15 Facts About Saudi Arabia You Probably Need To Know

I first became interested in Saudi Arabia when a friend took a full time teaching job there. The laws, cultural practices, and ways of life in the Kingdom couldn’t be more exotic - or should I say jaw-dropping - when compared with life in the West.

15 Shocking Facts About Saudi Arabia - The Wise Traveller

While an underground counter-culture exists in cities like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic Law and apparent disregard for human rights has created a fascinating place that, at least to these Western eyes, appears to be straight out of the pages of an ancient, violent storybook.

Here are 15 shocking facts that may make you rethink spring break in Saudi Arabia:

Women are not allowed to drive, and can only vote if they have permission from a male guardian.
There are over 7,000 Saudi princes living today, with some estimates placing the royal family closer to 30,000. Each of the princes gets top priority when it comes to getting jobs and professional opportunities; they must be hired before a non-prince can be given a job.
In 2015, a Saudi blogger who wrote about the need for free speech in Saudi Arabia was jailed and sentenced to 1,000 lashes.
Islamic Law is also the law of the land, which means judges give punishments based on their interpretation of the Koran. Oh, and all judges are hand-picked by the King.
Saudi Arabia practices what’s called “agnatic seniority,” where power is passed laterally instead of to the first born son. So when King Abdullah died in 2015, his brother – not son – became his successor. This tradition has kept many similarly-aged, similarly-minded monarchs on the throne. 
Saudi Arabia is consistently ranked with countries like Turkmenistan and North Korea when it comes to human and civil rights –  they’re vying for a position at the very bottom of the list.
Beheadings are a common form of punishment for crimes like drug dealing or car theft.
Women can’t own property, leave the house, sign legal documents, or take classes without the permission of a male guardian like her husband, father, brother, or son. In court, a woman’s testimony is considered 50% as trustworthy as that of a man’s.
There are no rivers in Saudi Arabia.
Inbreeding remains a huge problem in Saudi Arabia. The tradition of marrying first cousins has caused generations of genetic disorders and children born with crippling disabilities. While the government has attempted to abate this practice with widespread educational campaigns, many Saudis continue to arrange marriages between close family members. 
Obesity is a common problem among wealthy Saudi women, who have servants to do chores for them, do not have to work, and aren’t allowed to leave the house. Weight problems and diabetes abound because of this set-up.
Forbes estimates the Saudi royal fortune to be somewhere close to US$20 billion.
More than half of all university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women, but women make up only 13% of the Saudi workforce. Educational advances under King Abdullah meant more women can attend school, but actually using their degrees in the real world is another story.
Educational classes are free, heavily focused on the teachings of Islam, and segregated by gender.
Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries on earth that does not recognize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Because of this, the movement of foreign workers within Saudi Arabia is restricted. Domestic workers from India, Pakistan, and Southeast Asia must have a sponsor to enter the country, but they are not free to leave without the permission of that sponsor.

Have you ever been to Saudi Arabia? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!

Rebecca Anne Nguyen is a freelance writer and travel passionista. She blogs about culture, creativity, and consciousness at TheHappyPassport.com.