Modern Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by King Ibn Saud, who united much of the Arabian Peninsula by conquering land from tribes that assumed local power after the expulsion of the Ottoman Turks in World War I. A country of 26.1 million people, Saudi Arabia is both the birthplace of Islam, as well as the site of mass annual foreign pilgrimage to the cities of Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia is ruled by an absolute monarchy, in which the King elects both his Prime Minister and council ministers. The Royal A/90 Decree of 1992 states that Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion and the Qur’an and Sunnah (teachings of Muhammad) as its constitution. The legal system follows Sharia law, which even foreigners are subject to whilst in the country.
The country pursues friendly ties with the West, but also promotes co-operation between Gulf States, as well as maintaining relations with Iran.
Formerly one of the poorest countries in the world, reliant on minimal agriculture and revenue from pilgrimages, Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest producer of petroleum. With 20% of the world’s oil reserves, the fossil fuel accounts for approximately 90% of export earnings. With diminishing reserves, Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its private sector into pharmaceuticals, finance, tourism and research. Unemployment has become a concern in the past decade, currently at 10.3% for Saudi men alone.
Saudi Arabia faces a number of social problems, from increasing rates of juvenile delinquency, alcohol and drug use, to the growth of indigenous terrorist groups, particularly amongst Shiite minorities in the east. The country has also long been under the scrutiny of Amnesty International, who contest Saudi Arabia’s claims that it is making efforts to improve the reputation of its police forces, which have been subject to widespread allegations of torture and coercion of detainees. The legal system has also been subject to much criticism from international human rights organisations, who cite hundreds of publicised cases in which detainees are denied legal representation and are quickly sentenced to death row under convictions based on the basis of confessions obtained under duress. In 2011 to date, Saudi Arabia executed 27 people, of which 5 were foreigners.
Women are very restricted in a number of ways. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women also require male permission for a number of activities, such as travelling abroad, having surgery, and opening a bank account. Saudi Arabia is ranked in the bottom ten countries in the world for gender parity, with human rights activists claiming that practices such as child marriage impede the education and any possible improvement in the status of women.
Although print media are privately owned in Saudi Arabia, editors-in-chief are appointed by the Ministry of Information to monitor and censor publications. All broadcast media are state-owned and controlled. There are approximately 9.7 million internet users in Saudi Arabia, and blogging on the internet requires prior registration with the government. Internet streams are also heavily monitored by the state, which denies access to a number of sites. The country is 179th in the Global Freedom of the Press Statistics.
95% of Saudi Arabia’s population is Sunni Muslim, with Ismaili Muslims and Shiites accounting for much of the remainder. There are no official statistics on the exact number of Christians in the country, although it is evident that the majority of them are foreign expatriates.
Saudi Arabia’s religious police, the Mutawwa’in, is notorious for persecuting the Christian minority, as well as Shiite and Ismaili Muslims, who do not adhere to the government’s advocated Wahhabism. Immigrant workers from third world countries, such as Eritrea and the Philippines, are often targeted due to the low levels of response from their governments. An Eritrean domestic worker, Mussie Eyob, was arrested and imprisoned in May 2011 for answering some questions about Christianity at a mosque in the city of Jeddah. He faces the death penalty on charges of proselytizing, although charges have not yet been confirmed.
Apostasy is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and the public practise of any religion other than Islam is prohibited. The wearing of non-Muslim garments or symbols is also forbidden. This applies to rosaries, crucifixes and other forms of personal jewellery. Religious minorities can only enter Saudi Arabia with a temporary visa and face deportation if implicated in activities affiliated with non-Islamic worship. Religious minorities cannot be registered with the state, and are not permitted to build places of worship.
Saudi Arabia is currently no. 4 on Open Doors World Watch List which ranks countries by the intensity of persecution against Christians.
- Pray that the position of women improves in coming years, so that they too may have available to them all the options of their male counterparts.
- Pray that the government reduces its heavy monitoring and censorship of media so that the Saudi people may have the chance to follow the events of the outside world and have independent opinions on them.
- Pray that the government allows the construction of churches in the near future, so that the Christians in Saudi Arabia may have a house of worship to consecrate to the Lord and his work.
 CIA World Factbook
 Persecution – International Christian Concern
 CIA World Factbook
 Freedom House Global Freedom of the Press Statistics 2010