The Basic System of Government identifies the nature of the state, its goals and responsibilities, as well as the relationship between the ruler and citizens. It defines the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as an Arab and Islamic sovereign state; its religion is Sunni Islam and its constitution is the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah. The King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who also acts as prime minister, ensures the application of the Shari’ah and the State’s general policy, and supervises the protection and defense of the nation. The Crown Prince is appointed by the King. Members of the Council of Ministers assist the King in the performance of his duties.
The new bylaws introduced for the system in 1992 further explain that the purpose of the State is to ensure the security and rights of all citizens and residents. It emphasizes the importance of the family as the nucleus of Saudi society. The family plays a vital role by teaching its members to adhere to Islamic values.
In defining the relationship between the ruler and the people, the system emphasizes the equality of all Saudi citizens. All are equal before God and in their concern for the well-being, security, dignity and progress of their nation. All citizens are also equal before the law.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. It occupies an area about the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River. Saudi Arabia’s population is 31.7 million, including 10.0 million foreign residents (2015 census), and its capital city is Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia’s geography is diverse, with forests, grasslands, mountain ranges and deserts. The climate varies from region to region. Temperatures can reach over 110 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert in the summer, while in the winter temperatures in the north and central parts of the country can drop below freezing. Saudi Arabia gets very little rain, only about four inches a year on average.
This area of the website offers facts and physical information about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Here you can read about early Saudi Arabian history, which as part of the Middle East was the birthplace of civilization, and how the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came into being in 1932.
Learn about the Saudi government and how the Kingdom’s political system is rooted in Islam’s traditions which call for peace, justice, equality, consultation and respect for the rights of the individual.
Read about the modernization of the Kingdom’s transportation and communications infrastructure and the special emphasis on sports and recreation being accessible to all Saudis.
Facts and figures provides an overview of the physical country, including time zones, currency and more.
Saudi Arabia’s agricultural development over the last three decades has been astonishing.
Large areas of desert have been turned into agricultural fields – a major accomplishment in a country that receives an average of about four inches of rain a year, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Today, Saudi Arabia exports wheat, dates, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and flowers to markets around the world. Dates, once a staple of the Saudi diet, are now mainly grown for global humanitarian aid.
The Ministry of Agriculture is primarily responsible for agricultural policy. Other government agencies include the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB), which disburses subsidies and grants interest-free loans; and the Grain Silos and Flourmills Organization, which purchases and stores wheat, constructs flourmills, and produces animal feed. The government also offers land distribution and reclamation programs and funds research projects.
The private sector has played a major role in the Kingdom’s agricultural development. This is mostly due to government programs that offered long-term, interest-free loans, technical and support services, and incentives such as free seeds and fertilizers, low-cost water, fuel and electricity, and duty-free imports of raw materials and machinery.
Historically, agriculture in the Arabian Peninsula was limited mostly to date farming and small-scale vegetable production in widely scattered oases, except in a small coastal strip in the southwest. Small plots produced enough food for the local communities, and any extra was sold to passing caravans.
Serious agricultural development began in the 1970s. The government launched an extensive program to promote modern farming technology; to establish rural roads, irrigation networks and storage and export facilities; and to encourage agricultural research and training institutions.
As a result, there has been a phenomenal growth in the production of all basic foods. Saudi Arabia is now completely self-sufficient in a number of foodstuffs, including meat, milk and eggs.
Water, of course, is the key to agriculture in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has successfully implemented a multifaceted program to provide the vast supplies of water necessary to achieve the tremendous growth of the agricultural sector.
A network of dams has been built to trap and utilize precious seasonal floods. Vast underground water reservoirs have been tapped through deep wells. Desalination plants have been built to produce fresh water from the sea for urban and industrial use, thus freeing other sources for agriculture. Facilities have also been put into place to treat urban and industrial runoff for agricultural irrigation.
These efforts collectively have helped transform vast tracts of the desert into fertile farmland. Land under cultivation, less than 400,000 acres in 1976, reached millions of acres by the 21st century.
The 1970s marked the beginning of serious agricultural development in the Kingdom.
The government launched an extensive program to promote modern farming technology; to establish rural roads, irrigation networks and storage and export facilities; and to encourage agricultural research and training institutions.
The result has been a phenomenal growth in the production of all basic foods. With substantial amounts of meat, milk, and eggs, Saudi Arabia is now completely self-sufficient in a number of foodstuffs.
The increased food production brought about a proportional decline in food imports; and in fact Saudi Arabia now exports dates, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry, vegetables and flowers to markets around the world.
Intensive dairy, meat, poultry and egg farming were all introduced early in the program, and already by 1985, local farms were satisfying domestic demand for many products previously imported. The Kingdom now has some of the most modern and largest dairy farms in the Middle East. Milk production boasts a remarkably productive annual rate of 10,133 liters per cow (FAOstat 2012), one of the highest in the world.
While fish production through traditional off-shore fishing has been constantly on the increase, the Kingdom is exploring ways of further increasing its catch and encouraging greater private investment.
One of the new areas in which the private sector is investing with government support is aquaculture. The number of fish farms, either using pens in the sea or tanks onshore, has been increasing steadily. Most are located along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. Shrimp farming has been particularly successful. The National Shrimp Company ‘Al-Rubian’, for example, has a farm south of Jeddah managed by Saudi hydro-biologists and marine engineers, whose shrimp, including the preferred black tiger, is exported mainly to the United States and to Japan.
The Kingdom’s most dramatic agricultural accomplishment, noted worldwide, was its rapid transformation from importer to exporter of wheat during the late 1900s, when the Saudi Arabian government launched its domestic wheat production and purchase program. In 1978, the country built its first grain silos. By 1984, it had become self-sufficient in wheat. Shortly thereafter, Saudi Arabia began exporting wheat to some thirty countries, including China and the former Soviet Union, and in the major producing areas of Tabuk, Hail and Qasim, average yields reached 3.6 tons per acre. In addition, Saudi farmers grow substantial amounts of other grains such as barley, sorghum and millet. However, today, in the interest of preserving precious water resources, production of wheat and other grains has been considerably reduced. In 2015, the Saudi Arabian government ended its domestic wheat production and purchase programs, though a small number of farmers continue their wheat production to supply local artisanal mills.
The Kingdom has, however, stepped up fruit and vegetable production, by improving both agricultural techniques and the roads that link farmers with urban consumers. Saudi Arabia is a major exporter of fruits and vegetables to its neighbors. Among its most productive crops are watermelon, grapes, citrus fruits, onions, squash and tomatoes. At Jizan in the country’s well-watered southwest, the Al-Hikmah Research Station is producing tropical fruits including pineapples, paw-paws, bananas, mangoes and guavas.
This agricultural transformation has altered the country’s traditional diet, supplying a diversity of local foods unimaginable a few generations ago. Dates are no longer the vital staple for Saudi Arabians that they were in the past, although they still constitute an important supplementary food. Much of the annual production of dates, estimated at around half a million tons and comprising some 450 different kinds, is used as international humanitarian aid.
Several factories, including one in Al-Hasa, are dedicated entirely to the production of dates for foreign aid and donate tens of thousands of tons of dates each year to relieve famine and food shortages, mainly through the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Many countries have directly benefited from Saudi Arabia’s food aid offered through the WFP, and the Kingdom is second only to the United States in contributions to the program.
The progress made by the Saudi Arabian agricultural sector in recent years has been largely due to an array of government programs, including the provision of soft, interest-free loans and technical and support services.
The agriculture sector has also benefited from low-cost water, fuel and electricity, and duty-free imports of raw materials and machinery. Foreign joint-venture partners of Saudi individuals or companies are exempt from paying taxes for a period of up to 10 years, and the investment regulations in effect since April 2000 offer further incentives.
