Riyadh City, Saudi Arabia

Subject: Economics
Type: Informative Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1687
Topics: Economic Inequality, Geography, Macroeconomics

Physical Geography of Riyadh City

Among numerous cities of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is certainly the most interesting one. Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia and located in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula, that is, in Western Asia (see Map 1). The geographical location of the city and Saudi Arabia as a whole specifies the climate. In particular, the physical proximity of the Persian Gulf (see Map 1) makes Riyadh an extremely hot and arid city. Though there are summer (May-September) and winter (November-February) months, the hot temperature is typical for Riyadh regardless a time of year (Oxford Business Group, 2014). More specifically, 45-55°C is the highest daytime atmospheric temperature in summer, and 19-25°C is the highest daytime atmospheric temperature in winter, while winter nights can be extremely cold (Oxford Business Group, 2014). The seasonal transition, that is, from February to May, is specified by “violent sandstorms” (Oxford Business Group, 2014, p.12). Yet, though the climate is dry, “…there is a good supply of underground water which makes it [Riyadh] one of the natural fertile areas within the Kingdom” (History of Riyadh, 2008). Thus, the site of Riyadh City provides the latter with everything needed for the development.

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The Historical Context of Development and the Changing Physical Form of Riyadh City

Actually, Riyadh city gradually developed from the small settlement of the Al Saud tribe in the 18th century (History of Riyadh, 2008) to the capital and the largest city of Saudi Arabia in the 21st century (see Pic.1 and Pic.2). Certainly, Riyadh passed through several stages of development, but the most prominent change in Riyadh’s physical form is noticed in the time period of the 1920-2000s. In this respect, Al-Hathloul (2004) argues, “From a walled city of less than 1 square kilometer in 1920, it [Riyadh] has grown into a sprawling modern capital of 1,500 square kilometers” (p. 1113). Both the development and the changing physical form of Riyadh are explained by the historical context of Saudi Arabia. It all started with King Abdulaziz Al Saud’s rise to power yet in the early 20th century. Being a charismatic leader, Abdulaziz managed to consolidate Saudis against the Al Rashid, whose family conquered Riyadh yet in the late 19th century (USA International Business, 2005). Saudis were attracted by the principles advocated by Abdulaziz, such as avoiding violence, peaceful relationship with the neighboring countries, and Islamic rules (USA International Business, 2005). As a result, Saudis formed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, the state that significantly contributed to the development of Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia.

Apparently, the principles of King Abdulaziz’s policy specified the development of the poor kingdom of Saudis into a great, developed, and modernist state. Being the capital of the new kingdom, Riyadh became one of the main objects of investment (USA International Business, 2005) and thus gradually transformed, both in the physical form and the state of the city infrastructure. Significantly, the capital of Saudi Arabia continued to develop and flourish even after the death of King Abdulaziz in 1953, as his descendants rule Saudi Arabia up to the present day (History of Riyadh, 2008). Nowadays, Riyadh is the seat of the king; all central government offices are concentrated in the city (USA International Business, 2005). Naturally, the development of the city specified the change of the decorations: numerous buildings and houses emerged on the map, while a number of palm trees was cut. Thus, both Riyadh and Saudi Arabia as a whole have “made tremendous progress under their [King Abdulaziz and his descendant emirs] reign” (History of Riyadh, 2008). As a result, contemporary Riyadh is a city of dream for many Saudis and foreigners.

The Political System and Form of Government and Governance Structures

The political system’s domination over Riyadh is specified by Saudi Arabia’s status of the kingdom. In fact, absolute monarchy is the form of government in Saudi Arabia as a whole and Riyadh in particular. In more details, Saudi Arabia is governed by the king, who is perceived as a civil ruler and as a religious advisor. Thus, Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy. The thing is that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state where the role of the Constitution is played by the Qur’an (Khosrokhavar, 2016). Sharia Islamic Law, that is the Islamic code of laws based on the Qur’an and sunnahs, is the framework for the legal system in Saudi Arabia. That way, the Qur’an specifies both ethical and legal norms accepted and recognized in the Kingdom as well as gives prescriptions for the population via the word of the king. 

At the same time, the Saudi king rules with the help of the Council of Ministers that consists of the ministers appointed by the king (Khosrokhavar, 2016). The same as the king, the Council of Ministers acts within the framework of Islamic laws. Actually, the Council of Ministers is the highest body of executive power of Saudi Arabia, as it combines executive and legislative functions, develops proposals for domestic and foreign policy (Khosrokhavar, 2016). Though official acts enter into force via the king’s decrees, the state administration is a result of the king and ministers’ consolidation for the just decisions’ making (Khosrokhavar, 2016). Hence, the principles of consultation (shura), consensus-building, and equality of all before the law are employed.

Though formal, there is another governance structure of Saudi Arabia, that is, the Consultative Assembly. It is formed out of the representatives of various classes of the Saudi society (Khosrokhavar, 2016). The Consultative Assembly is designed to help the king to improve the life of Saudis: the Consultative Assembly’s recommendations are submitted directly to the king. Thus, the king and the Consultative Assembly represent the supreme legislative power of Saudi Arabia.

