Created at the start of 20th century on the basis of a primitive Bedouin society, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has rapidly developed into one of the leading countries of the world. The country embraces traditional aspects of Arabic civilization, as well as major achievements of modern cultures, bound together by Islam and traditions in cultural sphere and by the state in socioeconomic sphere.
- Oil Industry
The economy of Saudi Arabia is to a large extent based on oil-and-gas industry with an overwhelming part of oil industry, in particular crude oil exports. It is also characterized by a strong government control over major economic activities (“Economy of Saudi Arabia”, Wikipedia.org). Consequently, all other industries, their state and development, social security and population wellbeing depend on the world oil prices and income received from the “black gold”.
Saudi Arabia possesses 18% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 55% of GDP and 90% of export earnings. Saudi oil reserves are the second largest in the world. Proven reserves, according to figures provided by the Saudi government, are estimated to be 260 billion barrels (41 km3). More than 95% of all Saudi oil is produced on behalf of the Saudi Government by the giant Saudi Aramco, and the remaining 5% by similar companies as of 2002 (“Economy of Saudi Arabia”, Wikipedia.org).
In 2005, Saudi Arabia became a member of the World Trade Organization. This step is expected to boost its trade with other WTO members and to allow better access of Saudi products to the global markets.
- Industrial Plans
Saudi Arabia has a centrally planned economy. Planned methods of economic development have allowed to concentrate resourced of the country on strategically important industrial objects, as well as to attract foreign and national private capital. Thus, Saudi Arabia's five-year development plans (from early 70s to 2000s) from time to time emphasized infrastructure, education, health, and social services; private enterprise and foreign investment; improved and more efficient government social services; regional development; creation greater private-sector employment opportunities for Saudis by reducing the number of foreign workers; economic diversification and a greater role of the private sector in the Saudi economy (“Economy of Saudi Arabia”, Wikipedia.org).
Through five-year development plans, the government managed to transform its oil-based economy into that of a modern industrial state while maintaining the Kingdom's traditional Islamic values and customs. The economy has progressed rapidly. The standard of living of most Saudis increased substantially. Heavy dependence on petroleum revenue continues, but industry and agriculture now account for a larger share of economic activity (“Economy of Saudi Arabia”, Wikipedia.org).
- Private Sector
About 40% of GDP (other sources – 48%) comes from the private sector. Private companies also handle most imports of consumer and industrial goods and the bulk of the exports of non-oil products. Foreign investment is also growing in the Kingdom. Investors from all over the world are joining Saudi partners to set up ventures, attracted by the Kingdom’s political, economic and social stability, modern infrastructure, inexpensive energy supplies and strategic geographic location. In 2000, Saudi Arabia improved a position of foreign investors in the Kingdom: foreign investors were granted the right to the same benefits, incentives and guarantees offered to Saudi individuals and companies. Foreign investors are allowed to own property (including real estate), as well as to own limited liability companies in major industries subject to obtaining of investment license from the state (“Economy and Global Trade”, Saudiembassy.net).
- Banking System
Saudi Arabia has a modern banking industry represented by 13 commercial banks which offer all types of banking services, including Islamic banking services. The latter is a special type of banking based on Sharia laws. Such laws are rather strict and prohibit usury, collection and payment of interest etc. (“Economy and Global Trade”, Saudiembassy.net).
Banking system of Saudi Arabia is comparatively weakly integrated into the world financial system; therefore impact of the global financial crises on its stability was not so strong. In 2008, no bank of Saudi Arabia went bankrupt or requested bailout from the state or foreign investors. In the post-crises period the banking system underwent certain liquidity problems and reduced the volumes of bank loans. In short-term perspective, the banking system of Saudi Arabia will remain stable, and no systemic problems are expected in the coming year (“Economy of Saudi Arabia”, Webeconomy.ru).
- Traditions and Culture
Culture of Saudi Arabia is inseparably linked to the Islam which is the only official religion of the country. All Saudi citizens are Muslims; practicing of other religions is not allowed. Islam underpins all aspects of life of Saudis, as well as political and social life of the country (“Culture of Saudi Arabia”, Wikipedia). Saudi Arabia is the center of Islam – two major Muslim holiest sites – Mecca and Medina are located on its territory.
Saudi Arabia has a special division of police – a religious police which is responsible, among other things, for control over observance of Sharia laws and religious customs by Saudi nationals. Local citizens often volunteer to help the religious police exercise their duties (“How One Lives in Saudi Arabia?” Shkolazhizni.ru).
Arabic language is the major cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia. It is one of the most ancient languages in the region, as well as a very widespread language – more than 140 mln people use it. Quran, the central religious text of Islam, is written in Arabic language.
Saudi traditions are routed in Islamic teachings and Arab customs. Among the most remarkable religious traditions are Ramadan and Hajj. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from dawn until sunset (i.e., they refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking etc., but can drink and eat after sunset). The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca which occurs annually and is supported by all Muslims worldwide. In order to show his submission to God, each Muslim is under a religious duty to carry out the Hajj at least one in his lifetime (“Culture of Saudi Arabia”, Wikipedia).
- Position of a Woman
Saudi Arabia is well known for a unique way of life of its citizens which is based on century-old traditions. In particular, position of a woman in modern Arabic society often raises criticism and concerns.
Thus, women are physically segregated from men. Social interaction and communication between women and men (which are not close family members) is considerably limited: most institutions and organizations (both public and private), as well as public transport, have separate entrances for women, as well as special premises (sectors) where women can be located separately from men. Exceptions are hospitals and certain banks.
Every woman should have a male trustee, as a rule, he is her father or husband. The trustee has a wide range of duties and rights regarding woman in many aspects of her life. For example, his consent is needed for marriage, divorce, travels, education, work etc. He is to control a woman’s behavior, in order to protect her honor and reputation. The trustee (or another male family member) should follow a woman almost everywhere – when she travels to work (if she works), to the university, to the supermarket etc.
According to Saudi traditions, a woman’s place is home. She can work, if it is compatible with her housekeeping duties, or is necessary for her of her family welfare. Still, most positions are beyond the reach of a woman, and common occupations for women remain teaching and nursing. In addition, women may neither stand for political elections nor cast political votes (“Culture of Saudi Arabia”, Everyculture.com).
Interestingly, traditions and customs in certain regions of Saudi Arabia may be stricter than in others.
- Marriage and Family
According to ancient traditions, potential spouses could not meet before the wedding night, and marriages had to be arranged by parents and other relatives. These customs are slightly changed nowadays, for example, couples are allowed to communicate before the wedding. Nevertheless, basic rules remain the same. Parents still arrange marriages.
Men are allowed to have four wives, however they are under an obligation to treat all wives equally and ensure equal wellbeing for all of them. Polygyny is not that common and only 5-10% of Saudis have more than one wife. Divorce is relatively easy for men and difficult for women (“Culture of Saudi Arabia”, Everyculture.com).
In a family life, authority rests with the husband, who is deemed to have God’s blessing to rule the family and a duty of providing for the needs of his wife and children. However, in modern world the family roles are more equal and feature sharing of responsibilities.
- “Economy of Saudi Arabia”. Wikipedia, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013
- “Economy of Saudi Arabia”. Webeconomy.ru, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013
- “Politics, Economy and Population o Saudi Arabia”. Islam Today: Information and Analytical Federal portal, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013
- “Economy and Global Trade”. Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013
- “Culture of Saudi Arabia”. Wikipedia, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013
- “Culture of Saudi Arabia”. Countries and their Culture, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013
- “How One Lives in Saudi Arabia?” The School of Life: Cognitive Magazine, n.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013