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United Arab Emirates

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United Arab Emirates

دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة
Dawlat al-Imārāt al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah
Flag Emblem
Mottoالله , الوطن , الرئيس[citation needed]
Allah, al-Waṭan, al-Ra’īs  (Arabic)
“God, The Homeland, President”
AnthemIshy Bilady
Capital Abu Dhabi
24°28′N 54°22′E
Largest city Dubai
Official language(s) Arabic
Ethnic groups 16.5% Arabs, 83.5%South AsianIndian,PakistaniBangladeshi,ChineseFilipinoThai,IranianWesterners(2009)[1]
Demonym Emirati[2]
Government Federal presidential systemand constitutional monarchy
 – President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
 – Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Legislature Federal National Council
Sovereignty End of special treaty with the United Kingdom
 – Constitution December 2, 1971
 – Total 83,600 1 km2 (116th)
32,278 sq mi
 – Water (%) negligible
 – 2010 estimate 8,264,070[3] (114th[2])
 – 2005 census 4,106,427
 – Density 97/km2 (107th)
251.9/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 – Total US$182.876 billion[4]
 – Per capita US$36,175.966[4]
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 – Total US$252.736 billion[4]
 – Per capita US$49,995.307[4]
Gini (2008) 36
HDI (2010) increase0.815[5] (very high) (32nd)
Currency UAE dirham (AED)
Time zone GMT+4 (UTC+4)
 – Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+4)
Date formats dd/mm/yyyy
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code AE
Internet TLD .aeامارات.
Calling code 971
United Arab Emirates portal
1 The country’s exact size is unknown because of disputed claims to several islands in the Persian Gulf, because of the lack of precise information on the size of many of these islands, and because most of its land boundaries, especially with Saudi Arabia, remain undemarcated.

The United Arab Emirates ( Listeni /juˌntɪd ˌærəb ˈɛmɪrɪts/Arabic: دولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة‎ Al Imārāt al ‘Arabīyah al Muttaḥidah), often abbreviated as UAE or shortened to The Emirates (Arabic: الامارات‎ Al Imārāt), is a federation situated in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia on the Persian Gulf, borderingOman and Saudi Arabia and sharing sea borders with IraqKuwaitBahrainQatar and Iran.

Termed emirates because they are ruled by emirs, they are Abu DhabiAjmanDubaiFujairahRas al-KhaimahSharjah and Umm al-Quwain. The capital is Abu Dhabi, which is also the country’s center of politicalindustrial and cultural activities.[6]

Before 1971, the UAE was known as the Trucial States or Trucial Oman, in reference to a 19th-century truce between the United Kingdom and several Arab Sheikhs. The name Pirate Coast was also used in reference to the area’s emirates from the 18th to the early 20th century.[7]

The UAE’s political system, based on its 1971 Constitution, is composed of several intricately connected governing bodies. Islam is the official religion, and Arabic is theofficial language.[8]

Its oil reserves are ranked as the world’s sixth-largest[9] and the UAE possesses one of the most-developed economies in West Asia. It is the thirty-fifth-largest economyat market exchange rates, and has a high per capita gross domestic product (GDP), with a nominal per capita GDP of US$47,407 as per the International Monetary Fund(IMF).[10] It is 15th in purchasing power per capita and has a relatively high Human Development Index for the Asian continent, ranking thirty-second globally.[11] The UAE is classified as a high-income developing economy by the IMF.

Although the UAE has a constitution and a president, it is neither a constitutional monarchy nor a republic. It is a federation of seven monarchies, whose rulers retain absolute power within their emirates. The emirs chose one of their number to be the president of the federation, but this does not alter the monarchical character of the government of the emirates. The constitution is concerned solely with the relations between the emirates as members of the federation, and does not prescribe a constitutional system of government.

The UAE is a founding member of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, and a member state of the Arab League. It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the OPEC, and the World Trade Organization.




An 18th century watchtower in Hatta

The earliest known human habitation in the UAE dated from 5500 BC. At this early stage, there is proof of interaction with the outside world, particularly with civilizations to the north in Persia. These contacts persisted and became wide-ranging, probably motivated by trade in copper from the Hajar Mountains, which commenced around 3000 BC.[12] Foreign trade, the recurring motif in the history of this strategic region, flourished also in later periods, facilitated by the domestication of the camel at the end of the second millennium BC.[13]

By the 1st century AD overland caravan traffic between Syria and cities in southern Iraq began. Also, there was seaborne travel to the important port of Omana (perhaps present-day Umm al-Qaiwain) and then to India. These routes were an alternative to the Red Searoute used by the Romans.[14] Pearls had been exploited in the area for millennia but at this time the trade reached new heights. Seafaring was also a mainstay and major fairs were held at Dibba, bringing in merchants from as far as China.[15]

Advent of Islam

The arrival of envoys from the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 630 heralded the conversion of the region to Islam. After Muhammad’s death, one of the major battles of the Ridda Wars was fought at Dibba resulting in the defeat of the non-Muslims and the triumph of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula.

In 637Julfar (today Ra’s al-Khaimah) was used as a staging post for the conquest of Iran. Over many centuries, Julfar became a wealthy port and pearling center from which dhows travelled throughout the Indian Oceanespecially to neighboring land of Sindh and its cities of Thatta and Debal.

Portuguese control

Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century following Vasco da Gama‘s route of exploration saw them battle Safavid Persia up the coast of the Persian Gulf. The Portuguese controlled the area for 150 years, in which they conquered the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.[16] Vasco da Gama was helped by Ahmad Ibn Majid, a navigator and cartographer from Julfar, to find the route of spices from Asia.[17][18]

Ottoman rule

During the 16th century, portions of the nation came under the direct influence of the Ottoman Empire.[19] Thereafter the region was known to the British as the “Pirate Coast“, as raiders based there harassed the shipping industry despite both European and Arab navies patrolling the area from the 17th century into the 19th.[20] British expeditions to protect the Indian trade from raiders at Ras al-Khaimah led to campaigns against that headquarters and other harbours along the coast in 1819. The next year, a peace treaty was signed to which all the sheikhs of the coast adhered. Raids continued intermittently until 1835, when the sheikhs agreed not to engage in hostilities at sea. In 1853, they signed a treaty with the British, under which the sheikhs (the “Trucial Sheikhdoms”) agreed to a “perpetual maritime truce.” It was enforced by the United Kingdom, and disputes among sheikhs were referred to the British for settlement.[21]

Flag of the Trucial Coast

Primarily in reaction to the ambitions of other European countries, the United Kingdom and the Trucial Sheikhdoms established closer bonds in an 1892 treaty, similar to treaties entered into by Britain with other Persian Gulf principalities. The sheikhs agreed not to dispose of any territory except to Britain and not to enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without its consent. In return, the British promised to protect the Trucial Coast from all aggression by sea and to help in case of land attack.[22] British suppression of piracy meant that pearling fleets could operate in relative security. However, the British prohibition of the slave trade meant an important source of income was lost to some sheikhs and merchants.[23]

Pearling industry

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the pearling industry thrived in the relative calm at sea, providing both income and employment to the people of the Persian Gulf. It began to become a good economic resource for the local people. Then the First World War had a severe impact on the pearl fishery, but it was the economic depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, coupled with the Japaneseinvention of the cultured pearl, that all but destroyed it. The industry eventually faded away shortly after the Second World War, when the newly independent Government of India imposed heavy taxation on pearls imported from the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.[24]

The decline of pearling resulted in a very difficult era, with little opportunity to build any infrastructure.

Dubai in the mid-20th century

Beginning of the oil era

At the beginning of the 1960s, the first oil company teams carried out preliminary surveys and the first cargo of crude was exported from Abu Dhabi in 1962. As oil revenues increased, ruler of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, undertook a massive construction program, building schools, housing, hospitals and roads. When Dubai’s oil exports commenced in 1969, Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the de facto ruler of Dubai, was also able to use oil revenues to improve the quality of life of his people.[25]

In 1955, Great Britain sided with Abu Dhabi in the latter’s dispute with Oman over the Buraimi Oasis, another territory to the south.[26] A 1974 agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia would have settled the Abu Dhabi-Saudi border dispute; however, the agreement has yet to be ratified by the UAE government and is not recognized by the Saudi government. The border with Oman also remains officially unsettled, but the two governments agreed to delineate the border in May 1999.[27]

Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the union

In the early 1960s, oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi, an event that led to quick unification calls made by UAE sheikdoms. Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966 and the British started losing their oil investments and contracts to U.S. oil companies.[28] The British had earlier started a development office that helped in some small developments in the emirates. The sheikhs of the emirates then decided to form a council to coordinate matters between them and took over the development office. They formed the Trucial States Council,[29] and appointed Adi Bitar, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum‘s legal advisor, as Secretary General and Legal Advisor to the Council. The council was terminated once the United Arab Emirates was formed.[30]

In 1968, the United Kingdom announced its decision, reaffirmed in March 1971, to end the treaty relationships with the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms which had been, together with Bahrain andQatar, under British protection. The nine attempted to form a union of Arab emirates, but by mid-1971 they were still unable to agree on terms of union, even though the British treaty relationship was to expire in December of that year.[31]

Bahrain became independent in August, and Qatar in September 1971. When the British-Trucial Sheikhdoms treaty expired on December 1, 1971, they became fully independent.[32] The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai decided to form a union between their two emirates independently, prepare a constitution, then call the rulers of the other five emirates to a meeting and offer them the opportunity to join. It was also agreed between the two that the constitution be written by December 2, 1971.[33] On that date, at the Dubai Guesthouse Palace, four other emirates agreed to enter into a union called the United Arab Emirates. Ras al-Khaimah joined later, in early 1972.[34][35]

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States the UAE was identified as a major financial center used by Al-Qaeda in transferring money to the hijackers (two of the 9/11 hijackers, Marwan al-Shehhi and Fayez Ahmed Bannihammad, who allegedly crashed United Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, were UAE citizens). The nation immediately cooperated with the U.S., freezing accounts tied to suspected terrorists and strongly clamping down on money laundering.[citation needed]

The UAE supports military operations from the United States and other Coalition nations that are engaged in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan (2001) and Saddam Hussein in Iraq (2003) as well as operations supporting the Global War on Terrorism for the Horn of Africa at Al Dhafra Air Base located outside of Abu Dhabi.[citation needed] The air base also supported Allied operations during the 1991 Persian Gulf War andOperation Northern Watch. The country had already signed a military defense agreement with the U.S. in 1994 and one with France in 1995.[citation needed]

On 2 November 2004, the UAE’s first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died. His eldest son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, succeeded as ruler of Abu Dhabi. In accordance with the constitution, the UAE’s Supreme Council of Rulers elected Khalifa as president. Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded Khalifa as Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.[36] In January 2006, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, died, and the crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum assumed both roles.


Geography of the UAE
Coastline 1,318 km (819 miles)
Bordering countries Saudi Arabia, and Oman

The landscape of Sir Bani Yas Island

The United Arab Emirates is situated in Southwest Asia, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia; it is in a strategic location along southern approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital transit point for world crude oil.[37]

A view of the desert landscape on the outskirts of Dubai

The mountainous region in the north

The UAE lies between 22°30′ and 26°10′ north latitude and between 51° and 56°25′ east longitude. It shares a 530-kilometer border with Saudi Arabia on the west, south, and southeast, and a 450-kilometer border with Oman on the southeast and northeast. The land border with Qatar in the Khawr al Udayd area is about nineteen kilometers in the northwest; however, it is a source of ongoing dispute.[38] The total area of the UAE is approximately 77,700 square kilometers. The country’s exact size is unknown because of disputed claims to several islands in the Persian Gulf, because of the lack of precise information on the size of many of these islands, and because most of its land boundaries, especially with Saudi Arabia, remain undemarcated.[39] Additionally, island disputes with Iran and Qatar remain unresolved.[40]

The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, accounts for 87% of the UAE’s total area (67,340 square kilometers). The smallest emirate, Ajman, encompasses only 259 square kilometers (see figure).

The UAE coast stretches for more than 650 kilometers along the southern shore of the Persian Gulf. Most of the coast consists of salt pans that extend far inland. The largest natural harbor is at Dubai, although other ports have been dredged at Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and elsewhere. Numerous islands are found in the Persian Gulf, and the ownership of some of them has been the subject of international disputes with both Iran and Qatar. The smaller islands, as well as many coral reefs and shifting sandbars, are a menace to navigation. Strong tides and occasional windstorms further complicate ship movements near the shore. The UAE also has a stretch of the Al Bāţinah coast of the Gulf of Oman, although the Musandam Peninsula, the very tip of Arabia by the Strait of Hormuz is an enclave of Oman within the UAE.

South and west of Abu Dhabi, vast, rolling sand dunes merge into the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter) of Saudi Arabia. The desert area of Abu Dhabi includes two important oases with adequate underground water for permanent settlements and cultivation. The extensive Liwa Oasis is in the south near the undefined border with Saudi Arabia. About 100 kilometers to the northeast of Liwa is the Al-Buraimi oasis, which extends on both sides of the Abu Dhabi-Oman border.

Prior to withdrawing from the area in 1971, Britain delineated the internal borders among the seven emirates in order to preempt territorial disputes that might hamper formation of thefederation. In general, the rulers of the emirates accepted the British intervention, but in the case of boundary disputes between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and also between Dubai andSharjah, conflicting claims were not resolved until after the UAE became independent. The most complicated borders were in the Al-Hajar al-Gharbi Mountains, where five of the emirates contested jurisdiction over more than a dozen enclaves.

Flora and fauna

Acacia trees growing in desert suburbs near Fujairah

In the oases grow date palmsacacia and eucalyptus trees. In the desert the flora is very sparse and consists of grasses and thornbushes. The indigenous fauna had come close to extinction because of intensive hunting, which has led to a conservation program on Bani Yas island initiated by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in the 1970s, resulting in the survival of, for example, Arabian oryx and leopardsCoastal fish consist mainly of mackerelperch and tuna, as well as sharks and whales.


The climate of the U.A.E generally is hot and dry. The hottest months are July and August, when average maximum temperatures reach above 48 °C (118.4 °F) on the coastal plain. In the Al Hajar Mountains, temperatures are considerably lower, a result of increased altitude.[41] Average minimum temperatures in January and February are between 10 and 14 °C (50 and 57.2 °F).[42] During the late summer months, a humid southeastern wind known as Sharqi (i.e. “Easterner”) makes the coastal region especially unpleasant. The average annual rainfall in the coastal area is fewer than 120 mm (4.7 in), but in some mountainous areas annual rainfall often reaches 350 mm (13.8 in). Rain in the coastal region falls in short, torrential bursts during the summer months, sometimes resulting in floods in ordinarily dry wadi beds.[43] The region is prone to occasional, violent dust storms, which can severely reduce visibility. The Jebel Jais mountain cluster in Ras al-Khaimah has experienced snow only twice since records began.[44]

Government and politics

United Arab Emirates National Symbols of the UAE[45]
Flag Flag of United Arab Emirates
Anthem Ishy Bilady
Animal Arabian Horse
Bird Peregrine Falcon
Flower Tribulus Omanense
Tree Ghaf trees
Dairy Camel Milk
Beverage Arabic Coffee
Sport Camel racing
Dress Khandura


Current President of the United Arab Emirates,Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The politics of the United Arab Emirates take place in a framework of a federalpresidentialelective monarchy. The UAE is a federation of seven absolute monarchies: the emirates of Abu DhabiAjmanFujairahSharjahDubaiRas al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain. ThePresident of the United Arab Emirates is its head of state, and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates is its head of government,[46]including foreign affairs, security and defense, nationality and immigration issues, education, public health, currency, postal, telephone and other communications services, air traffic control, licensing of aircraft, labor relations, banking, delimitation of territorial waters and extradition of criminals. All responsibilities not granted to the national government are reserved to the emirates.

The UAE government comprises three branches: the executivelegislature, and judiciary. The executive branch consists of the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Federal Supreme Council, and a Council of Ministers (the cabinet). The Federal Supreme Council is composed of the emirs of the seven emirates. It elects the president, vice president, members of the Council of Ministers, and judges of the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Council also formulates government policy, proposes and ratifies national laws, and ratifies treaties.

Although elected by the Supreme Council, the president and prime minister are essentially hereditary. The emir of Abu Dhabi holds the presidency, and the emir of Dubai is prime minister. All but one prime minister served concurrently as vice president. The political influences and financial obligations of the emirates are reflected by their respective positions in the federal government. While each emirate still retains autonomy over its own territory, a percentage of its revenue is allocated to the UAE’s central budget.[47]

Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the UAE’s president from the nation’s founding until his death on November 2, 2004. On the following day the Federal Supreme Council elected his son, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to the post. Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is the heir apparent.[48]

The legislature is the Federal National Council (FNC), which consists of 40 members drawn from all the emirates. Half are appointed by the rulers of the constituent emirates, and the other half are indirectly elected to serve two-year terms. The first indirect elections took place in 2006, and the goal is a wholly elected council. The council carries out the country’s main consultative duties and has both a legislative and supervisory role provided by the constitution.[49] The council scrutinizes and amends proposed legislation, but cannot prevent it from becoming law. The main tasks of the FNC are:

  • Discussing constitutional amendments and draft laws, which may be approved, amended or rejected
  • Reviewing the annual draft budget of the federation
  • Debating international treaties and conventions
  • Influencing the Government’s work through the channels of discussion, question and answer sessions, recommendations and following up on complaints

A constitutionally independent judiciary includes the Federal Supreme Court.[50] However, Dubai and Ras al-Khaimah do not belong to the national judiciary. All emirates have their own secular and Islamic law for civil, criminal, and high courts.[51]

In parallel to the economic developments of the UAE, the country’s leaders have also initiated political reforms in order to further develop the political institutions. The political modernization process was envisaged in three stages: first, conduct elections to elect half the FNC members through an Electoral College; second expand the powers of the FNC and increase the number of FNC members, which would require extensive constitutional studies and possible modifications, at the end of which the political institution would be a more enabled body; and finally, an open election for half the council.

The purpose of the elections was to expand political participation and develop a culture of government reform. The limited scope of participation was conditioned by three reasons: (1) the country not having an electoral tradition, (2) the prevailing political tension and instability in the region meaning that there was no scope for error, and (3) elections in the region having proved to potentially be divisive affairs, based on sectarian and religious issues, which the UAE wanted to avoid.

In December 2008, the Supreme Council approved constitutional amendments both to empower the FNC and to enhance government transparency and accountability.[52]


United Arab Emirates

This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the United Arab Emirates

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When contrasted with other Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia for instance, the UAE has comparatively very liberal laws. The country has a civil law jurisdiction. However, Shari’a or Islamic law is applied to aspects of family lawinheritance and certain criminal acts. Women can drive in the UAE and there is a strong emphasis in equality and human rights brought by the UAE’s National Human Rights Committee.

A federal court system applies to all emirates except Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, which are not fully integrated into the federal judicial system. All emirates have secular courts to rule about criminal, civil, and commercial matters, and Islamic courts to review family and religious disputes.

The country has undergone a period of liberalization and modernisation during the reign of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The laws of the UAE tolerate alcohol to a certain extent. However, public bars and nightclubs in the UAE operate mainly in hotels and clubs, much like in Qatar, although some do operate independently.

In the UAE the establishment of the Civil and Criminal Courts resulted in diminishing the role of the Sharia Courts. Nevertheless, the competence of the Sharia Courts in some emirates, particularly Abu Dhabi, was substantially expanded later on to include, in addition to matters of personal status, all types of civil and commercial disputes as well as serious criminal offences. Therefore, in addition to the Civil Courts, each of the seven emirates maintains a parallel system of Sharia Courts which are organised and supervised locally.

Civil cases may also be tried under Sharia courts with one exception: Shi’ite Muslims may try such cases in their own courts. Other civil proceedings include those involving claims against the government and enforcement of foreign judgments. Live-in relationships are illegal in all emirates including Dubai where there have been numerous arrests of couples that have lived together, and even have visited the city together.

