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Churchill's Sneeze

Here are 17 incredible facts about oil-rich Saudi Arabia

Apparently women drivers could “undermine social values”.

SAUDI ARABIA IS known for its oil-based wealth and questionable human rights record.

But how much do we really know about the kingdom?

Here are 17 intriguing facts about the country:

1. About 100 camels are sold in the capital of Saudi Arabia every day

camels Shutterstock Shutterstock

The capital, Riyadh, has a large camel market.

Source: Random History

2. On average, one person has been executed every other day in Saudi Arabia in 2015

“At least 151 people have been put to death in Saudi Arabia so far this year — the highest recorded figure since 1995 — in an unprecedented wave of executions marking a grim new milestone in the Saudi Arabian authorities’ use of the death penalty,” according to Amnesty International.

“Annual execution tolls for Saudi Arabia in recent years have rarely exceeded 90 for the entire year,” they added.

Source: Ahram Online

KING King Salman of Saudi Arabia, centre, opens the 36th session of the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh. PA PA

3. The kingdom’s Ghawar oil field has enough reserves to fill 4,770,897 Olympic swimming pools

The kingdom’s oil reserves are huge. Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field is the largest in the world. It has an estimated 75 billion barrels of oil left.

An Olympic-size swimming pool can hold 660,253.09 gallons of liquid.

Source: US Energy Information Administration

4. Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the world without a river

Saudi Arabia is the 13th largest country in the world, and the second-largest in the Arab world — behind Algeria — at 830,000 square miles.

Some 95% of the country is considered a desert or semidesert, and it has some of the largest desert areas, including An Nafud and Rub al-Khali. Only 1.45% of the land is arable.

And while it doesn’t have a river, its “extensive coastlines on the Persian Gulf and Red Sea provide great leverage on shipping (especially crude oil) through the Persian Gulf and Suez Canal”, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Source: CIA World Factbook

5. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are forbidden to drive

sa A Saudi woman waits outside a polling center in Riyadh. PA PA

There is no official law that bans women from driving but religious beliefs prohibit it, with Saudi clerics arguing that female drivers “undermine social values”.

Source: The Week

6. Saudi Arabia’s population is slightly bigger than Texas’, but Texas’ GDP is nearly twice as large

Saudi Arabia’s population was around 28.8 million in 2013, which is slightly above that of Texas’ 26.5 million. But Saudi Arabia’s GDP in 2013 was around $750 billion (€684.5 billion), while Texas’ was approximately twice that amount, at $1.4 trillion (€1.2 trillion).

Plus, Saudi Arabia has the 19th largest GDP — but if Texas were its own country, it would have the 13th largest GDP, just below Australia and right above Spain.

Overall, this suggests that Texas is more productive than Saudi Arabia.

Sources: Business InsiderWorld Bank

7. Saudi Arabia’s petroleum sector makes up 45% of GDP, which makes it bigger than the total GDPs of Iraq, Morocco, Rwanda and Tonga combined

Saudi Arabia’s petroleum sector puts it at around $335.372 billion.

Iraq’s GDP is $222.879 billion (€202 billion), Morocco’s is $104.4 billion (€95 billion), Rwanda’s is $7.451 billion (€6.8 billion), and Tonga’s is $466 million (€425 million).

Sources: CIA Factbook, HSBC

8. Saudi Arabia is erecting the world’s tallest building, which will be one kilometer tall

saudi-arabia-is-erecting-the-worlds-tallest-building-which-will-be-1-kilometer-tall--taller-than-492-lebron-jameses-standing-on-top-of-one-another Smith Gill Smith Gill

Saudi Arabia officially got the green light to build the world’s tallest building, the Jeddah Tower — aka the Kingdom Tower. It’s expected to reach 3,280 feet, or one kilometer.

But Iraq has plans to upstage the Saudis, as it wants to build and even taller tower called The Bride, which will eclipse the Jeddah Tower by 500 feet.

Source: CNN

9. The expected cost of the Kingdom Tower’s construction is 19.2 times as much as the amount Taylor Swift made last year

The Kingdom Tower is expected to cost $1.23 billion (€1.1 billion). Taylor Swift reportedly raked in $64 million in 2014 (€58.4 million).

Source: The Huffington Post

10. The zig-zag-shaped border between Saudi Arabia and Jordan is rumoured to be a byproduct of Winston’s Churchill love of boozy lunches

the-zig-zag-shaped-border-between-saudi-arabia-and-jordan-is-rumored-to-be-a-byproduct-of-winstons-churchill-love-of-boozy-lunches Winston's Hiccup, aka Churchill's Sneeze. Wikimedia Wikimedia

Jordan and Saudi Arabia share an oddly shaped border that’s referred to as Winston’s Hiccup or Churchill’s Sneeze.

