Saudi Arabia

Driving Directions Saudi Arabia

SAUDI ARABIA is a monarchy whose government and laws based on the sacred teachings of Islam. The country plays a leading role in both the politics of the Middle East and on 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 southeast of the country – a harsh, uninhabited region hardly ever visited by man.

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Behind the narrow coastal plain of the Red Sea in the west, rise a series of plateaux and mountains which 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) that Saudi Arabia’s significant reserves of oil found.

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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, and the main products are dates, tomatoes, watermelons, and wheat, which are grown in the fertile land around the oases. Saudi Arabia exports wheat and shrimps and is self-sufficient in some dairy products.

The country’s prosperity, however, 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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