Human rights and social development

Human rights are legally protected by the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates, which confers equalitylibertyrule of law, presumption of innocence in legal procedures, inviolability of the home, freedom of movementfreedom of opinion and speech, freedom of communication, freedom of religion, freedom of council and association, freedom of occupation, freedom to be elected to office and others onto all citizens, within the limit of the law.[53]

Because of the rapid development of the UAE from a traditional, homogeneous society in the mid-20th century to a modern, multicultural one at the beginning of the 21st century, the concurrent development of legal provisions and the practical enforcement of existing laws has been challenging and, in consequence, problems exist mainly in regard to human rights of non-citizens, who make up around 80% of the population. Main issues include companies’ and employers’ non-compliance with labor laws.

Many expatriate workers, mostly of South Asian origin, have after their arrival in the UAE been turned into debt-ridden de facto indentured servants.[54] Confiscation of passports, although illegal, occurs on a large scale, primarily of unskilled or semi-skilled employees.[55]

The UAE’s system of employment for non-citizens ties an employee to the employer and prevents him or her from seeking alternative employment without the express approval of the original employer. Also, non-payment of wages, cramped and unsanitary living conditions and poor safety practices are widespread and have been the subject of foreign media attention.

In order to institutionalize the fight against human trafficking, including that of expatriate workers for blue collar jobs, the UAE government has devised a four-pillar strategy: (1) legislation, (2) enforcement (3) victim support, and (4) bilateral agreements and international cooperation. In 2007 the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking was established, which serves as a coordinating agency. The UAE has ratified the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol).

The victim support program includes protection, counseling and rehabilitation. Police departments and non-Government organizations provide shelter and support for human trafficking victims until they are able to acquire the right documents and many victims are then sent home at the Government’s expense, under the Crime Victim Assistance Programme. These shelters include the Dubai Women’s and Children’s Foundation, which was established in July 2007, and Ewaa in Abu Dhabi, which opened in late 2008, as well as the Human Rights Care Department in Dubai and the Social Support Centre in Abu Dhabi, which have been operating for several years.[52]

The issue of sexual abuse among female domestic servants is an area of concern, particularly given that domestic servants are not covered by the UAE Labor Law of 1980 or the Draft Labor Law of 2007.[56] Worker protests have been cracked down on.[57] Until today, the government has not allowed for trade unions to form despite having promised to do so since 2004.[58]

As Sharia prohibits sodomy, homosexual relationships are not commonly disclosed. The UAE is much more moderate on homosexual punishment than many of its neighbors.[citation needed] The death penalty is never implemented for homosexuality, and rarely life imprisonment.[citation needed] Foreigners generally receive deportation, which is sometimes temporary.[59][60] Prospective foreign employees infected with HepatitisTuberculosis, or HIV will not be given work visas and have to leave the country.[61] There is, however, no screening of tourists.

The UAE authorities on the federal and local level have instituted a number of mechanisms and policies to improve the protection of human rights.[citation needed] For example, in 2004, the Dubai police opened designated departments in all emirate police stations that are mandated to protect the human rights of both victims and perpetrators of crime.[62]

UN rapporteurs – one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the other on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance – visited the UAE separately and held discussions with various ministries, civil society organizations, academics and ordinary citizens. Commending the Government’s ‘cooperation and openness’, a preliminary report of the rapporteur on racism said: “The recent review of the UAE by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and by the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council demonstrates that the authorities are willing to find ways and means of addressing human rights challenges faced by the people in the UAE and to ensure compliance with international human rights standards.”

Efforts are under way to promulgate a draft national law for better protection of children, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The proposed law provides for the establishment of a hotline to respond to children’s problems and encourages the establishment of associations or clubs specializing in child affairs, as well as calling for the appointment of a special judge to handle cases related to children.[52]

The UAE National Human Rights Report, prepared by a committee comprising representatives from various ministries and government institutions, with the participation of representatives from civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 4 December 2008 outlines efforts in the field of human rights observance and listed challenges facing the country, such as the following:

  • Providing more mechanisms to protect human rights, keeping up with national and international developments, and updating laws and systems
  • Meeting the state’s expectations with regards to building national capabilities and deepening efforts for education on human rights and basic freedoms through a national plan
  • Striving to regulate the relationship between employers and workers in framework that preserves dignity and rights, and is in harmony with international standards, especially with regard to domestic help
  • Increasing the empowerment of women’s role in society, increasing opportunities for involvement in a number of fields based on their skills and abilities
  • Working to confront human trafficking crimes by reviewing the best international practices in the field, working to update and improve the state’s legislature in accordance with international standards, working to establish institutions and agencies to confront human trafficking crimes, and working to support the foundations of international cooperation with international organizations and institutions.

The UAE government is currently studying the establishment of a national human-rights commission.[63][64] Mean wages were $45.61 per manhour in 2009.

Foreign policy and military

The UAE’s liberal climate towards foreign cooperation, investment and modernization has prompted extensive diplomatic and commercial relations with other countries. It plays a significant role in OPEC and the UN, and is one of the founding members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Regionally, the UAE has a very close relationship with other GCC members as well as most of the Arab countries. The Emirates have long maintained close relations with Egypt and remain the highest investor in the country from among the rest of the Arab world.[65] Pakistan has also been a major recipient of economic aid and relations have been extremely close since the founding of the federation. Pakistan had been first to formally recognize the UAE upon its formation and continues to be one of its major economic and trading partners with about 400,000 expatriates receiving employment in the UAE.[66][67] India’s large expat community in the UAE also has over the centuries evolved into current close political, economic and cultural ties. The largest demographic presence in the Emirates is Indian.[68] Like most countries in the region, the UAE and Iran dispute rights to a number of islands in the Persian Gulf but this has not significantly impacted relations because of the large Iranian community presence and strong economic ties.[69]

Following the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the UAE has maintained extensive relations with its allies for security and cooperation towards increasing interoperability of its defense forces and for liberating KuwaitFrance and the USA have played the most strategically significant roles with defense cooperation agreements and military material provision.[70] Most recently, these relations culminated in a joint nuclear deal for the US to supply the UAE with nuclear power equipment, technology and fuel. In turn, the UAE – a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT) signatory – has agreed to open its nuclear facilities to full international inspections and refrain from producing its own reactor fuel.

Commercially, the UK and Germany are the UAE’s largest export markets and bilateral relations have long been close as a large number of their nationals reside in the UAE.[71] [72]

Diplomatic relations between UAE and Japan were established as early as UAE’s independence in December 1971.[73] The two countries had always enjoyed friendly ties and trade between each other. Exports from the UAE to Japan include crude oil and natural gas and imports from Japan to UAE include cars and electric items.[73]

The UAE is pursuing a policy of peaceful settling of the region’s issues. The country supports the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state. At the second international conference to support the Palestinian economy and reconstruction of Gaza strip, which was held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, the UAE said it would continue to offer political, economic and humanitarian support to the Palestinian cause. The UAE has provided over US$3 billion in aid to the Palestinians, including development funds for infrastructure, housing, hospital and school projects. In addition, the country donated US$174 million towards reconstruction in Gaza. The UAE has been an active supporter of the Iraqi Government in its efforts to draw up a comprehensive political formula to enable the country to achieve security and stability. It has one of the few functioning Arab embassies and resident ambassadors in Baghdad, and has canceled debts worth about US$7 billion to support Iraq’s reconstruction efforts. The UAE continues to contribute constructively to the international efforts aimed at stabilizing Afghanistan and supporting its bid to restore security. As part of its humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan, it provided US$550 million between 2002 and 2008. The UAE is the only Arab country performing humanitarian activities on the ground in Afghanistan.

One major diplomatic success for the UAE during 2009, which also reflected its growing international status, came with Abu Dhabi being chosen to host the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). This is one of the few times that a developing country has had the opportunity to host the headquarters of a major international organization.[74]

Foreign aid

The UAE has continuously been a major contributor of emergency relief to regions affected by conflict and natural disasters in the developing world.[69] The main UAE governmental agency for foreign aid is the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) which was established in 1971. Since its establishment, the ADFD has provided over Dh12.6 billion (US$3.45 billion) in soft loans and grants to countries mainly in Africa.[75] Since 1971, these have accounted for a further Dh10 billion (US$2.7 billion), bringing the total amount of the loans, grants and investments provided by the fund or the Abu Dhabi government, and managed by the fund, to around Dh24 billion (US$6.5 billion), covering 258 different projects in a total of 52 countries.[76]

In November 2008, the Abu Dhabi Fund announced a long term loan of around US$278 million for rehabilitation of agricultural land in the state of Uzbekistan.[77] Between 1994 to mid-2008, for example, around Dh15.4 billion (US$4.2 billion) has been provided for the Palestinians, including, most recently, US$300 million pledged at a donor conference in Paris and an annual commitment of US$43 million to support the Palestine National Authority.[78]

The UAE has also used the Red Crescent authority and charities such as Dubai Cares and Noor Dubai to donate aid to foreign countries.

Political divisions

The United Arab Emirates is divided into seven emirates. Abu Dhabi is the most populated Emirate with 38% of the UAE population. The Emirate of Dubai has a further 30%, so over two-thirds of the UAE population live in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

Abu Dhabi has an area of 67,340 square kilometres, which is 86.7% of the country’s total area, excluding the islands. It has a coastline extending for more than 400 kilometres and is divided for administrative purposes into three major regions. The Emirate of Dubai extends along the Persian Gulf coast of the UAE for approximately 72 kilometres. Dubai has an area of 3,885 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 5 per cent of the country’s total area, excluding the islands. The Emirate of Sharjah extends along approximately 16 kilometers of the UAE’s Persian Gulf coastline and for more than 80 kilometers into the interior. The northern emirates which includeFujairahAjmanRas al-Khaimah, and Umm al-Qaiwain all have a total area of 3,881 square kilometres. There are two areas under joint control. One is jointly controlled by Oman and Ajman, the other by Fujairah andSharjah.

There is an Omani exclave surrounded by UAE territory, known as Wadi Madha. It is located halfway between the Musandam peninsula and the rest of Oman in the Emirate of Sharjah. It covers approximately 75 square kilometres (29 sq mi) and the boundary was settled in 1589. The north-east corner of Madha is closest to the Khor FakkanFujairah road, barely 10 metres (33 ft) away. Within the Omani exclave of Madha, is a UAEexclave called Nahwa, also belonging to the Emirate of Sharjah. It is about 8 kilometres (5 mi) on a dirt track west of the town of New Madha. It consists of about forty houses with its own clinic and telephone exchange.

UAE en-map.png

About this image


Historical populations
Year Pop.  %±
1963 95,000
1968 180,226 89.7%
1975 557,887 209.5%
1980 1,042,099 86.8%
1985 1,379,303 32.4%
1995 2,411,041 74.8%
1999 2,938,000 21.9%
2003 4,041,000 37.5%
2009 5,671,112 40.3%
The United Arab Emirates first conducted a census in 1968. All population figures in this table prior to 1968 are estimates obtained from various sources.
Ethnicity (1982)
South Asian 50%
Emirati 19%
Other Arabs & Iranians 23%
Others (including Europeans & East Asians) 8%
Source: CIA[2]

In 2010, the UAE’s population was estimated at 4,975,593,[82] of which less than 20% were UAE nationals or Emiratis,[83]while the majority of the population were expatriates.[84] The country’s net migration rate stands at 21.71, the world’s highest.[85]

23% of the population are non-Emirati Arabs and Iranians and the majority of the population, about 50%, is from India.[2]Approximately 1.75 million Indian nationals reside in the UAE, making them the single largest expatriate community in the country and majority too[citation needed].However by 2020 emiratis are projected to form 10% of the population, overtaken mostly by Indians. There is also a growing presence of Europeans especially in multi-cultural cities like Dubai.Expat numbers rise rapidly as UAE population touches 6m</ref> Those from other parts of Asia (including the Philippines, Iran or Sri Lanka) comprised up to 1 million people. The rest of the population were from other Arab states.[2][86]

Thousands of Palestinians, who came as either political refugees or temporary employment, also live in the United Arab Emirates. There is also a sizable population of people from Egypt, Somalia and Sudan who migrated to the UAE before its formation. The UAE has also attracted a small number of expatriates from countries in EuropeNorth AmericaAsia, and Oceania.[87] More than 100,000 British nationals live in the country.[88]

The population of the UAE has a skewed sex distribution consisting of more than twice as many males as females. The 15–65 age group has a male/female sex ratio of 2.743. The UAE’s gender imbalance is only surpassed by other Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region.[89]

The most populated city is Dubai, with approximately 1.7 million people. Other major cities include Abu DhabiAl-AinSharjah, and Fujairah. About 88% of the population of the United Arab Emirates is urban.[90] The remaining inhabitants live in tiny towns scattered throughout the country or in the many desert oilfield camps in the nation.

The average life expectancy is 75 years, higher than any other Arab country.[91]

Largest cities of the United Arab Emirates
2008 Calculation
Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi
Rank City Name Emirate Pop. Sharjah
Al Ain
Al Ain
1 Dubai Dubai 1,770,533
2 Abu Dhabi Abu Dhabi 896,751
3 Sharjah Sharjah 845,617
4 Al Ain Abu Dhabi 374,000
5 Ajman Ajman 372,923
6 Ras Al Khaimah Ras al Khaimah 171,903
7 Fujairah Fujairah 107,940
8 Um Al Quwain Um Al Quwain 69,936
9 Khor Fakkan Sharjah 49,635
10 Dibba Fujairah 30,000


Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the largest mosques in the world.

Islam is largest and the official state religion of the UAE, though the government follows a policy of tolerance toward other religions and rarely interferes in the activities of non-Muslims.[92]

However, it is illegal in the UAE to spread the ideas of any religion apart from Islam through any form of media as it is considered a form of proselytizing. There are approximately 31churches throughout the country and one Hindu temple in the region of Bur Dubai.[93]

Based on the Ministry of Economy census in 2005, 76% of the total population was Muslim, 9% Christian, and 15% other (mainly Hindu and Buddhist).[92] Census figures do not take into account the many “temporary” visitors and workers while also counting Baha’is and Druze as Muslim.[92] Non-Islamic religions are mainly followed by foreigners or expatriates. As the majority of the population are non-citizens, of the citizens 85% are Sunni Muslim while 15% are Shi’a Muslims.[92] Omani immigrants are mostly Ibadi, while Sufi influences exist too.[94]


Literacy Rate
Year Rate
1989 53.5%
2000 79%
2003 77.9%
2009 98.8%[citation needed]
The illiteracy rate is mainly in the adult population, as a large majority of the population is foreign labourers.

The education system through secondary level is monitored by the Ministry of Education. It consists of primary schoolsmiddle schools and high schools. The public schools are government-funded and the curriculum is created to match the United Arab Emirates development’s goals and values. The medium of instruction in the public school is Arabic with emphasis on English as a second language. There are also many private schools which are internationally accredited. Public schools in the country are free for citizens of the UAE, while the fees for private schools vary.[97]

There has been significant improvement in private education across the UAE. This is particularly important given the fact that a relatively high percentage of students in the Emirates are enrolled in private schools: in Dubai 50% of all students are in private schools, while the number for Abu Dhabi stands at around 40%.

Many private international schools in the UAE are accredited by international bodies and there are currently 17 International Baccalaureate schools operating in the country, all of which have obtained approval from the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva to run their programs.

Reforms to special education are under way across the country. In 2006, the Cabinet passed the UAE Disabilities Act, a comprehensive law that requires public and private schools to provide equal access to all children. The law was subsequently amended in 2009 to replace references to disability with the phrase “special needs”.

The higher education system is monitored by the Ministry of Higher Education. The ministry also is responsible for admitting students to its undergraduate institutions.[98]

A recent survey showed that the illiteracy rate is on the decline in the UAE, and is now in the region of 7%. This is mainly due to programmes that combat illiteracy amongst the adult population. Currently there are thousands of nationals pursuing formal learning at 86 adult education centres spread across the country.[99]

In fall 2009, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) opened its doors to its first class of graduate students. The Dubai School of Government (DSG), a research and teaching institution focusing on good governance and public policy in the Middle East, launched its first masters program also in 2009. A number of foreign universities, from the Paris Sorbonne to Michigan State University, have opened campuses in the UAE. In February 2008, a branch of the New York Film Academy opened in Abu Dhabi; it will launch its first bachelor’s degree program in 2010. In fall 2010 the opening of the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University will mark a new milestone. INSEAD, one of the world’s largest graduate business schools, has been operating a Middle East campus in Abu Dhabi since 2007, and now runs seven executive-education programs.

The Government has launched many programs and initiatives to improve the quality of education at schools across the country.

The UAE has shown a strong interest in improving education and research. Enterprises include the establishment of the CERT Research Centers and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and institute for enterprise development.[100]


Dubai Healthcare City is a specifically designated city for clinical and wellness services, medical education and research launched by the government to attract global companies to the city

Standards of healthcare are considered to be generally high in the United Arab Emirates, resulting from increased government spending during strong economic years. According to the UAE government, total expenditures on healthcare from 1996 to 2003 were US$436 million. According to the World Health Organization, in 2006 total expenditures on health care constituted 2.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and the per capita expenditure for health care was US$673. General government expenditure on health as percentage of total government expenditure is 8.7% and Health care currently is free only for UAE citizens, with a health insurance scheme in place for those working the Emirates. Hospital beds (per 10 000 population) was 18 in 2005. The number of doctors per 100,000 (annual average, 1990–2005) was 17 and dentistry personnel (per 100 000 population) was 30 in 2002. The pharmaceutical personnel (per 100 000 population) was 40.

The life expectancy at birth in the UAE is at 78.5 years.[91] According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, the UAE is ranked fourth in the world in terms of health care.

In February 2008, the Ministry of Health unveiled a five-year health strategy for the public health sector in the northern emirates, which fall under its purview and which, unlike Abu Dhabi and Dubai, do not have separate healthcare authorities. The strategy focuses on unifying healthcare policy and improving access to healthcare services at reasonable cost, at the same time reducing dependence on overseas treatment. The ministry plans to add three hospitals to the current 14, and 29 primary healthcare centres to the current 86. Nine were scheduled to open in 2008.[101]

The introduction of mandatory health insurance in Abu Dhabi for expatriates and their dependents was a major driver in reform of healthcare policy. Abu Dhabi nationals were brought under the scheme from 1 June 2008 and Dubai followed for its government employees. Eventually, under federal law, every Emirati and expatriate in the country will be covered by compulsory health insurance under a unified mandatory scheme.[102] Recently the country has been benefiting from medical tourists from all over the GCC. The UAE currently attracts medical tourists seeking plastic surgery and advanced procedures, cardiac and spinal surgery, and dental treatment, as health services have higher standards than other Persian Gulf countries.[103]

Cardiovascular disease is the principal cause of death in the UAE, constituting 28 percent of total deaths; other major causes are accidents and injuriesmalignancies, and congenital anomalies.[104] Diabetes and Cancer are also the main causes of death in the country, and statistics have indicated that UAE has the highest rate of Diabetes in the world.


Economic indicators
Unemployment 4%May 2009 [note 1]
GDP growth – 4.0%2009 [105]
CPI inflation 1.9%April 2008 – April 2009 [106]
National debt $142 billionJune 18, 2009 [107]

The UAE has an open economy with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world and a sizable annual trade surplus. In 2009, its GDP, as measured by purchasing power parity, stood at US$400.4 billion.[108] The GDP per capita is currently the third in the world and second in the Middle East, after Qatar and Kuwait as measured by the CIA World Factbook, or the 17th in the world as measured by the International Monetary Fund.

With almost $1 trillion in foreign invested assets, some[citation needed] argue the UAE to be the richest, with the highest average income in the world. Over half of this money is generated by the nation’s capital; Abu Dhabi. With a population of just under 900,000 Abu Dhabi was labeled “The richest city in the world” by a CNNarticle[citation needed].

