Saudi Arabia

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La Mecque, Arabie Saoudite

La Mecque, Arabie Saoudite: les Musulmans du monde se rassemblent à la Grande Mosquée al-Haram lors du pélerinage dans la cité sainte. AFP PHOTO/OMAR SALEM

Saudi Arabia has a surface area of almost 2 million km2 and covers 80% of the Arabian Peninsula. A large part of the territory is taken up by the largest sand desert in the world, the Rub’ al-Khali or Empty Quarter, but there are also a few mountainous regions in the South and in the centre of the kingdom. The 30 million inhabitants mainly live around oases like the al Hasa oasis (which is the largest in the world) or along the country’s Eastern and Western coasts. These openings on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea are home to rich biodiversity inckuding flamingos, egrets and sharks. On land, there are jungle cats, wolves, baboons and ibexes in the kingdom’s plains and at high altitudes. 5.3% of Saudi territory is listed as a protected area including 640 000 square kilometres of its Empty Quarter; the Ar-Rub’al-Khali Wildlife Management Area is the world’s second largest protected area.


Women’s status. Saudi women have little social freedom and almost no political power. The country is ranked 130 out of 134 in terms of the world gender gap. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive cars. Access to work is restricted. Women have to wear a niqab in public places.

Water. As Saudi Arabia has no permanent body of water, water tables are the country’s main source of water. However, they are overexploited. 85% of the water that is used in this desert country is used for agriculture. Large-scale desalination programmes have been launched – they provide 8% of the country’s water- but this technique requires considerable energy resources.

Oil slicks. The Saudi economy depends heavily on the oil sector which represents almost 90% of exports. These are shipped by sea which increases the risk of oil slicks. During the Gulf war in 1991, between 5 and 10 million barrels were spilt into the Persian Gulf. The oil slick which was one of the largest in the world, devastated the Saudi coasts.

CO2. In 2007, each Saudi produced 14.79 tons of CO2. In France, each person produced 5.81 tons of CO2. After France, Saudi Arabia is the planet’s 16th largest emitter.

Sharks. Today, the sharks in the Red Sea are under threat. They are fished four times more than in 1950. Their disappearance would have multiple effects on the balance of marine life.


Saudi Arabia is often criticised for violating Human Rights. National organisations working on the issue are all under the aegis of the government. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, based in Egypt, provides information about this issue.

arabie saoudite
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