Saudi Arabia, officially known as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Arabic: المملكة العربية السعودية; Al-Mamlakah al-Arabiyyah as-Suūdiyyah), is the biggest country in Western Asia and The Middle East and the second biggest country in the Arab World, after Algeria. It takes up most of the Arabian Peninsula, including its oil-rich but extremely barren Rub' al Khali desert, and borders Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, as well as the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, two of the world's most important shipping lanes. It is also connected to the island country of Bahrain through the King Fahd Causeway.
The country is popularly known as the birthplace of Islam and home to two of its holiest sites and tourist meccas... Mecca (now you know how the word came into English) and Medina. The Prophet Muhammad was born and raised in Mecca and subsequently spent the rest of his life preaching from Medina, which served as the capital of the burgeoning caliphate ruled by Muhammad's three successors. However, beginning with Ali, the caliphate's base of power was relocated to outside the peninsula (specifically, to Kufa, Iraq), and neither the following Umayyad dynasty nor later Muslim states moved back to the Arabian heartland, which being mostly desert was undesirable compared to the more green and populous lands elsewhere. As a result, despite serving as a holy land, it had little political importance in the Muslim world (let alone the world) until the modern era, though conquerors of Mecca and Medina could fancy themselves the title "Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques"note (the current king still can).
The country is an absolute monarchy, founded by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud at the end of World War I, who wanted to unite all the vast land around the ancestral home of his family, which had been something of the historical pastime of his dynasty like the English Kings tried to conquer France and Scotland. But like them, it wouldn't have been a pastime if they got it over and done with. What most people don't know is that the Saudi Arabia that exists today is actually the third dynastic Saud state to hold sway, and the middle of the road in terms of size. But every time the Sauds would start to get powerful, the surrounding forces would combine to smack them down.
The Saudi family's rose to royal might in the 18th century when Muhammad bin Saud, the leader of a relatively small clan with big dreams, made a savvy alliance with religious philosopher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Bin Saud gave the latter political protection and armed muscle, and in return Wahhab offered him legitimacy and the Ikhwan, or "Brotherhood", a group of Wahhab's militant followers driven by his fiery preaching and radical philosophy.
Over the next several decades, this alliance carved out an imperial state, known as the Emirate of Diriyah, across most of Arabia that is actually larger than Saudi Arabia is today and influence stretching beyond that even, with Ikhwan raiding as far afield as Damascus. However, their fall was just as rapid as their rise. The new Saudi emirate recognized neither the Ottoman Caliph who was the nominal ruler of Arabia and Sunni Islam or the claims of Turkey's treacherous vassal Egypt to the Red Sea Coast of Arabia. The staunchly Sunni massacres of Shiites along the Persian Gulf alienated the equally Shiite Imperial Iran. Finally, they subsidized Wahhabist piracy in the Gulf and Straits of Tiran right around the time The British Empire was becoming involved there. As if to cap this all off, the atrocities the Ikhwan committed in the holiest cities in Islam when they captured them scandalized the entire Muslim world almost more than the Napoleonic French had when the invaded Egypt and Syria around the same time.
So all of these powers decided to set aside their differences and go after the Saudis. The main heavy lifter was to be Egypt's newly instated Muhammad Ali and his equally new Westernized army. He promptly invaded Arabia and killed every Saudi he could while the British put down the pirates, leaving the leaders of the Saud on Ottoman execution blocks and the survivors to flee into the desert to lick their wounds.
Several years later, they came back and bounced the Egyptians out to establish a far smaller but still powerful state, the Emirate of Nejd. It held sway for several decades but never managed to obtain the world fearing scope of the first. However, a combination of tribal politics, a Decadent Court, and new arch-enemies in the form of the Rashidi clan eventually toppled the Sauds and forced them to flee to Kuwait, whose leader welcomed him in.
A decade later, Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud led a war party that retook Riyadh, reopening the war for Arabian supremacy and starting the modern Saudi state. You can read more about the process in his page, but over the next several years of byzantine politics and both victories and defeats he was able to steadily consolidate his power until World War I broke out. Then, the Saud—like other anti-Turkish Arab rebels—made a deal with the Western Allies who distracted and eventually destroyed the Turkish Empire, while the Saud used the opportunity to polish off all other rivals (including the Ikhwan) to dominate what is now Saudi Arabia.
And because succession has de facto gone from older brother to younger brother and then father to son, the throne is still being passed to his various sons today. With the passage of time, however, there has been a lot of bickering among members of the royal family. Most of that has cooled down with time, too, but given the old age of Ibn Saud's surviving children and grandchildren there is a Succession Crisis everybody can see coming in the near future. Expect more squabbles in the next decade or two. The latest change to the succession came in June 2017, when Muhammad bin Nayef, a grandson of Ibn Saud, was removed as Crown Prince in favor of Mohammad bin Salman, a considerably youngernote son of current King Salman. Muhammad bin Nayef had only been elevated to Crown Prince in April 2015, when Ibn Saud's youngest surviving son, Muqrin, was removed from the position.
