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Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, one of the twelve worst human rights abusers in the world, is ranked as not free in Freedom in the World, and receives the lowest possible score of 7 for both political rights and civil liberties. In 2015, Saudi Arabia had its highest number of executions in 20 years.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the Al Saud family. The population is approximately 28.5 million, including 5.8 million foreigners. The King rules under the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to his responsibility for Islam's two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. The largest and most influential nation on the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is strategically located between the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. It contains Islam's two most holy sites and the world's largest petroleum producing infrastructure.

The Saudis have assumed an expanded, more active role in world affairs, evidenced by their contributions to the international relief effort in Somalia and their continuing financial support for rebuilding the infrastructure in Lebanon following the Taif agreement.

A traditional leader in the region, Saudi Arabia strives to maintain peace and stability in the Middle East, and contributes much to the well-being of fellow Arab countries by underwriting the annual Haj and financing other Arab initiatives. Looking outside the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is cautiously establishing diplomatic relations with the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia and the newly created democratic states of Eastern Europe.

Until the 1930s, Abd al Aziz, concerned with conquest and the reestablishment of the House of Saud on the peninsula, showed little interest in developing armed forces for national defense, relying instead on British support and diplomacy. After the clash with Yemen in the early 1930s and the discovery of oil, the Saudi king recognized the need for a standing army and sought assistance from Britain, Egypt, and the United States. By the mid-1940s, the Saudis were relying more on the United States than on any other country, mostly because of the successful relations between Saudi officials and Aramco.

Only nominal sums were spent on defense until Saudi Arabia's involvement in the Yemeni civil war of the early 1960s. When the need for stronger national defense became apparent to the leadership, Saudi Arabia was obliged to turn to foreign sources for armaments, military training, and the construction of facilities. The long-standing military relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States served as a foundation for the buildup of the defense forces and military infrastructure begun under Faisal.

Islam dominates all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia - government policy, cultural norms, and social behavior. Islam is the only official religion of the country, and public observance of any other religion is forbidden. The Saudi government considers it a sacred duty to safeguard two of the greatest shrines of Islam, the holy mosques located in the cities of Mecca and Medina. Travel to Mecca and Medina is forbidden to non-Muslims. Muslims throughout the world turn to Mecca five times a day for prayer. Restaurants, stores, and other public places close for approximately a half-hour upon hearing the call to prayer, and Muslims stop their activities to pray during that time. Government and business activities are noticeably curtailed during the month of Ramadan, during the celebrations at the end of Ramadan, and during the time of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. Travel facilities into, out of, and within Saudi Arabia are crowded during these periods.

Although Westerners have some leeway in dress and social contacts within company residential compounds, both men and women should dress conservatively in public. Women's clothing should be loose fitting and concealing, with high necks, skirts worn well below the knee, and sleeves below the elbow. It is recommended that women not wear pants.

Females are prohibited from driving vehicles or riding bicycles on public roads, or in places where they might be observed. Males and females beyond childhood are not free to congregate together in most public places, and a man may be arrested for being seen with, walking with, traveling with, or driving a woman other than his wife or immediate relative. In Saudi Arabia, playing of music or dancing in public, mixed bathing, public showing of movies, and consumption of alcoholic beverages are forbidden.

Saudi religious police, known as mutawwa , have been empowered to enforce the conservative interpretation of Islamic codes of dress and behavior for women, and may rebuke or harass women who do not cover their heads or whose clothing is insufficiently concealing. In addition, in more conservative areas, there have been incidents of private Saudi citizens stoning, accosting, or pursuing foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for perceived dress code or other infractions. While most such incidents have resulted in little more than inconvenience or embarrassment for the individual targeted, there have been incidents where Westerners were physically harmed.

The taking of photographs within the Kingdom is generally discouraged and both caution and discretion should be adhered to. You should not photograph anyone or any place without permission. It is forbidden to take pictures of mosques, military installations and equipment, flight line facilities at airports, seaport facilities, or subjects that might prove embarrassing to the Government. In this latter category would fall scenes of poverty or "backward conditions."

Motor Vehicle Crashes (MVCs) are the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in Saudi Arabia. There were almost 500,000 MVCs in 2008 alone, resulting in over 6,000 deaths. This meant that there were 1,350 MVCs, 101 people injured and 18 people killed everyday. This, in part, was attributed to the social and economic development in the country, leading to a considerable increase in the numbers of drivers and vehicles. In turn, this has overwhelmed traffic services in urban and rural areas. In a review of MVCs from all Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia had the highest incidence of accidents including pedestrians.

Saudi Arabia has reinforced its concrete-filled security barrier along sections of the now fully demarcated border with Yemen to stem illegal cross-border activities.

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Page last modified: 15-06-2016 19:19:01 ZULU