We published this last week. In light of today's protest, and the day of rage scheduled for Tomorrow, we wanted to run this again.
First, the political scene:
The modern Saudi state was founded in 1932 by Abd Al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al SAUD after a 30-year campaign that began with the captured Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the Al Saud. His male descendents rule the country today, as required by the Basic Law of 1992. The ulema, clerical leadership, are led by the Al ash-Sheikh, descendants of the founder of the Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, and are influential in the judicial and educational system in an informal "power-sharing" arrangement with the house of al-Saud. There are no recognized political parties or national elections, except for one partial municipal election, which was held in 2005. Islamic militancy (Al Qaeda), political succession and potential Shiaa unrest in the East South have been prominent domestic issues. Saudi Arabia's next succession is crucial to regional geopolitical interests and it will be important to monitor whether reformist or more conservative figures, perhaps among the Sudairi princes, come to power.
As for some hard numbers? Glad you asked:
Unemployment (latest): 10.5%
Youth unemployment (latest): 28.2%
Inflation (%yoy, 2010 avg): 5.4%
Food inflation (%yoy, 2010 avg): 6.3%
Population (mn inhabitants): 26.1
GDP per capita (US$, 2010): 16,641.4
World Economic Forum competitiveness ranking: 21 (out of 139)
Saudi Arabia has an oil-based economy with strong government controls over major economic activities. It possesses about 20% of the world's proven petroleum reserves, ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum, and plays a leading role in OPEC. The petroleum sector accounts for roughly 80% of budget revenues, 45% of GDP, and 90% of export earnings. Saudi Arabia is encouraging the growth of the private sector in order to diversify its economy and to employ more Saudi nationals. Diversification efforts are focusing on power generation, telecommunications, natural gas exploration, and petrochemical sectors. Almost 6 million foreign workers play an important role in the Saudi economy, particularly in the oil and service sectors, while Riyadh is struggling to reduce unemployment among its own nationals. Saudi officials are particularly focused on employing its large youth population, which generally lacks the education and technical skills the private sector needs. Riyadh has substantially boosted spending on job training and education, most recently with the opening of the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology - Saudi Arabia's first co-educational university. As part of its effort to attract foreign investment, Saudi Arabia acceded to the WTO in December 2005 after many years of negotiations. The government has begun establishing six "economic cities" in different regions of the country to promote foreign investment and plans to spend $373 billion between 2010 and 2014 on social development and infrastructure projects to advance Saudi Arabia's economic development.