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Saudi Arabia Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at Saudi Arabia, a large, oil-rich Middle Eastern country bordering Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina.

About Saudi Arabia

(from the CIA World Factbook)

Area: 2,149,690 sq km, about one-fifth the size of the United States

Population: 34,783,757 (July 2021 est.) note: immigrants/foreign workers make up 38.3% of the total population, according to UN data (2019)

Capital: Riyadh

Ethnic Groups: Arab 90%, Afro-Asian 10%

Religion: Muslim (85-90% Sunni and 10-15% Shiite, citizens only) and other (includes Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh) (2012 est.)

Unemployment: 6% (2017 est., data for total population)

Other Facts

Economy –
Saudi Arabia possesses approximately 22% of the world’s oil reserves. It is the world’s largest exporter of petroleum liquids and relies on the oil industry for almost half of its GDP.

Foreign Relations –
Since the end of World War II, Saudi Arabia and the United States have maintained a relationship based on an exchange of oil for security. Their mutual interests have included the free flow of oil and fighting the spread of communism and extremist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS. Saudi Arabia and the United States have not agreed on support for Israel or engagement with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran.

Saudi Arabia was a founding member of the Arab League in 1945.

It currently maintains close ties with its neighbor, Bahrain, and helped the Sunni monarchy there put down an Arab Spring uprising in 2011.

Saudi Arabia was a longtime supporter of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak before his overthrow in 2011. It did not support the successor government of Mohamed Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood. After Morsy’s overthrow in 2013, Saudi Arabia returned its support to new president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

After many years of strained relations, Saudi Arabia began constructing a fortified fence along its 1,060-mile border with Yemen in 2003. This was in response to the ongoing unrest in Yemen due to Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunni terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

In 2014, it began construction on a 600-mile barrier along the border with Iraq, to prevent border incursions by the terrorist group ISIS.

Religion –
The Wahhabi, or Salafi, branch of Sunni Islam has been closely tied to the Saud family since the 18th century. When the Saud family established the modern country of Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam became the country’s official state-sponsored religion.

Saudi Arabia bans public worship by non-Muslims and severely restricts public displays of religion by non-Wahhabi sect Muslims, including Shiites.

Women’s Rights –
Saudi Arabia has a guardianship system based on strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam. The system is not a formal law. Under the guardianship system, women cannot marry, divorce, get a job or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians. Also, women can’t mix freely with members of the opposite sex and must wear a full-length black abaya in public. In 2011, King Abdullah announced that women will be allowed to nominate candidates for the next set of municipal elections. In December 2015, women voted for the first time, 979 women ran for office, and 17 were elected. In September 2017, a royal decree was issued to allow women in the country to drive, and the ban officially ended June 2018. In 2019, a new amendment is approved by the Saudi Cabinet, that will allow all Saudi women to apply for passports and for women aged 21 and above to travel independently without a male guardian.


September 23, 1932 – Abd-al-Aziz Bin-Abd-al-Rahman Bin-Faysal Bin-Turki Bin-Abdallah Bin-Muhammad Al Saud, also known as Ibn Saud, establishes the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 30 years after Saud’s family returned to the Arabian Peninsula from exile.

1938 – A subsidiary of Standard Oil, California-Arabian Standard Oil, discovers oil in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

1939 – Saudi Arabia declares its neutrality at the outbreak of World War II and maintains it for most of the war.

1944 – California-Arabian Standard Oil changes its name to Arabian American Oil (Aramco).

February 14, 1945 – Ibn Saud meets with US President Franklin Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal. This meeting establishes “the marriage of convenience” between the two countries, which continues to this day.

February-March 1945 – Saudi Arabia declares war on Germany and Japan.

October 24, 1945 – Joins the United Nations as a founding member.

1948 – Sends several hundred troops to fight in the first Arab-Israeli War after Israel declares its independence.

1950 – Aramco begins sharing 50% of its income with the government of Saudi Arabia.

1953 – Ibn Saud dies and is succeeded by his son Saud Ibn Abd al-Aziz.

September 14, 1960 – OPEC is formed in Baghdad, Iraq, by founding members Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

1962 – Yemen’s civil war pits Saudi Arabia and Egypt against each other for five years.

November 1964 – King Saud is deposed and replaced by his half-brother Faisal.

October 1973 – The United States supports Israel during the Yom Kippur War with Egypt, Syria and other Mideast countries. In response, Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC member countries impose an oil embargo against the United States.

