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Saudi Arabia's 1992 population is estimated to be about 16.9 million, including about 4.6 million resident foreigners. Until the 1960s, most of the population was nomadic or seminomadic; due to rapid economic and urban growth, more than 95% of the population now is settled. Some cities and oases have densities of more than 1,000 people per square kilometer (2,600 per sq. mile).
Saudi Arabia is known as the birthplace of Islam, which in the century following Muhammad's death in 632 spread to much of the Mediterranean world. Islam obliges all Muslims to make the Hajj, or pigrimage to Makkah, at least once during their lifetime if they are able to do so. The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative; the country adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic religious law (Shari'a). Cultural presentations must conform to narrowly defined standards of ethics. Men and women are not permitted to attend public events together and are segregated in the work place.
Most Saudis are ethnically Arab. Some are of mixed ethnic origin and are descended from Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, Indians, and Africans, most of whom immigrated as pilgrims and reside in the Hijaz region along the Red Sea coast. Many Arabs from nearby countries are employed in the kingdom. There also are significant numbers of expatriate workers from North America, South Asia, Europe, and East Asia.
Except for a few major cities and oases, the harsh climate historically prevented much settlement of the Arabian Peninsula. People of various cultures have lived there over a span of more than 5,000 years. The Dilmun culture, along the Gulf coast, was contemporaneous with the Sumerians and ancient Egyptians, and most of the empires of the ancient world traded with the states of the peninsula.
The Saudi state began in central Arabia in about 1750. A local ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, joined forces with an Islamic reformer, Muhammad Abd Al-Wahhab, to create a new political entity. Over the next 150 years, the fortunes of the Saud family rose and fell several times as Saudi rulers contended with Egypt, the Ottoman Turks, and other Arabian families for control on the peninsula. The modern Saudi state was founded by the late King Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud (known internationally as Ibn Saud). In 1902, Abd Al-Azia recaptured Riyadh, the Al-Saud dynasty's ancestral capital, from the rival Al-Rashid family. Continuing his conquests, Abd Al-Aziz subdued Al-Hasa, the rest of Nejd, and the Hijaz between 1913 and 1926. In 1932, these regions were unified as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Boundaries with Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait were established by a series of treaties negotiated in the 1920s, with two "neutral zones"--one with Iraq and the other with Kuwait--created. The Saudi-Kuwaiti neutral zone was administratively partitioned in 1971, with each state continuing to share the petroleum resources of the former zone equally. Tentative agreement on the partition of the Saudi-Iraqi neutral zone was reached in 1981, and partition was finalized by 1983. The country's southern boundary with Yemen was partially defined by the 1934 Treaty of Taif, which ended a brief border war between the two states. It remains undefined in many areas. The border between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was agreed upon in 1974. Boundary differences with Qatar remained unresolved.
King Abd Al-Aziz died in 1953 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Saud, who regined for 11 years. In 1964, Saud abdicated in favor of his half-brother, Faisal, who had served as Foreign Minister. Because of fiscal difficulties, King Saud had been persuaded in 1958 to delegate direct conduct of Saudi Government affairs to Faisal as Prime Minister, Saud briefly regained control of the government in 1960-62. In October …