Ethnic Groups: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%
Unemployment: 6% (2017 est., data for total population)
Saudi Arabia possesses approximately 22% of the world’s oil reserves. It is the world’s largest exporter of petroleum liquids and relies on the oil industry for almost half of its GDP.
Since the end of World War II, Saudi Arabia and the United States have maintained a relationship based on an exchange of oil for security. Their mutual interests have included the free flow of oil and fighting the spread of communism and extremist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS. Saudi Arabia and the United States have not agreed on support for Israel or engagement with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran.
The Wahhabi, or Salafi, branch of Sunni Islam has been closely tied to the Saud family since the 18th century. When the Saud family established the modern country of Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam became the country’s official state-sponsored religion.
Saudi Arabia bans public worship by non-Muslims and severely restricts public displays of religion by non-Wahhabi sect Muslims, including Shiites.
Saudi Arabia has a guardianship system based on strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The system is not a formal law. Under the guardianship system, women cannot marry, divorce, get a job or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians. Also, women can’t mix freely with members of the opposite sex and must wear a full-length black abaya in public. In 2011, King Abdullah announced that women will be allowed to nominate candidates for the next set of municipal elections. In December 2015, women voted for the first time, 979 women ran for office, and 17 were elected. In September 2017, a royal decree was issued to allow women in the country to drive, and the ban officially ended June 2018. In 2019, a new amendment is approved by the Saudi Cabinet, that will allow all Saudi women to apply for passports and for women aged 21 and above to travel independently without a male guardian.
September 23, 1932 – Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Abd-al-Rahman Bin-Faysal Bin-Turki Bin-Abdallah Bin-Muhammad Al Saud, also known as Ibn Saud, establishes the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 30 years after Saud’s family returned to the Arabian Peninsula from exile.
1939 – Saudi Arabia declares its neutrality at the outbreak of World War II and maintains it for most of the war.
1944 – California-Arabian Standard Oil changes its name to Arabian American Oil (Aramco).
1950 – Aramco begins sharing 50% of its income with the government of Saudi Arabia.
1953 – Ibn Saud dies and is succeeded by his son Saud Ibn Abd al-Aziz.
November 1964 – King Saud is deposed and replaced by his half-brother Faisal.
March 25, 1975 – King Faisal is murdered by a nephew. His half-brother Khalid succeeds him.
1980 – The Saudi government gains full control of Aramco.
May 1981 – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates establish the Gulf Cooperation Council.
June 13, 1982 – King Khalid dies and is succeeded by his half-brother Crown Prince Fahd.
November 1987 – Saudi Arabia and Egypt restore diplomatic ties.
February 27-March 1991 – US and coalition forces defeat Iraq and liberate Kuwait.
May 12, 2003 – Assailants set off car bombs at three housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Approximately 23 people are killed, including nine Americans.
April 29, 2015 – King Salman, in a surprise power-shifting move, appoints Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince, replacing his half-brother Prince Muqrin as his successor, and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, his son, as deputy crown prince.
November 4, 2017 – The official Saudi news agency reports that the country’s military intercepted a Yemen-borne ballistic missile north of the capital city of Riyadh, that was targeting King Khalid International Airport.
November 7, 2017 – The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority confirms that it has frozen the personal bank accounts of the royal family members and senior officials after the arrests related to the government’s anti-corruption sweep.
February 23, 2019 – Saudi Arabia appoints its first female ambassador, naming Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud as ambassador to the United States.