The primary agency responsible for implementing agricultural policy is the Ministry of Agriculture, which provides research and extension assistance to farmers. Another supporting agency is the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB), which disburses subsidies and grants interest-free loans. The Grain Silos and Flour Mills Organization was established in 1972 to purchase and store wheat, construct flour mills and produce animal feed to support the nationwide growth of agriculture. To encourage private investment in the agricultural sector, Saudi Arabia has allocated substantial financial resources for improving roads linking producing areas with consumer markets.
In addition, the land distribution and reclamation program, which was introduced in 1968, aims at distributing fallow land free of charge, mostly in small plots, as a means of increasing the area under cultivation and encouraging crop and livestock production. The beneficiaries are required to develop a minimum of one quarter of the land surface within two to five years. Upon compliance, full ownership of the land is transferred to the farmer.
Under the Development Plans, the government continues to assist new farmers in implementing capital-intensive projects with special emphasis on diversification and greater efficiency.
To raise farm productivity, the government also funds and supports research projects aimed at producing new food crops to increase harvest and develop plant strains with greater resistance to pests. These programs are conducted in cooperation between local farmers and scientists at agricultural research facilities at Saudi Arabian universities and colleges.
Saudi Arabia is a desert country with no permanent rivers or lakes and very little rainfall. Water is scarce and extremely valuable, and with the country’s rapid growth, the demand for water is increasing.
The Kingdom, therefore, has turned to innovative ways to provide enough water to support its development. All water matters are handled by the Ministry of Water and Electricity.
Aquifers are a major source of water in Saudi Arabia. They are vast underground reservoirs of water. In the 1970s, the government undertook a major effort to locate and map such aquifers and estimate their capacity. As a result, it was able to drill tens of thousands of deep tube wells in the most promising areas for both urban and agricultural use.
Another major source of water is the sea. This is done through desalination, a process that produces potable water from brackish seawater. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer of desalinated water.
The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) operates 27 desalination stations that produce more than three million cubic meters a day of potable water. These plants provide more than 70 percent of the water used in cities, as well as a sizeable portion of the needs of industry. They are also a major source of electric power generation.
Dams are used to capture surface water after frequent flash floods. More than 200 dams collect an estimated 16 billion cubic feet of runoff annually in their reservoirs. Some of the largest of these dams are located in the Wadi Jizan, Wadi Fatima, Wadi Bisha and Najran. This water is used primarily for agriculture and is distributed through thousands of miles of irrigation canals and ditches to vast tracts of fertile land that were previously fallow.
An expanding source of water is the use of recycled water. The Kingdom aims to recycle as much as 40 percent of the water used for domestic purposes in urban areas. To this end, recycling plants have been built in Riyadh, Jeddah and other major urban industrial centers. Recycled water is used for irrigation of farm fields and urban parks. The culture of Saudi Arabia is a rich one that has been shaped by its Islamic heritage, its historical role as an ancient trade center, and its Bedouin traditions.
Saudi society has experienced tremendous development over the past several decades. The Saudi people have taken their values and traditions – their customs, hospitality and even their style of dress – and adapted them to the modern world.
THE CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD
Located at the center of important ancient trade routes, the Arabian people were enriched by many different civilizations. As early as 3,000 BC, Arabian merchants were part of a far-reaching trade network that extended to south Asia, the Mediterranean and Egypt. They served as a vital link between India and the Far East on one side, and Byzantium and the Mediterranean lands on the other.
The introduction of Islam in the 7th century AD further defined the region’s culture. Within a century of its birth in the Arabian Peninsula, Islam had spread west to the Atlantic Ocean and east to India and China. It fostered a dynamic period of great learning in culture, science, philosophy and the arts known as the Islamic “Golden Age.”
And every year for the past 14 centuries, Muslim pilgrims from around the world travel to holy sites in Makkah and Madinah, further enriching the region’s culture. The pilgrims brought ivory from Africa and carpets from the East, and took local goods back to their homelands.
When the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was formed in 1932, the former Saudi Arabian king, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman dedicated himself to preserving Arab traditions and culture, and his sons and successors, including current King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, have done the same.
ARAB AND ISLAMIC TRADITIONS
Saudi traditions are rooted in Islamic teachings and Arab customs, which Saudis learn about at an early age from their families and in schools.
The highlights of the year are the holy month of Ramadan and the Hajj (pilgrimage) season, and the national holidays that follow them. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, culminates with the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday, in which it is customary to buy presents and clothes for children and visit friends and relatives. The other highlight is the Hajj season, during which millions of Muslim pilgrims from around the world come to Makkah. The Hajj season concludes with the Eid Al-Adha holiday, in which it is traditional for families to slaughter a sheep in memory of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.
Arab traditions also play an important role in Saudi life. These age-old traditions have evolved over the millennia and are highly regarded. They include generosity and hospitality, which every Saudi family offers to strangers, friends, and family. The simplest expression of hospitality is coffee – its preparation alone is an intricate cultural tradition, and it is often served in small cups along with dates and sweets. Another gesture of hospitality is the burning of incense (oud) to welcome guests.
Historic preservation is extremely important to Saudi Arabia. Numerous restoration projects have been undertaken to safeguard the Kingdom’s architectural heritage, including restoring historic buildings and neighborhoods. These projects are undertaken by the Department of Museums and Antiquities, which excavates, catalogues, and preserves pre-historic and historic sites. In 2003, the department was transferred from the Ministry of Education to the Supreme Commission for Tourism (SCT), which was established in 2000.
Important archaeological work is also carried out by the Department of Archaeology at King Saud University in Riyadh. One major restoration project took place at Dariyah, the ancestral home of the Al-Saud family and the capital of the First Saudi State. Other projects include the ancient sites of Fau, Madain Saleh, Al-Ula, Tayma, Duma and along the Darb Zubaydah, the pilgrimage road to Makkah.
As the birthplace of Islam, the Kingdom places a special emphasis on preserving its Islamic archaeological heritage. A large number of mosques around the Kingdom have been meticulously restored, including the Holy Mosque in Makkah, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and mosques built by the first caliphs after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Another way the Saudi government is showing its commitment to preserving its cultural heritage is by restoring historic neighborhoods. Restoration work has been undertaken in the old Qasr Al-Hokm area in Riyadh, as well as the ancient quarters of Jeddah, Hail, and other Saudi cities. This restoration work was showcased during the 1999 celebrations marking the hijrah centennial of the taking of the Masmak Fortress in 1902.
Saudi Arabia has a unique architectural heritage that has developed over the centuries.
Historically, building designs and materials in Saudi Arabia were dictated by the climate, geography and resources available. For example, builders in the central areas preferred adobe for its malleability, availability and insulating qualities. In western Saudi Arabia, stone and red brick were common, while Jeddah’s builders used coral from the Red Sea. Contemporary Saudi architects are increasingly looking to these traditional building designs and Islamic concepts for inspiration. This combination of tradition with the ultra-modern strengthens the link between a cherished past and an innovative future.
King Saud University and the King Khalid International Airport are two striking examples of just how well traditional Islamic design and modern structure can be combined.
THE SPIRIUAL ARCHITECTURE OF MINARETS
Minarets are the most visible man-made structures in Saudi Arabia. They jut from the skyline of every Saudi urban center, from the smallest village to the largest city, a testament to a Muslim society’s bond with God. The reason minarets rise above all surrounding structures is to allow the call to prayer to be heard by inhabitants of all homes in a mosque’s neighborhood. Traditionally, muezzins used to climb up the stairs to the top of the minaret and call the faithful to prayer five times a day. The melodic call of the muezzins could be heard rising from minarets across all Muslim cities.
