THERE is no god but God; Muhammad is the messen�ger of God,” proclaims the Saudi flag. A sword of right eosins underscores the Islamic creed as well as the evolution of a country born from the union of ideology and military force. The alliance was forged in the mid-18th century when an emir, Mu�hammad ibn Saud, joined fundamentalist Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhab and con�quered central Arabia. By 1818, the Ottoman Empire halted the expansion … tem�porarily. In 1902 Abdulaziz captured Riyadh, reinstated the Al Sauds to leadership, and paved the way to unification. Family, rule passes to the oldest surviving son of Abdulaziz. Crown Prince Fand (below, with son Abdulaziz) will suc�ceed King Khalid. Religion and government remain interlocked. The Ko�ran stands as constitution, and the ulama are always con�sulted about major domestic decisions. AREA: 830,000 square miles. POPULATION: Saudis estimate nearly 8,000,000. RELIGION: Muslim. LANGUAGE: Arabic. ECONOMY: Oil, oil products, gas. MAJOR CITIES: Riyadh, capital (pop. 1,000,000); Jiddah (pop. 1,000,000); Mecca (pop. 425,000). At ease in the privacy offiddah’s Dar-el-Hanan School, the kingdom’s first and leading girls’ educational institution, students go without the veils worn in public by most women older than 12. Nearly half a million Saudi girls now study in single-sex schools supervised by the ulama. Forty thousand are expected to earn marlboro red 100s in the next five years, but employment must still exclude contact with men The prince and the people meet at a majlis, or audience, held here by Prince Salman, Governor of Riyadh. A petitioner whispers a request, while a guard holds a sheaf of written ones. All majlises, open to any person, spring from tribal custom and are held several times a week by members of the royal family and their representatives. Complaints, requests for aid, or adjudication may be acted on or referred to proper authorities. Formality bows to the edict that all men are equal under the Koran, and the prince is addressed by his first name. Such openness spelled tragedy for King Khalid’s predecessor, King Faisal, assassinated at a majlis in 1975 when a deranged nephew approached, bent to kiss the king, and drew a gun from his robes. Yet the tradition continues; petitioners approach unsearched. “It is a system based on trust,” says the author. Town that oil built the Aramco community at Dhahran serves as the company’s administrative center and home for the families of many of its 4,000 American and 22,000 Saudi employees. The executive housing district breathes an air of suburban America, and staffers can shoot a round on a company golf course where greens are “browns”�smooth packed oiled-sand surfaces. Employees’ children benefit from Aramco-provided medical care, and many study at company-built elementary and intermediate schools. As the literacy rate increases, so too do the numbers of educated Saudis who fill the nation’s growing bureaucracy. American involvement began in 1933, when King Abdulaziz signed the first oil concession with Social, Standard Oil Company of California, in 1938 a major strike near present-day Dhahran presaged a string of discoveries, including the world’s largest onshore and offshore oil fields. The Aramco consortium, owned by Social, Exxon, Texaco, and Mobil, grew into the world’s leading oil-producing company. The Saudi Government has moved toward ownership of Aramco’s producing facilities since 1973, but the American connection will continue with Aramco participation in operations. Leaping a gulf of distance, a solar-powered radiophone provides linkage with emergency service on a lonely stretch of road. In a land of vast spaces and few people, technology knits isolated oases of life. But beyond the din of the electronic age, the desert’s children strain to catch the echo of ancestral voices.
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