March 25, 1975 – King Faisal is murdered by a nephew. His half-brother Khalid succeeds him.

March 26, 1979 – Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic relations with Egypt after President Anwar Sadat signs the Camp David peace treaty with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

December 1979 – The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, beginning a 10-year occupation. Saudi Arabia and the United States support the Afghan resistance known as the Mujahideen. Many young Saudis, including Osama bin Laden, spend time in Afghanistan and join the jihadist movement.

1980 – The Saudi government gains full control of Aramco.

September 1980 – The eight-year-long war between Iran and Iraq begins. Saudi Arabia supports Iraq and the government of Saddam Hussein against the predominantly Shiite country of Iran, with billions in loans. The war ends in a stalemate in 1988.

May 1981 – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates establish the Gulf Cooperation Council.

June 13, 1982 – King Khalid dies and is succeeded by his half-brother Crown Prince Fahd.

November 1987 – Saudi Arabia and Egypt restore diplomatic ties.

August 2, 1990 – Iraq invades neighboring Kuwait. King Fahd, fearing an Iraqi invasion, allows a multi-national force of more than 500,000 troops to set up military bases in the country. This angers many Saudis, who consider the foreign troops infidels.

February 27-March 1991 – US and coalition forces defeat Iraq and liberate Kuwait.

June 25, 1996 – A group of terrorists attack the US Air Force housing complex known as Khobar Towers in Dhahran. Nineteen service members are killed. On June 22, 2001, US authorities indict thirteen Saudis and one Lebanese man for the bombing.

August 7, 1998 – Almost simultaneously, bombs explode at US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people. More than 5,000 are wounded. Twelve of those killed in Kenya are US citizens. The bombings, orchestrated by al Qaeda, take place eight years to the day after US troops were ordered to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

September 11, 2001 – The deadliest terrorist attack in US history takes place when 19 men hijack four commercial airlines bound for west coast destinations. The plot is orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. A total of 2,977 people are killed in New York, Washington and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers are from Saudi Arabia.

2003 – Saudi Arabia opposes the US invasion of Iraq.

April 29, 2003 – US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces the withdrawal of US forces from Saudi Arabia.

May 12, 2003 – Assailants set off car bombs at three housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Approximately 23 people are killed, including nine Americans.

August 1, 2005 – King Fahd dies and is succeeded by his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah.

2011 – The Arab Spring leads to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. Shiite protests in Eastern Saudi Arabia are suppressed.

January 23, 2015 – King Abdullah dies and is succeeded by his half-brother, Crown Prince Salman.

April 29, 2015 – King Salman, in a surprise power-shifting move, appoints Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince, replacing his half-brother Prince Muqrin as his successor, and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, his son, as deputy crown prince.

December 14, 2015 – At least 17 women are elected to public office in the first elections in which women in the country are permitted to vote and to run for office.

January 2, 2016 – Saudi Arabia announces it has executed 47 prisoners who had been convicted of terrorism over the last decade — most prominently, a Shiite cleric named Nimr al-Nimr, who had spoken out against the ruling Al Saud family. This mass execution, which took place at 12 different Saudi sites, marks the country’s highest one-year total in almost two decades. The executions spark demonstrations throughout the region.

January 3, 2016 – Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir says his country is severing ties with Iran after an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

August 24-25, 2016 – US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubier, crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef, deputy crown prince bin Salman and other representatives from the region, to discuss plans to end the escalating violence in Yemen.

August 25, 2016 – The United Nations issues a report calling for an investigation into possible human rights violations in Yemen. The UNHCHR says the conflict between pro-Saudi government forces, Houthi and other rebels, has resulted in the death of 3,799 civilians, 6,711 wounded civilians, and millions of others displaced from their home.

March 20, 2017 – Families of 850 victims who died on 9/11 and 1,500 people injured that day file a lawsuit against the Saudi government, alleging that the government provided financial, practical and material support to al Qaeda through its ministries and officials and a vast network of charities. Saudi Arabia has denied any role in the September 11 attacks and has never been formally implicated.

May 20, 2017 – During US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the two countries sign an arms deal in which the United States is selling Saudi Arabia tanks, fighter jets, combat ships and the THAAD missile defense system for nearly $110 billion, according to the White House. The deal is part of a more extensive ten-year $350 billion defense agreement which the White House says shows the US’ commitment to Saudi Arabia and expands opportunities for American companies in the region.

