What do you know about Saudi Arabia? Do you know that it is a military and economic powerhouse in the Middle-East? Do you know that it is edging towards a war with Iran, or that it is currently engaged in a proxy war with its Shiite nemesis? Here are a number of mind-blowing facts and pictures from Saudi Arabia that might change what you think about the oil-rich country.
Buy Oil, Not Water
Should it really surprise us that Saudi Arabia sells oil for cheaper than water? Can you imagine going to a gas station and paying less to fill up your car than to grab some drinking water for the road?
No matter what ridiculous jokes people make about women driving, there’s one place these jokes will never fly, and that’s because women until recently, couldn’t drive there. In Saudi Arabia a new law has come into motion which allows women to drive. The law came into effect in June 2018 and women are celebrating.
In Saudi Arabia, women still face other issues like not being allowed to travel unaccompanied by a male counterpart. They need special permission from their fathers, or brothers, or husbands to go to work or to school, or even to open a bank account.
Zero Love Tolerance
Love is something we can’t control, so when you love a certain someone there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. Except in Saudi Arabia, where you can potentially get lashings or even sentenced to death for loving someone of the same sex as you.
Being homosexual isn’t the only crime that can bring about the death penalty, there are a number of other crimes too. These crimes include, murder, armed robbery, adultery and witchcraft. In 2006, the Saudi government executed 154 offenders.
Jerusalem is a holy city to a number of faiths, but it is often incorrectly referred to as the number one holy site of the Muslim faith. But this is not true. In fact, the two holiest sites in Islam are in Saudi Arabia, and they are Mecca and Medina, where millions of Muslim worshipers flock to annually.
Have you ever heard of “sidewalk skiing”? Most people haven’t and that’s because it is one of the most dangerous “sports” that can take place on freeways. Saudi drivers manage to drive their Jeeps on only two wheels, while passengers simultaneously hang out of the windows, and even change a tire sometimes.
Women in Saudi Arabia dress very modestly, but that doesn’t mean that you can photograph them. If you’d like to snap a couple of pictures of the men there, all you have to do is ask for permission – which seems like the most polite thing to do.
Trillions Of Dollars
The Saudi royal family is swimming in a sea of wealth, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. They have accumulated an incredible wealth of more than $14 trillion! What would you do with that much money?
Saudi Arabia has had to take a number of security measures to ensure that their borders are safe, especially with what’s going on around them. Yemen in the south-west is currently going through a civil war, whereas ISIS was posing a threat from Iraq. Saudi Arabia has built a number of walls and fences to prevent infiltration from their neighbors.
If you thought that the Burj in Dubai was a high building, just wait until you see what’s going up in Saudi Arabia. In 2020, when constructors will have completed the “Kingdom/Jeddah Tower”, it will become the highest building in the world, and the first to pass the 1-kilometer mark.
According to Sharia Law, the consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden. This ban also includes selling alcohol in Saudi Arabia, and the punishment for performing either of these two activities is whipping.
Is it really all that different that the Saudis eat camels? I mean, we eat cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens to name a few. Since there is an abundance of camels in the Saudi kingdom, camels are one of their go-to dishes.
Use Your Right Hand
In Saudi Arabia, there is a very significant difference in how you use your right hand from how you use your left. Your right is considered to be clean and used for the purpose of shaking another’s hand. Your left, on the other hand (literally) is used for “unsanitary” tasks – we’ll let you figure out what those are.
Desert For Days
Saudi Arabia is made up primarily of sand, sand and more sand. Since the country is covered in desert sand, only about 2% of the land can be farmed.
Saudi Arabia proudly boasts four UNESCO Heritage sites. These four sites are, Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, At-Turaif District In ad-Dir’iyah, Historic Jeddah, and Rock Art Of The Hail Region.
The Mighty King
Saudi Arabia has seen a number of kings, some better than others, but they have always been powerful and influential figures. The current king of Saudi Arabia is 82 year-old King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. He has been the king and prime minister since 2015. His official title is “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and head of the House of Saud.”
For anyone who has ever read a book or watched a movie about Arabia, it is known that water pipes, or shishas if you will, are a popular thing. The Saudi government has taken some strict measures to cut down smoking in public spaces, and has even banned smoking in government offices. On a daily basis, a study showed that Saudis spend $8 million just on cigs.