Nowadays, most minarets are wired for sound and the muezzin is no longer required to make the demanding walk up the minaret. Every mosque has at least one minaret, although two are more common, and larger ones have more, with the Holy Mosque in Makkah boasting 12 magnificent ones. They range in size from some 20 feet in small village mosques to 360 feet in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. Some are simple, while others are elaborately decorated with stone and tiles.
Dating back 1,400 years to the first century of Islam, calligraphy is a revered art in Saudi Arabia. Because its primary subject matter has historically been the Holy Qur’an, calligraphy is considered to be the quintessential Islamic art form.
Saudi museums collect and display rare manuscripts. Other organizations commission works of calligraphy, provide training in the art form, and hold competitions to encourage new generations of young artists. Today, calligraphy is a dominant theme in metalwork, ceramics, glass textiles, painting and sculpture throughout Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world. Inscriptions often adorn the interior walls of mosques, as well as public and private offices and homes.
A variety of institutions have been established throughout the Kingdom to preserve Saudi Arabia’s cultural heritage.
One of the largest is the Department of Culture at the Ministry of Culture and Information, which sponsors a wide range of cultural programs, including literary and drama clubs, folklore classes, library events, arts and crafts as well as science projects.
These clubs cover a range of cultural activities. In the drama clubs, for example, participants engage in writing competitions and performances as part of a team. Other clubs offer Saudis the opportunity to develop various artistic talents.
The Department of Culture regularly sponsors exhibitions, literary readings and symposia at its regional offices as well as its Riyadh headquarters. It also sponsors Saudis to participate in international art and cultural events, including poetry and essay competitions as well as exhibits of calligraphy and artwork.
The Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, founded in 1972, sponsors Saudi artists and provides ways for new talents to develop and display their art. The society has established a library and information center, as well as the Kingdom’s first cultural center, located in Riyadh.
Other institutions that promote culture include the King Fahd Library in Riyadh, which offers one of the largest collections of rare manuscripts on Arabic and Islamic literature, and is a premier research facility in the Middle East; and the King Faisal Foundation, whose annual King Faisal International Prizes includes one for Arabic literature. Many King Faisal Prize laureates have gone on to receive other international awards, including the Nobel Prize.
The Department of Museums and Antiquities was established in 1974. Today, there are major museums in each of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces, as well many small privately owned ones throughout the country.
Saudi Arabia’s largest museum is the National Museum in Riyadh, which opened in 1999 to celebrate the centennial of the taking of the Masmak Fortress by the young Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman, the prior Saudi Arabia, an event that led to the founding of the modern Saudi state. There are also private museums, such as the Humane Heritage Museum in Jeddah.
Saudi Arabia’s free market economy has undergone remarkable changes in a relatively short period of time. It has evolved from a basic agricultural society into a regional and global economic power with a modern infrastructure.
Petroleum is an integral part of the Saudi economy; Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil. In recent decades the Kingdom has increasingly diversified its economy, and today produces and exports a variety of industrial goods all over the globe.
The government has an essential role in industrial and economic development. The Ministry of Economy and Planning formulates economic and social development plans that set long-term economic goals. Additional sectors of the economy are overseen by individual ministries, such as agriculture, energy, transportation, communications and finance.
The private sector is playing an increasingly larger role in the Saudi economy – it now accounts for 48 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The sector is expected to continue growing, especially as Saudi Arabia opens its doors further to foreign investment.
In December 2005, Saudi Arabia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), a significant development that gives Saudi products greater access to global markets, creates jobs and encourages foreign investment.
BUILDING A MODERN ECONOMY
When the modern Kingdom was established in 1932, the Arabian Peninsula was an agricultural society that depended on farming and commerce – especially date exports and trade generated by pilgrims coming to Makkah and Madinah. It lacked the infrastructure needed to support the kind of economic growth envisioned by its founder, the former King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud.
The discovery of oil in commercial quantities in 1938 changed that. Soon after World War II, steady oil exports provided the funds to build a basic infrastructure of roads, airports, seaports, schools and hospitals.
In 1970, Saudi Arabia introduced the first of a series of ongoing five-year development plans to build a modern economy capable of producing consumer and industrial goods that previously had been imported. The country’s infrastructure was expanded, allowing industry and commerce to flourish.
At the same time, the national oil company, Aramco, invested in new production facilities, pipelines, plants and shipping facilities and continued exploring for new deposits to maximize earnings from the oil sector, which were needed to fund further growth.
The result has been a steady economic transformation of the country. Today, Saudi Arabia is one of the fastest developing countries in the world.
While Saudi Arabia’s economic base continues to be dominated by oil, the Kingdom has taken steps to diversify the economy. Today, industrial products make up more than 90 percent of the Kingdom’s non-oil exports. Saudi Arabia exports petrochemicals, plastics, metal goods, construction materials and electrical appliances to some 90 countries. Petrochemical and other oil-based industries are concentrated at industrial cities in major urban centers. These plants use natural gas and natural gas liquids that were previously flared, as well as refined products from the oil industry to manufacture products that would in turn feed non-oil industries.
Concentration on industrial plants in specific areas also facilitates the provision of vital support services, such as water, power and transportation.
The Jubail Industrial City on the Arabian Gulf has dozens of factories and industrial facilities, including a desalination plant, a seaport, a vocational training institute and a college.
The Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea has a modern port, refineries, a petrochemical complex and many manufacturing and support enterprises.
The government offered incentives for the establishment of private companies at the industrial cities. The Saudi Arabian Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), created in 1976, set up non-oil industrial facilities that use as feedstock natural gas and natural gas liquids manufactured by the oil industry.
SABIC is owned 70 percent by the Saudi government and 30 percent by shareholders from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. SABIC quickly became the backbone of Saudi Arabia’s successful industrialization. By 1994, it had 15 major plants operating in Jubail, Yanbu, and Jeddah, with an annual production of 13 million metric tons. By 2002, total production was 40.6 million tons of basic and intermediate chemicals, polymers, plastics, industrial gases, fertilizers, steel and other metals; this figure has increased to 72.7 million metric tons in 2016.
One of the most ambitious economic projects to date is the massive King Abdullah Economic City near Jeddah, which broke ground in December 2005. The residential and commercial megaproject will include a dedicated port, an industrial park, a residential and hotel complex, and educational facilities.
In 2006, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah launched similar economic cities in Rabigh, Hail and Madinah. Plans are also underway for an economic city in Makkah.
By the 1960s, Saudi Arabia had made major advances in many areas. Roads were established, a modern educational system introduced, health care improved, agriculture expanded and factories built.
Although the economy largely depended on oil revenues, Saudi leaders resolved to bring about basic improvements in the country’s economic structure. The objective was to diversify the economy away from oil into other fields.
Achievement of such an economic transformation required deliberate planning and careful implementation of a development program with clearly defined objectives. The quest for economic development and growth began in earnest with the introduction of the First Development Plan in 1970. This began a series of five-year plans that continues today.
The first phase of this process was to establish an infrastructure that could support a modern economic base. The next was to develop the human resources necessary to help bring about the planned economic transformation. Finally, the focus could shift to economic diversification, including expansion of the industrial, agricultural and other sectors, an expansion that is now well advanced.
The establishment of the physical infrastructure was accomplished in stages during the first three development plans. As the infrastructure was taking shape, the government launched a major effort to expand the industrial base. This was done along two separate, but parallel, courses. One aimed at the expansion of the country’s oil industry and the other at establishing a modern non-oil industrial sector.
In addition to optimizing revenues from Saudi oil production, the modern oil industry plays an equally important role in the development of the non-oil industrial sector by providing the raw materials and feedstock that facilitates this growth.
By 1985, with most of the physical infrastructure in place, attention shifted to diversifying economic sources.
