Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia officially called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a country in Western Asia. It constitutes majority of the Arabian Peninsula.

Saudi Arabia is geographically the largest sovereign state in Western Asia, the second-largest in the Arab world (after Algeria), the fifth-largest in Asia, and the 12th-largest in the world.

Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast and Yemen to the south; it is separated from Egypt and Israel in the north-west by the Gulf of Aqaba. Saudi Arabia is the only country with both a Red Sea coast and a Persian Gulf coast.

Saudi Arabia consisted of mainly four distinct historical regions: Hejaz, Najd and parts of Eastern Arabia (Al-Ahsa) and Southern Arabia (Asir). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud.

Saudi Arabia is sometimes called 'the Land of the Two Holy Mosques' in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca) and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam. The state's official language is Arabic.

Petroleum was discovered on 3 March 1938. Saudi Arabia has since become the world's second largest oil producer (behind the US) and the world's largest oil exporter.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. However, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (Islamic law) and the Quran, while the Quran and the Sunnah (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country's constitution. No political parties or national elections are permitted.

The king combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions and royal decrees form the basis of the country's legislation. The king is also the prime minister, and presides over the Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia and Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia joined the UN in 1945 and is a founding member of the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, Muslim World League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation). It plays a prominent role in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and in 2005 joined the World Trade Organization.

Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 regions. The regions are further divided into 118 governorates. The 13 regions are : Asir, Bahah, Eastern Province, Hail, Jawf, Jizan, Madinah, Makkah, Najran, Northern Borders, Qasim, Riyadh and Tabuk.

Islam is the state religion of Saudi Arabia and its law requires that all citizens be Muslims. Sunni population of Saudi Arabia range between 75% and 90%, with the remaining 10 - 25% being Shia Muslim. According to estimates there are about 1,500,000 Christians and 390,000 Hindus in Saudi Arabia, almost all are foreign workers. Foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia made up about 21% of the population. Foreign Muslims who have resided in the kingdom for ten years may apply for Saudi citizenship.

Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that have "religious police" (known as Haia or Mutaween), who patrol the streets "enjoining good and forbidding wrong" by enforcing dress codes, strict separation of men and women, attendance at prayer (salat) five times each day, the ban on alcohol, and other aspects of Sharia (Islamic law).

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. The three main regional variants spoken by Saudis are Najdi Arabic, Hejazi Arabic and Gulf Arabic.

Football is the national sport in Saudi Arabia. Scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing and basketball are also popular.

Saudi Arabian cuisine is similar to that of the surrounding countries in the Arabian Peninsula and been influenced by Turkish, Indian, Persian, and African food. Pork is not allowed and other animals are slaughtered in accordance with halal. Kebabs, falafel and shawarma are popular.

Flat, unleavened taboon bread is a staple of virtually every meal, as are dates, fresh fruit, yoghurt and hummus. Arabic coffee is a traditional beverage in Arabian cuisine.

Education is free at all levels. The school system is composed of elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools. Higher education has expanded rapidly. the country's first university, King Saud University founded in 1957, the Islamic University at Medina founded in 1961, and the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah founded in 1967. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, known as KAUST, founded recently in 2009.

Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of hijab. Traditionally, men usually wear a white ankle length garment woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by an agal) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by an agal) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top.

In public women are required to wear a black abaya or other black clothing that covers everything under the neck with the exception of their hands and feet. This requirement applies to non-Muslim women too and failure to abide can result in police action. Women's clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques.

Most tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages. Five cultural sites in Saudi Arabia are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, the Turaif district in the city of Diriyah, Historic Jeddah, the Gate to Mecca, Al-Ahsa Oasis and Rock Art in the Hail Region.