Saudi Arabia uses the death penalty to punish criminals, but which method do they use? The electric chair? The needle? Hanging? Nope, they use shooting squads. The tradition was to behead criminals, but due to a lack of skilled swordsmen, the move was made to shooting squads.
A Massive Country
Even though there is only 2% of arable land in Saudi Arabia, it is still a massive piece of land. In fact, it is the largest country in the Middle-East and the 13th biggest country in the world. The exact size is 83,000 square miles (2,149,690 square km).
As a form of modesty, when a couple gets married, they have two separate events in two different places. Once the ceremonies come to a close, the couple come together and start their life together.
If you’re planning to visit Saudi Arabia, take caution when you’re on the road. A study in 2000 by World Bank showed that the four most dangerous countries when it comes to driving were, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
In today’s times having an absolute monarchy isn’t very common, but Saudi Arabia still has one. This makes it one of few countries which still do, like Brunei, Vatican City, Oman and Swaziland. The Al Saud royal family has ruled the land since September 23rd, 1932 – its inception.
Market For Camels
Seeing as camels are a great source of meat, and a means of traveling, there is a major market for them. In one of the camel markets in Saudi Arabia, something like 100 camels find owners every day.
Saudi Arabian law has made the use of birth control, in any form, forbidden… with some obvious exceptions. What’s interesting is that Iran, which is also a strict follower of Sharia Law, has one of the only condom factories in the Middle-East.
Chewing Coffee Beans
Coffee is a stimulant, and that’s why so many people drink it on a daily basis worldwide. The Saudis call it ‘gahwa’, which literally translates as ‘that which prevents sleep’. Even though drinking coffee is forbidden, many chew on coffee beans while praying.
Before his death in January 2015, 90-year-old King Abdullah was considered the 8th most powerful person in the world. In the Muslim world he was considered the most powerful, according to Forbes magazine.
Surely you’ve noticed that the women of Saudi Arabia have a specific dress code. Their garb is a traditional Judaic dress which is black and called an ‘abaya’.
Men also follow a traditional dress code that dates back to the biblical times. Their main garb is called a ‘thobes’ which is white and a lightweight cotton piece. There’s also the bischts which is like a graduation gown, and gutras – a traditional head scarf.
It took until 2012 for the law to change when it came to the selling of lingerie to Saudi women. Men used to be the only sellers of these undergarments, simply because women are not allowed to work outside of their homes. King Abdullah changed this law and now it states that only women can sell lingerie.
Slavery has been an activity very much prominent in the Arab Peninsula for centuries. Saudi Arabia abolished this practice in 1962, making it a late-bloomer in this department.
Although there are some changes being made, Saudi Arabia is quite behind in many respects. King Abdullah gave women the right to vote in 2011, and the law eventually made its way into reality in 2015.
The Modesty Police
The Saudi police has a special division which is solely in charge of ensuring that tourists and locals alike behave and dress appropriately. This police division goes by the name of the “Mutaween” AKA the “Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and for the Prevention of Vice.”
Saudi Arabia’s Name
Saudi Arabia got its name because of King Abdul Aziz bin Rahman Al Saud (Ibn Saud) because he proclaimed Saudi independence in 1932. He had an incredible 17 different wives, fathered 44 known sons and an unknown number of daughters.
The First Arab Astronaut
Sending a man into space is by no means a basic task. In 1985, Saudi Arabia sent their very own Prince Sultan bin Salman into space aboard the American space shuttle, “Discovery”. He would become the first Saudi, the first Muslim and the first Arab to travel to space.
There’s an old joke about how big Saudi Arabia is and Winston Churchill’s influence in that. The joke goes that the British prime minister was sketching the borders for Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but because of drinking too much brandy, he hiccuped and made a mistake. His hand moved too far and granted Saudi Arabia more land than he planned to.
No Harry Potter
Harry Potter might be the favorite fictional character of a few million kids and adults, but he certainly isn’t in Saudi Arabia. Since Harry Potter is about wizardry, it has been banned in Saudi Arabia.
Non-Muslims In Saudi Arabia
If you aren’t a Muslim, you can still visit the country. Additionally, you can work there, but you can’t get Saudi citizenship. In addition to this, creating a place of worship for any other faith is a big no-no.
