Country profile (SAUDI ARABIA)
Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz - known as the Lion of Najd - who took over Hijaz from the Hashemite family and united the country under his family's rule. Since his death in 1953, he has been succeeded by various sons.
Named after the ruling Al Saud family, which came to power in the 18th century, the country includes the Hijaz region - the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam. This fact, combined with the Al Sauds' espousal of a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, has led it to develop a strongly religious self-identity.
The Al Saud dynasty's monopoly of power meant that during the 20th century successive kings were able to concentrate on modernisation and on developing the country's role as a regional power.
But its rulers face the delicate task of responding to pressure for reform while combating a growing problem of extremist violence.
This country is one of the most devout and insular countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has emerged from being an underdeveloped desert kingdom to become one of the wealthiest nations in the region thanks to vast oil resources.
The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of power; political parties are banned and the opposition is organised from abroad; militant Islamists have launched several deadly attacks
Saudi Arabia is the world's dominant oil producer and owner of the largest hydrocarbon reserves; rapidly growing unemployment is a major challenge
Saudi Arabia is one of the main players in the Arab and Muslim worlds; its stature is built on its geographic size, its prestige as the custodian of the birthplace of Islam and status as major oil producer