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Saudi Arabia

A nation that occupies most of the Arabian Peninsula.

It is bounded on the W by the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea; on the E by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf States of Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; on the N by Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, and two neutral zones; and on the S by Oman, Yemen, and the Rub'alKhali desert. In the 18th century the Wahabi sect arose in the Arabian Peninsula as a divisive, reforming movement within Islam.

Although the Wahabis were crushed in 1811 and again in 1891, the movement was revived at the beginning of the 20th century by ibn Saud, a descendant of one of the first Wahabi rulers. In 1902 he captured the city of Riyadh and in 1906 overcame the Nejd. By 1914 he had taken the Al Hasa region from the Ottoman Empire and extended his control even further. Although pro-British, he played little part in World War I despite British pressures. In 1925 Ibn Saud took the Hejaz, with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and in 1926 combined it with the Nejd to form the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so named in 1932, with Riyadh as its capital.

After the discovery of rich oil reserves in Saudi Arabia in 1936, the country rapidly became a significant economic and political power. Remaining neutral until nearly the end of World War II, it finally declared for the Allies and after the war became a charter member of the United Nations. Ibn Saud died in 1953 and was succeeded by his oldest son, Saud, who leaned heavily on Crown Prince Faisal in economic and foreign affairs. Saud severed relations with Egypt's Nasser over his pan-Arab alliance and joined King Hussein of Jordan in sending troops to the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962 to support the royalist regime against the attempt of pro-Egyptian revolutionaries to establish a republic. Saud was deposed by Faisal in 1964, who was assassinated in 1975. King Khalid succeeded Faisal.

Saudi Arabia played only a minor part in the wars between Israel and the Arab nations, although it gave large financial aid to the enemies of Israel. The country played a leading role, however, in the oil embargo of 1973-74 against the Western nations.

The Saudi state was threatened by the Iranian revolution in 1979, and by the growth of Islamic fundamentalism.

In November 1979 Muslim fundamentalists calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government occupied the Great Mosque in Mecca. Two weeks of fighting left 27 Saudi soldiers and more than 100 rebels dead. In 1980 Shiite Muslims led a series of riots that were put down by the government, which promised to reform the distribution of Saudi wealth.

Saudi Arabia supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War throughout the 1980s. In May 1981 it joined Persian Gulf nations in the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to promote economic cooperation between the participating countries. King Khalid died in 1982, and was succeeded by his half brother, Prince Fahd ibn Abdul Aziz. By the early 1980s, Saudi Arabia had gained full ownership of Aramco, which solidified Saudi leadership in oil production. Saudi conflict with Iran escalated Iranian pilgrims rioted in Mecca during the hajj in 1987, and the Iranian navy attacked Saudi ships in the Persian Gulf, causing Saudi Arabia to break diplomatic relations with Iran.

In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. King Fahd agreed to the stationing of U.S. and international coalition troops on Saudi soil, and in 1991, thousand s of Saudi troops fought in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq.

Kuwait's royal family and more than 400,000 Kuwaiti refugees took refuge in Saudi Arabia. Though little ground fighting occurred in Saudi Arabia, Iraqi Scud missiles hit the cities of Riyadh and Dhahran. In 1995 and 1996 terrorist bombings in Riyadh and Dhahran killed several American servicemen.

After the Gulf War, the government attempted a number of reforms that extended some greater rights to the people, but did not diminish the power of the royal family, and in fact did limit some of the influence of conservative Islamic elements. In the late 1990s Crown Prince Abdullah, the king's half brother and heir to the throne since 1982, effectively became the country's ruler because of King Fahd's poor health. In 2000 a treaty with Yemen ended a long-stand ing border dispute. The Saudi government restricted the use of American bases in the country during the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

All U.S. combat forces left Saudi Arabia as the government quietly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In 2004 and 2005, a number of terrorist by Islamic militants shook the nation. In 2005 Saudi Arabia held elections for municipal councils (male suffrage only to choose half of the council members.

With its large share of oil production, Saudi Arabia has been a controlling and moderating influence in the councils of the oil producers' organization, OPEC. The country also obtains a great deal of revenue from the many Muslim pilgrims who come from all over the world to Mecca each year.


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