The Assassinated King
No big family is without a rotten apple. This was the truth for the Saudi royal family who suffered a family assassination in 1975. King Faisal was assassinated by his nephew after the young man returned from a trip to America. The same year as the assassination, the king was named “Man of the Year” by Time magazine.
When the world mourned the tragic day of 9/11 that tore America apart, Saudi Arabia was quick to claim they had no involvement in the attacks. An investigation followed, proving that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia.
The October War
The October War, also known as the Yom Kippur War in 1973, brought more than 3,000 Saudi soldiers to Syria. At the same time, they sent armored vehicles to aid their Arab allies against the Israeli Army, but they were ultimately destroyed or captured.
When it comes to healthcare in Saudi Arabia, they government provides it for free. They have also taken it upon themselves to provide free public schooling for Saudi children, but the literacy rate of 70% doesn’t seem to be an indication of that.
The average age of the Saudi Arabian population is only 18 years old. When it’s put into percentage, 75% of the population is under the age of 35.
A Massive Fountain
For a country that is covered in almost-endless desert, it is quite surprising that it boasts a water feature that ranks in first place. King Fahd commissioned the world’s tallest fountain, and since, it has become an attraction to tourists and locals alike.
Saudi American Relationship
The United States and Saudi Arabia have an interesting relationship, one that they will want to protect. Since the end of World War II, both countries have relied on their “oil for peace” relationship. Together they have tackled extremist terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Saudis Farming America
You probably weren’t aware that Saudi citizens have purchased large land plots in America for farming purposes. Specifically in Arizona, land is used to grow large areas of hay for the purpose of shipping them back to the Saudi kingdom to be used on dairy farms.
The Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood has for a long time gathered the attention of Western governments, and most have named them as a terrorist organization. Recently Saudi Arabia declared that they too felt the Muslim Brotherhood should be listed on the terror list.
King Ibn Saud received a knighthood in the Order of the Bath from the Queen of England in 1935. This notable and prestigious event was felt to be very close to the hearts of the Saudi population. Additionally, the British population received it with great respect.
The international community had its headlights shining on the Islamic religious police in 2002. A fire engulfed an all-girls’ school in Mecca and 15 young girls perished in the blaze. What came to light following the event, was that the religious police didn’t let girls leave in the building in time to be rescued from the fire. Why? Because they weren’t fully dressed according to the constraints of Islamic law.
When Saudi authorities don’t use their usual tactics of execution, like beheading and firing squads, they fall back on crucifixion. The commonality of this practice is unknown, but it is a choice execution.
For a country that has no access to rivers and a massive population, drinking water is both a critical necessity and a miracle. Saudi Arabia has built the world’s largest desalination plant so that it can purify water from the sea for its citizens to drink.
The Infamous Stampede
Visiting the holy sites in Saudi Arabia to pray forever changed on September 24th, 2015. More than 2,000 worshipers died during the “2015 Mina Stampede” at the time of the annual Hajj pilgrimage. The investigation that followed the tragedy pointed fingers at overcrowding.
Stoning The Devil’s Walls
In Mecca, on the day of Eid al-Adha (the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah) worshipers throw seven stones at three different walls. The reason for this rock-throwing is to represent the stoning of the devil.
Since the rivalry between India and Pakistan has been going on, Saudi Arabia has piggybacked their way onto the nuclear weapons train. The Saudis financed the Pakistani nuclear program, and many speculate that the reason they did that was to secure their weapons from Pakistan after the program was underway.
Like other countries, Saudi Arabia relies greatly on their immigrants for cheap labor. Saudi officials have detained and deported more than 500,000 immigrants since 2013, most of whom came from Yemen, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
In a religious country, it makes sense that praying is widespread. In fact in Saudi Arabia, prayers take place 5 times a day, which each session lasting for about 30 to 45 minutes. During this time, businesses close their doors and pray to Allah.
World War II
Between 1939 to 1945, during the Second World War, Saudi Arabia tried its best not to get involved. The king at the time was King Abd al Aziz and he maintained a close relationship with the Axis Powers. But nearing the end of the war, he strategically changed his alliance to one with the Allies.
We’ve mentioned harsh punishments for crimes committed in Saudi Arabia, but there’s one we haven’t touched on yet. If anyone criticizes Islam, they can face the hand of the law. In 2014, Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer, “insulted” Islam and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with an additional punishment of 1,000 lashes.