November 4, 2017 – The official Saudi news agency reports that the country’s military intercepted a Yemen-borne ballistic missile north of the capital city of Riyadh, that was targeting King Khalid International Airport.

November 6, 2017 – Saudi Arabia’s newly formed anti-corruption committee arrests at least 17 princes and top officials, according to a list obtained by CNN and cited by a senior royal court official.

November 7, 2017 – The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority confirms that it has frozen the personal bank accounts of the royal family members and senior officials after the arrests related to the government’s anti-corruption sweep.

June 24, 2018 – Saudi women drivers take to the roads legally for the first time in the kingdom’s history, as its decades-old ban on women driving is lifted.

October 2, 2018 – The fiancée of journalist Jamal Khashoggi reports that he is missing after having entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi, a critic of current Saudi leadership, is a columnist at the Washington Post.

October 6, 2018 – Unnamed Turkish officials speaking to the Washington Post and Reuters say that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish government is investigating.

October 11, 2018 – A joint investigation team between the Kingdom and Turkey is created. Although Turkish authorities believe Saudi officials are not being entirely cooperative, permission is granted for Turkish authorities to enter the premises of the consulate and the residence of the consul general to investigate. The search takes place six days later.

October 19, 2018 – After first reporting that Khashoggi had left the consulate the day of his disappearance, the Saudi government says that the journalist was killed during an altercation while at the consulate but takes no direct responsibility for his death. According to the announcement on State TV, a Saudi commission will release a report on its investigation in one month. Five high-ranking officials are dismissed, and eighteen others are detained.

READ MORE: Saudi Arabia’s full statement on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi

October 22, 2018 – A senior Turkish official tells CNN that Mustafa al-Madani, a member of the 15-man team suspected in the death of Khashoggi, was captured on surveillance cameras around Istanbul dressed in Khashoggi’s clothes the day the journalist was killed perhaps to give the appearance that it was Khashoggi who had left the consulate.

October 23, 2018 – Crown Prince bin Salman addresses the killing of Khashoggi for the first time while speaking at the Future Investment Initiative conference. He describes the killing as “heinous” and says he will “bring to justice” those who are responsible.

October 25, 2018 – According to a statement issued by the Saudi state news agency, Saudi Attorney General Shaikh Suood bin Abdullah Al Mo’jab says that Khashoggi’s death was premediated, repeating what Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated two days earlier. Mo’jab reports that the new information is based on findings by the Turkish and Saudi joint investigation.

October 25, 2018 – Members of the European Parliament vote overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution that urges EU countries to impose an EU-wide arms embargo on Saudi Arabia.

November 16, 2018 – The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince bin Salman personally ordered the killing of Khashoggi, despite the Saudi government’s denials that the de facto ruler was involved, according to a senior US official and a source familiar with the matter.

December 9, 2018 – According to a source briefed on the investigation, Khashoggi’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” The source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s painful last moments, said it was clear that the killing on October 2 was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist.

February 23, 2019 – Saudi Arabia appoints its first female ambassador, naming Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud as ambassador to the United States.

June 19, 2019 – Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur, said there is “sufficient credible evidence” that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince bears responsibility for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and he should be investigated for it.

August 1, 2019 – According to the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Information, a new amendment was approved by the Saudi Cabinet, and will allow all Saudi women to apply for passports “like all citizens” and for women aged 21 and above to travel independently without a male guardian. The amendment takes effect at the end of the month.

September 14, 2019 – Coordinated cruise missile and drone strikes on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities disrupt about half of the kingdom’s oil capacity. That’s more than five million barrels a day and 5% of the daily global oil supply.

September 27, 2019 – The Kingdom announces it will be granting entry visas to tourists for the first time. Travelers from 49 different countries will be able to enter through an e-visa and visa-on-arrival program. The new drive for tourism is part of the Vision 2030 project, which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on oil, diversify the economy and promote the country’s national identity.

February 27, 2020 – Saudi Arabia announces it is temporarily suspending pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina for people outside the country over coronavirus fears.

March 6, 2020 – Several senior Saudi royals are arrested in Riyadh. They include Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al Saud, a brother of King Salman, and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the king’s nephew.

January 27, 2021 – The Biden administration pauses arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as it conducts a wider review of agreements worth billions of dollars made by the Trump administration, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

March 12, 2022 – In the biggest mass execution in decades, Saudi Arabia executes 81 men, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian, for terrorism and other offenses, according to authorities.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

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