Demography and economic geography. – According to Localcollegeexplorer, Saudi Arabia is a Southwestern Asian state, entirely included in the Arabian Peninsula.
The population has increased considerably, passing from 22,678,262 residents of the 2004 census to 29,369,428 estimated by UNDESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) in 2014. Riyāḍ, the capital, grew by 25% in the same period, confirming itself as the most populous in the state
(5,188,286 residents). Fertility has dropped significantly, from 4 children per woman in 2006 to 2.7 in 2012. However, the Saudis are still very young, given that 66.8% are of working age and only 4.9% are 60 or more years. Despite this, 50% of the active population is included among the 20% immigrants. The latter, mostly from other Asian countries, increased from 8.5% in 2006 to 22% in 2012, attracted by the growing industrial power of Saudi Arabia. Among the active population it is remarkable that only 15.5% are female.
Economic conditions. – By far the most prevalent industrial activity is mining, with a production of oil which went from 434,988,000 tons in 2007 to 483,025,000 in 2013, second in the world, after Russia. Natural gas extraction is also relevant, where Saudi Arabia is ranked eighth in the world. The economic system has the same characteristics as other hydrocarbon producing countries in the area, characterized by strong state intervention and little private initiative. The great economic availability of the State is managed according to neo-patrimonial dictates, which end up acquiring consensus through increasing economic and social benefits.
History. – In the period 2005-10, the Saudi kingdom was characterized by substantial internal stability favored both by the absence of threats – internal and external – to its security, and by the launch of a cautious reform process, especially in economics, which allowed central administrations to reduce the multiple problems that plagued Riyāḍ. In recent years, the inseparable intertwining between politics and religion, under the dictates of Wahhabism, never failed, but above all it was not affected by any disturbance.
In this context, king ῾Abd Allāh ibn ῾Abd al-῾Azīz alSa῾ūd – in power from August 2005 until his death in January 2015, when his stepbrother Salmān succeeded him to the throne – was able to carry out some reforms aimed at redefining the economic structure of the country and to favor a policy of attracting foreign investments in the kingdom. Furthermore, on the back of the municipal elections of 2005, in the national political debate more attention was placed on the female question, in terms of both civil and political rights, and the role of women in the economy. At the same time, together with the fight against Islamist terrorism, the elimination of all forms of religious radicalism that could lead to terrorism became a priority for the security and stability of the kingdom. Fatwa (considered sources of law), the expulsion of the ulama who criticized the reformist tendencies of the monarch, as well as the reform of the administration of justice in 2007, responded to these needs.
With the onset of the Arab springs of 2011, the Saudi Arabia experienced – albeit to a lesser extent than other realities in the region – a season of protests mainly linked to political, civil and religious discrimination against Shiite minorities (about 15% of the total population) of the eastern provinces of the kingdom. However, the protests – which ended after the direct intervention of the monarch who promised reforms and the injection into the internal market of 129 billion dollars in subsidies – revealed the existing fragilities in the Saudi system, such as the lack of respect for human rights, the issue of succession. to the throne – within which the generational tensions existing between the various members of the royal family are inserted – and the lack of differentiation of the economy.
Caught unprepared by the revolutionary fervor and intimidated by the possible internal fallout, the Saudi establishment first declared the demonstrations of dissent illegal, then rejected dialogue with minorities and, finally, repressed all forms of opposition against the royal family itself. At the same time, the central government brought the protests back into terrorism by condemning any activity deemed dangerous for the morality and safety of the state itself (eg driving bans on women and related arrests). Finally, the danger represented by the jihadism of the return of the mujāhidīn engaged in Syria and ῾Irāq only partially explained the passing of a new and more restrictive anti-terrorism law, a progressive militarization of the territory along the borders and the arrest of hundreds of political and religious opponents – especially Saudi Shiites – deemed apostates or agents Iranian foreigners.
At the same time, on a regional and international level, the same internal fears and a possible Iranian penetration into the Arabian peninsula guided Riyāḍ’s foreign policy guidelines. The al-Sa῾ūd tried on the one hand to coordinate the strategies of the Gulf Cooperation Council against Teherān – also minimizing the different visions between the powers in the area – on the other hand they pushed the monarchies and anti-Islamist regimes to create a front. of anti-stock stability in the Middle East.