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Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country in Asia that occupies most of the Arabian peninsula and has both Persian Gulf and Red Sea coast lines. Its surrounding countries are Jordan to the northwest, Iraq to the northeast, Kuwait and Qatar to the east, United Arab Emirates to the south east, Oman and Yemen to the south.

Saudi Arabia contains the holy Muslim site of Mecca, a place that all Muslims try to pilgrimage to at least once in their life.

Much of Saudi Arabia (about 98%) is desert and is largely uninhabited. Only the existence of petroleum, and the wealth it generates, tempts people to explore and live in much of this harsh landscape.

Saudi Arabia is one of two countries named for their royal families, along with The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The family were sheiks of Nejd, the area around Riyahd, but were driven out by a neighbouring tribe, hiding with their relatives, the sultan of Kuwait. Then in 1902, young Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud and a few dozen lads rode out to raid their home territory. As it turned out, the invaders had been ruling badly, so many locals joined them. They not only re-captured Riyadh, but much of the surrounding territory.

After that, Abdul Aziz set out on a 30-year campaign to unify the Arabian Peninsula. The area united under him became known as Saudi Arabia.

In the 1930s, the discovery of oil transformed the country. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia accepted the Kuwaiti royal family and 400,000 refugees while allowing Western and Arab troops to deploy on its soil for the liberation of Kuwait the following year. A burgeoning population, unemployment, aquifer depletion, and an economy largely dependent on petroleum output and prices are all major governmental concerns.

Saudi Arabia has some of the most restrictive travel policies in the world, and advance visas are required for all foreigners desiring to enter or leave. The only important exception are residents of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations. Nationals of Israel and those with evidence of visiting Israel will be denied visas, although in theory merely being Jewish in and of itself is not a disqualifying factor.

However, things have loosened up a little compared to the past. Tourist visas, long near-impossible without a Saudi sponsor, are now available but only for guided tours. Transit visas are limited to some long-distance truck drivers. Hajj (pilgrimage) visas are issued by the Saudi government through Saudi embassies around the world in cooperation with local mosques. Hajjis, and those on transit visas are prohibited from traveling freely throughout the kingdom.

Most visitors are guest workers. These visas are provided by the Saudi government to employers.

Exit visas are required to leave. Note that if you have a work visa, you cannot get an exit visa without a signature from your employer. There have been cases of people unable to leave because of controversy with employers.

Saudi Arabia has very rigorous customs inspections at all entry points. Alcoholic beverages, pork, non-Islamic religious materials and pornography (very widely defined) are all prohibited. Computers, VCR tapes and DVDs have all been seized from time to time for inspection by the authorities. A visitor should expect all bags to be opened or x-rayed.

Information provided by Wikipedia

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