UAE’s economy, particularly that of Dubai, was badly hit by the financial crisis of 2007–2010.[109] In 2009, the country’s economy shrank by 4.00 percent, but UAE’s overseas investments are expected to support its full economic recovery.[105] However, concern remains about the property sector. Property prices in Dubai fell dramatically when Dubai World, the government construction company, sought to delay a debt payment.[110] The ability to service debt remains a problem.[111]

Petroleum and natural gas exports play an important role in the economy, especially in Abu Dhabi. More than 85% of the UAE’s economy was based on the exports of natural resources in 2009.[112][113]

A massive construction boom, an expanding manufacturing base, and a thriving services sector are helping the UAE diversify its economy.[citation needed] Nationwide, there is currently $350 billion worth of active constructionprojects. Aluminum, steel, iron and other forms of metal exports along with textile produce much a significant amount of income and are expected to surpass the income brought in by petroleum and natural gas exports within the next 40 to 60 years.[citation needed] Government projects include the Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s tallest building, Dubai World Central International Airport which, when completed, will be the most expensive airportever built, and the three Palm Islands, the largest artificial islands in the world. Other projects include the Dubai Mall which is the world’s largest shopping mall, and a man-made archipelago called The World which seeks to increase Dubai’s rapidly growing tourism industry. Also in the entertainment sector is the construction of Dubailand, which is expected to be twice the size of Disney World, and of Dubai Sports City which will not only provide homes for local sports teams but may be part of future Olympic bids. However, this is concern that this construction boom has been built on debt and speculation, with little creation of true economic value.

Major increases in imports occurred in manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment, which together accounted for 80% of total imports. Another important foreign exchange earner, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – which controls the investments of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest emirate – manages an estimated $360 billion in overseas investments & an estimated $900 billion in assets.

More than 200 factories operate at the Jebel Ali complex in Dubai, which includes a deep-water port and a free trade zone for manufacturing and distribution in which all goods for re-export or transshipment enjoy a 100% duty exemption. A major power plant with associated water desalination units, an aluminium smelter, and a steel fabrication unit are prominent facilities in the complex. The complex is currently undergoing expansion, with sections of land set aside for different sectors of industry. A large international passenger and cargo airport, Dubai World Central International Airport, with associated logistics, manufacturing and hospitality industries, is also planned here.

Emirati exports in 2006

Except in the free trade zones, the UAE requires at least 51% local citizen ownership in all businesses operating in the country as part of its attempt to place Emiratis into leadership positions. However, this law is under review and the majority ownership clause will very likely be scrapped in order to bring the country into line with World Trade Organisation regulations.

As a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the UAE participates in the wide range of GCC activities that focus on economic issues. These include regular consultations and development of common policies covering trade, investment, banking and finance, transportation, telecommunications, and other technical areas, including protection of intellectual property rights.

The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Emirati Dirham.


Image of Dubai's roads
A highway interchange in Dubai
Jebel Ali Port in Dubai
Jebel Ali Port is the largest port in the Middle East, and the seventh busiest in the world
Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport
Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport is the single largest building in the world by floor space[114] and has increased the total capacity of the airport to 60 million passengers per year
Dubai Metro on its opening day
The Red Line on the Dubai Metro. The Dubai Metro is the first urban train network in the Arabian Peninsula.[115]
The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
The Etisalat Tower in Dubai. Based in Abu Dhabi, Etisalat is the14th largest mobile network operator in the world, with a total customer base of 100 million.[116]
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest man-made structure in the world.

The UAE has been spending billions of dollars on infrastructure and is the biggest projects market in the region, accounting for 37 percent of total project value within the construction, oil and gas, petrochemicals, power and water and waste sectors. Many huge investments have been poured into real estatetourism and leisure. These developments are particularly evident in the larger emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In the former, Masdar City and Saadiyat Island highlight the status as an emerging market. Dubai World Central, a 140-square kilometre multi-phase development under construction near Jebel Ali, will create 900,000 jobs, and will include Al Maktoum International Airport, which will be the largest airport in the world by 2020. Property developer Emaar’s Burj Khalifa is a Dh3.67 billion (US$1billion) tower that is the world’s tallest skyscraper.

Governments in the northern emirates are rapidly following suit, providing major incentives for developers of residential and commercial property.[117] In addition, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has allocated Dh16 billion (US$4.4 billion) for infrastructure projects in the northern emirates. The allocation will be used to fund the construction of road networks, new housing communities, drainage networks and other projects, providing integrated solutions to some infrastructure deficits in these areas.[118]

The United Arab Emirates has an extensive road network that connects all major cities and towns. Roads in the western and southern regions are still relatively undeveloped. Those are highly dangerous roads passing through desert regions and many are still unsealed, gravel roads. This has resulted in the continued use of airplanes as the main or alternative mode of transportation for the residents.[119]

There are seaports throughout the country. The major ports are Port Jebel AliPort Rashid, Port Khalid, Port Saeed, Port Khor Fakkan, and Port Zayed.[120]

The UAE contains a number of significant airports. Dubai International Airport (DXB) is the main airport of the country. In 2008, the airport was the 20th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic and 11th busiest by cargo traffic. The airport also was the 6th busiest airport in the world by international passenger traffic.[121] Other important airports include Abu Dhabi International AirportSharjah International Airport, and Al-Ain International Airport. There are also airports in smaller towns, as well as small domestic airstrips in the rural Western region. There are daily flight services between West and East UAE, which is the only convenient option for passengers travelling between the two parts of the country to places such as Sir Bani Yas.[122] The UAE is home to the largest airline in the Middle EastEmirates Airline. It has Dubai as its hub, and flies to over 100 destinations across six continents. The airline was the eighth-largest airline in the world in terms of international passengers carried,[123] and fifth-largest[124] in the world in terms of scheduled international passenger-kilometres flown in 2008. Etihad Airways, from Abu Dhabi, is also growing, with over 100 aircraft on order.

The Dh15.5 billion (US$4.2 billion) Dubai Metro project includes a 52-kilometre Red Line viaduct, which stretches the length of Sheikh Zayed Road between Al Rashidiya and Jebel Aliand was opened in September 2009 after round-the-clock work for three years. The Red Line when fully complete will carry an estimated 27,000 passengers per hour in each direction on 42 trains.[125] Work also on the Green Line, which will link Al Qusais to Dubai Healthcare City, began in 2006 and is scheduled for completion in late 2010.[126] In Abu Dhabi plans are underway for all a metro system and also a country-wide national railway, which will connect all the major cities and is later to connect to the GCC wide network.[127] The cost for the railway will be between Dh25bn and Dh30bn, and will be a total length of 1,100 kilometres, connecting Ghuwaifat, bordering the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in the west and the border with the Sultanate of Oman in the east.[128]

The Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) is the body responsible for overseeing federal utilities, whilst authorities in individual emirates, including Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA) and Sharjah Water and Electricity Authority (SEWA), oversee power and water generation in their individual emirates. The UAE plans to build 68 rechargeable dams in the coming five years to augment the 114 dams in existence, all but two of which are rechargeable, to help with providing for the growing population.

The UAE is also planning to develop a peaceful nuclear energy programme to generate electricity. So far, the UAE has signed peaceful nuclear agreements with FranceUnited States, and South Korea, and a MOU with the United Kingdom.[129]

The UAE is presently serviced by two telecommunications operators, Etisalat and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company (“du”). Etisalat operated a monopoly until du launched mobile services in February 2007.[130] However, Etisalat, with over 80 per cent of the market, remains the UAE’s biggest telecom provider and is expanding dramatically internationally and is now the sixteenth largest telecommunications firm in the world.[131] Du is targeting a 30 per cent market share by 2010. Between 2002 and 2007, the number ofmobile phone subscribers in the UAE grew by an annual average of 25.6 per cent, almost four times its population growth. Forecasts indicate that the UAE mobile market will increase from 7.7 million subscribers in 2007 to 9.2 million in 2008 and to 11.9 million by 2012.[132]

Current UAE internet penetration figures assume 2.4 users per subscription. TRA projections indicate that over the next few years growth in both users and subscriptions will be coupled with a fall in the number of users per subscription: the number of subscribers are expected to increase from 0.904 million in 2007 to 1.15 million in 2008, 1.44 million in 2009 and 2.66 million in 2012.[133] Internet use is extensive; by 2007 there were 1.7 million users.[134] The authorities filter websites for religious, political and sexual content.[135]


Nuvola UAE flag.svg
Life in the UAE
Human rights

A traditional souk in DeiraDubai

The United Arab Emirates has a diverse and multicultural society.[136] The country’s cultural imprint as a small, ethnically homogenous pearling community was changed with the arrival of other ethnic groups and nationals—first by the Iranians in the early 1900s, and later by Indians and Pakistanis in the 1960s. Dubai has been criticized for perpetuating a class-based society, where migrant workers are in the lower classes.[137] Despite the diversity of the population, only minor and infrequent episodes of ethnic tensions have been reported in the city. Major holidays in Dubai include Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and National Day (2 December), which marks the formation of the United Arab Emirates.[138]

Emirati culture mainly revolves around the religion of Islam and traditional Arab, and Bedouin culture. The influence of Islamic and Arab culture on the region’s architecturemusicattire,cuisine and lifestyle are very prominent as well. Five times every day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques which are scattered around the country.[139] Since 2006, the weekend has been Friday-Saturday, as a compromise between Friday’s holiness to Muslims and the Western weekend of Saturday-Sunday.[140]

This unique socioeconomic development in the Persian Gulf has meant that the UAE is relatively liberal. While Islam is the main religion, the UAE has been known for its tolerant practices. Christian churches can be found alongside mosques and this courtesy has seemingly been extended to Hinduism and Sikhism as there is a place tucked away inside a residential style building which houses a Hindu temple and a Sikh gurudwara. There is evidently no persecution of Hindus or Sikhs which is why it is home to several communities that have faced persecution elsewhere, who are now contributing to the cosmopolitan atmosphere. There are a variety of Asian-influenced schools, cultural centers and restaurants. Increasing numbers of European centers, schools, and restaurants can also be seen in the UAE.

Dress and etiquette

Most Emirati males prefer to wear a kandura, an ankle-length white tunic woven from wool or cotton, and most Emirati women wear an abaya, a black over-garment covering most parts of the body.[141] Western-style clothing is, however, dominant because of the large expatriate population, and this practice is beginning to grow in popularity among Emiratis.

Etiquette is an important aspect of UAE culture and tradition, to which visitors are expected to conform. Recently, many expatriates have disregarded the law and been arrested for indecent clothing at beaches.[142] Western-style dress is tolerated in appropriate places, such as bars or clubs, but the UAE has maintained a strict policy of protecting highly public spaces from cultural insensitivity. This is due, in large part, to the effects such practices are considered to have on the social integration and participation of a largely conservative Emirati population.


See also: Arab cuisine

The traditional food of the Emirates has always been rice, fish, and meat. The people of the United Arab Emirates have adopted most of their foods from the surrounding countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. Meat and rice are other staple foods; lamb and mutton are the more favored meats, then goat and beef. Popular beverages are coffee and tea, which can be supplemented with cardamom, saffron, or mint to give them a distinct flavor.[143]

Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so it is not included in local menus. Hotels frequently have pork substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labeled as such.

Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars (but not in Sharjah). All nightclubs and golf clubs are permitted to sell alcohol. Specific supermarkets may sell alcohol and pork, but these products are sold in separate sections.[144]

Traditional Emarati Tea

Dishes forming part of the Emarati cuisine:[145]

  • Machboos
  • Harees
  • Lukaimat
  • Batheeth
  • Khamir
  • Al-Madrooba
  • Al-Saloona (Curry)
  • Fareed

Literature and poetry

The main themes in Emarati poetry for Arab Poets range from satirechivalryself-praisepatriotismreligionfamily and love, and could range from descriptive to narrative.

The style and form of ancient poetry in the UAE was strongly influenced by the 8th-century Persian Gulf Arab scholar Al Khalil bin Ahmed, who followed sixteen metres. This form underwent slight modification (Al Muwashahat) during the period of Islamic civilization in Andalucia (Spain).

The earliest known poet in the UAE is Ibn Majid, who was born between 1432 and 1437 in Ras Al-Khaimah. Coming from a family of successful sailors, Ibn Majid’s oeuvre has a total of 40 surviving compositions, 39 of which are verses.

The greatest luminaries in the UAE literary realm during the 20th century, particularly for Classical Arabic poetry, were Mubarak Al Oqaili (1880–1954), Salem bin Ali al Owais (1887–1959) and Ahmed bin Sulayem (1905–1976). Three other poets from Sharjah, known as the Hirah group, also thrived during the 20th century including Khalfan Musabah (1923–1946), Sheikh Saqr Al Qasimi (1925–1993), an ex-ruler of Sharjah, and Sultan bin Ali al Owais (1925–2000). The Hirah group’s works are observed to have been heavily influenced by the Apollo and romantic poets.[146]

The meeting of classical Arabic poetry and media continued through the regionally highly successful television shows – Million’s Poet and The Prince of Poets – broadcast on Abu Dhabi TV and poetry TV channels. The Prince of Poets also won the International Broadcasting Award in London in the specialist genre TV category.

There are three annual book fairs in the UAE, the well-known Sharjah International Book Fair, the oldest and largest in the country, its Abu Dhabi counterpart and the newly launched Al-Ain Book Fair.

The UAE has a booming magazine and newspaper industry. the biggest selling English language magazine is Ahlan! magazine. The biggest selling English language newspaper is Gulf News.

Museums and art galleries

Many emirates have established museums of regional repute, most famously Sharjah with its Heritage District containing 17 museums,[147] which in 1998 was the Cultural Capital of the Arab World.[148] Abu Dhabi‘s cultural foundation is also an important place for the presentation of indigenous and foreign art. In Dubai, the area of Al Quoz has attracted a number of art galleries.[149]

Abu Dhabi has embarked on the path to become an art center of international caliber, by creating a culture district on Saadiyat Island. There, six grand projects are planned: the Sheikh Zayed National Museum by Foster + Partners, the modern art museum Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to be built by Frank Gehry, the classical museum Louvre Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel, a maritime museum by Tadao Ando, a Performing Arts Center by Zaha Hadid, and a Biennale Park with 16 pavilions.[150]

Dubai also plans to build a Kunsthal museum and a district for galleries and artists.[151]

2009 saw the UAE’s first pavilion at the Venice Biennale, one of the top cultural events in Europe. The pavilion was called ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ and was designed to offer a playful and provocative look at what has been described as the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event. This was the first occasion on which a country from the Persian Gulf has taken part in the Biennale.

Music, dance and cinema

The United Arab Emirates is a part of the khaliji tradition, and is also known for Bedouin folk music. Liwa is a type of music and dance performed mainly in communities which contain descendants of East Africans.[152] During celebrations singing and dancing also took place and many of the songs and dances, handed down from generation to generation, have survived to the present time. Young girls would dance by swinging their long black hair and swaying their bodies in time to the strong beat of the music. Men would re-enact battles fought or successful hunting expeditions, often symbolically using sticks, swords or rifles. Recently Emirati music has ventured into Hip Hop with Desert Heat becoming the first Emirati Hip Hop Group in the UAE. Releasing a hip hop album “when The Desert Speaks”. The Album is a fusion album of Arabian traditional music with modern Hip Hop Beats.

Hollywood movies are the most popular in the UAE. The UAE has an active music scene, with musicians Amr DiabDiana HaddadTarkanAerosmithSantanaMark KnopflerChristina AguileraElton JohnPinkShakira,Celine DionColdplayAhlam, and Phil Collins and a slew of Bollywood stars having performed in the country. Kylie Minogue was paid 4.4 million dollars to perform at the opening of the Atlantis resort on November 20, 2008.[153] The Dubai Desert Rock Festival is also another major festival consisting of heavy metal and rock artists.[154]

In 2009 the highly successful Abu Dhabi Classics series celebrated its second season by treating the Emirates Palace audience to the Middle Eastern debut of the New York Philharmonic with pieces by Beethoven and Mahler, as well as holding a concert inside the recently renovated Jahili Fort in Al-Ain.


Football is the national sport of the United Arab Emirates. Emirati Soccer clubs Al-AinAl-WaslAl-Shabbab ACDAl-SharjahAl-Wahda, and Al-Ahli are the most popular teams and enjoy the reputation of long-time regional champions.[155] The great rivalries keep the UAE energized as people fill the streets when their favorite team wins. The United Arab Emirates Football Association was first established in 1971 and since then has dedicated its time and effort to promoting the game, organizing youth programs and improving the abilities of not only its players, but of the officials and coaches involved with its regional teams. The UAE football team qualified for the World Cup in 1990—with Egypt it was the third consecutive World Cup with two Arab nations qualifying after Kuwait and Algeria in 1982 and Iraq and Algeria again in 1986.[156] The UAE also recently won the Gulf Cup Championship held in Abu Dhabi January 2007.[157]

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in the UAE, largely because of the expatriate population from the Indian subcontinent, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium in Sharjah has hosted 4 international Test matches so far.[158] Sheikh Zayed Stadium and Al Jazira Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi also hostinternational cricket matches. Dubai has two cricket stadiums (Dubai Cricket Ground No.1 and No.2) with a third, ‘S3’ currently under construction as part of Dubai Sports City. Dubai is also home to the International Cricket Council.[159] The United Arab Emirates national cricket team qualified for the 1996 Cricket World Cup and narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2007 Cricket World Cup.[160]

Other popular sports include camel racingfalconryendurance riding, and tennis.[161

Who said? Wikipedia said ;).


Written by Syafirul Ramli>>

April 26, 2011 at 10:57 AM

Posted in The Country

Saudi Arabia ;).

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Saudi Arabia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

المملكة العربية السعودية
al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya
Flag Emblem
Motto“لا إله إلا الله , محمد رسول الله ”
“There is no God but Allah: Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” (Shahada)[1]
AnthemAash Al Maleek
“Long live the King”
(and largest city)
24°39′N 46°46′E
Official language(s) Arabic
Spoken languages ArabicEnglish
Demonym Saudi, Saudi Arabian
Government Islamic absolute monarchy
 – King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
 – Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz
Legislature None – legislation by royal decree. (Consultative Assembly has no legislative powers.)
 – Kingdom founded 23 September 1932
 – Total 2,149,690 km2 (14th)
830,000 sq mi
 – Water (%) 0.7
 – 2010 estimate 27,136,977 (46th)
 – Density 12/km2 (215th)
31/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 – Total $618.744 billion[2]
 – Per capita $23,701.260[2]
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 – Total $438.009 billion[2]
 – Per capita $16,778.112[2]
HDI (2010) increase 0.752[3] (high) (55th)
Currency Saudi Riyal (SR) (SAR)
Time zone AST (UTC+3)
 – Summer (DST) (not observed) (UTC+3)
Drives on the Right
ISO 3166 code SA
Internet TLD .saالسعودية.
Calling code +966

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Arabic: المملكة العربية السعودية‎ Al Mamlaka al ʻArabiyya as Suʻūdiyya), commonly known as Saudi Arabia ( Listeni /ˌsdi əˈrbiə/ or Listeni /ˌsɔːdi əˈrbiə/Arabic: العربية السعودية‎‎ Al ʻArabiyya as Suʻūdiyya) is the third-largest country in the Middle East by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the third-largest Arab country. It is bordered by Jordan and Iraq on the north and northeast, KuwaitQatar and the United Arab Emirates on the east,Oman on the southeast, and Yemen on the south. It is also connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway. The Persian Gulf lies to the northeast and the Red Sea to its west. Saudi Arabia has an estimated population of 25.7 million of which 5.5 million are non-Saudis,[4] and its size is approximately 2,149,690 square kilometres (830,000 sq mi).

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded by Abdul-Aziz bin Saud (known in the West as Ibn Saud) in 1932, although the conquests which eventually led to the creation of the Kingdom began in 1902 when he captured Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the Al Saud. Saudi Arabia’s government takes the form of an Islamic absolute monarchy. The kingdom is sometimes called “The Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. The two mosques are Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca) and Masjid Al-Nabawi (in Medina).

Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest oil reserves and is the world’s largest oil exporter. Oil accounts for more than 90% of exports and nearly 75% of government revenues, facilitating the creation of a welfare state.[5][6] However, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly expressed concern about the state of human rights in the country.