Rumour has it that Winston Churchill drew that boundary “with a stroke of a pen, one Sunday afternoon in Cairo” following “a particularly liquid lunch”.

Source: The New York Times

11. Almost 60% of the labour force in Saudi Arabia is foreign

There’s been some structural improvement in the kingdom’s labour force, but ultimately it remains heavily reliant on foreign labour. “Saudi nationals continue to work largely in the public sector with little incentive to join the private sector or to improve productivity,” writes HSBC’s Razan Nasser.

Notably, most of the people who work in the oil and service sectors in Saudi Arabia are foreigners.

This made for some complicated times when the burial of non-Muslims was strictly forbidden on Saudi soil, until regulations were marginally eased in 2012.

Sources: HSBC, CIA Factbook

12. Saudi Arabia’s female labour-force participation rate was roughly 20%, the eighth-lowest in the world

Saudi women “no longer … have to endure watching male shop assistants trying to size them up for underwear by sight through their voluminous, Islamically-approved robes”.

By comparison, the US’s female labour-force participation rate is around 47%, Germany’s is around 54%, and Japan’s is at 49%.

Bill Gates criticised Saudi Arabia’s female employment at the World Economic Forum in 2007. When one person asked him if Saudi Arabia might become a major, competitive economy by 2010, Gates responded, “Well, if you’re not fully utilising half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get close to the top.”

In 2012, women were finally allowed to work in places like lingerie shops. Before that, women faced some extremely uncomfortable times shopping with male salesmen.

Sources: HSBC, The Washington PostWorld BankTelegraph

13. The kingdom’s population is 47% under 24 and 5% over 60

Saudi Arabia’s young demographic really stands out against the backdrop of major economies with aging populations such as Japan.

“Saudi Arabia’s young and growing population has hard-wired strong consumption growth in the kingdom for decades to come,” writes HSBC’s Nasser. “However, in the long term, meeting the demands of this growing population will become more of a challenge.”

Sources: CIA Factbook, HSBC

14. Saudi Arabia’s growth has been fuelled by increased resources, NOT by increased productivity

saudi-arabias-growth-has-been-fueled-by-increased-resources-not-by-increased-productivity HSBC HSBC

HSBC’s above chart suggests that Saudi Arabia’s recent growth is largely attributed to increased resources, rather than increased productivity or labour.

Source: HSBC

15. Saudi Arabia is building six “economic cities” that are expected to add an amount 3.5 times as large as Kenya’s total GDP to Saudi Arabia’s GDP

In an effort to diversify its economy — instead of only having a huge oil sector — Saudi Arabia is building “six economic cities” that are expected to add $150 billion (€136 billion) to the country’s GDP.

The cities are spread around the country and are expected to add 1.3 million jobs and raise the GDP per capita from $13,000 (€11,850) to $33,500 (€30,500).

Kenya’s GDP is $44.1 billion (€40.1 billion).

Source: OECD

16. Saudi Arabia’s annual military expenditure is four times as much as the GDP of Afghanistan

Saudi Arabia’s military expenditure increased to $80.8 billion (€73 billion) in 2014, up from 2013′s $67 billion (€61 billion), which puts them in fourth place for military expenditure, behind the US, China and Russia.

But it’s notable that Saudi Arabia’s military expenditure is 10.4% of its GDP — which is huge. Most countries are around 2% to 4%, with the US around 3.5%.

Afghanistan’s GDP was $20.7 billion (€18.8 billion) in 2013.

Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

prayer A Muslim pilgrim prays on a rocky hill called the Mountain of Mercy, on the Plain of Arafat, near the holy city of Mecca. PA PA

17. Massive oil revenues enabled Saudi Arabia to get away with inefficient spending, but with lower oil prices, it’s becoming apparent that this model isn’t sustainable

“The boom in oil prices over the past decade has brought with it large fiscal revenue growth that has allowed for a massive ramp-up in expenditure providing little incentive for fiscal discipline,” according to HSBC’s Nasser. “This has been very expensive and has not always been directed effectively … often providing for inefficient consumption.”

Such spending habits, along with the inability to generate non-oil revenue, have led to higher dependency on oil. Hence, the drop in oil prices has had a transformative impact on Saudi Arabia.

Consequently, Saudi Arabia has had to tap into its resources following the price drop, which has been a not-terrible strategy so far.

Source: HSBC

- Elena Holodny

Read: A woman has won a seat in Saudi Arabia’s historic election

Read: Saudi police find 48,000 cans of Heineken disguised as Pepsi

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