Saudi Arabia: What to know?

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Saudi Arabia is a large country in the Middle East, with a rich history dating back over 5,000 years. It is home to the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, and is the world’s largest exporter of oil. The country is a hereditary monarchy governed by Islamic law, with power still in the hands of the House of Saud. Travel to Saudi Arabia is currently discouraged due to growing violence and restrictions on non-Muslims visiting Mecca and Medina.

Saudi Arabia is a large country in the Middle East. It covers 830,000 square miles (2,149,700 square km), making it larger than the state of Alaska and the 14th largest country in the world. It borders Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen and has coastlines along the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The land that is now Saudi Arabia has been inhabited for millennia, with the first settlements appearing more than 5,000 years ago. In the 4th millennium BC the land was ruled by the Sumerians, until they were supplanted around 4 BC by various Semitic groups, most of whom lived nomadic lifestyles. Various kingdoms would rule the region over the next millennia, including the Sabaean Kingdom, the Himyarite Kingdom, the Kingdom of Aksum, the Persian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire.

Parts of this country, especially the holy cities of Mecca (Mecca) and Medina, were important trading centers between the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Empire before the advent of Islam. But it was Islam that raised Saudi Arabia to become one of the most important kingdoms in the Middle East.

Since the time of Muhammad, this region has held particular importance to Muslims, as it contains the two holiest cities of Mecca and Medina. In the 18th century a local prince, Mohammed ibn Saud, became a dominant force in Arabia, controlling most of the interior for nearly a century before being crushed by Egypt under the Ottomans. In the early 19th century the House of Saud returned to power, however, consolidating power until the end of the century when it was again conquered. In the early 20th century, the House of Saud again rose to power and over the next few decades conquered most of the surrounding territory.

In 1932, the two kingdoms conquered by the House of Saud were unified to create the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Six years later oil was discovered in the nation and practically overnight the country was transformed. The country’s wealth and power would steadily increase over the next few decades, and following the creation of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), would see an even more dramatic increase. The country is currently the world’s largest exporter of oil.

For most of the modern era, Saudi Arabia has maintained friendly relations with the West. While it remains fairly autocratic and despite numerous reports of human rights violations, the West also remains very friendly to the country. The country has faced some criticism for its alleged failure to crack down on radicalism, particularly in the aftermath of the 9 September attacks. The Saudi Arabian government has since pledged to support the War on Terror and to control terrorists within its borders.
Saudi Arabia is a hereditary monarchy, governed by Islamic law (Shari’a). A growing central government has been formed since the 1950s, but power is still in the hands of the House of Saud. All the country’s judges are directly appointed by the king and rule according to the Shari’a. In 2005 the country held local elections, the first ever in the country, which many interpreted as a sign of growing democratisation.

Travel to Saudi Arabia is currently discouraged for Westerners, due to growing violence in major urban centers and targeted violence against Westerners in rural regions of the country. Although the cities of Mecca and Medina are both rich in historically important and beautiful architecture, access to both cities is restricted to Muslims only. Saudi Arabia still has plenty to interest tourists, however, especially the amazing Madain Saleh tombs.

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