Following the unification of the Kingdoms of Hejaz and Nejd, the new country was named المملكة العربية السعودية (transliterated as “al-Mamlaka al-ʻArabiyya as-Suʻūdiyya”) by royal decree on 23 September 1932 by its founder, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. This is normally translated as “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” in English,[7] although it literally means “the Saudi Arab Kingdom”.[8]

The word “Saudi” is derived from the element “as-Suʻūdiyya” in the Arabic name of the country, which is a type of adjective known as a nisba, formed from the King’s dynastic name of Al Saud (آل سعود) . Its inclusion indicated that the Kingdom was to be considered the possession of the royal family.[9] “Al Saud” is a type of Arabic name, known as a nisbat, formed by adding the word “Al” (not to be confused with the definite article “al-“) to the personal name of an ancestor. In the case of the Al Saud, this is the father of the dynasty’s 18th century founder, Muhammad bin Saud (Muhammad, son of Saud).[7]

For the etymology of ‘Arabia’, see Arabian Peninsula and Arab (etymology).


From the earliest times to the foundation of Saudi Arabia

The Ottoman Empire in 1914, including nominal and vassal Ottoman territories – the position in Arabia had largely been the same for the previous 400 years

In pre-Islamic Arabia, apart from a small number of urban trading settlements, such as Mecca and Medina, located in the Hejaz in the west of the peninsula, most of what was to become Saudi Arabia was populated by nomadic tribal societies or uninhabitable desert.[10] The Prophet of IslamMuhammad, was born in Mecca in about 570. In the early 7th century,Muhammad united the various tribes of the peninsula and created a single Islamic religious polity. Following his death in 632, his followers rapidly expanded the territory under Muslim rule beyond Arabia, conquering huge swathes of territory (from the Iberian Peninsula to India) in a matter of decades. In so doing, Arabia soon became a politically peripheral region of theIslamic world as the focus shifted to the more developed conquered lands.[11][12] From the 10th century to the early 20th century Mecca and Medina were under the control of a local Arab ruler known as the Sharif of Mecca, but at most times the Sharif owed allegiance to the ruler of one of the major Islamic empires based in BaghdadCairo or Istanbul. Most of the remainder of what became Saudi Arabia reverted to traditional tribal rule.[13][14]

In the 16th century, the Ottomans added the Red Sea and Persian Gulf coasts (the HejazAsir and Al Hasa) to their Empire and claimed suzerainty over the interior. The degree of control over these lands varied over the next four centuries with the fluctuating strength or weakness of the Empire’s central authority.[15] The emergence of what was to become the Saudi royal family, known as the Al Saud, began in Nejd in central Arabia in 1744, when Muhammad ibn Saud, founder of the dynasty, joined forces with the religious leader Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab,[16] the founder of the Wahhabi movement.[17] This alliance formed in the 18th century provided the ideological impetus to Saudi expansion and remains the basis of Saudi Arabian dynastic rule today.[13][18] The first ‘Saudi State’ established in 1744 in the area around Riyadh, rapidly expanded and briefly controlled most of the present-day territory of Saudi Arabia,[19] but was destroyed by 1818 by the Ottoman viceroy of EgyptMohammed Ali Pasha.[13][18] A much smaller second ‘Saudi state’, located mainly in Nejd, was established in 1824. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, the Al Saud contested control of the interior of what was to become Saudi Arabia with another Arabian ruling family, the Al Rashid. By 1891, the Al Rashid were victorious and the Al Saud were driven into exile.[13][13][18][20]

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire continued to control or have suzerainty (albeit nominal) over most of the peninsula. Subject to this suzerainty, Arabia was ruled by a patchwork of tribal rulers (including the Al Saud who had returned from exile in 1902) with the Sharif of Mecca having pre-eminence and ruling the Hejaz.[13][15][21] In 1916, with the encouragement and support of Britain (which was fighting the Ottomans in the First World War), the Sharif of MeccaHussein bin Ali, led a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire to create a united Arab state.[13][22] Although the Arab Revolt of 1916 to 1918 failed in its objective, Arabia was freed from Ottoman suzerainty and control by the latter’s defeat in the First World War.[22]

Arabia about 1923. Expandable map:Abdul Aziz’s domain is in blue with dates of conquest. The Kingdom of the Hejaz, conquered in 1925, is in light green. (The other Hashemitekingdoms of Iraq and Transjordan are also in shades of green)

In 1902, Abdul-Aziz bin Saud, leader of the Al Saud, had seized Riyadh in Nejd from the Al Rashid – the first of a series of conquests ultimately leading to the creation of the modern state of Saudi Arabia in 1932. The main weapon for achieving these conquests was the Ikhwan, the WahhabistBedouin tribal army led by Sultan Bin Najad Al Otaibi and Faisal al-Dwaish.[20][23][24] From the Saudi core in Nejd, and aided by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, the Ikhwan had completed the conquest of the territory that was to become Saudi Arabia by the end of 1925. On 10 January 1926 Abdul-Aziz declared himself King of the Hejaz and, then, on 27 January 1927 he took the title of King ofNejd (his previous title having been ‘Sultan’). After the conquest of the Hejaz, the Ikhwan leaders wanted to continue the expansion of the Wahhabist realm into the British protectorates of TransjordanIraq and Kuwait, performing several Ikhwan raids. Abdul-Aziz, however, refused to agree to this, recognizing the danger of a direct conflict with the British. The Ikhwan therefore revolted but were defeated in the Battle of Sabilla in 1930, where the Ikhwan leadership were massacred.[25]

In 1932, the two kingdoms of the Hejaz and Nejd were united as the ‘Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’.[20][23]

From the foundation of the State to the present

Abdul Aziz bin Saud first king of Saudi Arabia

Abdul Aziz’s military and political successes were not mirrored economically until vast reserves of oil were discovered in 1938 in the Al-Hasa region along the coast of the Persian Gulf. Development began in 1941 and by 1949 production was in full swing. Oil has provided Saudi Arabia with economic prosperity and a great deal of political leverage in the international community. The sudden wealth from increased production was a mixed blessing. Cultural life rapidly developed, primarily in the Hejaz, which was the centre for newspapers and radio, but the large influx of foreigners increased the pre-existing propensity for xenophobia. At the same time, the government became increasingly wasteful and lavish. Despite the new wealth, extravagant spending led to governmental deficits and excessive foreign borrowing in the 1950s.[14][26][27]

King Saud succeeded to the throne on his father’s death in 1953. However, by the early 1960s an intense rivalry between the King and his half-brother, Prince Faisal emerged, fueled by doubts in the royal family over Saud’s competence. As a consequence, Saud was deposed in favor of Faisal in 1964. The major event of King Faisal’s reign was the 1973 Oil Crisis, when Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab oil producers, tried to put pressure on the US to withdraw support from Israel through an oil embargo. Faisal was assassinated in 1975 by his nephew, Prince Faisal bin Musa’id.[14]

Faisal was succeeded by his half-brother King Khalid during whose reign economic and social development continued at an extremely rapid rate, revolutionizing the infrastructure and educational system of the country; in foreign policy, close ties with the US were developed. In 1979, two events occurred which the Al Saud perceived as threatening the regime, and had a long-term influence on Saudi foreign and domestic policy. The first was the Iranian Islamic revolution. It was feared that the country’s Shi’ite minority in the Eastern Province (which is also the location of the oil fields) might rebel under the influence of their Iranian co-religionists. In fact, there were several anti-government riots in the region in 1979 and 1980. The second event, was the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist extremists. The militants involved were in part angered by what they considered to be the corruption and un-Islamic nature of the Saudi regime. Part of the response of the royal family was to enforce a much stricter observance of Islamic and traditional Saudi norms in the country (for example, the closure of cinemas) and to give the Ulema a greater role in government. Neither entirely succeeded as Islamism continued to grow in strength.[14][26][27][28]

Desert Storm, the 1991 liberation of Kuwait, was launched from Saudi territory and Saudi forces participated in the operation

Khalid was succeeded by his brother King Fahd in 1982, who maintained Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy of close cooperation with the United States and increased purchases of sophisticated military equipment from the United States and Britain. In the 1970s and ’80s, the country had become the largest oil producer in the world. Oil revenues were crucial to Saudi society as its economy was changed by the extraordinary wealth it generated and which was channeled through the government. Urbanization, mass public education, the presence of numerous foreign workers, and access to new media all affected the Saudi population and their values. While society changed profoundly, political processes did not. Real power continued to be held almost exclusively by the royal family, leading to discontent among many Saudis who began to look for wider participation in government.[14]

Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 Saudi Arabia joined the anti-Iraq Coalition and King Fahd, fearing an attack from Iraq, invited American and Coalition soldiers to be stationed in Saudi Arabia. This action was one of the issues that has led to an increase in Islamic terrorism in Saudi Arabia, as well asIslamic terrorist attacks in Western countries by Saudi nationals – the 9/11 attacks in New York being the most prominent example. But also many Saudis who did not support the Islamist terrorists were deeply unhappy with the government stance.[29]

Islamism was not the only source of hostility to the regime. Although now extremely wealthy, the country’s economy was near stagnant, which, combined with a growth in unemployment, contributed to disquiet in the country, and was reflected in a subsequent rise in civil unrest, and discontent with the royal family. In response, a number of limited ‘reforms’ were initiated (such as the Basic Law). However, the royal family’s dilemma was to respond to dissent while making as few actual changes in the status quo as possible. Fahd made it clear that he did not have democracy in mind: “A system based on elections is not consistent with our Islamic creed, which [approves of] government by consultation [shūrā].”[14]

In 1995, Fahd suffered a debilitating stroke and the Crown Prince, Prince Abdullah assumed day-to-day responsibility for the government, albeit his authority was hindered by conflict with Fahd’s full brothers, the Sudairi ‘clan’Abdullah continued the policy of mild reform and greater openness, but in addition, adopted a foreign policy distancing the kingdom from the US. In 2003, Saudi Arabia refused to support the US and its allies in theinvasion of Iraq.[14] However, terrorist activity increased dramatically in 2003, with the Riyadh compound bombings and other attacks, which prompted the government to take much more stringent action against terrorism.[28]

In 2005, King Fahd died and his half-brother, Abdullah ascended to the throne. The king subsequently introduced a new program of moderate reform. The country’s continued reliance on oil revenue was of particular concern, and among the economic reforms he introduced were limited deregulation, foreign investment, and privatization. He has taken much more vigorous action to deal with the origins of Islamic terrorism, and has ordered the use of force for the first time by the security services against some extremists. In February 2009, Abdullah introduced a series of governmental changes to the judiciary, armed forces, and various ministries to modernize these institutions. Notable among his decisions were the replacement of senior individuals within the judiciary and the Mutaween (religious police) with more moderate candidates and the appointment of the country’s first female deputy minister.[14][30]

In early 2011, King Abdullah indicated his opposition to the protests and revolutions affecting the Arab world by giving asylum to deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and by telephoning President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (prior to his deposition) to offer his support.[31] Saudi Arabia has also been affected by its own protests.[32] In response, King Abdullah announced a series of benefits for citizens amounting to $10.7 billion. These included funding to offset high inflation and to aid young unemployed people and Saudi citizens studying abroad, as well the writing off some loans. State employees will see their incomes increase by 15 per cent, and additional cash has also been made available for housing loans. No political reforms were announced as part of the package, though some prisoners indicted for financial crimes were pardoned.[33]


Government and political process

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, although, according to the Basic Law of Government adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (that is, Islamic law) and the Qur’an. No political parties or national elections are permitted and according to The Economist‘s 2010 Democracy Index, the Saudi government is the seventh most authoritarian regime from among the 167 countries rated.[9][34]

Monarchy and royal family

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

The Basic Law specifies that the king must be chosen from among the sons and grandsons of the first king, Abdul Aziz Al Saud and the succession to the throne is determined by the royal family, with the subsequent approval of religious leaders (the ulema). In 2007, an “Allegiance Commission”, comprising Abdul Aziz’s surviving sons plus grandsons or great-grandsons representing each branch of his descendants, was established as the representative body of the royal family to choose the heir apparent (the Crown Prince).[9]

The king combines legislative, executive, and judicial functions and royal decrees form the basis of the country’s legislation. The king is also the prime minister, and presides over the Council of Ministers (Majlis al-Wuzarāʾ), which comprises the first and second deputy prime ministers (usually the first and second in line to the throne respectively) and 22 ministers with portfolio and seven ministers of state, two of whom have special responsibilities. The king makes appointments to and dismissals from the Council, which is responsible for such executive and administrative matters as foreign and domestic policy, defense, finance, health, and education, administered through numerous separate agencies. A 150-member Consultative Assembly, appointed by the King, although not a legislature can propose legislation to the King.[9][35][36][37]

Although, in theory, the country is an absolute monarchy, in practice major policy decisions are made outside these formal governmental structures and not solely by the king. Decisions are made by establishing a consensus within the royal family (comprising the numerous descendants of the kingdom’s founder, Abdul Aziz). In addition, the views of important members of theUlema (religious scholars), leading tribal sheikhs, and heads of prominent commercial families are considered. Participation in the political process is, therefore, restricted to a relatively small number of individuals and the Saudi public as a whole is not permitted to participate, nor is it reported by the Saudi media. However, all males of full age have the theoretical right to petition the King directly through the traditional tribal meeting known as a ‘diwan’. In many ways the approach to government differs little from the traditional system of tribal rule.[9]

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador to the US, and son of Crown Prince Sultan. Commenting on allegations of royal corruption, Prince Bandar said : “If you tell me that building this whole country … out of $400bn, that we misused, or got, $50bn, I’ll tell you, ‘Yes. So what?’.”[38]

The royal family dominates government and politics in Saudi Arabia. The family’s vast numbers allow it to control most of the kingdom’s important posts and to have an involvement and presence at all levels of government.[39][40] Though some have put the family’s numbers as high as 25,000,[41] most estimates place their numbers in the region of 7,000,[42] with most power and influence being wielded by the 200 or so male descendants of King Abdul Aziz.[43] The key ministries are generally reserved for the royal family, as are most of the thirteen regional governorships. Long term political and government appointments, such as those of King Abdullah, who had been Commander of the National Guard since 1963 (until 2010, when he appointed his son to replace him), Crown Prince Sultan, Minister of Defence & Aviation since 1962, Prince Nayef who has been the Minister of Interior since 1975, Prince Saud who has been Minister of Foreign Affairs since 1975 and Prince Salman, who has been Governor of the Riyadh Region since 1962, have resulted in the creation of fiefdoms where senior princes have, it is reported, often co-mingled their personal wealth with that of their respective domains.[7][44][44][45][45][46][47]

The government of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi royal family have been subject over many years to frequent allegations of extensive and systemic corruption originating, in part, from a lack of distinction between the personal interests and wealth of the royal family and that of the Saudi state. In large part, the Al Saud have regarded the state as ‘family property’ – ‘Saudi Arabia’, after all, having been named for the family.[46][47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54] Transparency International in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010 gave Saudi Arabia a score of 4.7 (on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is “highly corrupt” and 10 is “highly clean”).[55]

The most widely reported example of Saudi royal family corruption relates to the Al-Yamamah arms deal. In 2003 and 2004, the British newspaper The Guardian and the BBC respectively claimed that BAE Systems had engaged in the payment of bribes to members of the Saudi royal family in relation to its ‘Al-Yamamah’ contract.[56][57] These allegations ultimately led to separate investigations by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office and the United States Department of Justice.[58][59] Although the UK investigation was halted following Saudi political pressure,[60][61][62] the US investigation resulted in BAE Systems being fined $400 million under a plea bargain arrangement in March 2010.[63]

King Abdullah, since his accession in 2005, has attempted to modernise and reform the Saudi government by making significant personnel changes in government (including making the first appointment of a woman to a ministerial post[64]) and seemingly adopting a more open approach.[30] This has, reportedly, been opposed by the Sudairi faction in the royal family.[65][66] However, the changes have been criticized as being too slow or merely cosmetic.[67] The question of reform remains a significant issue within the royal family and it is reported that it continues to play a major part in the internal politics of the succession.[66]

Political role of the Ulema and the Al ash-Sheikh

According to the Saudi Ministry of Information, because Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state, “it is … inevitable that the Ulema should play a key role within the Kingdom. They play an influential part in [a number of] fields of government”. These include the judicial system (the Ulema being the interpreters and dispensers of Sharia law), education and scientific research (through control of the education system and the Ministry of Education).[68]

The ulema, the religious and clerical leadership, are led by the Al ash-Sheikh, who are the descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab founder of the dominant Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. The alliance between the Al-Saud (the royal family) and the Al ash-Sheikh has existed since theFirst Saudi State and is based on a power-sharing understanding whereby the Al-Saud have political predominance but will support and propagate the Al ash-Sheikh’s Wahhabism while the Al ash-Sheikh have predominance in religious matters but will support the Al-Saud‘s rule.[69][70][71]

Despite this long-standing balance of power, the ash-Sheikh family, and the Ulema as a whole, have in recent years exercised influence beyond purely religious matters and have had decisive involvement in key political decisions, for example the imposition of the oil embargo in 1973 or the invitation to foreign troops to Saudi Arabia in 1990.[69] Prior to the 1980s, the influence of the Ulema had shown signs of diminishing as Saudi society gradually began to liberalize. However, following the shock of the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by Islamist radicals, the royal family decided to co-opt their radical religious critics by greatly increasing the power and authority of the Ulema – although it has been reported that King Abdullah since his accession in 2005 has taken steps to reduce the influence of the Ulema.[72]

The current leader of the Al ash-Sheikh is Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-SheikhGrand Mufti of Saudi Arabia[73]

Politics, opposition to the regime and Islamist terrorism

As noted above, there are no recognized political parties or national elections, except for one local election, which was held in 2005, when participation was reserved for male citizens only. Participation in the political process is limited to a relatively small segment of the population and the political process is centred on the royal family, and to some extent, the traditional tribal structure. The extensive royal family is the main forum for politics in the country as it is divided by political factions and clan loyalties – the most prominent faction being the Al Fahd, previously known as the ‘Sudairi Seven‘ (members of which include the late King Fahd and the current Crown Prince) It is reported that, with the current generation of senior princes of the royal family likely to die out in the next few years, there is on-going faction-fighting over the succession to the crown amongst the next generation of the family. Tribal identity remains strong and, outside of the royal family, political influence is frequently determined by tribal affiliation. Tribal sheikhs maintain a considerable degree of influence over local and national events. The tribal hierarchy in the country is complex, made up of a handful of very influential major tribes and a number of smaller, less-influential ones.[9][74][75][76][77]

Additionally, outside of this polity, the rule of the Al Saud faces political opposition from four sources: Sunni Islamist activism; liberal pro-democracy critics; the Shi’ite minority – particularly in the Eastern Province; and long-standing tribal and regional particularistic opponents (for example in the Hejaz).[78] Of these, the Islamic activists have been the most prominent threat to the regime and have in recent years perpetrated a number of violent orterrorist acts in the country.[28] However, open protest against the government, even if peaceful, is not tolerated. On 29 January 2011, hundreds of protesters gathered in the city of Jeddah in a rare display of criticism against the city’s poor infrastructure after deadly floods swept through the city, killing eleven people.[79] Police stopped the demonstration after about 15 minutes and arrested 30 to 50 people.[80]

As part of the wave of protests and revolutions affecting the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011, a number of incidents and protests occurred in Saudi Arabia. See 2011 Saudi Arabian protests for further details.


The Basic Law, in 1992, declared that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the progeny of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud. It also declared the Qur’an as the constitution of the country, governed on the basis of Islamic law.[81]

As part of his broader reforms of the Saudi government, King Abdullah initiated a number of reforms of the Saudi Court system in the 2007 Law of the Judiciary with the aim of making it more efficient and independent.[82]Saudi administration of justice has been criticized as ‘slow and arcane’ and ‘one of the most frustrating barriers to doing business effectively in Saudi Arabia’.[83]

Criminal cases are tried under Sharia courts in the country. These courts exercise authority over the entire population. Cases involving small penalties are tried in Shari’a summary courts. More serious crimes are adjudicated in Shari’a courts of common pleas. Courts of appeal handle appeals from Shari’a courts.[81]

Civil cases may also be tried under Sharia courts with one exception: Shiites may try such cases in their own courts. Other civil proceedings, including those involving claims against the Government and enforcement of foreign judgments, are held before specialized administrative tribunals, such as the Commission for the Settlement of Labor Disputes and the Board of Grievances.[81]

The king acts as the highest court of appeal and has the power to pardon.[citation needed]

Main sources of Saudi law are Hanbali fiqh as set out in a number of specified scholarly treatises by authoritative jurists, other schools of law, state regulations and royal decrees (where these are relevant), and custom and practice.[84]

The Saudi legal system prescribes capital punishment or corporal punishment.Theft is punishable by amputation of the hand, although it is rarely prescribed for a first offense. The courts may impose other harsh punishments, such as floggings, for less serious crimes against public morality such as drunkenness.[85] Murder, accidental death and bodily harm are open to punishment from the victim’s family. Retribution may be sought in kind or throughblood money. The blood money payable for a woman’s accidental death is half as much as that for a Muslim male.[86] This is mainly because Islamic law requires men to be providers for their families, and therefore to earn more money in their lifetimes. The blood money for a man would be expected to sustain his family, at least for a short time.