The Fourth (1985-89), Fifth (1990-94), Sixth (1995-99) and Seventh (2000-04) Plans all emphasized strengthening the growing private sector and increasing the efficiency of the industrial sector. The Eighth Five-Year Development Plan (2005-09) was devised with a focus on increasing foreign as well as national investment, and on developing human resources.
Throughout the course of the development plans, Saudi Arabia’s steady but dramatic industrial and economic transformation has been accomplished through the careful guidance and active support of the government. To judge the success of this effort one need only consider that in the 25 years from 1970 to 1995, the non-oil sector’s share of GDP increased from 46 percent to just over 70 percent, and that this GDP tripled, to 125.1 billion U.S. dollars, reflecting a growth rate of 8.6 percent in current prices. By 2002, the GDP had reached 186 billion dollars.
GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR THE PRIVATE SECTOR
The government plays an essential role in industrial and economic development.
The Ministry of Economy and Planning assists in formulating the five-year development plans that set long-term economic goals.
The Ministry of Finance supervises implementation of the nation’s economic policies. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA), the nation’s central bank, oversees the country’s fiscal policy.
To facilitate the expansion of the private sector’s role in the national economy, the government established five specialized credit institutions, which provide economic opportunities to many Saudis who were previously unable to compete in the marketplace. These financial institutions have provided loans to citizens for development projects in agriculture, industry and construction.
In 1974, the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) was the first government agency set up to provide interest-free soft loans to enable Saudi businessmen to establish industrial plants. These loans can be used to finance up to 50 percent of the capital for a new factory. SIDF loans have helped launch thousands of new factories and expand hundreds of existing facilities.
Since it was founded in 1963, the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB) has provided loans for agricultural projects, farm machinery and production requirements. The Real Estate Development Fund has been financing residential and commercial construction since 1974, with a unique program that provides interest-free loans repayable in 25 years. Launched in 1971, the Public Investment Fund offers credit to public and semi-public corporations. The Saudi Credit Bank was founded in 1973 to provide personal loans for home repair, as well as vocational and crafts training.
In addition to the specialized credit institutions, the government offers an array of incentives to the private sector. A sweeping reduction in utility and public service fees, implemented in early 1992, lowered operating and production costs for private companies, making their products more competitive with foreign goods.
Private entrepreneurs are also given access to government information systems specifically created to help local manufacturers target the best market for their products. Government agencies such as the Saudi Consulting House, replaced in April 2000 by the broader Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), provide free consulting and support services and publish lists of investment opportunities for the production of goods in demand in Saudi Arabia. In September 2000 SAGIA opened service centers in Jeddah and Dammam in addition to its headquarters in Riyadh.
Government tenders also give priority to locally manufactured products and to Saudi companies. Saudi industries are exempted from paying customs duties on the import of machinery and supplies used in the production of goods domestically.
To facilitate the transfer of technology and expand the operations of the private sector, the government also provides various incentives to foreign companies that enter into joint ventures with Saudi firms. Far-reaching new investment regulations in 2000, including removal of the need for sponsorship, gave further encouragement to foreign investors.
Saudi Arabia has a modern banking industry with 12 commercial banks. Saudi banks provide retail and corporate banking, investment services, brokerage facilities, and derivative transactions in addition to credit cards, ATMs and point-of-sale transactions.
There are also banks in the Kingdom that provide Islamic banking services. Islamic banking is a system of banking that is consistent with the principles of Islamic law (Shari’ah). It prohibits usury, the collection and payment of interest and trading in financial risk.
Saudi Arabia also has a thriving stock market. The total value of shares traded annually is some SR 60 billion [US $16 billion]. The Tadawul All-Share Index (TASI) of the Saudi stock market is one of the most highly capitalized stock exchanges in the Arab world. TASI was also one of the first exchanges globally to set up a full electronic clearing and settlement system with immediate transfer of ownership.
The banking and finance sector is overseen by several government agencies. The Ministry of Finance supervises economic policies. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Association (SAMA) manages fiscal policy, issues the country’s currency, the Saudi Riyal and oversees the nation’s commercial banks. The government has also established five specialized credit institutions to provide loans to citizens for development projects in agriculture, industry and construction – the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), the Saudi Arabian Agricultural Bank (SAAB), the Real Estate Development Fund, the Public Investment Fund and the Saudi Credit Bank.
Saudi Arabia is the 19th largest exporter and the 20th largest import market in the world. Exports now represent all economic sectors. Topping the list of exports to some 90 countries are petrochemicals, plastics, metal goods, construction materials, and electrical appliances.
Saudi Arabia’s commercial sector is growing rapidly. This is mainly due to generous government incentives such as the provision of long-term interest-free loans and support services and facilities. In addition, chambers of commerce and industry in the major cities and regions promote commercial ventures.
There are some 584,000 licensed firms involved in commercial activities in the Kingdom. Their total invested capital is estimated at more than $54 billion.
The sector is overseen by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), which offers private entrepreneurs free consulting and support services and publishes lists of investment opportunities. In November 2005, SAGIA announced plans to open offices abroad, including in China, the United States, Britain and Germany to attract investment in infrastructure projects.
The role of the private sector in commerce is substantial – private companies account for some 48 percent of the nation’s GDP of $248.82 billion. They manufacture, distribute and sell domestic products.
Private companies also handle most imports of consumer and industrial goods and the bulk of the exports of non-oil products. Saudi Arabia is among the top 20 export and import markets in the world, and exports of non-oil products to some 90 countries average around six billion dollars per year.
Foreign investment is also growing in the Kingdom. Investors from all over the world are joining Saudi partners to set up ventures, attracted by the Kingdom’s political, economic and social stability, modern infrastructure, inexpensive energy supplies and strategic geographic location.
On April 11, 2000 Saudi Arabia made it easier for foreign investors in the Kingdom by introducing a new law giving foreign investors the right to the same benefits, incentives and guarantees offered to Saudi individuals and companies. It also allows foreign investors to own property and real estate.
The future of the commercial sector is promising. Saudi Arabia’s membership in the WTO boosts commercial activity and provides Saudi products with more opportunities in global markets. Another positive development is the formation of free-trade zones that Saudi Arabia has undertaken with several neighboring countries.
Saudi Arabia’s education system has gone through an astonishing transformation. When the Kingdom was established in 1932, education was available to very few people, mostly the children of wealthy families living in the major cities.
Today, Saudi Arabia’s education system includes over fifty public and private universities, with more planned; some 30,000 schools; and a large number of colleges and other institutions. The system is open to all citizens, and provides students with free education, books and health services.
While the study of Islam remains at its core, the modern Saudi educational system also provides quality instruction in diverse fields of arts and sciences. This diversity helps the Kingdom prepare its citizens for life and work in a global economy.
Education is a requirement for every Muslim, both male and female. The Holy Qur’an and the Hadith [teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad] repeatedly emphasize the importance of learning.
In the centuries after the birth of Islam (632 AD), Muslim states established schools, universities and libraries that were unique in the world. At a time when Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, the Islamic world became a center for learning, making major contributions in the areas of astronomy, physics, art, philosophy, and medicine – a period known as the “Golden Age.”
Methods pioneered by Muslim scholars and scientists during the Golden Age became the foundation of modern sciences, and were taught in European universities up to the 18th century.
Formal primary education began in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. By 1945, former King Abdulaziz bin Abdelrahman Al-Saud, the country’s founder, had begun an extensive program to establish schools in the Kingdom. Six years later, in 1951, the country had 226 schools with 29,887 students.
The first university, now known as King Saud University, was founded in Riyadh in 1957. In 1954, the Ministry of Education was established, followed by the Ministry of Higher Education in 1975.
