According to BEAUTYPICALLY, the Saudi monarchical kingdom, created by Ibn Sa’ūd, currently covers an area 6 times greater than Italy (2,149,690 km 2), on which over 7 million residents live, with an average density of 3.3 per km2. Mostly they are Arabs, almost totally Sunni Muslims, with a small minority of blacks, humbler workers, and Indians. Even if in the last twenty years they appear to be decreasing, the nomads (Bedouins) still constitute the vast majority of the Saudi population (over 50%); the other half is made up of a sedentary population, divided in similar percentages between residents of urban and rural areas. In the major cities of the country, Western building modules have gradually been superimposed on those typical of the Arab world. This is the case of the capital Riyād (about 300,000 residents in 1970), which in the last twenty years has had a great demographic and building development. Alongside the old and traditional neighborhoods, the modern part has been extending, consisting of wide and straight streets flanked by ultra-modern buildings. Jeddah (225,000 residents in 1970) also offers the same spectacle of contrast between the modern streets and buildings and the nucleus of ancient districts: it constitutes the most important port of the Saudi Arabia ; here about 700,000 pilgrims land annually (90% of the total) on their way to the holy cities. Mecca (200,000 residents in 1970) and Medina (50,000 residents) are also undergoing a phase of restructuring, especially according to the needs of the growing influx of faithful. Dahrān (12,000 residents in 1970), on the western shores of the Persian Gulf, is instead a completely new center, created for the needs of the company that exploits the oil fields of the region.
Over the last twenty years, the Saudi Arabia has experienced a pace of development that is reflected in few other countries; this is essentially due to the increasing extraction of oil from its subsoil, which brings immense profits. In this way the region, which until the last world war was one of the most disinherited districts in the world, able only to export skins, shells and a little gold (mines between Medina and Mecca), has become a great power. economic, capable of influencing the development of the industrialized countries of the Western world with its decisions. In 1973, the Saudi Arabia produced 364,812,000 tonnes of oil, an amount more than doubled compared to that obtained just six years earlier and which places it in first place among producers in the Near East. The reserves of “black gold” would amount,
Since 1944, the extraction has been entrusted to an Arab-American company (ARAMCO – Arabian American Oil Company: 30% Standard Oil Company of California, 30% Texaco, 30% Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and 10% Mobil), which since the post-war period has extended its activity also to the refining of petroleum products on site. At the end of 1972 twelve major extraction fields were in operation, plus a certain number of minors, all distributed on the western shore of the Persian Gulf, along a strip of about 300 km: Ghawar, Abqaiq, Safariya, Abū Ḥadrīyah, Abū Safah, al-Qatif, Fadhili, Manifa, Khursaniyah, Damman, Berri and Khurais. Those of Safariya and Manifa are located on the maritime platform and the first of them, a few km from the border with the Neutral Zone, is connected to the Ra’s Tannura refineries by an oil pipeline. The crude extracted from the wells is partly refined on site, partly loaded onto tankers and partly fed into a modern oil pipeline, the TAP (Trans-Arabian Pipeline). The latter, which came into operation in 1950, has a transport capacity of over 15 million crude oil per year and with a distance of 1800 km connects the oil fields with the Mediterranean port of Saida in Lebanon; it remained completely unused from 1969 to 1970 due to a series of incidents and sabotages linked to the continuing state of warfare between the Arab and Israeli states. The Saudi oil fields also contain vast quantities of natural gas. ARAMCO also built (in 1961) in the fields of Abqaiq and Ghawar two large plants for the use of gas as a fuel and pumps a considerable percentage of it underground to facilitate the escape of oil; the company has also installed specialized gas liquefaction plants at Ra’s Tannura, in order to export it by means of special tankers. The area initially granted to ARAMCO for oil exploration was approximately 1,732,000 km2 ; it progressively narrowed down to the sixth part due to the various nationalizations desired by the Saudi authorities in 1960, 1963 and 1968.
The income from oil production (over 1200 million dollars a year) corresponds to nine tenths of all the revenues of the Arab state.
Since 1970, in the context of international agreements with other Middle Eastern and African producers, the Saudi Arabia has revised the prices of crude oil on various occasions, in order to cope with the global inflationary process, as well as to obtain the greater availability necessary to a more harmonious national development. The political regime, not favorable to too sudden changes, and the respect for tradition very much alive in this country with vast deserts, have not yet allowed the use of the substantial “oil” revenues in an organic socio-economic development plan, of the kind of those already in place in some other neighboring producers.
Aside from oil, the resources of the Saudi Arabia are completely negligible. Agriculture, which affects just 1% of the country’s surface, still occupies two thirds of the active population; the work in the fields is carried out exclusively in the oases, where the use of aquifers allows irrigation. The government, after 1964, recognizing the importance of agricultural development as the only means of reducing imports of numerous foodstuffs, set up an ambitious irrigation program that has already paid off. In fact, the global production of the primary sector in the five-year period 1965-70 increased by 55%. Barley (360,000 q in 1972), wheat (1,500,000 q in 1972), rice (30,000 q in 1972) and then millet, sorghum, dates, as well as various vegetables, are the major products.
The livestock is mainly represented by sheep (3,400,000 heads in 1972), goats (2,100,000 heads in 1972), camelids (570,000 heads in 1972) and cattle (330,000 heads in 1972).
The industry, with the exception of the branches most closely linked to oil extraction, assumes rather modest dimensions; in 1971 there were 286 factories which employed about 10,000 people; the prevailing branch is that of construction, followed at a distance by that of tanning of hides and leather. Construction activity produced 4.5% of the national net income in 1970, while all other manufacturing branches provided just 2% overall. Particularly developed is the cement sector, whose consumption more than tripled in the decade 1960-70 following the urban expansion and the increase in public works.
Until 1964 only the area between Jeddah-Mecca and Medina and the oil districts was served by a real road network. Since that date, the central authority has paid increasing attention to the transport problem, for the solution of which it has invested about 20% of the annual state budget. Thus, in 1970 the fully asphalted roads had a development of over 7500 km, to which must be added another 2000 km under construction. The railway network includes the line that connects the oil fields with the port of Damman, on the Persian Gulf, and with the capital (574 km) and a section (840 km) of the so-called Ḥigiāz railway, from the Jordanian border to Medina (still being refurbished after the serious damage suffered during the First World War). The cities of Jeddah, Dahrān and Riyāḍ have airports.
As regards social infrastructures, practically non-existent twenty years ago, the Saudi Arabia in 1971 had 3,135 schools, with the clear prevalence of those relating to elementary education (1877), for a complex of about 6 million pupils. Higher education is developing rapidly and currently has three major university centers located in Riyāḍ (founded 1957), Medina (founded 1961) and Jeddah (started operating in 1967). Furthermore, in 1970, there were 47 hospitals in the Saudi Arabia (double compared to ten years earlier) for a total of 6787 beds.