Despite the fact that there are the Council of Ministers and the Consultative Assembly in Saudi Arabia, the king is the head of the state, the head of the supreme body of legislative power, and the head of the highest body of executive authority. That is to say, the entire power is concentrated in the hands of the one person. The latter aspect is currently criticized by some members of the Saudi society. In particular, many young people oppose the century-long individual rule of the king. As a result, the Arab Spring, the youth movement in Saudi Arabia, emerged to advocate for democracy as a great contributor to the form of absolute monarchy (Khosrokhavar, 2016). Thus, the chances are high that the form of the Saudi government can change in the future.

Changing Economic Base

Being the administrative, financial and commercial center of Saudi Arabia, the city of Riyadh is actively involved in the economic development of the Kingdom. Notably, works of cement, food and oil-refining industries are located in the territory of the capital (Bowen, 2015). Yet, neither cement industry nor food sector brings great revenues, while oil revenues are significant. In fact, both Riyadh and the Kingdom as a whole benefit from oil industry since the late 1960s when first oil deposits were discovered in Saudi Arabia (Bowen, 2015). Thus, the very first great change in economic base of Riyadh was caused by the government’s focus on oil extraction and export. However, “…the Saudi oil industry was closely linked to markets in the West, especially the United States” (Bowen, 2015, p.133), and thus the Saudi oil revenues were not always high. Yet, the Saudi oil industry is still the mainstay industry (see Diagram 1). Here it must be said that it is huge oil revenues that invested in Riyadh’s transformation and modernization.

Gradually, changing economic base was specified by the king’s use of oil revenues for the investment in other sectors’ development. The second economic change took place during 2003-2013: “Public spending quadrupled during the decade, and about $450 billion of public capital investment was deployed in programs to improve education, health, social welfare, infrastructure, and transport” (Al-Kibsi et al., 2015, p.2). Specifically, Riyadh was among the cities under the programs, as the government planned to build a new financial district there. That way, the Saudi king aimed at the economy’s diversification. 

Currently, Saudi Arabia continues to invest in nonoil industries to promote the state economy’s resistance to an economic crisis in the context of the oil reserves’ exhaustion. More specifically, “…Riyadh expects nonoil revenue to more than triple by 2020 to 530 billion Saudi riyals ($141.33 billion)” (Al Omran & Stancati, 2016). In such a way, both Riyadh and Saudi Arabia as a whole gradually switch to nonoil industries and thus add to the changing economic base of the development.

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Riyadh: Demographic Characteristics and Change

Another great change can be seen in demographic characteristics and the population growth of Riyadh. Thus, the population of Riyadh was 160, 000 people in 1960 (Saudi Arabia, 1960), while the oil boom triggered a great inflow of Saudi and non-Saudi workers. Both Arab and non-Arab workers migrated to Riyadh in search of well-paid work in the oil industry. What is more, the transformation of the city made it a great place of location. Hence, as for the date of 2015, Riyadh has the population of six million (Al-Kibsi et al., 2015). Thus, the Riyadh population increased 37.5 times during the last 55 years.

However, such a change in the population number did not significantly affect demographic characteristics of the people living in Riyadh. Saudis constitute the majority (90%) and other non-Arab (Afro-Asian at most) populations are in minority, that is, approximately 10% of the general population (Saudi Arabia Demographics, 2016). Men still prevail over women (see Table 1), Muslims (70%) prevail over other religious followers (approximately 30%), and women are still less educated than man: 97% and 91.1% respectively (Saudi Arabia Demographics, 2016). At the same time, the data from Saudi Arabia Demographics (2016) show that the government further invests in the city facilities’ improvement (drinking water source and sanitation facility access are ultimately improved) and the social sector’s development (education availability). Along with the further transformation of Riyadh, this very fact suggests that demographic characteristics can significantly change in the nearest future.

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  1. Al-Kibsi, G. et al. (2015) Saudi Arabia beyond Oil: The Investment and Productivity Transformation. London: McKinsey Global Institute.
  2. Al-Hathloul, S. (2004) ‘Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’, in R. S. Sennott (ed.), Encyclopedia of the 20th Century Architecture, pp. 1113-1115. New York , Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, Routledge.
  3. Al Omran, A. & Stancati, M. (2016) ‘Saudi Arabia Approves Plan to Diversify Economy’, The Wall Street Journal, 6 June.
  4. Bowen, W.H. (2015) The History of Saudi Arabia. 2nd ed. Santa Barbara: Greenwood.
  5. ‘History of Riyadh.’ (2008) King Saud bin Abdulaziz University.
  6. Khosrokhavar, F. (2016) New Arab Revolutions That Shook the World. New York: Routledge.
  7. Oxford Business Group. (2014) The Report: Saudi Arabia 2014. Dubai: Oxford Business Group.
  8. ‘Riyadh in the 21st Century.’ (2016) [Picture].
  9. ‘Saudi Arabia.’ (1960) Population Pyramid.
  10. ‘Saudi Arabia Demographics Profile 2016.’ (2016) Index Mundi, 8 October.
  11. ‘The Geographical Location of Riyadh.’ (2016) [Picture]
  12. USA International Business. (2005) Saudi Arabia King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud Handbook. Washington, DC: International Business Publications.
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