The first government school for girls was built in 1964, and by the end of the 1990s girls’ schools had been established in every part of the Kingdom. Today, female students make up over half of the more than 6 million students currently enrolled in Saudi schools and universities.
The Saudi educational system aims to ensure that students are prepared for life and work in the modern world, while meeting the country’s religious, social and economic needs. Eliminating adult illiteracy is another major goal.
General education in the Kingdom consists of kindergarten, six years of primary school and three years each of intermediate and high school. After elementary and intermediate school, students can choose whether to attend a high school with programs in commerce, the arts and sciences, or a vocational school. In high school, students take comprehensive exams twice a year under the supervision of the Ministry of Education.
The educational curriculums at Saudi schools are diverse. They include a variety of subjects such as math, science, literature, history, Arabic and Islam. The Ministry of Education sets overall standards and oversees special education for the handicapped.
The government continues to improve educational standards by offering quality training programs for teachers, improving standards for student evaluation, and increasing the use of educational technology.
For example, in 2000 computer science was introduced at the secondary level. The administration of the educational system has also been improved by giving provincial school boards greater decision-making authority.
These efforts are paying off. Not only has the number of Saudi schools increased dramatically, but so has the quality of education. The Kingdom’s student-to-teacher ratio of 10.9 to 1 is one of the lowest in the world.
Saudi Arabia began focusing on higher education when the country entered a new era of rapid development in the early 1970s.
In 1975, a separate Ministry of Higher Education was established. The Ministry launched a long-term plan to make sure that the Saudi educational system provided the highly skilled manpower the Kingdom needed to run its increasingly sophisticated economy.
One of the plan’s first objectives was to establish new institutions of higher education throughout the country and expand existing ones. By 2014, there were 25 major public universities, a large number of vocational institutes, and a growing number of private colleges.
Another objective was to establish undergraduate and postgraduate programs in most disciplines at these universities and colleges. As a result, Saudi students can now get degrees in almost any field in the Kingdom, and only pursue specialized study abroad if necessary.
Currently, about 3.6 million students are enrolled at Saudi universities and colleges, compared to 7,000 in 1970 – a dramatic improvement. Of those, over half are female. Women attend all major universities, as well as numerous all-female colleges and private women’s universities.
Saudi students also have the opportunity to pursue specialized graduate and postgraduate degrees abroad. Supported by government scholarships, thousands of Saudi students enroll in universities outside the Kingdom.
The oldest university in the country is King Saud University in Riyadh. When it first opened in 1957, just nine instructors taught 21 students. Today, 55,000 students pursue degrees at the faculties of art, science, commerce, engineering, agriculture, medicine, dentistry, nursing, education, computer science and information science. The university offers doctorate programs in many fields and is particularly known for its engineering and medical schools.
The largest university in the Kingdom is King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, with over 37,000 students. It was founded privately in 1967 by a group of Saudi businessmen who believed strongly in the importance of education for national development. The university grew so rapidly that in 1971, its founders petitioned the government to take over its operation.
The Islamic University at Madinah, founded in 1961, is renowned as a center for Islamic studies, with graduates from over 100 countries.
Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Riyadh (founded in 1974) and Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah (1981) have highly regarded Islamic law, history and Arabic literature departments, in addition to programs in the arts and sciences.
Imam Muhammad bin Saud University offers programs in Islamic and Arabic studies at its branches in Japan, Indonesia, Mauritania, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates.
The Eastern Province’s King Faisal University, founded in 1975, offers a range of programs, including medicine and architecture, at its campus in Dammam. The Hofuf campus is especially respected for its outstanding agricultural and veterinary sciences programs, its experimental farms, and advanced research in agriculture and animal husbandry.
Other universities in Saudi Arabia include the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, one of the oldest (1964) and considered on par with the best in the world in that field; and Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University (founded in 2007) the world’s largest university for women with an enrollment of over 52,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
SAUDI SCHOOLS OVERSEAS
The Kingdom has established a number of educational institutions throughout the world for Saudi students living abroad. The three largest such institutions are located in the United States, Britain and Germany.
These schools accommodate students from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and provide instruction in Islam, and the Arabic language as well as the arts and sciences.
In an effort to maintain a consistent standard, directors of these overseas schools meet regularly to discuss curriculums and other shared issues. In the Washington area, the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA), established in 1984, provides students with the opportunity to study Islam and the Arabic language as well as an American curriculum.
ISA is open to all interested applicants who are looking for an educational environment that is in accordance with the principles of Islam. It is an independent, non-profit educational institution.
SPECIAL & ADULT EDUCATION
The Special Education Department of the Ministry of Education operates schools for the blind, deaf and the physically and mentally disabled. There are other institutes that care for elderly disabled people.
These special schools are part of the Kingdom’s effort to encourage every individual to reach his or her full potential.
Adult education is another important part of Saudi Arabia’s educational program. The Kingdom established a large number of adult education centers in order to make education available to everyone and to eliminate illiteracy. For people living in isolated rural areas, the government conducts intensive three-month adult education courses during the summer.
These efforts are clearly paying off: The Kingdom’s literacy rate is 97 percent for men, and 92 percent for women. For children ages 10 to 14, the illiteracy rate is today just 1.4 percent.
TRAINING IN SAUDI ARABIA
Technical and administrative training is an essential part of education in the Kingdom. There are numerous public and private training institutions that produce thousands of graduates in the technical and mechanical sciences, health care, agriculture, teaching and other areas every year.
These institutions include the Royal Technical Institute in Riyadh, the Hofuf Technical Training School, and centers in Jeddah, Madinah, Abha, Taif, Unayzah, Dammam and other cities. They train thousands of young Saudis in a variety of fields, including machine tooling, metalworking, electromechanics, auto mechanics, electronics and maintenance of industrial machinery.
Another important institution is the Institute for Public Administration in Riyadh. Established in 1961 as a semi-independent public agency, the institute offers courses in administration, law, accounting, computer science, maintenance, personnel management, secretarial skills and management planning. Today, the institute has branches in Dammam and Jeddah, as well as a special branch for women in Riyadh.
Most of the Kingdom’s vocational training centers and higher institutes of technical education are operated by the General Organization for Technical Education and Vocational Training (GOTEVOT), along with the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The Ministry of Education runs vocational secondary schools, and several other government agencies operate institutes or training centers in their particular specialties. There are also a number of private training centers meeting the needs of the marketplace.
The energy sector is the backbone of the Saudi economy. The Kingdom possesses a quarter of the world’s proven oil reserves, and is the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil.
Saudi Arabia is also developing its additional energy resources – natural gas that once flared off oil wells is collected and used, and the Kingdom has become a producer of refined oil products and petrochemicals such as kerosene, diesel oil and gasoline.
In addition, with the discovery of deposits of precious and semi-precious metals, Saudi Arabia expects to become a major exporter of minerals in the coming decades.
Saudi Arabia has taken steps to expand the energy sector and encourage greater investment, especially by foreign companies. In May 2000, the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals (SCPM) – which oversees the maximization of natural resources – announced a decision to allow foreign investment in the gas sector and downstream industries.
Saudi Arabia continues to invest in the energy sector. In September 2006, the Kingdom announced plans for $70 billion in oil and gas programs over five years.
Saudi Arabia has a massive electricity distribution network that extends to cities, towns and villages across the country. Its network consists of 8,750 miles of transmission lines, 52,000 miles of distribution lines and over 53,000 miles of service connections.
The Kingdom also uses desalination plants to generate electricity using the steam that is a byproduct of the desalination process. The Kingdom generates more than 28,830 MW of electricity, 2,800 MW of which is produced by the desalination plants. Saudi Arabia eventually plans to increase the electricity produced by these desalination plants to equal half of the total output.