Money payable for the death of a Christian or Jewish male is also half that for a Muslim male; all others (e.g. HindusBuddhists, and Sikhs) are valued at 1/16.[citation needed]

Slavery was legal in Saudi Arabia until it was abolished in 1962.[87][88]

The freedom of women is seriously restricted in Saudi Arabia. Women are not allowed to travel without the permission of their closest male relative, who may be a son or a younger brother. Women who are divorced, return under their father’s authority and like any other adult woman is denied the right to live on her own and to marry of her free will.[89] Furthermore, the Saudi government considers filial “disobedience” as a crime for which women have been imprisoned or have lost custody of their child.[89] Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are banned from driving in major cities and towns, although they may drive in small towns and villages or in private housing compounds—some of which extend to many square miles.[90] The Saudi Shura Council recommended in 2008 that the ban be relaxed, allowing young women to drive subject to some restrictive conditions.[91]

In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by a range of penalties, including corporal punishment and the death penalty.[92]

The Government views its interpretation of Islamic law as its sole source of guidance on human rights. In 2000 the Government approved the October legislation, which the Government claimed would address some of its obligations under the Convention against Torture or Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[81]

The first independent human rights organization, the National Society for Human Rights was established in 2004. The Saudi Government is an active censor of Internet communication within its borders.[93] A Saudi blogger,Fouad al-Farhan, was jailed for five months in solitary confinement in December, 2007, without charges, after criticizing Saudi religious, business and media figures.[94]

Foreign relations

According to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Saudi foreign policy is focused on co-operation with the Persian Gulf states, the unity of the Arab world, solidarity with Muslim countries, and support for the UN.[95] In practice, the main concerns in recent years have been relations with the US, the Israeli–Palestinian conflictIraq, the threat from Iran, the effect of oil pricing, and increasing the influence in the Muslim world of the Wahhabiform of Islam through overseas donations. Additionally, relations with the West have been complicated by the perception that Saudi Arabia is a source of Islamist terrorism.[9][37]

Saudi Arabia joined the UN in 1945 and is a founder member of the Arab LeagueGulf Cooperation CouncilMuslim World League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It plays a prominent role in theInternational Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and in 2005 joined the World Trade Organisation. As announced at the 2009 Arab League summit, Saudi Arabia is intending to participate in the Arab Customs Union to be established in 2015 and an Arab common market to be established by 2020.[37][96]

As a founding member of OPEC, its oil pricing policy is generally to stabilize the world oil market and try to moderate sharp price movements. Saudi Arabia’s long-term policy direction has been to preserve a stable and long-term market for its vast oil reserves so as to not jeopardise the Western economies. These are seen as protecting the value of the country’s financial assets as well as providing political and military support for the Saudi government.[37] The major exception to this occurred during the 1973 oil crisis when Saudi Arabia, with the other Arab oil states, used an embargo on oil supplies to pressure the US to stop supporting Israel.[97]

Finsbury Park Mosque, London, built with Saudi government money from the overseas aid program; headquarters of Islamistextremist cleric Abu Hamza until 2003[98]

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest contributors of development aid, both in volume of aid and in the ratio of aid volume to GDP. As of 2006, the country has donated £49 billion in aid in the previous three decades, but exclusively to Muslims (except for one donation amounting to the equivalent of £250,000)[99][100][101] This aid has contributed to the spreading of Islam of the sort found in Saudi Arabia (Wahhabism) rather than fostering the traditions of the receiving ethnic groups. The effect has been the erosion of regional Islamic cultures. Examples of the acculturizing effect of Saudi aid can be seen among the Minangkabau and the Acehnese in Indonesia, as well as among the people of the Maldives.[102][103][104][105] The Wahhabi form of Islam is also perceived in the West as being a source of Islamist extremism[106] – see below.

With regard to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Saudi Arabia believes it is “an Arab and Islamic duty” to support the Palestinian cause and it “has issued numerous statements condemning Israeli aggressions against the Palestinian people and against the holy sites”.[95] The main plank of Saudi policy on the issue remains the Arab Peace Initiative, first launched by King Abdullah, as the then Crown Prince, in 2002: Arab governments would offer “normal relations and the security of Israel in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all occupied Arab lands, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and the return of Palestinian refugees.”[37]

Saudi Arabia has long been seen as the most pro-Western of the Arab States and a close ally of the US, particularly under King Fahd. In 1990-91, Saudi Arabia, fearing attack from Iraqfollowing its invasion of Kuwait, played an important role supporting military action by the US and its allies. Relations with those countries in the Arab world which opposed the war became very strained. Likewise, the policy prompted the development internally of an Islamist extremist response. Saudi Arabia repaid the debt it owed the countries whose forces had defeated Iraq, particularly the United States, in cash (for example, $15 billion to the US alone) and by purchasing large quantities of weapons from American companies and by supporting the U.S.-led peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It also followed the US lead in its attitude towards Iran, which was, in any event, seen as trying to export its Islamic revolution to other countries in the region with significant Shiite populations, including Saudi Arabia.[9][37]

Following King Fahd’s stroke in 1995, Abdullah, then Crown Prince, assumed responsibility for foreign policy. A marked change in US-Saudi relations occurred, as Abdullah sought to put distance between his policies and the unpopular pro-Western policies of King FahdAbdullah took a more independent line from the US and concentrated on improving regional relations, particularly with Iran. Several long-standing border disputes were resolved, including significantly reshaping the border with Yemen. The new approach resulted in increasingly strained relations with the US.[9]

Osama bin Laden (right) with a journalist (Hamid Mir) in 1997

In 2003, Abdullah’s new policy was reflected in the Saudi government’s refusal to support or to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Some US critics saw this as an attempt by the royal family to placate the kingdom’s Islamist radicals. That same year Saudi and U.S. government officials agreed to withdraw all U.S. military forcesfrom Saudi soil. Since ascending to the throne in 2005, King Abdullah has followed a more activist foreign policy and has continued to push-back on US policies which are unpopular in Saudi Arabia (for example, refusing to provide material assistance to support the new Iraqi government).[9][72] However, increasingly, in common with the US, fear and mistrust of Iran is becoming a significant factor in Saudi policy. In 2010, the whistle blowing website Wikileaks disclosed various confidential documentsrevealing that King Abdullah urged the US to attack Iran in order to “cut off the head of the snake”.[107]

Relations with the US and other Western countries have been further strained by the perception that Saudi Arabia has been a source of Islamist terrorist activity, not just internally, but also world-wide. Osama bin Laden and 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals[108] and former CIA director James Woolsey described Saudi Arabian Wahhabism as “the soil in which Al-Qaeda and its sister terrorist organizations are flourishing.”[106] The US perception has been that the royal family, through its long and close relations with Wahhabi clerics, had laid the groundwork for the growth of militant groups like al-Qaeda and that after the attacks had done little to help track the militants or prevent future atrocities.[9]

Following the wave of protests and revolutions affecting the Arab world in early 2011 Saudi Arabia offered asylum to deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and King Abdullah telephoned President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt (prior to his deposition) to offer his support.[31]


Further information: Al-Yamamah arms deal

The Saudi military consists of the Saudi Army, the Royal Saudi Air Force, the Royal Saudi Navy, the Royal Saudi Air Defense, the Saudi Arabian National Guard – the ‘SANG’ (an independent military force), and paramilitary forces, totaling nearly 200,000 active-duty personnel. In 2005 the armed forces had the following personnel: the army, 75,000; Royal Saudi Air Force, 18,000; air defense, 16,000; Royal Saudi Navy, 15,500 (including 3,000 marines); and the SANG had 75,000 active soldiers and 25,000 tribal levies.[109] In addition, there is a military intelligence service.

The SANG is not a reserve but a fully operational front-line force, and originated out of Abdul Aziz’s tribal military-religious force, the Ikhwan. Its modern existence, however, is attributable to it being effectively Abdullah’sprivate army since the 1960s and, unlike the rest of the armed forces, is independent of the Ministry of Defense and Aviation. The SANG has been a counter-balance to the Sudairi faction in the royal family: Prince Sultan, the Minister of Defense and Aviation, is one of the so-called ‘Sudairi Seven’ and controls the remainder of the armed forces.[110]

HMS “Makkah”, an Al Riyadh classfrigate.

Spending on defense and security has increased significantly since the mid-‘90s and was about US$25.4 billion in 2005. Saudi Arabia ranks among the top 10 in the world in government spending for its military, representing about 7 percent of gross domestic product in 2005. Its modern high-technology arsenal makes Saudi Arabia among the world’s most densely armed nations, with its military equipment being supplied primarily by the US, France and Britain.[109]

The United States sold more than $80 billion in military hardware between 1951 and 2006 to the Saudi military.[111] In comparison, the Israel Defense Forces received $53.6 billion in US military grants between 1949 and 2007.[112] On 20 October 2010, U.S. State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history – an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The package represents a considerable improvement in the offensive capability of the Saudi armed forces.[113] The U.S. was keen to point out that the arms transfer would increase “interoperability” with U.S. forces. In the 1990-1991 Gulf War, having U.S.-trained Saudi forces, along with military installations built to U.S. specifications, allowed the American armed forces to deploy in a comfortable and familiar battle environment. This new deal would increase these capabilities, as an advanced American military infrastructure is about to be built.[114] The US government is also in talks with Saudi Arabia about the potential sale of advanced naval and missile-defense upgrades worth up to tens of billions of dollars.[115]

The UK has also been a major supplier of military equipment to Saudi Arabia since 1965.[116] Since 1985, the UK has supplied military aircraft – notably the Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft – and other equipment as part of the long-term Al-Yamamah arms deal estimated to have been worth £43 billion by 2006 and thought to be worth a further £40billion.[117]


Saudi Arabia map.png


The Kingdom occupies about 80 percent of the Arabian peninsula, lying between latitudes 16° and 33° N, and longitudes 34° and 56° E. In 2000 Saudi Arabia and Yemen signed an agreement to settle their long-running border dispute.[118] A significant length of the country’s southern borders with the United Arab Emirates and Oman are not precisely defined or marked, so the exact size of the country remains unknown. The Saudi government’s estimate is 2,217,949 km2 (856,355 sq mi). Other reputable estimates vary between 1,960,582 km2 (756,985 sq mi)[119] and 2,240,000 km2 (864,869 sq mi). The kingdom is commonly listed as the world’s 14th largest state.

The Arabian Desert. Ecoregions as delineated by the WWF. Satellite image from NASA. The yellow line encloses the ecoregion called “Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian xeric shrublands”,[120] and two smaller, closely related ecoregions called “Persian Gulf desert and semi-desert”[121] and “Red Sea Nubo-Sindian tropical desert and semi-desert”.[122] National boundaries are shown in black.

Saudi Arabia’s geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert and associated semi-desert and shrubland – see satellite image to right – which is, in fact, a number of linked deserts. Among them is the world’s largest sand area, the Rub’ al Khali (“Empty Quarter”), which dominates the southern part of the country and covers more than 250,000 square miles (647,500 square km). It slopes from above 2,600 feet (800 metres) near the border with Yemen northeastward down almost to sea level near the Persian Gulf. A smaller sand area of about 22,000 square miles (57,000 square km), called Al-Nafūd, is in the north-central part of the country. A great arc of sand, Al Dahna, almost 900 miles (1,450 km) long but in places only 30 miles (50 km) wide, joins Al-Nafūd with the Rubʿ al-Khali. There are virtually no permanent rivers or lakes in the country, but wadis are numerous. The soil generally is poorly developed and there are large areas covered with pebbles of varying sizes. The few fertile areas are to be found in the alluvial deposits in wadis, basins, and oases.[9]

The main topographical feature is the central plateau which rises abruptly from the Red Sea and gradually descends into the Nejd and toward the Persian Gulf. The plateau’s elevation is about 4,500 feet (1,370 metres) in the west and about 2,500 feet (760 metres) in the east. As the plateau slopes down to the Persian Gulf, there are numerous salt flats (sabkhahs) and marshes. In the north, the western highlands are upward of 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) above sea level, decreasing slightly to 4,000 feet (1,200 metres) in the vicinity of Medina and increasing southeastward to more than 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). On the Red Sea coast, the narrow coastal plain, known as the Tihamah is virtually nonexistent in the north and widens slightly toward the south. An imposing escarpment runs parallel to the Red Sea but is interrupted by a gap northwest of Mecca. The southwest province of Asir is mountainous, and contains Mount Sawda, which is generally considered the highest point in the country. Estimates of its elevation range from 10,279 to 10,522 feet (3,133 to 3,207 metres).[9]

The Nejd landscape: desert and the TuwaiqEscarpment near Riyadh

Climate and bio-diversity

Except for the south western province of Asir, Saudi Arabia has a desert climate with extremely high day-time temperatures and a sharp temperature drop at night. Average summer temperatures are around 45°C, but can be as high as 54°C. In the winter the temperature rarely drops below 0°C. In the spring and autumn the heat is temperate, temperatures average around 29°C. Annual rainfall is extremely low. The Asir region differs in that it is influenced by the Indian Ocean monsoons, usually occurring between October and March. An average of 300 millimetres of rainfall occurs during this period, that is about 60 percent of the annual precipitation.[123]

Animal life includes wolves, hyenas, mongooses, baboons, hares, sand rats, and jerboas. Larger animals such as gazelles, oryx, and leopards were relatively numerous until the 1950s, when hunting from motor vehicles reduced these animals almost to extinction. Birds include falcons (which are caught and trained for hunting), eagles, hawks, vultures, sand grouse and bulbuls. There are several species of snakes, many of which are poisonous, and numerous types of lizards. There is a wide variety of marine life in the Persian Gulf. Domesticated animals include camels, sheep, goats, donkeys, and chickens. Reflecting the country’s desert conditions, Saudi Arabia’s plant life mostly consists of small herbs and shrubs requiring little water. There are a few small areas of grass and trees in southern Asir. The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is widespread.[9]


Saudi Arabia is divided into 13 provinces[124] (manatiq idāriyya, – singular mintaqah idariyya). The provinces are further divided into governorates (Arabic: muhafazat, محافظات‎, singular muhafazah), 118 in total. This number contains the provincial capitals, which have a different status as municipalities (amanah) headed by mayors (amin). The governorates are further sudivided into sub-governorates (marakiz, sing. markaz).

Province Capital Map
Al Bahah (or Baha) Al Bahah city

Provinces of Saudi Arabia
Northern Border Arar
Al Jawf (or Jouf) Sakaka city
Al Madinah Medina
Al Qasim Buraidah
Ha’il Ha’il city
Asir Abha
Eastern Province Dammam
Al Riyadh Riyadh city
Tabuk Tabuk city
Najran Najran city
Makkah Mecca
Jizan Jizan city


Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter of petroleum in the world

Saudi Arabia’s command economy is petroleum-based; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product, compared with 40% from the private sector (see below). Saudi Arabia officially has about 260 billion barrels (4.1×1010 m3) of oil reserves, comprising about one-fifth of the world’s proven total petroleum reserves.[125]

The government is attempting to promote growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecommunications. Saudi Arabia announced plans to begin privatizing the electricity companies in 1999, which followed the ongoing privatization of the telecommunications company. Shortages of water and rapid population growth may constrain government efforts to increase self-sufficiency in agricultural products.
In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia experienced a significant contraction of oil revenues combined with a high rate of population growth. Per capita income fell from a high of $11,700 at the height of the oil boom in 1981 to $6,300 in 1998.[126] Recent oil price increases have helped boost per capita GDP to $17,000 in 2007 dollars, or about $7,400 adjusted for inflation.[127]

Oil price increases of 2008-2009 have triggered a second oil boom, pushing Saudi Arabia’s budget surplus to $28 billion (110SR billion) in 2005. Tadawul (the Saudi stock market index) finished 2004 with a massive 76.23% to close at 4437.58 points. Market capitalization was up 110.14% from a year earlier to stand at $157.3 billion (589.93SR billion), which makes it the biggest stock market in the Middle East.‏

OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) limits its members’ oil production based on their “proven reserves.” The higher their reserves, the more OPEC allows them to produce.[citation needed] Saudi Arabia’s published reserves have shown little change since 1980, with the main exception being an increase of about 100 billion barrels (1.6×1010 m3) between 1987 and 1988.[128] Matthew Simmons has suggested that Saudi Arabia is greatly exaggerating its reserves and may soon show production declines (see peak oil).[129]

Saudi Arabia is one of only a few fast-growing countries in the world with a relatively high per capita income of $20,700 (2007). Saudi Arabia will be launching six “economic cities” (e.g. King Abdullah Economic City)[130]which are planned to be completed by 2020. These six new industrialized cities are intended to diversify the economy of Saudi Arabia, and are expected to increase the per capita income. The King of Saudi Arabia has announced that the per capita income is forecast, to rise from $15,000 in 2006 to $33,500 in 2020.[131] The cities will be spread around Saudi Arabia to promote diversification for each region and their economy, and the cities are projected to contribute $150 billion to the GDP.

However the urban areas of Riyadh and Jeddah are expected to contribute $287 billion dollars by the year 2020.[132]


Further information: Bedouin and Tribes of Arabia

Population and language

Demographics of Saudi Arabia, FAO data, 2005; Number of inhabitants in thousands
Saudi Arabia population density (person per Km2).

Saudi Arabia is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Its population as of July 2010 is estimated to be 25,731,776 including 5,576,076 non-nationals[4] Until the 1960s, a majority of the population was nomadic; but presently more than 95% of the population is settled, due to rapid economic and urban growth. As recently as the early 1960s, the Saudi Arabia’s slave population was estimated at 300,000.[133] Slavery was officially abolished in 1962.[87][88] The birth rate is 29.56 births per 1,000 people and the death rate is 2.62 deaths per 1,000 people. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer (2,600/sq mi).

The official language of Saudi Arabia is Arabic. The three main regional variants spoken by Saudis are Hejazi Arabic (about 6 million speakers), Nejdi Arabic (about 8 million speakers) and Gulf Arabic (about 200,000 speakers). The large expatriate communities also speak their own languages, the most numerous being Tagalog (700,000), Urdu(380,000), and Egyptian Arabic (300,000).[134]

About 31% of the population is made up of foreign nationals living in Saudi Arabia.[135] A large portion of the expatriate population is South Asian or of South Asian ancestry, including Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis. In addition, there are some non-Arab citizens and of mixed ancestry which can include: East and Southeast AsianTurkish,IndianPersianLevantineNorth AfricansSomalis and Sub-Saharan, commonly found in Hejaz, (Jeddah, Makkah and Madina)[citation needed]. According to a random survey, most would-be Saudis come from the Subcontinent and Arab countries.[136] Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. The government estimated there were 6.5 million legal workers in the country, accompanied by approximately 1.5 million family members.[137] Indian: 1.3 million, Pakistani: 900,000, Bangladeshi: 400,000,Filipino: 500,000, Egyptian: 900,000, Yemeni: 800,000, Indonesian: 250,000, Sri Lankan: 350,000, Sudanese: 250,000, Syrian: 100,000 and Turkish: 80,000.[138] There are around 100,000 Westerners in Saudi Arabia, most of whom live in compounds or gated communities.