A plus for any American visiting Saudi Arabia is that the U.S. dollar is stronger than the Saudi riyal. For one American dollar, you can get 3.75 Saudi riyal.
Saudi Arabia spends a fortune on their military, and it makes sense seeing as they’re currently involved in a proxy war with Iran. Its annual GDP allocates more than 10% just on military expenses. When comparing it with the rest of the world, the Saudis place fourth on the military expenditure list. They spend 63.7 billion U.S. dollars a year.
It’s a tough neighborhood for Saudi Arabia. There’s Jordan and Iraq in the north, Kuwait in the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates off to the east, Oman to the southeast and Yemen to the south.
The Gregorian calendar is a fairly new implementation in Saudi life. It was in 2016 that the Saudis started using the Gregorian calendar alongside their own lunar Islamic calendar.
Violence Against Women
We’d say that it’s better late than never in this situation. Domestic violence against women became criminalized in August 2013 based on official Saudi law. Punishment for offenders could mean 12 months behind bars, or a 50,000 riyal ($13,000) fine.
Sports In The Saudi Kingdom
There’s no shortage of sports in Saudi Arabia. With miles and miles of coastline, water sports like windsurfing and sailing rank high. On dry land locals enjoy other sports like basketball and soccer.
Their Soccer Squad
Saudi Arabia has even made it to the FIFA World Cup, although they didn’t ever get too far in the competition. Their success at the 1992 Confederations Cup was something extraordinary when they came head to head with Argentina in the final, but ended up losing 3-1.
Red Sea Diving
The Red Sea boasts having more than 1,200 different fish species. 10% of those fish can not actually be found anywhere else in the world so it’s no surprise that scuba diving in Saudi Arabia is such a great attraction.
The city of Mina has unofficially become known as the “city of 100,000 tents”. These tents are actually all fire-retardant and come with fully-equipped kitchens. And if you thought that was surprising, they all have air-conditioning too.
Since its inception in 1974, the annual King’s Camel Race has been running at full speed. Massive crowds flock in to watch the races, and many others from around the world fly in to participate.
Falcons For Sport
Yep, the sport of falconry is still flying high… har har. But the fact is there, in Saudi Arabia, falconry is still a very popular sport.
Shoe Soles Are Rude
The bottom of your shoe is kind of gross if you think about it. In Saudi Arabia, if you were to show the sole of your shoe to someone else, it would be considered quite a rude action.
Do you know what a “shamal” is? It’s a terribly strong wind that usually blows in from the north. This shamal can continue blowing for a number of days with wind speeds reaching up to 50 miles per hour.
Of course we know that oil is a main export from Saudi Arabia, but many people don’t know about their other major exports. These include concrete, steel, auto parts, and building materials.
Arab Fashion Week
Saudi Arabia made history in April 2018 when they hosted the first Arab fashion week ever. Even though it started two weeks later than expected, it was the fist of its kind and it promoted the goal of Saudi Arabia becoming a fashion capital in the region.
It is forbidden to eat pork, as well as other animals that don’t fall under the Halaal standards. These laws apply to religious Muslims. However the country does have a wide variety of cuisine options from around the world, like Turkish, Indian, African and Persian.
The ruling Saudi royal family attempted to supress a documentary called “Death of a Princess”, by spending US$500 million. Unfortunately for them, suppressing the 1978 execution of Princess Mishaal was not successful. The grand-niece of King Khaled was killed because of her ‘sexual transgressions’.
Overtaken By The U.S.
It was revealed in October 2013 that Saudi Arabia was no longer the largest oil exporter in the world. The United States took its place with an approximate 12.1 million barrels a day in 2013.
As we’ve mentioned, camels are a common food staple in Saudi Arabia. And so are young camels. In fact you camels’ meat is considered one of the most tender and it has become a delicacy in Jeddah and Jejaz.
Exception To The Rule
Before women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia in 2018, there were some circumstances that allowed them to. Those circumstances were driving inside foreign oil compounds only.
No Place For The Dead
The long-standing law in Saudi Arabia was that non-Muslims were not allowed to be buried there. In 2012 this law changed, giving way to burials for non-Muslims under very specific circumstances.
The Saudi royal family finds time once a year to have a massive family reunion in Riyadh. The biggest attraction at the even is the ceremonial sword dance.