The Saudi Electric Company (SEC) manages existing power generation, distribution and delivery facilities, as well as investment in new general plants. Wholly owned by shareholders, the SEC also sets the price of electricity sold to consumers and industry under rules set by a governing body based on the cost of production, distribution and services. Saudi Arabia has also begun working with GCC countries to link their national power grids. Ultimately, plans include linking the GCC grid with the rest of the Arab world and Europe through Turkey and Syria.
Saudi Arabia possesses vast reserves of natural gas – dissolved, associated and non-associated – which it uses as an environmentally friendly energy source for urban and industrial use.
Major industrial facilities also use gas as feedstock to produce petrochemicals, fertilizers, steel and other products that in turn feed a thriving industrial sector.
Exploration of the Kingdom’s natural gas resources remains ongoing. Major deposits have been discovered in the Eastern Province near Abqaiq and southwest of the Ghawar oil field.
Until the 1970s, most of the natural gas produced in the Kingdom was in association with crude oil production, and was flared off at the well. An ambitious project known as the Master Gas System allowed Saudi Aramco to collect the gas and pipe it around the country.
Saudi Arabia also actively promotes foreign investment in natural gas. In July 2003 an agreement was signed with Royal Dutch/Shell and France’s Total to develop upstream gas operations in the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al-Khali). In March 2005, additional contracts were signed for two vast oil and gas projects.
MINERAL & MINING
Saudi Arabia possesses valuable resources other than oil and gas. As early as 1000 BC, gold, silver and copper were being extracted from the famous Mahd Al-Dhahab mine some 180 miles northeast of Jeddah.
The introduction of modern mining and extraction methods has once again made the mine a major producer of precious metals. Exploration projects over the past two decades have unearthed extensive deposits of precious and industrial minerals throughout the country. These include not only gold and silver, but also copper, tin, tungsten, nickel, chrome, zinc, lead, phosphates, iron ore, bauxite, potassium ore and even table salt.
The Kingdom is also probing the mineral-rich sediments on the Red Sea floor for commercial exploitation, with plans to process them at the Yanbu industrial complex.
The Saudi mining company, Maaden, has embarked on a project to mine phosphate in the north and process it at a fertilizer plant near Jubail. This project was scheduled for completion in 2008. Meanwhile, Maaden is in the process of privatizing its activities, beginning with its gold-mining operation.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources has identified 1,270 sources of precious stones and 1,170 sources of other minerals, and issues an increasing number of mining and exploration concessions.
Steps have also been taken in recent years to encourage greater private sector involvement in the development of the mining sector. These include incentives for investment by both foreign and domestic companies, and support services intended to facilitate development of minerals.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, and has one quarter of the world’s known oil reserves – more than 268 billion barrels. Most are located in the Eastern Province, including the largest onshore field in Ghawar and the largest offshore field at Safaniya in the Arabian Gulf.
Saudi refineries produce around 10.3 million barrels of oil per day, and there are plans to increase production to around 12 million barrels per day.
As the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, Saudi Arabia plays a unique role in the global energy industry. Its policies on the production and export of oil, natural gas and petroleum products have a major impact on the energy market, as well as the global economy. Mindful of this responsibility, Saudi Arabia is committed to ensuring stability of supplies and prices.
The Kingdom has repeatedly acted in times of crisis – such as the Gulf Crisis of 1990-91, the 2003 Iraq war and market fluctuations of the late 1990s – and covered any drop in oil supplies by increasing its output. In this way, Saudi Arabia has prevented major shocks to the global economy from a loss of supply or sharp price increases.
THE STORY OF OIL IN SAUDI ARABIA
The story of Saudi Arabian oil goes back to 1933 when former King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Saud granted Standard Oil of California (Socal), later renamed Chevron, the right to prospect for oil in the new Kingdom.
In 1938, Socal discovered large quantities of oil in the Dammam Dome near the Arabian Gulf. Limited exports began in 1939, and picked up significantly with the end of World War II.
In the late 1940s, Socal entered into a consortium with other American oil companies and was renamed the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). By the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had become the top producer and exporter of oil in the world.
The Saudi oil industry entered a new era in 1980 when the government assumed full ownership of Aramco, renaming it Saudi Aramco. The company began exploring in areas that had previously been untouched, and discovered vast deposits of high-grade crude oil. Saudi Arabia continues to find new fields – such as one discovered 175 miles southeast of Riyadh on April 20, 2005.
Saudi Arabia’s oil production varies according the state of the market and guidelines set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Created in 1960, OPEC unifies petroleum policies among its member countries and ensures stability in international oil markets by eliminating fluctuations in prices.
As a founding member of OPEC and its largest producer, Saudi Arabia has a leading role in guiding the organization to promote cooperation in energy issues, often acting as OPEC’s principal moderating force.
Over the years, the Kingdom has helped prevent market crises that threatened to harm both oil producers and consumers. For example, during the Gulf Crisis of 1990-91 global markets lost four million barrels per day of crude oil supplies from Iraq and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia immediately responded by increasing production and averted what could have been a disastrous shortfall in global supply.
The Kingdom made similar adjustments to its production during other times of turmoil that threatened the global oil supply, such as the market fluctuations of the late 1990s, the 2003 Iraq war, labor unrest in Venezuela, supply disruptions in Nigeria and conflicts between Russian oil giant Yukos and the Russian government.
Saudi Arabia has ten refining complexes that produce gasoline, fuel and diesel oil, liquefied petroleum gas, jet fuel, kerosene and other petroleum products for the domestic market and for export.
Considered among the most technologically advanced in the world, as of 2015 these refineries have an output of over 5 million barrels per day of petroleum products, most for export, which they plan to increase to 8-10 million barrels per day.
The Kingdom continues to invest in its refineries. In May 2005, Saudi Aramco announced plans for a new refinery in Yanbu with an anticipated capacity of 400,000 barrels per day of petroleum products. Plans are also underway for a new refinery at Jubail that is also expected to have a capacity of 400,000 barrels per day.
Saudi Arabia has entered downstream operations in other countries, including South Korea, the Philippines, Greece, India, and China. Motiva – a joint venture between Shell Oil Company and Saudi Refining Inc. – refines, distributes, and markets oil products in the United States.
Saudi Arabia is also looking at alternative energy sources, including solar energy. The Kingdom receives some of the most intense sunlight in the world – 105 trillion kilowatt hours a day, which is roughly the equivalent of 10 billion barrels of crude oil in energy terms.
Solar energy is also an appropriate energy source for use in remote locations. As an example, it is used to power emergency telephones and signs along vast stretches of desert roads.
Scientists at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) are working on groundbreaking projects to make solar power generation more economically feasible.
Other programs focus on utilizing solar energy for water desalination, agriculture, and the generation of hydrogen. Projected applications for solar energy include using it to power water pumps, refrigerators, air conditioners, heaters and communications equipment, as well as to run pipeline anti-corrosion units in remote areas.
The establishment of a modern health care and social services system has been one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning successes.
The Saudi health care network provides free care to the general public and some of the most sophisticated specialized care available anywhere in the world.
The government also sponsors a wide range of social services programs aimed at ensuring that every citizen has a decent standard of living.
ESTABLISHING A MODERN MEDICAL NETWORK
Before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932, health care was generally provided by local healers. One of former King Abdulaziz’s first initiatives for his new state was to establish free health care, not just for citizens, but for the pilgrims who come to the Kingdom to visit the Islamic holy sites.
As a result, medical facilities were set up throughout Saudi Arabia. Within a relatively short period of time, once-endemic diseases such as malaria and smallpox were virtually eradicated, the infant mortality rate plummeted, and life expectancy rose sharply.