Saudi Arabia expelled 800,000 Yemenis in 1990 and 1991.[139] An estimated 240,000 Palestinians are living in Saudi Arabia. They are not allowed to hold or even apply for Saudi citizenship, because of Arab League instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship. Palestinians are the sole foreign group that cannot benefit from a 2004 law passed by Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers, which entitles expatriates of all nationalities who have resided in the kingdom for ten years to apply for citizenship with priority being given to holders of degrees in various scientific fields.[140] The Articles 12.4 and 14.1 of the Executive Regulation of Saudi Citizenship System can be interpreted as requiring applicants to be Muslim.[141]


Largest cities of Saudi Arabia
Rank City Name Province Pop. Mecca
1 Riyadh Riyadh 6,500,000
2 Jeddah Makkah 3,900,000
3 Mecca Makkah 1,800,000
4 Medina Al Madinah 1,600,000
5 Dammam Eastern 1,300,000
6 Tabuk, Saudi Arabia Tabuk 800,000
7 Buraidah Al-Qassim 700,000
8 Khamis Mushait ‘Asir 600,000
9 Abha ‘Asir 500,000
10 Al-Khobar Eastern 400,000

Social issues

Saudi society has a number of issues and tensions. A rare independent opinion poll published in 2010 indicated that Saudis’ main social concerns were unemployment (at 10% in 2010[142]), corruption and religious extremism[143][144] Crime is not a significant problem.[109] However, Saudi Arabia’s objective of being both a modern and Islamic country, coupled with economic difficulties, has created deep social tensions, including the following. Connections to the West have caused some Saudis to desire the overthrow of the Al Saud. Others want a reformed and more open government and to have more influence in the political process. On the other hand, juvenile delinquency, drug-use and use of alcohol are getting worse. High unemployment and a generation of young males filled with contempt toward the West pose a significant threat to Saudi social stability. Some Saudis feel they are entitled to well-paid government jobs, and the failure of the government to satisfy this sense of entitlement has led to considerable dissatisfaction.[28][145][146] Additionally, the Shiite minority, located primarily in the Eastern Province, and who often complain of institutionalized inequality and repression, have created civil disturbances in the past. Terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia have made it clear that Saudi Arabia does harbor indigenous terrorists.[145]

According to a 2009 U.S. State Department communication by Hillary ClintonUnited States Secretary of State, (disclosed as part of the Wikileaks U.S. ‘cables leaks’ controversy in 2010) “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.[147] Part of this funding arises through the zakat (or religious tax) required to be paid by all Saudis to charities, and amounting to at least 2.5 percent of their income. Although many charities are genuine, others, it is alleged, serve as fronts for money laundering and terrorist financing operations. While many Saudis contribute to those charities in good faith believing their money goes toward good causes, it has been alleged that others know full well the terrorist purposes to which their money will be applied.[28][106]

According to a study conducted by Dr. Nura Al-Suwaiyan, director of the family safety program at the National Guard Hospital, one in four children is abused in Saudi Arabia.[148] The National Society for Human Rightsreports that almost 45% of the country’s children are facing some sort of abuse and domestic violence.[149] It has also been claimed that trafficking of women is a particular problem in Saudi Arabia as the country’s large number of female foreign domestic workers and loopholes in the system cause many to fall victim to abuse and torture.[150]

Widespread inbreeding in Saudi Arabia, resulting from the traditional practice of encouraging marriage between close relatives, has produced high levels of several genetic disorders including thalassemiasickle cell anemia,spinal muscular atrophy, deafness and muteness.[151][152]


There are about 25 million people who are Muslim, or 97% of the total population.[153] Data for Saudi Arabia comes primarily from general population surveys, which are less reliable than censuses or large-scale demographic and health surveys for estimating minority-majority ratios.[153] About 85-90% of Saudis are Sunni, while Shias represent around 10-15% of the Muslim population.[154] Most follow the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, though there are significant numbers of followers among the Shafi`i school, and the Maliki school. On 14 February 2009, the king reorganized the Council of Senior Scholars to include scholars from all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Since the 1920s, the government had officially adhered to the Hanbali school by declaring two Hanbali sources as the only acceptable references for Saudi judges. The reorganization of the council is the first official recognition of the other three schools in the country since that time. Most scholars and judges, however, are still Hanbali.[137]

The tomb of Muhammad in Medina

The official and dominant form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia is commonly known as Wahhabism (a name which some of its proponents consider derogatory, preferring the termSalafism).[155] Wahhabism, founded in the Arabian peninsular by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the eighteenth century, is often described as ‘puritanical’, ‘intolerant’ or ‘ultra-conservative’. However, proponents consider that its teachings seek to purify the practise of Islam of any innovations or practices that deviate from the seventh-century teachings of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and his companions[156]

As noted earlier (see Politics) Saudi Arabia is a source of Sunni Islamist activity, including violent or terrorist Islamist activity[28] and “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”.[157]

Religious freedom is virtually non-existent in Saudi Arabia. The Government does not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it is severely restricted in practice. As a matter of policy, the Government guarantees and protects the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice; however, this right is not always respected in practice and is not defined in law.[158] Moreover, the public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited.[137] The Saudi Mutaween or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), i.e. the religious police, enforces the prohibition on the public practice of non-Muslim religions. There are no churches or other non-Muslim houses of worship permitted in the country, even within embassies, but non-Muslim religious items are legal even though they are sometimes confiscated by the CPVPV. Practitioners of other religions must only worship in private. The Catholic Church is currently trying to negotiate to have an unmarked church in Saudi Arabia to minister to the over 1 million Roman Catholics mainly of Fillipino origin who are in the country as foreign workers.

Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal, and conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) carries the death penalty, although there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years.[137]

Women in Saudi society

A Saudi woman wearing a traditionalniqab

The World Economic Forum 2010 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 129th out of 134 countries for gender parity. It was the only country to score a zero in the category of political empowerment.[159]

Gender roles in Saudi society originate from Sharia (Islamic law) and tribal culture. Women’s social and legal position in Saudi Arabia differs substantially from that of men. For example, all women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian.[160] As a consequence, women of any age need the permission of their guardian (or ‘mahram’ in Arabic, who could be their son or brother) for a wide range of activities including marriage and divorce, travel, education, employment, opening a bank account, and surgery and this has ledHuman Rights Watch to describe Saudi women as permanently having the status of children.[161][160][162][163][164][165][166]

Female literacy is estimated to be around 70% compared to male literacy of around 85%.[167] Men can marry girls as young as ten in Saudi Arabia[168] and, quite apart from the other considerable damage to the children involved,[169] child marriage is believed to hinder the cause of women’s education. The drop-out rate of girls increases around puberty, as they exchange education for marriage. Roughly 25% of college-aged young women do not attend college, and in 2005–2006, women had a 60% dropout rate.[170]

In most of the country, women in public wear the niqab (veil), as well as a hijab (head covering), and full black cloak called an abaya, and there is considerable pressure on them to follow this dress code.[171][172][173]

Leading Saudi feminist and journalist, Wajeha al-Huwaider, has said “Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status, even the ‘pampered’ ones among them, because they have no law to protect them from attack by anyone. The oppression of women and the effacement of their selfhood is a flaw affecting most homes in Saudi Arabia.”[174]

Although many Saudis would like more freedom in Saudi Arabia, there is evidence that many women do not want radical change.[175] Even many advocates of reform reject foreign critics, for “failing to understand the uniqueness of Saudi society.”[162][176]

A number of Saudi women have risen to the top of some professions or otherwise achieved prominence, for example Dr. Ghada Al-Mutairi, heads a medical research center in California[177] and Dr. Salwa Al-Hazzaa, head of the ophthalmology department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh and was the late King Fahad’s personal ophthalmologist.[178]


Education is free at all levels. The school system is composed of elementary, intermediate, and secondary schools. A large part of the curriculum at all levels is devoted to Islam, and, at the secondary level, students are able to follow either a religious or a technical track. Girls are able to attend school, but fewer girls attend than boys. This disproportion is reflected in the rate of literacy, which exceeds 85 percent among males and is about 70 percent among females. Classes are segregated by gender. Higher education has expanded rapidly, with large numbers of Universities and colleges being founded particularly since 2000. Institutions of higher education include the country’s first University, King Saud University founded in 1957, the Islamic University at Medina founded in 1961, and the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah founded in 1967. Other colleges and universities emphasize curricula in sciences and technology, military studies, religion, and medicine. Institutes devoted to Islamic studies, in particular, abound. Women typically receive college instruction in segregated institutions.[9]

The study of Islam dominates the Saudi educational system. In particular, the memorization by rote of large parts of the Qu’ran, its interpretation and understanding (Tafsir) and the application of Islamic tradition to everyday life is at the core of the curriculum. Religion taught in this manner is also a compulsory subject for all University students.[179] As a consequence, Saudi youth “generally lacks the education and technical skills the private sector needs” according to the CIA.[167] Similarly, The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote in 2010 that “the country needs educated young Saudis with marketable skills and a capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship. That’s not generally what Saudi Arabia’s educational system delivers, steeped as it is in rote learning and religious instruction.”[180]

A further criticism of the religious focus of the Saudi education system is the nature of the Wahhabi-controlled curriculum. The Islamic aspect of the Saudi national curriculum was examined in a 2006 report by Freedom Housewhich concluded that “the Saudi public school religious curriculum continues to propagate an ideology of hate toward the “unbeliever,” that is, ChristiansJews, Shiites, Sufis, Sunni Muslims who do not follow Wahhabi doctrine, Hindus, atheists and others”[181][182] The Saudi religious studies curriculum is taught outside the Kingdom in madrasah throughout the world. Critics have described the education system as ‘medieval’ and that its primary goal ‘is to maintain the rule of absolute monarchy by casting it as the ordained protector of the faith, and that Islam is at war with other faiths and cultures’.[183]

The approach taken in the Saudi education system has been accused of encouraging Islamic terrorism, leading to reform efforts.[184] To tackle the twin problems of encouraging extremism and the inadequacy of the country’s university education for a modern economy, the government is aiming to slowly modernise the education system through the ‘Tatweer’ reform program.[184] The Tatweer program is reported to have a budget of approximately US$2 billion and focuses on moving teaching away from the traditional Saudi methods of memorization and rote learning towards encouraging students to analyze and problem-solve. It also aims to create an education system which will provide a more secular and vocationally-based training.[185][180]


Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country with centuries-old attitudes and traditions, often derived from Arab tribal culture. This conservative tendency has been bolstered by the austerely puritanical Wahhabi form of Islam, which arose in the eighteenth century and now predominates in the country. The many limitations on behaviour and dress are strictly enforced both legally and socially. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited, for example, and there is no theatre or public exhibition of films. Public expression of opinion about domestic political or social matters is discouraged. There are no organizations such as political parties or labour unions to provide public forums.

Daily life is dominated by Islamic observance. Five times each day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques scattered throughout the country. Because Friday is the holiest day for Muslims, the weekend begins on Thursday.[9][186] In accordance with Wahhabi doctrine, only two religious holidays are publicly recognized, ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā. Celebration of other Islamic holidays, such as the Prophet’s birthday and ʿĀshūrāʾ (an important holiday for Shīʿites), are tolerated only when celebrated locally and on a small scale. Public observance of non-Islamic religious holidays is prohibited, with the exception of September 23, which commemorates the unification of the kingdom.[9]

Islamic heritage sites

The Kaaba in Mecca overlooked by the Abraj Al Bait Towers hotel complex under construction (for which the historic Ajyad Fortress was demolished).

Saudi Arabia, and specifically the Hejaz, as the cradle of Islam, has many of the most significant historic Muslim sites including the two holiest sites of Mecca and Medina.[187] One of the King’s titles is Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, the two mosques being Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, which contains Islam’s most sacred place, the Kaaba, and Masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina which contains Muhammad’s tomb.[188][189]

Construction in Mecca

However, Saudi Wahhabism is hostile to any reverence given to historical or religious places of significance for fear that it may give rise to‘shirk’ (that is, idolatry). As a consequence, under Saudi rule, the Hejaz cities have suffered from considerable destruction of their physical heritage and, for example, it has been estimated that about 95% of Mecca’s historic buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished.[190] These include the mosque originally built by Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, and other mosques founded by Abu Bakr(Muhammad’s father-in-law and the first Caliph), Umar (the second Caliph), Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth Caliph), andSalman al-Farsi (another of Muhammad’s companions).[191] Other historic buildings that have been destroyed include the house of Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet, demolished to make way for public lavatories; the house of Abu Bakr, now the site of the local Hilton hotel; the house of Ali-Oraid, the grandson of the Prophet, and the Mosque of abu-Qubais, now the location of the King’s palace in Mecca.[192]

Critics have described this as “Saudi vandalism” and claim that over the last 50 years 300 historic sites linked to Muhammad, his family or companions have been lost.[193] It has been reported that there now are fewer than 20 structures remaining in Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad.[192]


Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are suited to Saudi Arabia’s desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear an ankle length shirt woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by a cord coil) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by a cord coil) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. Women’s clothes are decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques. Women are required to wear an abaya or modest clothing when in public.

  • Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره‎) is a traditional headdress typically worn by Arab men. It is made of a square of cloth (“scarf“), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly worn in areas with an arid climate, to provide protection from direct sun exposure, and also protection of the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.
  • Agal (Arabic: عقال‎) is an Arab headdress constructed of cord which is fastened around the Ghutrah to hold it in place. The agal is usually black in colour.
  • Thawb (Arabic: ثوب‎) is the standard Arabic word for garment. It is ankle length, usually with long sleeves similar to a robe.
  • Bisht (Arabic: بشت‎) is a traditional Arabic men’s cloak usually only worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings.
  • Abayah (Arabic: عباية‎) is a women’s garment. It is a black cloak which loosely covers the entire body except the head. Usually, the sleeves are decorated with stitched embroidery and different bright colors or even crystals, and the rest of the cloak is plain.Some women choose to cover their faces with the Niqab and some do not. Recently, there’s a move towards Abaya colors other than black especially in the Makkah Province in the west of the Kingdom.
  • Kameez/Kurta Salwar is a men’s and women’s garment. It is worn by Indian and Pakistani people in Saudi Arabia.

Entertainment, the arts, sport and cuisine

During the 1970s, cinemas were numerous in the Kingdom and were not considered un-Islamic, although they were seen as contrary to Arab tribal norms.[194] During the Islamic revival movement in the 1980s, and as a political response to an increase in Islamist activism including the 1979 seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the government closed all cinemas and theaters. However, with King Abdullah’s reforms from 2005, some cinemas have re-opened.[195][72]

From the 18th century onward, Wahhabi fundamentalism discouraged artistic development inconsistent with its teaching. In addition, Sunni Islamic prohibition of creating representations of people have limited the visual arts, which tend to be dominated by geometric, floral, and abstract designs and by calligraphy. With the advent of oil-wealth in the 20th century came exposure to outside influences, such as Western housing styles, furnishings, and clothes. Music and dance have always been part of Saudi life. Traditional music is generally associated with poetry and is sung collectively. Instruments include the rabābah, an instrument not unlike a three-string fiddle, and various types of percussion instruments, such as the ṭabl (drum) and the ṭār (tambourine). Of the native dances, the most popular is a martial line dance known as the ʿarḍah, which includes lines of men, frequently armed with swords or rifles, dancing to the beat of drums and tambourines. Bedouin poetry, known as nabaṭī, is still very popular.[9]

Censorship has limited the development of Saudi literature, although several Saudi novelists and poets have achieved critical and popular acclaim in the Arab world – albeit generating official hostility in their home country. These include Ghazi AlgosaibiAbdelrahman MunifTurki al-Hamad and Rajaa al-Sanea[196][197][198]

Football (soccer) is extremely popular, as is scuba diving, windsurfing, and sailing. More traditional sports such as camel racing became more poular in the 1970s. A stadium in Riyadh holds races in the winter. The annual King’s Camel Race, begun in 1974, is one of the sport’s most important contests and attracts animals and riders from throughout the region. Falconry, another traditional pursuit, is still practiced.[9]

Cuisine in Saudi Arabia is similar to that of the surrounding Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, and has been heavily influenced by Turkish, Persian, and African food. Islamic dietary laws are enforced: pork is not consumed and other animals are slaughtered in accordance with halal. A dish consisting of a stuffed lamb, known as khūzī, is the traditional national dishKebabs are popular, as is shāwarmā (shawarma), a marinated grilled meat dish of lamb, mutton, or chicken. As in the countries of the Gulf, machbūs (kabsa), a rice dish with fish or shrimp, is popular. Flat, unleavened bread is a staple of virtually every meal, as is dates and fresh fruit. Coffee, served in theTurkish style, is the traditional beverage.[9]

Who said? Wikipedia said ;).

Written by Syafirul Ramli>>

February 17, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Posted in The Country

Pakistan ;).

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Islamic Republic of Pakistan

اسلامی جمہوریۂ پاکستانIslāmī Jumhūrī-ye Pākistān

Flag State Emblem
MottoUnity, Discipline, Faith
(Urdu: اتحاد، تنظيم، يقين مُحکم)
Ittehad, Tanzeem, Yaqeen-e-Muhkam
AnthemQaumī Tarāna

Qaumi Tarana Instrumental.ogg
Capital Islamabad
33°40′N 73°10′E
Largest city Karachi
Official language(s) Urdu (national)
Recognised regional languages BalochiPashtoPunjabi,SaraikiSindhi[1]
Demonym Pakistani
Government Federal Parliamentaryrepublic
 – Founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah
 – President Asif Zardari (PPP)
 – Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani (PPP)
 – Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry
 – Chair of Senate Farooq Naek (PPP)
Legislature Majlis-e-Shoora
 – Upper House Senate
 – Lower House National Assembly
 – Pakistan Declaration 28 January 1933
 – Pakistan Resolution 23 March 1940
 – Independence from the United Kingdom
 – Declared 14 August 1947
 – Islamic Republic 23 March 1956
 – Total 796,095 km2 (36th)
307,374 sq mi
 – Water (%) 3.1
 – 2011 estimate 170.6 million[2] (6th)
 – 1998 census 132,352,279[3]
 – Density 214.3/km2 (55th)
555/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 – Total $451.972 billion[4]
 – Per capita $2,713[4]
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 – Total $177.901 billion[4]
 – Per capita $1,067[4]
Gini (2005) 31.2 (medium)
HDI (2010) increase0.490[5] (medium) (125th)
Currency Pakistani Rupee (Rs.) (PKR)
Time zone PST (UTC+5)
 – Summer (DST) PDT (UTC+6)
Drives on the left[6]
ISO 3166 code PK
Internet TLD .pk
Calling code 92

Pakistan (Listeni /ˈpækɪstæn/ or Listeni /pɑːkiˈstɑːn/Urdu: پاکِستان) (Urdu pronunciation: [paːkɪˈst̪aːn]  ( listen)), officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Urdu: اسلامی جمہوریۂ پاکِستان) is a parliamentary republic and sovereign state in South Asia. It has a 1,046-kilometre (650 mi) coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Omanin the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast.[7] Tajikistan also lies very close to Pakistan but is separated by the narrow Wakhan Corridor. Strategically it is located in a position between the important regions of South AsiaCentral Asia and the Middle East.[8]

The region forming modern Pakistan was the site of several ancient cultures including the neolithic Mehrgarh and the bronze era Indus Valley Civilisation. Subsequently it was the recipient of VedicPersianIndo-GreekIslamicTurco-Mongol, and Sikh cultures through several invasions and/or settlements. As a result the area has remained a part of numerous empires and dynasties including the Persian empiresIslamic caliphates and the MauryanMongolMughalSikh and British Empires. Pakistan gained independence from the British Empire in 1947 after a struggle for independence, led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, that sought independent states for the Muslim majority populations of the eastern and western regions of British India.[9] With the adoption of its constitution in 1956, Pakistan became an Islamic republic.[10] In 1971, an armed conflict in East Pakistan resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.[11]

Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of four provinces and four federal territories. With over 170 million people, it is the sixth most populous country in the world[2] and has the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia.[12] It is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country with a similar variation in its geography andwildlife. With a semi-industrialized economy, it is the 27th largest in the world in terms of purchasing power. Since gaining independence, Pakistan’s history has been characterised by periods of military rulepolitical instability and conflicts with neighbouring India. The country faces challenging problems including terrorismpoverty,illiteracy and corruption.