Saudi Arabia is well known for its massive oil and gas reserves and sparse desert, being something of a Qurac in fiction. It is the world's largest oil exporter and second largest oil producer, being the most influential member of OPEC by a wide margin. Economy is primarily driven by these oil and gas, but the country is also counting on the multibillion dollar annual pilgrimage business during the Hajj season, which attracts roughly two million Muslims all over the world to Mecca. Because of its historical significance as the homeland of the Arabs, including several nomadic tribes (such as the famous Bedouin people), Saudis are sometimes seen as Proud Warrior Race Guys. Despite its renown as a staunch supporter of Sunni Islam, the country has a surprisingly large population of non-Sunnis, notably in the Eastern Province, which has a Twelver Shia majority, and the southern Najran Province, which has an Ismaili Shia majority. Since the founding of Islam, Mecca itself has been serving as a room for Muslims of various sects and schools to discuss with impunity. Many of the aforementioned Hajj pilgrims chose to settle throughout the centuries, making the city one of the most cosmopolitan in the world.
Popularly, Saudis are seen as extremely conservative and devoutly religious, sometimes to the point of fanaticism. To an extent, this is Truth in Television: until The New '10s, Saudi Arabia had probably the world's strictest morality law, especially in regards to gender. Women were not allowed to drive, go outside without wearing headscarves and modest clothing, and make important decisions in their lives without the approval of male relatives. Gender segregation was observed by the religious police, who used to patrol the streets 24 hours a day. This police force also forced businesses and stores to close whenever mosques broadcast the calls to prayer (other Muslim-majority countries usually give a lengthy afternoon break for people to pray, but they don't force them to do it). Cinemas were forbidden; Saudis had to go to Gulf countries if they wanted to watch movies on the silver screen. These policies were rapidly chipped away since 2017 after Prince Mohammad ascended to power and began clamping down on clerical power.
Saudi Arabia has a long history of being an ally of the West, starting when the British Empire provided muscle to the Al-Saud in their struggles against their Turkish-backed Rashidi rivals and continuing well after The United States took over for Britain. They tend to spend time buying military equipment from them and allowed them to use the country as a launching platform for Operation Desert Storm against Iraq. However, this relationship has always been an uneasy one. The first significant interaction between the Saudi dynasty and the West was when the former sponsored pirates in the 18th/early 19th century that attacked British shipping, they didn't support America in the most recent invasion of Iraq, and they took domestic flak for supporting the first invasion. On top of this the country as a whole has a reputation as a terrorist cultivator, not the least of which because Osama bin Laden was a Saudi national. The Saudi state backs the Palestinians in the ArabIsraeli Conflict; for this reason, it does not recognize Israel.note Reports of anti-Semitic propaganda being widely distributed by official channels and taught in schools have led to complaints on several occasions.
A note on the Saudi flag from The Other Wiki: do NOT change the orientation of the Arabic text in white. Seriously, don't. This of course means that if you plan on hanging it vertically, you need to buy another flag with the writing still going properly right to left, and a properly-made flag is actually folded over so that the writing is seen going the right way, no matter what angle you look at it. The caption translates what the writing is; it's something of a big deal for Muslims in general.
Saudi Arabia in fiction:
- JAG: In "Head to Toe", A female naval aviator serving with the U.S. Air Force in Saudi Arabia is defending herself on not wearing an abaya, and arguments are made for abiding by the culture, subjugation of women and treatment of foreigners. When Mac is subjected to the same treatment she sides with the defendant.
- Tom Clancy has some action going on here in various Ryanverse novels. They're generally 'good guys'.
- The Kingdom a team of FBI agents have to work with the local law enforcement in Saudi Arabia to hunt down a terrorist group responsible for the bombing of civilians.
- The character Pullum Purna from Street Fighter EX is an example of a Saudi character. Although, she's a walking cliché and sports an outfit that has absolutely nothing to do with Arab culture. In fact, any woman wandering around Riyadh in Pullum's revealing, harem-style outfit would be arrested on the spot.
- However, Shaheen, debuting in Tekken 7, was designed with the help of the game's Middle-Eastern fanbase, and has a much more realistic look for a modern Arabic character.
- Episode 2 of SEAL Team season 2 takes place in Saudi Arabia where Bravo Team must work with the Saudi military to stop a Shiite terrorist group from poisoning a water treatment plant with anthrax.
- Wily's Fortress in Mega Man 8 is located here.
- Wadjda: A Saudi movie about a 10-year-old girl who wants to get a bike.
The Saudi Arabian flag