Country - Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia Country Information

Located in the western part of the Asian continent, the country of Saudi Arabia is officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh is its capital and the largest city. The official language is Arabic. Saudi Arabia occupies a substantial part of land in the West Asia, with its total territorial area admeasuring 2,149,600 square kilometers. It is the largest country in the world without a river.

Jordan is in northwest of Saudi Arabia, Iraq is in the north, Kuwait is in the north east, UAE and Oman are in the south east and Yemen is in the south. Saudi Arabia has sea coasts on either side of west and east. Its western coast is a shore by the Red Sea and the eastern coast is drenched by Persian Gulf.

Touted as the largest economy in the Middle East as of 2018, Saudi Arabia records the per capita GDP (PPP) at US$ 55,859 ranking 12th in the world. The major exports from Saudi Arabia comprise crude petroleum, refined petroleum, ethylene polymers, propylene polymers and ethers. The main components of imports are cars, planes, helicopters, spacecraft, packaged medicaments, spare parts of aircrafts. As per the estimates of 2017, the gross value of exports was US$231.3 billion while that of imports was US$136.8 billion.

Saudi Arabia is known for its restrictive policies of government, curtailing individual human rights. The country is headed by the King under the system of unitary Islamic totalitarian absolute monarchy.

Birth control and same sex marriages are met with harsh punishments. International tourists are supposed to be extra-cautious and keep abreast themselves about the rules to be followed in strict compliance. Taking photographs of the government buildings, military installations and even private buildings/local people is prohibited. If you want to take snapshots of locals, their prior permission is compulsory.

Certain edible items like pork products are totally banned; leave alone eating, even bringing them into the country is a serious offence. Watching movies which are coquettish and sensuous is against the law of the land in Saudi Arabia.

Worshipping any religion except Islam in Saudi Arabia is like digging one’s own grave. Practising the non-Islamic religious worship is allowed behind the closed doors of private homes but those doing so are more likely to be frowned upon and treated lowly. Conversion from Islam to any other religion is viewed as apostasy and is punishable with long-term imprisonment or death penalty.

Women were legally forbidden from driving automobiles and any violation of the rule was to end up in hellish punishment, till recently. However, the restriction has been annulled to come into effect from June 2018.

Drinking alcohol is prohibited not only in Saudi Arabia but even travellers entering Saudi are advised against it to avoid grave repercussions.

Women in Saudi Arabia face more constraints than men. The prohibitive rules start from the basic restriction relating to non-exposure of their body, including hair which should be swathed below the omnipresent black garments with the exception that palms and feet are allowed to remain outside the dress and a horizontal slit-opening of veil over the eyes is permitted to enable them to move conveniently in public. Till 2017, an adult male escort from their family was compulsory without whom women were not supposed to step out of the house. The rules prevent women from using public transport system too. Except in Riyadh, women cannot travel in trains nor in buses and they are permitted to travel in cars accompanied by adult male member of their family. College education is not prohibited for women but is not compulsory.

Women do not have freedom to choose life-partners whom they like. It is quite common that old people in their seventies or eighties can marry girls the age of their grandchildren. The nubile age limit is as low as fifteen for girls, regardless of non-attainment of puberty. The latest conditions allow them to select their life partners as per their own will with the consent of their mother.

There are no gymnasiums for women. If women like to whittle down extra fat from their bodies to get to ideal shapes, they may take up physical exercises, not in gyms, but within the four walls of their personal residences in absolute privacy.

Women’s plea in courts of law is pathetically too low. A woman needs at least six male witnesses to file a suit in court. Speaking to an unknown male stranger is an inexcusable offence, the lightest punishment being the hitting accused women with whiplashes. Of late, women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia have been able to get many rules relaxed and less stringent.

While the freedom for men is much better than women in Saudi Arabia, the constraints are still tighter for foreign visitors than in the case of native males.

In order to reduce the sole dependence of export revenue, Saudi Arabia has been considering on relaxing the restrictive rules on foreign tourists in a bid to increase income from tourism industry.

In spite of existing restrictions, Saudi Arabia gets lakhs of tourists from other countries every year. One of the largest Islamic pilgrim centres, Mecca receives a massive inflow of worshippers during the annual Hajj at the sacred mosque Kaaba in the Hejazi city. In recent years, the heavy influx of pilgrims has swollen to the range of 1.8 million on the occasion, both from within Saudi Arabia and from all over the world. There is a religious ritual called “cleaning” the Kaaba held twice a year. One occasion occurs thirty days before the start of the Islamic calendar month “Ramadan” and the other happens thirty days before the start of Hajj.

The Kaaba is in the shape cuboid with a height of 13.1 meters with sides measuring 11.03 meters and 12.86 meters. During the worship, thousands of pilgrims swarm together around the Kaaba and an aerial view at the gathering seems a thickly populated massive multitude of humans. The thick assemblage at Kaaba is widely familiar and held as so sacrosanct that the image has been printed on the reverse of currency notes with denominations of 500 Saudi Rials and 1000 Iranian Rials.

Tiran and Sanafir islands located in the Red Sea are the deserted military bases of Saudi Arabia which had been granted sovereignty over the islands by Egypt on 14th June, 2017. The seashores are now used as diving sites by tourists.

The Kingdom Centre Tower has become the signature icon of Saudi Arabia to travellers. Reaching a height of more than a quarter kilometer (to be precise 302 kilometers),  the tower serves more than as an observatory and a viewing deck to have a breathtaking look at the entire city of Riyadh. It houses a residential complex and a big shopping mall.

The Coral Houses of Jeddah, as the name suggests, are made of true coral blocks obtained from the Red Sea. The fact that the condominiums are too old and seem irreparably dilapidated does not deter tourists to make a visit to the area in the city of Jeddah where people seem to enjoy the less stringent rules (including the dress code for women) than in the rest of the country.

In the middle of a vast landscape of sand, there is a giant pair of partly carved castle-portals called Madai’in Saleh in a single rock mountain which is perceived by many as the Saudi Arabic version of “the Lost City of Petra” in Jordan. As the location has not yet picked up the attention of many international tourists, your visit to the spot will be free from distractions and huge crowds of travellers.

If roaming on camel rides or driving quad bikes in the endless sand deserts of Saudi Arabia does not fascinate you, snorkelling in the Red Sea would certainly take you to a queer underwater world of coral reefs; and the scuba diving would get you thrilled up, escalating your spirits.

On account of mounting pressure and criticism from human rights activists and the international organizations demanding better living conditions and higher freedom for women, Saudi Arabia has of late made noticeable relaxations in their millennium-old traditional constraints on its own citizens, which is a welcome gesture.

It is hoped that the process of liberalizing continues for ensuring the breathing space in the life style of natives and residents of Saudi Arabia. If this goes on further, individual freedom will be on par with the economic advancement of the country.