Pakistan has the seventh largest standing armed force and is the only Muslim-majority nation to possess nuclear weapons. It is designated as a major non-NATO ally of the United States.[13] It is a founding member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference[14] and a member of the United Nations,[15] Commonwealth of Nations,[16]Next Eleven economies and the G20 developing nations.



The name Pakistan means Land of (the) Pure in Urdu and Persian. It was coined in 1934 as Pakstan by Choudhary Rahmat Ali, a Pakistan movement activist, who published it in his pamphlet Now or Never.[17] The name is an acronym representing the “thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN—by which we mean the five Northern units of India viz: PunjabNorth-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province)KashmirSind, and BaluchisTAN“.[18] The letter ‘i’ was later added to ease pronunciation.


A carved stone statue of a bearded man with a prominent nose wearing a garment with a pattern

The Indus Priest/King wearing a Sindhi Ajruk, ca. 2500 BC.

The Indus region, which covers a considerable amount of Pakistan, was the site of several ancient cultures including the Neolithic era’s Mehrgarh and the bronze era Indus Valley Civilisation (2500–1500 BCE) at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.[19]

Waves of conquerors and migrants from the west—including Harappan, Indo-AryansPersiansGreeksSakasParthiansKushansHephthalitesAfghans, Arabs, Turksand Mughals—settled in the region throughout the centuries, influencing the locals and being absorbed among them.[20] Ancient empires of the east—such as the Nandas,MauryasSungasGuptas and the Palas—ruled these territories at different times from Patliputra.[21]

However, in the medieval period, while the eastern provinces of Punjab and Sindh grew aligned with Indo-Islamic civilisation, the western areas became culturally allied with the Iranian civilisation of Afghanistan and Iran.[22] The region served as a crossroads of historic trade routes, including the Silk Road, and as a maritime entreport for the coastal trade between Mesopotamia and beyond up to Rome in the west and Malabar and beyond up to China in the east.[23]

A tomb at Makli Hill in Thatta, Sindh. Makli Hill was declared a World Heritage Site in 1981

Modern day Pakistan was at the heart of the Indus Valley Civilisation; that collapsed in the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE and was followed by the Vedic Civilisation, which also extended over much of the Indo-Gangetic plains. Successive ancient empires and kingdoms ruled the region: the Achaemenid Persian empire around 543 BCE,[24] the Greek empire founded by Alexander the Great in 326 BCE and the Mauryan empire founded by Chandragupta Maurya and extended by Ashoka the Great, until 185 BCE.[25]

The Indo-Greek Kingdom founded by Demetrius of Bactria included Gandhara and Punjab from 184 BCE, and reached its greatest extent under Menander, establishing the Greco-Buddhist period with advances in trade and culture. The city of Taxila (Takshashila) became a major centre of learning in ancient times—the remains of the city, located to the west of Islamabad, are one of the country’s major archaeological sites.[26] The Rai Dynasty (c.489–632) of Sindh, at its zenith, ruled this region and the surrounding territories.[27]

Standing Buddha, Gandhara,Pakistan, 1st century AD

In 712 CE, the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab.[28] The Pakistan government’s official chronology states that “its foundation was laid” as a result of this conquest.[29] This Arab and Islamic victory would set the stage for several successive Muslim empires in South Asia, including theGhaznavid Empire, the Ghorid Kingdom, the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. During this period, Sufi missionaries played a pivotal role in converting a majority of the regional Buddhist and Hindu population to Islam.

The gradual decline of the Mughal Empire in the early eighteenth century provided opportunities for the AfghansBalochis and Sikhs to exercise control over large areas until the British East India Company gained ascendancy over South Asia.[30] The Indian Rebellion of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny, was the region’s last major armed struggle against the British Raj, and it laid the foundations for the largely non-violent freedom struggle led by the Indian National Congress in the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 1930s, a movement led by Congress leader Mahatma Gandhi engaged millions of protesters in mass campaigns of civil disobedience.[31]

Image of the seventeenth-century Badshahi Masjid

17th Century Badshahi Masjid built during Mughal rule

The All India Muslim League rose to popularity in the late 1930s amid fears of under-representation and neglect of Muslims in politics. On 29 December 1930, Allama Iqbal‘s presidential address called for an autonomous “state in northwestern India for Indian Muslims, within the body politic of India.”[32]Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah espoused the Two Nation Theory and led the Muslim League to adopt the Lahore Resolution of 1940, popularly known as the Pakistan Resolution. In early 1947, Britain announced the decision to end its rule in India. In June 1947, the nationalist leaders of British India—including Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad on behalf of the Congress, Jinnah representing the Muslim League, and Master Tara Singh representing the Sikhs—agreed to the proposed terms of transfer of power and independence.

The modern state of Pakistan was established on 14 August 1947 (27 Ramadan 1366 in the Islamic Calendar), carved out of the two Muslim-majority wings in the eastern and northwestern regions of British India and comprising the provinces of BalochistanEast Bengal, the North-West Frontier ProvinceWest Punjab and Sindh.[33] The controversial, and ill-timed, division of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal caused communal riots across India and Pakistan—millions of Muslims moved to Pakistan and millions of Hindus and Sikhs moved to India.[34]

Disputes arose over several princely states including in the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, whose Hindu ruler had acceded to India following an invasion by Pashtun tribal militias, leading to the First Kashmir War in 1948.[35]

Choudhary Rahmat Ali, the man who came up with the slogan “Now or Never” during thePakistan Movement

From 1947 to 1956, Pakistan was a Dominion of Pakistan in the Commonwealth of Nations. It became a Republic in 1956, but the civilian rule was stalled by a coup d’état by General Ayub Khan, who was president during 1958–69, a period of internal instability and a second war with India in 1965. His successor, Yahya Khan (1969–71) had to deal with a devastating cyclone—which caused 500,000 deaths in East Pakistan—and also face a civil war in 1971. Economic grievances and political dissent in East Pakistan led to violent political tension and military repression that escalated into a civil war.[36] After nine months of guerrilla warfare between the Pakistan Army and the Indian backed Bengali Mukti Bahinimilitia, Indian intervention escalated into the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and ultimately to the secession of East Pakistan as the independent state of Bangladesh.[37]

Image of the founder and first Governor General of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah

The first Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivering the opening address on 11 August 1947 to the new state of Pakistan.

Civilian rule resumed in Pakistan from 1972 to 1977 under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, until he was deposed and later sentenced to death in 1979 by General Zia-ul-Haq, who became the country’s third military president. Zia introduced the Islamic Sharia legal code, which increased religious influences on the civil service and the military. With the death of President Zia in a plane crash in 1988, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was elected as the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan. Over the next decade, she fought for power with Nawaz Sharif as the country’s political and economic situation worsened. Pakistan got involved in the 1991 Gulf War and sent 5,000 troops as part of a U.S.-led coalition, specifically for the defence of Saudi Arabia.[38]

Military tensions in the Kargil conflict with India were followed by a Pakistani military coup d’état in 1999 in which General Pervez Musharraf assumed vast executive powers.[39][40]In 2001, Musharraf became President after the controversial resignation of Rafiq Tarar. After the 2002 parliamentary elections, Musharraf transferred executive powers to the newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who was succeeded in the 2004 prime-ministerial election by Shaukat Aziz. On 15 November 2007, the National Assembly, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, completed its tenure and new elections were called. The exiled political leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were permitted to return to Pakistan. However, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto during the election campaign in December led to postponement of elections and nationwide riots. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won the largest number of seats in the elections held in February 2008 and its member Yousaf Raza Gillani was sworn in as Prime Minister.[41] On 18 August 2008, Pervez Musharraf resigned from the presidency when threatened with impeachment,[42] and was succeeded by current president Asif Ali Zardari. By the end of 2009, more than 3 million Pakistani civilians have been displaced by the on going conflict in North-West Pakistan between the government and Taliban militants.[43]

Government and politics

Aiwan-e-Sadr, the official residence of the President of Pakistan
A man in black suite having mustaches, prime minister of pakistan

Prime Minister of Pakistan, Yousaf Raza Gillani.

Pakistan is a democratic parliamentary federal republic with Islam as the state religion.[44] The first Constitution of Pakistan was adopted in 1956, but was suspended in 1958 by General Ayub Khan. The Constitution of 1973 – suspended in 1977, by Zia-ul-Haq, but re-instated in 1985  – is the country’s most important document, laying the foundations of the current government.[20]

The bicameral legislature comprises a 100-member Senate and a 342-member National Assembly. The President is the Head of state and the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and is elected by an electoral college. The prime minister is usually the leader of the largest party in the National Assembly. Each province has a similar system of government with a directly elected Provincial Assembly in which the leader of the largest party or alliance becomes Chief Minister. Provincial Governors are appointed by the President.[44]

The Pakistani military has played an influential role in mainstream politics throughout Pakistan’s history, with military presidents ruling from 1958–71, 1977–88 and from 1999–2008.[45] The leftistPakistan Peoples Party, led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, won support after the loss of East Pakistan but was overthrown amidst riots in 1977.[46] Under the military rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, A politically nationalist insurgency in Balochistan was also bloodlessly quelled by military governor Rahimuddin.[47] The 1990s were characterised by coalition politics dominated by the Pakistan Peoples Party and a rejuvenated Muslim League.[44] Pakistan is an active member of the United Nations (UN) and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the latter of which Pakistan has used as a forum for Enlightened Moderation, a plan to promote a renaissance and enlightenment in the Muslim world.[44] Pakistan is also a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO).[44] In the past, Pakistan has had mixed relations with the United States; in the early 1950s, Pakistan was the United States’ “most allied ally in Asia”[48] and a member of both the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO).

Pakistan National Symbols of Pakistan[49]
Flag Flag of Pakistan
Emblem Faith, Unity, Discipline
Anthem Qaumi Tarana
Animal Markhor
Bird Chukar
Flower Jasmine
Tree Cedrus deodara
Juice Sugarcane juice
Sport Field hockey
Dress Shalwar Kameez

During the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s, Pakistan was a major U.S. ally.[50] But relations soured in the 1990s, when sanctions were imposed by the U.S. over Pakistan’s refusal to abandon its nuclear activities.[51] However, the American War on Terrorism, as an aftermath of 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, led to an improvement in US–Pakistan ties, especially after Pakistan ended its support of the Taliban regime in Kabul. Its positive side was evidenced by a major increase in American military aid, providing Pakistan $4 billion more in three years after the 9/11 attacks than before.[52]On the other hand, Pakistan is presently burdened with nearly 3 million displaced civilians due to the ongoing Afghan war. As of 2004, in contexts of theWar on Terror, Pakistan was being referred to as part of the Greater Middle East by the US under the Bush administration.[53]

On 18 February 2008, Pakistan held its general elections after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination postponed the original date of 8 January 2008.[54] The Pakistan Peoples Party won the majority of the votes and formed an alliance with the Pakistan Muslim League (N). They nominated and elected Yousaf Raza Gilani as Prime Minister.[55] On 18 August 2008, Pervez Musharraf resigned as President of Pakistan amidst increasing calls for his impeachment.[56] In the presidential election that followed, Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan People’s Party won a landslide majority and became President of Pakistan.[57]

Administrative units

Pakistan Administrative Units - Tier 1

Pakistan Administrative Units – Tier 1

Pakistan is a federation of four provinces, a capital territory and a group of federally administered tribal areas. The government of Pakistan exercises de facto jurisdiction over the western parts of the disputed Kashmir region, organized as two separate political entities; Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Prior to 2001, the sub-provincial tier of government was composed of 26 divisions with two further tiers (districts and tehsils) administered directly from the provincial level. The divisions were abolished in 2001[58] and a new three-tiered system of local government came into effect comprising districts, tehsils and union councils with an elected body at each tier.

There are currently 113 districts in Pakistan-proper, each with several tehsils and union councils. The tribal areas comprise seven tribal agencies and six small frontier regions[59]detached from neighboring districts whilst Azad Kashmir comprises ten[60] and Gilgit-Baltistan seven[61] districts respectively.

Provinces Territories
Balochistan Islamabad Capital Territory
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Federally Administered Tribal Areas including the Frontier Regions
Punjab Azad Jammu and Kashmir
Sindh Gilgit-Baltistan


Main article: Pakistani Armed Forces
Further information: War in North-West Pakistan
Pakistani F-16s in preparation for training with the USAF. Pakistan is classed as aMajor non-NATO ally of the United States
Babur (cruise missile)
A nuclear capable Babur cruise missile with a theoretical range of 1000km

The armed forces of Pakistan are the seventh-largest in the world. The three main services are the ArmyNavy and the Air Force, supported by a number ofparamilitary forces which carry out internal security roles and border patrols. The National Command Authority is responsible for exercising employment and development control of all strategic nuclear forces and organisations, and for Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine. Pakistani defense forces has had close military relation with China and United States and predominantly imports military equipments from these two countries.[62] The defense forces of China and Pakistan also organizes joint military exercises.[63]

The Pakistan Army came into existence after independence in 1947 and is currently headed by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The Pakistan Army is a professional fighting force.[64] It has an active force of 612,000 personnel and 513,000 men in reserve.[65] Conscription may be introduced in times of emergency, but it has never been imposed.[66]

Since independence, the Army has been involved in four wars with neighbouring India and several border skirmishes with Afghanistan. It maintained division and brigade strength presences in some of the Arab countries during the past Arab–Israeli Wars, and aided the Coalition in the first Gulf War. Other major operations undertaken by the Army includeOperation Black Thunderstorm and Operation Rah-e-Nijat. Apart from conflicts, the Army has been an active participant in United Nations peacekeeping missions and played a major role in rescuing trapped American soldiers from Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 in Operation Gothic Serpent.

The Pakistan military first saw combat in the First Kashmir War, gaining control of what is now Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In 1961, the army repelled a major Afghan incursion on Pakistan’s western border.[67] Pakistan and India were at war again in 1965 and in 1971. In 1973, the military quelled a Baloch nationalist uprising.

In the past, Pakistani personnel have volunteered to serve alongside Arab forces in conflicts with Israel. During the Six-Day War in 1967 and Yom Kippur War in October 1973PAF pilots volunteered to go to the Middle East to support Egypt and Syria in a state of war against Israel, Air Force pilots shot down ten Israeli planes in the Six-Day War. During the Yom Kippur War 16 PAF pilots volunteered to leave for the Middle East in order to support Egypt and Syria but by the time they arrived Egypt had already agreed on a cease-fire.[68]

During the Soviet–Afghan war, Pakistan shot down several intruding pro-Soviet Afghan aircraft and provided covert support to the Afghan mujahideen through the Inter-Services Intelligence agency. In 1999, Pakistan was involved in the Kargil conflict with India. Currently, the military is engaged in an armed conflict with extremist Islamic militants in the north-west of the country.[69]

Since 2004, Pakistani armed forces are engaged in fighting against Pakistani Taliban groups. Militant groups have engaged in suicide bombings in Pakistani cities, killing more than 3,000 civilians and armed personnel in 2009 alone.[70]

Internationally the Pakistani armed forces contributed to United Nations peacekeeping efforts, with more than 10,700 personnel deployed in 2009,[71] and are presently the largest contributor. Pakistan provided a military contingent to the UN-backed coalition in the first Gulf War.[72] Pakistani troops were rushed to Makkah on the SaudiGovernment’s request and Pakistani SSG commandos led the operation of the Grand Mosque Seizure.

Geography and climate

Baltoro Glacier

The 62-kilometre-long Baltoro Glacier, in northern Pakistan, is one of the longest glaciers outside the polar regions

Pakistan covers an area of 796,095 km2 (307,374 sq mi), approximately equaling the combined land areas of France and the United Kingdom. It is the 36th largest nation by total area although this ranking varies depending on how the disputed territory of Kashmir is counted. Apart from the 1,046 km (650 mi) coastline along the Arabian Sea, Pakistan’s land borders a total of 6,774 km (4,209 mi)—2,430 km (1,510 mi) with Afghanistan, 523 km (325 mi) with China, 2,912 km (1,809 mi) with India and 909 km (565 mi) with Iran.[20]The territory it controls mostly lies between latitudes 23° and 37° N (a small area is north of 37°), and longitudes 61° and 78° E (a small area is west of 61°).

Geologically, Pakistan overlaps with the Indian tectonic plate in its Sindh and Punjab provinces, while Balochistan and most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lie within the Eurasian plate which mainly comprises the Iranian plateau. Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir lie mainly in Central Asia along the edge of the Indian plate and are hence prone to violent earthquakes.

Topographical map of Pakistan

Topography of Pakistan

The geography of Pakistan is a blend of landscapes varying from plains to deserts, forests, hills, and plateaus ranging from the coastal areas of the Arabian Sea in the south to the mountains of the Karakoram range in the north. Pakistan is divided into three major geographic areas: the northern highlands; the Indus River plain; and the Balochistan Plateau.[73] The northern highlands of Pakistan contain the Karakoram,Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges, which incorporate some of the world’s highest peaks, including K2 (8,611 m/28,251 ft) and Nanga Parbat (8,126 m/26,660 ft). The Balochistan Plateau lies to the West, and the Thar Desert in the East. An expanse of alluvial plains lies in Punjab and Sindh along the Indus river. The 1,609 km (1,000 mi) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea.[74]

Pakistan’s climate varies from tropical to temperate with arid conditions existing in the coastal south, characterized by a monsoon season with adequate rainfall and a dry season with lesser rainfall. There are four distinct seasons; a cool, dry winter from December through February; a hot, dry spring from March through May; the summer rainy season or southwest monsoon period, from June through September; and the retreating monsoon period of October and November.[75] Rainfall can vary radically from year to year, and successive patterns of flooding and drought are common.[76]

Flora and fauna

Main articles: Flora of Pakistan and Fauna of Pakistan

Cedrus deodara, Pakistan’s national tree

The diversity of landscapes and climates in Pakistan allows for a wide variety of trees and plants to flourish in this region. The forests range from coniferous alpine and subalpine trees such assprucepine, and deodar cedar in the extreme northern mountains, to deciduous trees such as the mulberry-type Shisham in the Sulaiman range in the majority of the country, to palms suchcoconut and date in South Punjab and all of Sindh. The western hills are home to juniper and tamarisk as well as coarse grasses and scrub plants. Mangrove forests form much of the coastal wetlands along the coast in the south.[77]

Coniferous forests in most of the northern and north-western highlands are found at altitudes ranging from 1,000m to 4,000m. In the xeric regions of Balochistan, date palms and ephedra are common floral varieties. In most of Punjab and Sindh, the Indus plains support tropical and subtropical dry and moist broadleaf forestry as well as tropical and xeric shrublands. These forests are mostly mulberryacacia, and Eucalyptus.

According to statistics, 2.5% or about 1,902,000 hectares (19,020 km2) of Pakistan was forested in 2000.[78]

Similar to the vegetation, the animal life in Pakistan reflects the varied climatic regions of the land. The southern plains are home to crocodiles in the Indus while boarsdeerporcupines, and small rodents are found more commonly in the surrounding areas. The sandy scrublands of central Pakistan are home to a jackalshyenaswild catspanthers, and leopards.

Markhor, Pakistan’s national animal

In the north, a wide variety of animals have found home in the mountainous regions including the Marco Polo sheepUrial sheepMarkhor and Ibex goats,black and brown Himalayan bears, and the rare Snow Leopard. Another rare species is the blind Indus River Dolphin of which there are believed to be about 1,100 remaining, protected at the Indus River Dolphin Reserve in Sindh.[79] There have been sightings of the rare Asiatic cheetahs in the southwestern deserts of Sindh and Balochistan.

