state is much more recent. The Al Saud, the royal family for which the country is named after, had their beginnings in 1744. This is when Muhammad bin Saud joined forces with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a religious leader and founder of the Wahhabi movement, to expand their ideologies in the surrounding area.
This first “Saudi state” was founded around the area of Riyadh and expanded quickly to control most of the present-day area. However, in 1818, Ottoman viceroy Mohammed Ali Pasha and his men destroyed this nation, leading to the establishment of a smaller Saudi state in 1824 around Nejd in the central part of the Arabian Peninsula.
Throughout the 19th century, the Al Saud conflicted with the Al Rashid, another Arabian ruling family, for control of the Nejd. In 1891, the Al Rashid drove the Al Saud into exile in Kuwait. In 1901, Abdul Aziz, later known as Ibn Saud, was able to regain control of Riyadh and brought the Al Saud back to the region. With the assistance of the Ikhwan, a tribal army, Ibn Saud captured Al-Ahsa (eastern Arabia) from the Ottomans in 1913.
Saudi Arabia in the 20th Century
Ibn Saud continued his fight against the Al Rashid. In 1921, he defeated this family and became the Sultan of Nejd. Again with the assistance of the Ikhwan, he was able to conquer Hejaz (western Arabia) in 1924-1925. In 1926, he became King of the Hejaz. After a conflict with the Ikhwan and their subsequent defeat, the kingdoms of Nejd and Hejaz were united and became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
To this day, the royal family continues to rule over the country. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and Islamic theocracy.
Oil was first discovered in the area in 1938 by an American company. Developments of oil fields began in 1941 by the U.S.-controlled company Aramco. The area quickly became prosperous and had a massive influx of people. Throughout the 20th century, the country took on characteristics of the modern era and parts would become incredibly urbanized.
Crisis in Saudi Arabia
Most of the issues that occur in Saudi Arabia stem from the oil industry. The vast majority of the country follows traditional religious doctrines, but the contact with the Western world, particularly that of the U.S., has created stress and conflict with religious beliefs among the people.
This conflict led Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait in August 1990. This act was alarming to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, so they called on the U.S. and some other Western nations to help them protect their interests. President George H.W. Bush, along with the Soviet Union and British governments, condemned these actions and promised to take the necessary steps to protect the interests of Saudi Arabia and the oil fields.
Hussein refused to withdraw from the area, and military forces were brought in to rectify the situation. The Persian Gulf War began soon after. While the U.S. and other governments chalk this war up as a win for the “good guys,” there has been long-lasting issues and problems in the area and around the world.
The most recent crisis in Saudi Arabia involves the death of a journalist. This act has been talked about and condemned by countries and people around the world, and it has ignited more issues and questions about Saudi Arabia and where they stand on human rights and other issues compared to the rest of the world.