The Kingdom’s health care system also benefited tremendously from the government’s five-year development plans, the first of which was launched in 1970. These ongoing plans promote development in areas such as agriculture, commerce, industry, transportation, communication, education and health care.
The first four development plans (1970-1989) brought dramatic changes to the Saudi health care system. In the beginning, the emphasis was more on establishing the necessary infrastructure of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, laboratories and research facilities.
As these facilities were put into place, the emphasis gradually shifted to the improving the quality of medical care and services. The Kingdom encouraged more Saudis to pursue careers in health care, and took steps to attract qualified medical personnel from abroad. Technology was continually updated and the latest medical advances incorporated. Saudi facilities also established working relationships with leading specialized hospitals around the world.
The transformation of the Saudi health care system since 1970 has been astonishing. In 1970, there were 74 hospitals with 9,039 beds; by 2005, there were 350 hospitals with nearly 48,000 beds.
The Ministry of Health and other government agencies have established most of the health care facilities throughout the country. The government has also encouraged greater private sector involvement by offering long-term, interest-free loans for the establishment of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. By 1990, the private sector accounted for 27 percent of Saudi health care services.
QUALITY CARE, ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
Today, Saudis have access to a national network of thousands of hospitals and clinics, and can obtain virtually any specialized medical treatment they might need in the Kingdom.
Sophisticated surgical procedures such as open heart surgery and organ transplants are routinely performed in Saudi hospitals by medical professionals that meet the highest international standards. One area of particular note is the success in separating conjoined twins by medical teams at a number of National Guard hospitals.
In addition, Saudis medications are readily available to patients at a low cost thanks to subsidies from the government. Saudi companies are also encouraged to manufacture pharmaceuticals.
HEALTH CARE NETWORK
Saudi Arabia’s health service plan consists of two tiers that together meet all its citizens’ needs from preventive care through advanced surgery.
The first tier consists of a network of primary health care centers and clinics throughout the country that provide preventive, prenatal, emergency and basic services. In addition, a fleet of mobile clinics provides remote rural areas with services such as vaccinations and basic medical care.
These centers and clinics have greatly improved health standards by making health care available to the general public. They were key in reducing the Kingdom’s infant mortality rate from 68 per 1,000 live births in 1980, to 18 per 1,000 live births in 2003. Close to 100 percent of all Saudi children are vaccinated against common diseases.
The second tier of the Saudi health service plan consists of a network of advanced hospitals and specialized treatment facilities. Located in major urban areas, these facilities are accessible to all. Like the centers and clinics, the hospitals and specialized facilities have also experienced a rapid growth.
In 1970 there were 74 hospitals with just over 9,000 beds in Saudi Arabia. By 2005, there were 350 hospitals with nearly 48,000 beds serving 22.7 million people. Saudi Arabia’s ratio of one hospital bed for just under 500 people is among the lowest in the world.
The Kingdom’s health care program is primarily run by the Ministry of Health, which operates 62 percent of the hospitals and 53 percent of the clinics and centers. The rest are privately operated, but their functions and staff training are supervised and supported by the Ministry. Some government agencies, including the Ministries of Education and Defense, the National Guard and the Public Security Administration, have their own hospitals and clinics.
There are now about 34,000 physicians in both government and private health sectors. Twenty percent of those physicians are Saudi, with the rest from all over the world. The number of nurses has increased to around 70,000, both male and female.
A LEADER IN SPECIALIZED MEDICINE
The Kingdom has a number of specialized hospitals that provide quality care in a variety of areas, including obstetrics and gynecology, respiratory ailments, psychiatric care, eye disorders and contagious diseases. There are also a number of convalescent facilities.
The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh is a prime example of Saudi Arabia’s modern hospital system. It has built a reputation as a leading medical and research center in the Middle East, and attracts patients from as far away as the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It has departments in many medical fields, and performs both general and specialized surgical procedures.
The King Khalid Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh is one of the largest eye hospitals in the world. Established in 1983, it has performed complex surgical operations including cornea transplants and laser procedures. The hospital also has a program to train ophthalmologists.
Organ transplant procedures are routinely performed in the Kingdom. For example, the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, which specializes in kidney and liver transplants, performs hundreds of operations annually, including bone marrow transplants.
Saudi hospitals have also been pioneers in other types of organ transplants. For example, the first uterus transplant in the world was performed in 2001 at the Soliman Fakeeh Hospital, a private facility in Jeddah.
Similarly sophisticated surgical procedures are performed at most Saudi hospitals. World-class cardiology centers in the Kingdom’s top hospitals routinely perform open heart surgery, and many medical centers throughout the Kingdom offer specialized cardiac care.
The most famous of the hospitals specializing in cardiology is the King Fahd National Guard Hospital in Riyadh, which performs more than 750 cardiac procedures each year. There are other cardiology hospitals in Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and Dammam. Recently, two cardiology centers were opened in Riyadh and Jeddah exclusively for the treatment and research of heart diseases.
The National Guard Health Affairs organization has gained an international reputation for the separation of conjoined twins. In March 2006, the King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh successfully carried out its 11th such operation, the 14th in the Kingdom since 1990.
Another growing field in the Kingdom is dentistry. In addition to dental clinics and specialized dental hospitals, over 150 mobile dental clinics serve residents of remote villages.
AT THE FOREFRONT OF MEDICAL RESEARCH
Saudi health care facilities conduct advanced medical research with potential benefits for patients around the world.
For example, the research center at King Saud University’s School of Pharmacology has developed promising new drugs, including one for diabetes.
At the King Abdulaziz University and King Saud University’s College of Science, scientists are studying radioactive biotopes to determine the effect of antibiotics on bodily functions.
Scientists at King Khalid University Hospital are testing indigenous medical plants for potential benefits to cancer treatments. The National Guard’s King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh is conducting research on artificial hearts. And the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center – along with similar facilities in the Kingdom – has recently been conducting pioneering research in the area of stem cell transplants.
SOCIAL SERVICES NETWORK
Saudi Arabia’s social services system aims to ensure every citizen a decent standard of living. This commitment to the well-being of the community underlies the Kingdom’s social stability and is in line with Islamic principles.
Saudi Arabia offers a wide range of social welfare programs. Administered by the General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI), key programs support workers or their families in cases of disability, retirement and death. A plan to cover employees who suffer occupational hazards was instituted in 1982 and has since helped millions of workers. Another major program provides social security pensions, benefits and relief assistance to the disabled, elderly, orphans and widows without income.
The Kingdom continues to ensure that the assistance meets its recipients’ needs by increasing the monthly stipends of social security recipients depending on individual status and need.
These programs are also mindful of patients’ comforts and sensibilities. Whenever possible, care is provided at home rather than in an institution.
CARE FOR THE DISABLED
Saudi Arabia also offers facilities to treat and rehabilitate the mentally and physically disabled. One type of facility offers services for medical, physical and mental treatment and rehabilitation of patients. There are currently 18 such centers, operated or supervised by the Ministry of Health.
A second type of facility focuses on the social rehabilitation of the handicapped. These are run by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Centers throughout the country teach the mentally and physically impaired social, educational and vocational skills so that they can enter society as independent, productive individuals. There are also special education institutes for the blind and the deaf throughout Saudi Arabia, and centers for disabled children.
Non-profit organizations also help people with special needs. An example is the Jeddah Institute for Speech and Hearing (JISH), established in 1993, which offers advanced services for those with speech and hearing deficiencies. The Help Center in Jeddah (Markaz Al-Aoun), established in 1986, offers programs for children with physical and mental disabilities.
Another aspect of Saudi Arabia’s social services network is providing housing for the country’s fast-growing, young population. The government has been active in both financing and constructing housing for low-income Saudis, public employees and students.
