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Saudi Arabia

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SAUDI ARABIA is a monarchy whose government and laws are based on the sacred teachings of Islam. The country plays a leading role in both the Middle East and the international stage. It occupies over 80 percent of the Arabian Peninsula, and most of its ter­ritory is desert.

The largest expanse of sand in the world, Rub al Khali (the Empty Quarter), is found in the country’s southeast – a harsh, uninhabited region hardly ever visited by man.

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Behind the Red Sea’s narrow coastal plain in the west rise a series of plateaux and mountains that reach a height of over 3,000 meters or 9,800 feet in the south. Along The Gulf, there is a second fertile coastal plain, and it is in this region (Al Ahsa), Saudi Arabia’s significant reserves of oil found.

The climate is hot and dry, with light rainfall confined to the winter months making Saudi Arabia one of the world’s most arid countries. Some areas have had no precipitation for years. Winter temperatures are generally mild to warm except in the mountains, where there can be frost and snow. Temperatures may also plunge below freezing in the desert at night.

Saudi Arabia has no permanent lakes, rivers, or streams due to its extreme aridity, and many watercourses or waddies are only briefly filled during the winter rains.

Oases are thinly distributed throughout the country in all but the Empty Quarter and provide much-needed cultivatable land and water. Natural vegetation is scarce, but desert plants spring to life after rainfall and rapidly complete their life cycle. Oases provide another area where plants can grow, but these are often under cultivation.

Wildlife varies according to the location (mountain or desert) but includes gazelle, antelope, ibex, wildcat, desert fox, hyena, various birds, and reptiles.

The government has spent a considerable amount on reclamation of the desert for agriculture. The main products are dates, tomatoes, watermelons, and wheat grown in the fertile land around the oases. Saudi Arabia exports wheat and shrimps and is self-sufficient in some dairy products.

However, the country’s prosperity is based almost entirely on the exploitation of its vast reserves of oil and natural gas. Industries include petroleum refining and the production of petrochemicals and fertilizers.

As a result of the Gulf War in 1990-91, 460 kilometers or 285 miles of the Saudi coastline has been polluted by oil, threatening desalination plants and damaging the wildlife of saltmarshes, mangrove forests, and mudflats.

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The country can be divided into six geographical regions: the Red Sea escarpment, from Hejaz in the north to ‘Asir in the south; the Tihamah, a coastal plain that rises gradually from the sea to the mountains in the southeast; Nejd, the central plateau, which extends to the Tuwayq Mountains and further; and three sand deserts: the Ad Dahnā,’ the An-Nafūd, and, south of Nejd, the Rubʹ al-Khali Desert, one of the largest sand deserts in the world.

Two bodies of water border Saudi Arabia: the Persian (Arabian) Gulf to the east and the Red Sea to the west. The Red Sea is the warmest and saltiest sea in the world. The Persian Gulf is the marginal offshoot of the Indian Ocean that lies between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, extending about 970 kilometers (600 miles) from the Shatt al Arab delta to the Strait of Hormuz. The gulf’s width varies from a maximum of 338 kilometers (210 miles) to a minimum of 55 kilometers (34 miles) in the Strait of Hormuz, which links the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Oman.

The shallow gulf waters have prolonged currents and a limited tidal range. There are practically no natural harbors along the Red Sea. The Red Sea eco-region is best known for the spectacular corals in the central and northern areas. Fewer coral species thrive in the Persian Gulf than in the Red Sea. Nevertheless, the entire Arabian Peninsula is fringed by some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.

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