According to the census of September 1974, the population of the Saudi kingdom (whose surface cannot be precisely indicated, given the uncertainty of part of the borders: the most reliable estimates range from 2,149,000 to 2,240,000 km 2) amounted to 7,012,642 residents, a figure considered excessive by many Western experts. On the other hand, the estimate of 12.9 million for 1988 is considered reliable, to which must be added approximately 2.5 million foreign immigrants. The natives are mostly Sunni Muslims, with a not inconsiderable minority of Shia Muslims along the east coast. The urban centers, which are developing at a rate of 5% per year, are now home to approximately 73% of the population: Riyāḍ 2,000,000 (1988 estimate), Jeddah 1 million (1986 estimate), Mecca 370,000, Ṭ1ā᾽if 205,000, Medina 200,000, Dammām 130,000. The decline of nomadism continues, but the progress of agriculture also contributes to the depopulation of rural areas, which achieves increasing productivity with fewer workers. This contributes to contracting the need for foreign workers (at least 2,660,000 in 1984, of which 600,000 Yemenis, 250,000 Egyptians, 200,000 Pakistanis, 80,000 South Koreans and 70,000 Filipinos) who, due to the recession following the drop in oil prices, have been forced to repatriate in large numbers in 1985-86. The fourth development plan (relating to the period 1985-90) has set itself the goal of reducing the number of immigrant workers by 600,000 units, bringing it to two million, even if the possibility of replacing them with a local workforce is limited by traditional reluctance to employ female staff.
Although the Saudi government does not seem inclined to accelerate the pace of socio-cultural transformations, the five-year development plans implemented since 1970 have resulted in significant advances in communications, health care and education, while laying the foundations for a further improvement of the standard of living thanks to a series of projects aimed at increasing industrial production. Crucial was the decision (1975) to allocate 70 billion dollars to the construction of two industrial cities, Ǧubayl on the east coast (with three oil refineries, six petrochemical plants, an aluminum smelter and a steel mill) and Yanbu ‘sul Mar Red (with two oil refineries, a natural gas treatment plant, a petrochemical complex and various light industries, all powered by oil- and trans-Arab gas pipelines). With the third five-year plan (1980-85) precedence passed from large infrastructure projects to directly productive sectors and to agriculture, called upon to reduce dependence on imports. The fourth five-year plan (1985-90) finally set out to further develop the non-oil sectors (agriculture, industry, financial services), encouraging private initiative and socio-economic integration between member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. (AS, Baḥrein, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, ῾Omān and Qaṭar).
According to Clothingexpress.org, agriculture, which in 1984-85 provided 3.1% of the gross domestic product and absorbed 14% of the active population, has made enormous progress while continuing to be practiced only on 1% of the surface (2 million ha), of which two thirds left fallow. Wheat production increased from 1.4 million q in 1979-80 to 13 million in 1983-84, 17 in 1984-85 and about 30 in 1988-89, a year in which the harvest exceeded the needs, allowing the ‘AS to export a good amount of grain. Similar results were achieved thanks to a policy of support prices (up to one thousand dollars per t of wheat), subsequently reduced to limit excess production. However, the production of barley is still insufficient, which is imported (14 million q in 1986-87) mainly from the United States and the United Kingdom. To further increase production, the 1985-90 plan provided for the irrigation of another 50,000 ha (in addition to the 395,000 already irrigated at the beginning of the decade) and to intensify the construction of artificial reservoirs (which were 169 in 1986) with a total of 350 million m3. The desalination of sea water, with about thirty plants, generated in 1985 over 2.2 million m 3 of fresh water per day, feeding among other things the 460 km aqueduct from Ǧubayl to Riyāḍ, capable of transporting 830,000 m 3 per day.
The zootechnical patrimony continues to consist mainly of sheep (7,466,000 heads in 1988) and goats (3,600,000); the cattle were modest (325,000), while the camelids were reduced to 417,000 heads.
The resources necessary for investments of this magnitude come essentially from oil, whose proven reserves (almost 25 billion tonnes in 1988, equal to a quarter of world reserves) guarantee the Saudi Arabia over ninety years of production at the current rate of extraction (234 million t in 1984, 251 in 1988). The reduction in revenues (22 billion dollars in 1985), due to the fluctuations in prices and production levels that have occurred in the last decade as OPEC, and the Saudi Arabia in particular, lost positions on the world hydrocarbon market, has however, I imposed a certain downsizing of development programs and made the diversification of the economy that has long been a cornerstone of Saudi politics even more urgent. After the complete nationalization of ARAMCO (see App.i, p. 144) in 1980, the dangerous total dependence of crude oil exports from the Gulf route was put to an end (the old TAP, or Trans-Arabian Pipeline, has long been interrupted) thanks to the completion (1981) of the transpeninsular oil pipeline through which a quarter of the production destined for abroad can pass. An increasingly extensive network of gas pipelines, on the other hand, makes it possible to use the enormous reserves of natural gas (5020 billion m 3 in 1989, against a production of 38 billion m 3) to fuel the export of liquefied gas, a sector in which the Saudi Arabia is about to occupy one of the first places in the world, and the new industries for the production of ethanol, methanol, ethylene, polyethylene, urea, ammonia. The private sector is also being encouraged to develop light industries.
The other mineral resources currently exploited are limestone for the production of cement, marble, clay and salt. The existence of deposits of bauxite, coal, iron ore, copper, gold, lead, zinc, silver and uranium is confirmed.
The road network now measures over 90,000 km, of which about 30,000 are asphalted: since 1986 the Saudi Arabia has been connected to Baḥrein by a road embankment costing over a billion dollars. The capacity of the main ports (Jeddah, Yanbu ‘and Ǧīzān on the Red Sea; Dammām and Ǧubayl on the east coast) has developed rapidly over the last decade, ensuring a total movement of approximately 50 million tonnes. There are about thirty airports, of which three (Jeddah, Riyāḍ and Zahrān) are international; the national airline Saudia in 1985 it carried three million passengers on international routes and 10 million on domestic ones. The railway network is limited to the Dammām-Riyāḍ and Riyāḍ-Hufūf routes (320 km long, inaugurated in 1985). New connections are planned Dammām-Ǧubayl, Riyāḍ-Jeddah and Jeddah-Mecca, while the reconstruction of the old iǧāz railway has been shelved.
Exports (over 90% in hydrocarbon value) are directed above all to Japan (20% in 1988), the Netherlands (6%), the United States, France and Taiwan; imports, mainly of industrial, food and textile products, are mostly supplied by Japan (20% in 1988), the United States (20%), the former Federal Republic of Germany, France and Italy. Following the collapse of oil prices, the balance of payments was in deficit between 1982 and 1986; from 1987 until the outbreak of the war with ῾Irāq it was back in business.