A particularly important policy has been to provide interest-free, easy-term loans for home construction to individuals and companies. The Real Estate Development Fund was established in 1975 for this purpose. Since then, it has financed tens of thousands of private homes, and provided millions of dollars to the private sector to build housing units, stores and office buildings.
TRANSPORTATION & COMMUNICATION
At the time of the establishment of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the country lacked modern transportation facilities and ports, and had less than 30 miles of paved roads.
Today, the Kingdom has a modern transportation network of roads, railroads, air, marine and public transport. The country is also linked by a sophisticated communications network that serves as a basis for its economic growth and development. These accomplishments are all the more remarkable due to the great distances between cities and the rugged terrain of much of the country.
ESTABLISHING A MODERN NETWORK
For thousands of years, merchants, pilgrims and Bedouins have been traveling the ancient trade and caravan routes of the Arabian Peninsula. Journeying through such a vast desert region was extremely difficult and risky, often taking a month or more of arduous travel to cross the peninsula. Passage through the vast deserts was only possible during the cooler hours of the day and less harsh seasons of the year.
The swift movement of both people and freight was vital to modernizing such a large and sparsely-populated country. To that end, a number of the five-year development plans focused on improving the Kingdom’s transportation infrastructure, and Saudi Arabia now possesses one of the finest national transportation networks in the world.
The Kingdom has three seven international airports: King Khalid International in Riyadh; King Fahd International in Dhahran; King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah; Prince Mohammad Bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Medina; Al-Ahsa International Airport in Al-Hofuf, Al-Ahsa; Prince Abdul Mohsin bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Yanbu; and Prince Nayef Bin Abdulaziz Regional Airport in Buraidah.
There are also 24 regional and local airports.
Saudi Arabia’s national airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAA), started out in 1945 with the gift of a single twin-engine DC-3 Dakota from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The airline now has a fleet of 182 aircraft with flights to cities within Saudi Arabia and around the world. It continues to expand its fleet, recently purchasing 15 regional aircraft from the Brazilian company Embraer.
Saudi Arabian Airlines carries over 15 million passengers annually, one third of them international flights. Almost half of SAA’s 2,000 pilots are Saudi.
Saudi Arabia has made a special effort to expand its air transport facilities to accommodate the some two million Muslim pilgrims to come to the Kingdom each year.
The King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah is a center for pilgrims arriving for the hajj and has a dedicated pilgrim terminal. Plans are underway to expand the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah to include another Hajj terminal, and to build an additional runway and terminals at the Madinah airport.
In addition, Saudi Arabian Airlines runs extra flights during the hajj to accommodate the large number of pilgrims who travel to the Kingdom by air.
Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications sector is growing at a remarkable rate. Facilities and services are constantly being expanded to accommodate the Kingdom’s growing market.
The Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology oversees all modern communications technologies in the Kingdom.
The major provider in Saudi Arabia is the partially privatized Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC), one of the largest telecom services operators in the world. A second company, Mobily, also provides mobile phone service.
The Kingdom’s landline telephone system is modern and efficient, using extensive microwave radio relay, coaxial cable, and fiber-optic cable systems. In 2000, 2.9 million lines were available, and Saudi Telecom has since expanded its network to 3.7 million lines as of 2015. Seven standard earth stations link up with the Intelsat Satellite System.
Mobile phones are extremely popular in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, there were more than 5 million mobile phones in use in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s mobile telephones operate on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), one of the leading digital cellular systems used all over the world.
Internet usage is growing rapidly in Saudi Arabia. More and more lines are being provisioned for Internet access to accommodate increasing demand, including high-speed service such as DSL. As of 2015, around 64% of Saudis have Internet access.
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) supervises all operations of the Kingdom’s Internet sector. CITC also helps Saudi families own personal computers and access the Internet through the Saudi Home Computing Initiative. Saudi Arabia also sends satellites into space. In 2006 alone, the Kingdom plans to launch six Saudi-built satellites for communication and observation. The King Fahd Satellite Communications City in Jeddah is the largest such complex in the Middle East. It is also the ground station for Arabsat, the leading communication satellite in the Arab world.
The second Arabsat satellite was launched on June 17, 1985 with the help of Saudi Payload Specialist Prince Sultan bin Salman – the first Arab and Muslim to travel to space – during his mission onboard the US space shuttle Discovery.
Saudi Arabia has 21 12 large, modern ports that facilitate industrial development.
Saudi ports move some two million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually. Around 12,000 ships visit Saudi ports each year, totaling one ship every 30 minutes. There are close to 200 berths at Saudi ports.
The Kingdom’s ports are operated by the Saudi Ports Authority, which supplies equipment and building piers. Maintenance is provided mostly by private companies.
More than half of Saudi Arabia’s sea traffic passes through the Islamic Port of Jeddah, one of the main ports in the Middle East and an entry point for pilgrims. New port facilities at Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea have eased Jeddah’s load and improved the efficiency of petrochemical exports. Other major ports are located in Dammam, Jizan and Jubail.
In addition, the massive King Abdullah Economic City near Jeddah, which is currently under construction, will also have its own dedicated port. Ground was broken for the massive commercial and residential megaproject in December 2005.
Ports for fishing boats and small freighters have also been constructed or upgraded, and in the late 1990s a private tourism company established hydrofoil service to link Jeddah with several industrial and urban centers along the Red Sea.
The Saudi bus network provides affordable transport both within and between the Kingdom’s cities.
Operated by the Saudi Public Transport Company (SAPTCO), the fleet consisted of over 3,700 buses as of 2015. It carries annually more than 3 million passengers within large urban centers such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Madinah and Makkah, and to cities and towns across the country. There are also 10 international routes that are used by nearly half a million travelers each year.
SAPTCO operates special bus service during the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia’s holy sites. During this time, as many as 15,000 extra buses carry pilgrims to and from Makkah.
ROADS & RAILROADS
Saudi Arabia has a comprehensive road network that comprises some 100,000 miles of roads, facilitating civilian travel and commerce.
Particularly spectacular are the highways, which boast impressively engineered tunnels and bridges that are a monument to modern road-building techniques. For example, the road through Al-Hada Mountain has cut the distance from Taif to Makkah by about 30 miles.
And the first highway tunnel in the world to use solar photovoltaic technology – converting solar energy into electricity – was built in the hilly Abha region of Asir Province.
THE KING FAHD CAUSEWAY
Perhaps the most spectacular road in the Saudi network is the King Fahd Causeway, which links Saudi Arabia to the island nation of Bahrain.
At 15.5 miles, it is the second longest causeway in the world, an engineering masterpiece that spans long stretches of sea and reclaimed land. Its five bridges rest on 536 concrete pylons, with seven embankments in the Gulf’s shallower water. One embankment is actually a sizable artificial island complete with customs and immigration facilities, a mosque and a restaurant.
Since its completion in 1986, the causeway has streamlined commerce and strengthened the cultural and social bonds between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Under consideration is a second causeway that would link Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The 9.24-mile causeway would run across the Red Sea to connect the Saudi coast with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, linking the eastern and western flanks of the Arab world.
RAILROADS THAT FACILITATE INDUSTRY
Saudi Arabia’s rail network is managed by the Saudi Railway Organization (SRO). In the 1990s, the SRO carried around half a million passengers and nearly two million tons of goods annually.
The network consists of the 449-mile Dammam-Riyadh line from the Arabian Gulf port to the capital that includes stops in Hofuf and Abqaiq. A second, 556-mile Dammam-Riyadh line travels via Haradh, on the edge of the Empty Quarter.
There are plans to extend the railway to the Jubail Industrial City on its eastern end and, eventually, to Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah on its western side. Yet another extension would link Riyadh to the mining areas in the north. This expansion is being carried out by the private sector.