Overview


المملكة العربية السعودية , Kingdom of Saudi Arabia



"The Land of the Two Holy Mosques," motherland of Islam and home to it's two holiest 
     sites

    Situated on the Arabian peninsula, Saudi Arabia is the world's largest Arab nation.
    The region's history goes back to ancient times, while the history of the nation starts in     
    1744 with the unification and take-over of the Saudi dynasty. The current kingdom     
    was founded by Abd al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud in 1932. Today his son,      
    Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz, leads the nation as king in what is considered an Islamic 
    absolute monarchy. The monarch plays a double role, serving not only as the head of 
    government, but also as the chief of state (both King and Prime Minister). A Council of  
    Ministers is appointed every four years to advise the king. A legislative branch does 
    exist in the form of the Majlis al-Shura (or Consultative Council) that has 150 members 
    all appointed by the monarch to serve four year terms. The judicial branch is headed by 
    the Supreme Council of Justice. Instead of a specific constitution, the nation is 
    governed according to Islamic law. The legal system is based on Shari'a law with 
    several secular codes implemented. (1)

    Religion:
        Since there is no protection for non-Islamic religions and there are penalties for     
    public demonstrations of them, the entire population is estimated to be Muslim. 
    Because of pressures from various religious groups for Saudi Arabia's perceived 
    intolerance to other religions, King Abdallah initiated an Inter-Faith Dialogue to 
    encourage religious tolerance on the global scene. (1)

    Concerns:
        Growing government concerns are a constantly declining population (people are 
    emigrating due to a limited job market), aquifer depletion, and an economy almost 
    entirely based on petroleum. If not for oil, this mostly-desert nation would only have 
    limited quantities of natural gas, iron ore, gold, and copper (located in the 
    mountains to the south) to offer in exchange for much needed food and water. Saudi 
    Arabia is able to keep a strong presence in the trading world because of it's massive oil 
    production as well as its power over other oil nations. For the time being the market is 
    treating them well, but Saudi government officials know the world is trying to turn away from petroleum use and it's taken steps to try to become less dependent on oil exports as a source of income and become more self-sufficient. (1)

    This potential oil crisis is similar to Thomas Friedman’s “The Curse of Oil” argument. Friedman takes the stance that oil is a curse to a nation rather than a blessing. According to his theory, so long as Saudi Arabia is an oil nation, it will be doomed to problems. (3)

“As long as the monarchs and dictators who run these oil states can get rich by drilling their natural resources- as opposed to drilling the natural talents and energy of their people- they can stay in office forever” (Friedman, 626). (3)

Essentially, an oil economy will always support a monarchy and never foster the proper environment for democratic expansion. On a related note, when a nation is focused on oil and not on the talents of its people, it drives out creativity and innovation. In the oil world there isn’t as much need to reform education or develop better relations with other nations- the leaders still get their money and can spend it as they wish. When the individual who has innovative ideas comes on the scene, they are more often than not forced to relocate outside of the nation in order to be successful. Part of the population decline in Saudi Arabia is due to this fact- young intellectuals having to leave in order to make their way in the world. Finally, he offers that oil breeds intolerance. Since oil is their main trading commodity, it is exported from very few select places. Most of the nation has little to do with trading let alone any sort of contact with the outside world. Knowledge is key when it comes to understanding other cultures and faiths. What we have in this case is a large amount of isolated persons who won’t have the opportunity to learn one-on-one, as is more common in more hands-on trading nations. (3)

Saudi Arabia very well is falling into the oil trap. The question is, what will it do to reverse it?

Progress:
In an effort to do this the nation has made great (hurried) strides in an attempt to modernize. New 
industrial cities are being built, hoping to attract intellectuals and professionals. The opening of the market 
and emphasis on modernizing has led to much conflict among the rulers as well as the general 
population. Rulers fear that new technology like the Internet (necessary to be modern) will jeopardize 
Saudi traditions. More importantly, the people are experiencing an identity crisis and are starting to ask 
questions like, 

            "Should the school curriculum be changed, with English taught before seventh grade? Should women drive? Should stores stay open past 10? What constitutes religion and what is tradition?" (Slackman, The New York Times)
These new thoughts and ideas will soon start to reshape Saudi Arabia's society. (2)