Apart from crowssparrows and mynahawksfalcons, and eagles are the more commonly found birds in Pakistan. A lot of birds sighted within Pakistan are migratory as they make their way from Europe, Central Asia and India.[80]

In recent years, the number of wild animals being killed for fur and leather trading led to a new law banning the hunting of wild animals and birds as well as the establishment of several wildlife sanctuaries and game reserves. The number of hunters have greatly dwindled since then.[81]

Vast sections of the Indus flood plains have been cleared of natural vegetation to grow crops. Only animals like the jackalmongoose, jungle cat, civet cat, scaly anteater, desert cat and the wild hare occur in these areas. Hog deer are found in riveine tracts. The crop residues and wild growth support reasonable populations of black and grey partridges.[82]

The lack of vegetative cover, severity of climatic conditions, and the impact of grazing animals on the deserts have left wild animals in a precarious position. Chinkara is the only animal that can still be found in significant numbers in Cholistan.[83] The blackbuck, once plentiful in Cholistan, has now been eliminated; efforts are being made to reintroduce them into the country. A small number of blue bulls are found along the Pakistan-Indian border, and in some parts of Cholistan. Grey partridge, species of sand grouseand the Indian courser are the main birds of the area.Peafowl occur in some areas in Cholistan.[84]


Main article: Economy of Pakistan
The Centaurus (building)

The Centaurus, designed by the British architecture company Atkins
Devrim II

The Devrim II hybrid vehicle, designed and fabricated by students of the National University of Sciences and Technology, Pakistan. In 2009, NUST was ranked as the 350th best University in the world by THES World University Rankings.[85]

Pakistan has a semi-industrialized economy.[86][87] The growth poles of the Pakistani economy are situated along the Indus River.[87][88] Diversified economies of Karachi and Punjab’s urban centres, coexist with lesser developed areas in other parts of the country.[87] Despite being a very poor country in 1947, Pakistan’s economic growth rate has been better than the global average during the subsequent four decades, but imprudent policies led to a slowdown in the late 1990s.[89]

Recently, wide-ranging economic reforms have resulted in a stronger economic outlook and accelerated growth especially in the manufacturing and financial services sectors.[89]Since the 1990s, there has been great improvement in the foreign exchange position and rapid growth in hard currency reserves.[89]

The 2005 estimate of foreign debt was close to US$40 billion. However, this has decreased in recent years with assistance from the International Monetary Fund and significant debt-relief from the United States. Pakistan’s gross domestic product, as measured by purchasing power parity, is estimated to be $475.4 billion[90] while its per capita incomestands at $2,942.[90] The poverty rate in Pakistan is estimated to be between 23%[91] and 28%.[92]

GDP growth was steady during the mid-2000s at a rate of 7%;[93][94] however, slowed down during the Economic crisis of 2008 to 4.7%.[20] A large inflation rate of 24.4% and a low savings rate, and other economic factors, continue to make it difficult to sustain a high growth rate.[95][96] Pakistan’s GDP is US$167 billions, which makes it the 48th-largest economy in the world or 27th largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates. Today, Pakistan is regarded as to having the second largest economy in South Asia.[97]

The structure of the Pakistani economy has changed from a mainly agricultural base to a strong service base. Agriculture now only accounts for roughly 20% of the GDP, while the service sector accounts for 53% of the GDP.[98] Significant foreign investments have been made in several areas including telecommunications, real estate and energy.[99][100] Other important industries include apparel and textiles (accounting for nearly 60% of exports), food processing, chemicals manufacture, and the iron and steel industries.[101] Pakistan’s exports in 2008 amounted to $20.62 billion (USD).[102] Pakistan is a rapidly developing country.[103][104][105]

However, the economic crisis of 2008 led Pakistan to seek more than $100 billion in aid in order to avoid possible bankruptcy.[106][107] This was never given to Pakistan and it had to depend on a more aggressive fiscal policy, backed by the IMF. A year later, Asian Development Bank reported that the Pakistan economic crisis was easing.[108] Furthermore it is projected that in 2010 Pakistan economy would grow at least 4% and could grow more with strong international economic recovery.[109]


Population density in Pakistan

The estimated population of Pakistan in 2010 was over 170 million[2] making it the world’s sixth most-populous country, behind Brazil and ahead of Bangladesh. In 1951 Pakistan had a population of 34 million.[110] The population growth rate now stands at 1.6%.[111] It is expected that by 2030, Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the largest Muslim country in the world.[112][113][114]

The majority of southern Pakistan’s population live along the Indus River. By population size, Karachi is the largest city of Pakistan.[115] In the northern half, most of the population live in an arc formed by the cities of LahoreFaisalabadRawalpindiIslamabadGujranwalaSialkotGujratJhelumSargodhaSheikhupuraNowshera,Mardan and Peshawar. About 20% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day .[116]

Life expectancy at birth is 63 years for females and 62 years for males as of 2006[117] compared to the healthy life expectancy at birth which was 54 years for males and 52 years for females in 2003.[117] Expenditure on health was at 2% of the GDP in 2006.[117] The mortality below 5 was at 97 per 1,000 live births in 2006.[117] During 1990–2003, Pakistan sustained its historical lead as the most urbanised nation in South Asia, with city dwellers making up 36% of its population.[20] Furthermore, 50% of Pakistanis now reside in towns of 5,000 people or more.[118]

Pakistan is a multilingual country with more than sixty languages being spoken. English is the official language of Pakistan and used in official business, government, and legal contracts,[20] and Punjabi has a plurality of native speakers, Urdu is the lingua franca and national language in Pakistan. Punjabi is the provincial language of Punjab.Saraiki is also spoken in the larger area of Punjab province. Pashto is the provincial language of Khyber PakhtunkhwaSindhi is the provincial language of Sindh andBalochi is the provincial language of Balochistan.[119]

The population comprises several main ethnic groups (2009):[120]

  1. Punjabis (44.15%) 78.7 million
  2. Pashtuns (15.42%) 27.2 million
  3. Sindhis (14.1%) 24.8 million
  4. Seraikis (10.53%) 14.8 million
  5. Muhajirs (7.57%) 13.3 million
  6. Balochs is (3.57%) 6.3 million
  7. Others (4.66%) 11.1 million

Smaller ethnic groups, such as KashmirisHindkowansKalashBurushoBrahuiKhowarRangharMeoShina, and Turwalis are mainly found in the northern parts of the country.

Pakistan’s census does not include the registered 1.7 million Afghan refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan, who are mainly found in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) areas, with small numbers in the cities of Karachi and Quetta.[121] Around 2 million refugees from BangladeshIranAfrica, and other places are also found in Pakistan.

Largest cities of Pakistan
2010 estimate[122]
Rank City Name Province Pop. Rank City Name Province Pop. Faisalabad
1 Karachi Sindh 13,205,339 11 Sargodha Punjab 600,501
2 Lahore Punjab 7,129,609 12 Bahawalpur Punjab 543,929
3 Faisalabad Punjab 2,880,675 13 Sialkot Punjab 510,863
4 Rawalpindi Punjab 1,991,656 14 Sukkur Sindh 493,438
5 Multan Punjab 1,606,481 15 Larkana Sindh 456,544
6 Hyderabad Sindh 1,578,367 16 Sheikhupura Punjab 426,980
7 Gujranwala Punjab 1,569,090 17 Jhang Punjab 372,645
8 Peshawar Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 1,439,205 18 Rahim Yar Khan Punjab 353,112
9 Quetta Balochistan 896,090 19 Mardan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 352,135
10 Islamabad Capital Territory 689,249 20 Gujrat Punjab 336,727


Pakistan is the second-most populous Muslim-majority country[12][123] and also has the second-largest Shi’a population in the world.[124] About 97% of the Pakistanis are Muslim. The majority are Sunni, with an estimated 5-20% Shi’a.[125][126][127][128][129] 2.3% are Ahmadis,[130] who are officially considered non-Muslims since a 1974 “anti-Ahmadi” constitutional amendment.[131] There are also several Sufi and Quraniyooncommunities.[132][133][134][135] Although the groups of Muslims usually coexist peacefully, sectarian violence occurs sporadically.[136] The religious breakdown of the country is as follows:[125][126][127][128][129]


Main article: Education in Pakistan

According to the constitution of Pakistan, it is the state’s responsibility to provide free primary education.[138] At the time of independence Pakistan had only one university, the University of the Punjab, founded in 1882 in Lahore. Pakistan now has more than 132 universities of which 73 are public universities and 59 are private universities.[139][140]

Education in Pakistan is divided into five levels: primary (grades one through five); middle (grades six through eight); high (grades nine and ten, leading to the Secondary School Certificate); intermediate (grades eleven and twelve, leading to a Higher Secondary School Certificate); and university programmes leading to graduate and advanced degrees.[141]

Pakistan also has a parallel secondary school education system in private schools, which is based upon the curriculum set and administered by the Cambridge International Examinations, in place of government exams. Some students choose to take the O level and A level[142] exams through the British Council.

Literacy rate – Pakistan

There are currently 730 technical & vocational institutions in Pakistan.[143] The minimum qualifications to enter male vocational institutions, is the completion of grade 8, and for female is grade 5.

English medium education is to be extended, on a phased basis, to all schools across the country.[144] Through various educational reforms, by the year 2015, the ministry of education expects to attain 100% enrolment levels amongst primary school aged children, and a literacy rate of 86% amongst people aged over 10.[145]

Pakistan also has madrassahs that provide free Islamic education and also offer free boarding and lodging to students who come mainly from the poorer strata of society.[146] After criticism over terrorists using them for recruiting purposes, efforts have been made to regulate them.[147]

In 2004 only 46.6 percent of adult Pakistanis were literate. Male literacy was 60.6 percent, while female literacy was 31.5 percent. Literacy rates also vary regionally, and particularly by sex, for instance in tribal areas female literacy is 3%.[148] The government launched a nationwide initiative in 1998 with the aim of eradicating illiteracy and providing a basic education to all children.[149]


Main article: Culture of Pakistan
a man playing sitar dresses in white

A sitar workshop in Islamabad
picture taken in evening, having a bazaar with people walking around, and food shops.

View of Food Street in Lahore

Pakistani society is largely hierarchical, with high regard for traditional Islamic values, although urban families have grown into a nuclear family system because of the socio-economic constraints imposed by the traditional joint family system.[150] Recent decades have seen the emergence of a middle class in cities like KarachiLahoreIslamabadRawalpindi,HyderabadFaisalabadMultan and Peshawar (now numbering at 30 million, with an average annual income of US$10,000, with another 17 million belonging to the upper and upper-middle classes[151] that wish to move in a more centrist direction, as opposed to the northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan that remain highly conservative and dominated by centuries-old regional tribal customs. Increasing globalisation has resulted in ranking 46th on the A.T. Kearney/FP Globalization Index.[152]

The variety of Pakistani music ranges from diverse provincial folk music and traditional styles such as Qawwali and Ghazal Gayaki to modern forms fusing traditional and western music, such as the synchronisation of Qawwali and western music by the world renowned Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In addition Pakistan is home to many famous folk singers such as the late Alam Lohar, who is also well known in Indian Punjab. However, majority of Pakistanis listen to Indian music produced by Bollywood and other Indian film industries. The arrival of Afghan refugees in the western provinces has rekindled Pashto and Persian music and established Peshawar as a hub for Afghan musicians and a distribution center for Afghan music abroad.[153]

State-owned Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation were the dominant media outlets, but there are now numerous private television channels. Various American, European, and Asian television channels and films are available to the majority of the Pakistani population via private television networks, cable, and satellite television (43 million Pakistanis have satellite television).[154] There are also small indigenous film industries based in Lahore and Peshawar (often referred to as Lollywood). And whileBollywood films have been banned from being played in public cinemas since 1965 they have remained in popular culture.[155]

The architecture of the areas now constituting Pakistan can be designated to four distinct periods—pre-IslamicIslamiccolonial and post-colonial. With the beginning of the Indus civilisation around the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C.,[156] an advanced urban culture developed for the first time in the region, with large structural facilities, some of which survive to this day.[157] Mohenjo DaroHarappa and Kot Diji belong to the pre-Islamic era settlements. The rise of Buddhism and the Persian and Greek influence led to the development of the Greco-Buddhist style, starting from the 1st century CE. The high point of this era was reached with the culmination of the Gandhara style.

A black and white picture of a man with mustaches.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal was a key leader in the Pakistan Movement. He is also a national poet of Pakistan.

An example of Buddhist architecture is the ruins of the Buddhist monastery Takht-i-Bahi in the northwest province.[158]

The arrival of Islam in today’s Pakistan meant a sudden end of Buddhist architecture.[159] However, a smooth transition to predominantly pictureless Islamic architecture occurred. The most important of the few completely discovered buildings of Persian style is the tomb of the Shah Rukn-i-Alam in Multan. During the Mughal era design elements of Islamic-Persian architecture were fused with and often produced playful forms of the Hindustani art. Lahore, occasional residence of Mughal rulers, exhibits a multiplicity of important buildings from the empire, among them the Badshahi mosque, the fortress of Lahore with the famous Alamgiri Gate, the colourful, still strongly Persian seeming Wazir Khan Mosque as well as numerous other mosques and mausoleums. Also the Shahjahan Mosque of Thatta in Sindh originates from the epoch of the Mughals. In the British colonial period, predominantly functional buildings of the Indo-European representative style developed from a mixture of European and Indian-Islamic components. Post-colonial national identity is expressed in modern structures like the Faisal Mosque, the Minar-e-Pakistan and the Mazar-e-Quaid.[160]

The literature of Pakistan covers the literatures of languages spread throughout the country, namely UrduSindhiPunjabiPushtoBaluchi as well as English[161] and Persian as well. Prior to the 19th century, the literature mainly consisted of lyric poetry and religiousmystical and popular materials. During the colonial age the native literary figures, under the influence of the western literature of realism, took up increasingly different topics and telling forms. Today, short stories enjoy a special popularity.[162]

The national poet of Pakistan, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, suggested the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. However, Iqbal had also wrote the Tarana-e-Hind which stated the belief of a strong united India. His book The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a major work of modern Islamic philosophy. The most well-known representative of the contemporary Urdu literature of Pakistan is Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Sufi poets Shah Abdul LatifBulleh ShahMian Muhammad Bakhsh and Khawaja Farid are also very popular in Pakistan.[163]Mirza Kalich Beg has been termed the father of modern Sindhi prose.[164]


BBQ on a plate in Karachi
Main article: Pakistani cuisine

Known for its richness and flavour, Pakistani cuisine is a blend of cooking traditions from regions of the subcontinent. Although there are great variations from one area to another, dishes from Sindh province, and the Punjab region are quite similar to north Indian cuisine. These can be highly seasoned and spicy.


Main article: Tourism in Pakistan
green landscape with mountain in the back ground

The Deosai National Park is located inSkarduGilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.

K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth after Mount Everest. With a peak elevation of 8,611 metres (28,251 ft), K2 is part of theKarakoram range, Pakistan.

Despite being once listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world by The Economist,[165] tourism is still a growing industry in Pakistan because of its diverse cultures, peoples and landscapes.[166] The variety of attractions ranges from the ruins of ancient civilisations such as Mohenjo-daroHarappa and Taxila, to the Himalayan hill-stations, that attract those interested in field and winter sports. Pakistan also has five out of fourteen mountain peaks of height over 8,000 metres (26,250 ft), that attract adventurers and mountaineers from around the world, especially to K2.[167] From April to September, domestic and international visitors to these areas bring tourist income to the local people.

Utror Swat valley May-2010

In Balochistan there are many caves for cavers and tourists to visit especially the Juniper Shaft Cave, the Murghagull Gharra cave, Mughall saa cave, and Pakistan’s naturally decorated cave, the Mangocher Cave. Pakistan is a member country of the Union International de Spéléologie (UIS).[168]

The northern parts of Pakistan are home to several historical fortresses, towers and other architecture including the Hunza and Chitral valleys, the latter being home to the Kalash, a small pre-Islamic Animist community.[169] Punjab is also the site of Alexander’s battle on the Jhelum River. The historic city of Lahore is considered Pakistan’s cultural centre and has many examples of Mughal architecture such as theBadshahi MasjidShalimar GardensTomb of Jahangir and the Lahore Fort.[170] The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) also helps promote tourism in the country.[171] However, tourism is still limited because of the lack of proper infrastructure and the worsening security situation in the country. The recent militancy in Pakistan’s scenic sites, including Swat in Khybar Pakhtoon Kawa province, have dealt a massive blow to the tourism industry. Many of the troubles in these tourist destinations are also blamed on the frail travel network, tourism regulatory framework, low prioritisation of the tourism industry by the government, low effectiveness of marketing and a constricted tourism perception.[172][173] After these areas were being cleared off the militant groups in late 2009, the government, with financial support from the USAID, started a campaign to reintroduce tourism in Swat valley. Pakistan receives 500,000 tourists annually, with almost half of them heading to northern Pakistan.[174]


Main article: Sports in Pakistan
Cricket is the most popular sport in Pakistan

Cricket is the most popular sport in Pakistan

The national sport of Pakistan is field hockey, although cricket is the most popular game across the country.[175] The national cricket team has won the Cricket World Cup once (in 1992), were runners-up once (in 1999), and co-hosted the games twice (in 1987 and 1996). Pakistan were runners-up in the inaugural 2007 ICC World Twenty20 held in South Africa and were the champions at the 2009 ICC World Twenty20 held in England. Lately however, Pakistani cricket has suffered heavily due to teams refusing to tour Pakistan because of terrorism fears. No teams have toured Pakistan since March 2009, when militants attacked the touring Sri Lankan cricket players.[176]

Squash is another sport that Pakistanis have excelled in. Successful world-class squash players such as Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan have won the World Open several times during their careers.

At international level, Pakistan has competed many times at the Olympics in field hockey, boxing, athletics, swimming, and shooting. Pakistan’s Olympic medal tally stands at 10 (3 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze) while the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games medal tally stands at 61 and 182 respectively. Hockey is the sport in which Pakistan has been most successful at the Olympics, with three gold medals in (1960, 1968, and 1984). Pakistan has also won the Hockey World Cup a record four times (1971, 1978, 1982, 1994).

Among others, Association football and Polo are the more prominent sports with regular national events held in different parts of the country. BoxingBilliardsSnookerRowingKayakingCavingTennisContract Bridge,Golf and Volley Ball are also actively participated and Pakistan has produced notable champions in these sports at regional and international levels.


Main article: Transport in Pakistan

Map of major Highways andMotorways in Pakistan

The Makran Coastal Highway starts from Karachi and goes all the way toGwadar.

Rail services in Pakistan are provided by the state-run Pakistan Railways, under the supervision of the Ministry of Railways. Pakistan Railways provides an important mode of transportation in Pakistan, catering to the large-scale movement of people and freight. The railway network comprises 8,163 km[177] of which 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) (broad gauge) forms 7,718 km including 293 km of electrified track. Pakistan Railways carry 65 million passengers annually and daily operates 228 mail, express and passenger trains. Pakistan Railways also operate special trains for various occasions. The Freight Business Unit with 12000 personnel operates over 200 freight stations on the railway network. Pakistan has also planned or had many Mass Transit Systems. The Karachi Circular Railway, which opened in the early 1940s, is the only functioning Mass Transit System in Pakistan as of date. In 1976, Karachi was slated to begin work on an underground metro system, but plans have been put on hold since. The Lahore Metro is another proposal still in planning and is scheduled to be completed by 2020. Pakistan has been successful in foreign trade by rail. Pakistan has successfully traded with countries such as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Turkmenistan and China.[178]

During the 1990s, Pakistan began an ongoing project to rebuild all national highways throughout the country specifically to important financial, cargo and textile centres. The National Highway Authority or NHA is responsible for the maintenance of all national highways in Pakistan. The construction of motorways began in the early 1990s with the idea building a world class road network and to reduce the load off the heavily used national highways throughout the country. The first motorway to be completed was M1 in 1997 from Peshawar to Islamabad. Later on, highways such as M2 fromIslamabad to LahoreM3 from Pindi Bhattian to FaisalabadM9 from Hyderabad to KarachiKarachi Northern Bypass from Hyderabad to Karachi, and the Lahore Ring Road[179] were completed.

The waterway network in Pakistan is in its infancy with Karachi being the only major city situated next to the Arabian Sea. Plans are being proposed for the development of the waterways in the country along the Indus Riverand through the Punjab as it would boost employment opportunities and the economic and social development in Pakistan.[180] Pakistan has an estimated 139 airports, 10 of them international.[181]

Who said? Wikipedia said ;).

Written by Syafirul Ramli>>

February 17, 2011 at 1:05 PM

Posted in The Country

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