POPULATION26,534,504 (July 2012 est.)
GDP PER CAPITA$24,500 (2011 est.)
RELIGIONSMuslim (official) 100%
ALSO IN MIDDLE EAST, NORTH AFRICA, AND THE CAUCASUSAlgeria
AT THE CENTER
The royal family of Saudi Arabia charges itself with the protection of the two holiest cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina, and the propagation of the Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam. The Muslim faith began in Mecca with the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century CE and quickly spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa along with Arab culture. Abdul Aziz Al Saud (1926-53) consolidated control over the Arabian Peninsula in the early 20th century, relying militarily on the Ikhwan, a Bedouin militia dedicated to spreading and enforcing Wahhabism. Islam is the state religion, and Wahhabi ethics are enforced by morals police. Non-Muslims may practice their faiths in private, but public displays of religion are limited to Wahhabi Sunni Islam. Of particular concern is the tendency of Wahhabism to breed militant Islamists; numerous terrorist attacks have been carried out against Saudi rule, and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were Saudi.