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In the hundred years since the young Abdul Aziz Ibn Abdul Rahman Al-Saud recaptured Riyadh on Shawwal 5, 1319 of the Hijrah lunar calendar, corresponding to January 16, 1902, Saudi Arabia has undergone profound changes.

The immediate result of this historic event was that it allowed King Abdul Aziz to focus his boundless energies on unifying his people - which ultimately led to the formation of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932. By establishing a modern nation- state based on Islamic principles and traditions, he introduced peace and stability - factors that are essential to development, and ones which were absent in the Arabian Peninsula for a long time - and thereby set his nation on the path of growth and prosperity.

The Saudi Cable Company

The Saudi Cable Company

In the century that has elapsed since the historic event that Saudi Arabians are commemorating this year, the Kingdom has been transformed. A society that had remained largely unchanged for centuries, one which relied on rudimentary agriculture and limited trade, is now a showcase of industry, commerce, agriculture, education, health and other areas of human endeavor. At the end of the 20th century, Saudi Arabia has evolved into a respected economic and political power on the international scene. It has the nineteenth- largest economy in the world and plays a crucial political role at the regional and international levels as an advocate of peace and cooperation and mediator of crises.

The lights of modern Jaddah

The lights of modern Jeddah

The Kingdom's development has been realized in a steady, calculated manner, with each phase meticulously planned and implemented. King Abdul Aziz and the sons who succeeded him, Saud, Faisal, Khalid and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd Ibn Abdul Aziz, have followed a simple edict: the people are the nation's greatest resource and the government will make available to them all the facilities and services necessary to help develop their potential to the fullest.

To implement this policy, Saudi Arabia needed funds. Historically, the fees paid by pilgrims to the Holy Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah were a major source of revenue for the rulers of the Hijaz, the western part of Saudi Arabia. When he extended his protection to this area in 1926, King Abdul Aziz introduced what at the time was a novel concept: the Kingdom would serve the pilgrims and not rely on pilgrimage dues to fund government expenses.

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Fortunately, in the years following the founding of the Kingdom, exploration uncovered extensive reserves of oil in the Eastern Province. The exploitation of these vast hydrocarbon reserves provided a steady source of funds that were used to finance the nation's socioeconomic development. From the outset these reserves - a quarter of the world's proven oil supply - were viewed by the nation's economic planners as an engine that would power the growth of the non-oil economic sector that would one day supplant the oil industry as the principal generator of revenue. To maximize earnings from the oil sector, Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, established a network of production facilities, refining plants, pipelines and transportation and distribution facilities. It also invested in downstream operations in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

A network of state-of-the-art roads in Riyadh

A network of state-of-the-art roads in Riyadh

The overall objectives of Saudi development planning have been to secure prosperity and growth on a national scale and to establish a thriving economy that would realize self-sufficiency in a wide range of products and services. This would reduce the Kingdom's dependency on imports, and eventually lead to the export of finished products to other countries.

While significant steps were being taken towards realizing these objectives in the four decades following the founding of the Kingdom, the pace of development shifted into high gear with the introduction of a series of five-year development plans starting in 1970. These plans introduced cohesion and a long-term outlook. Like a series of building blocks, each plan served as the foundation for future ones. The earlier plans provided for the establishment of a modern infrastructure, vital for the diversification and privatization of the economy that would be the emphasis for later development plans in the 1980s and 1990s.

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To accelerate the growth of the private sector, the government set up specialized institutions to provide interest-free, long-term loans to help individuals and companies establish new facilities and expand existing ones in the industrial, agricultural and commercial fields. By 1997, these funds had provided a total of more than 72.8 billion dollars in loans to the private sector. As a result of these and other programs, the Kingdom's gross domestic product (GDP) grew seven-fold between 1970 and 1997 to 544.82 billion Saudi riyals (145.28 billion U.S. dollars). Over that same period, the non-oil sector's share of the GDP rose from 41.1 percent to 65.2 percent. In the non-oil sector, the private sector accounted for 47.4 percent of the economy's output in 1997, compared with 29.3 percent in 1970.

Technicians at the Advanced Electronic Company assemble components for telecommunication equipment

Technicians at the Advanced Electronics Company assemble components for telecommunication equipment.

The realization of such socio- economic growth and its continuation in the 21st century has required extensive investment in the country's educational system. At the time of the modern Kingdom's establishment in 1932, education was not available to everyone and was limited to individual instruction at religious schools in urban areas. Today, education at the Kingdom's eight universities, more than 80 colleges and 22,300 schools is free, and 4.5 million Saudi Arabians are currently enrolled at these institutions.

Similar advances have been realized in other areas. While there were no modern medical facilities in Saudi Arabia in 1932, there are currently 290 modern hospitals and more than 2,329 healthcare clinics that provide the full spectrum of medical services, from preventive care to organ transplants.

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In industry, the number of factories has grown to more than 3,100, employing approximately 280,000 workers. These plants manufacture a wide range of industrial and consumer goods for the domestic market and export 23 billion riyals (6.13 billion dollars) of products to 118 countries annually. A network of more than 44,100 miles of highways and paved roads and thousands of miles of secondary roads, airports, seaports and other transportation facilities handles the movement of people and products.

One of the priorities of the development plans has been to provide adequate supplies of water to meet the growing urban, industrial and agricultural demand. A total of 184 dams with a storage capacity of 27.3 billion cubic feet of water and 33 desalination plants producing 520 million gallons per day of potable water have been built.

The Al-Safi Dair Company

The Al-Safi Dairy Company

A major beneficiary of the abundant supply of water has been agriculture, which now annually produces nearly three million tons of cereals, 2.59 million tons of vegetables, 1.15 million tons of fruit, 397,000 tons of poultry meat, 157,000 tons of red meat and 816,000 tons of dairy products.

Concurrent with the progress it has realized in these fields, Saudi Arabia also has emerged as an influential power in regional and international affairs. Its growing importance in international relations is partly due to its special status for the one-billion-strong Islamic community as the birthplace of Islam and the home of Islam's two holiest sites. It is also due to the Kingdom's stable government and thriving economy, as well as the responsible manner in which it has conducted its relationship with neighboring countries and with other states.

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Guided by the principles espoused by Islam and its rich Arab heritage, the Kingdom has successfully assumed the growing responsibility associated with its special status, advocating cooperation and peaceful coexistence. It is a founding member of the United Nations, the League of Arab States, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and numerous other regional and international organizations dedicated to promoting peace and prosperity in the region and the world.

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The Kingdom has successfully mediated many crises, including the civil war in Lebanon, and played a pivotal role in resolving conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan and other hotspots throughout the world. It has diligently advocated a peaceful resolution of conflicts, including the Arab-Israeli crisis, and helped form an international coalition to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. It has marshaled its resources and manpower to help eradicate disease and famine, and to ease the suffering of victims of manmade and natural disasters worldwide. It has provided more than 70 billion dollars in aid to promote development in other countries.

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Looking back over the century that has elapsed since King Abdul Aziz's recapture of Riyadh, Saudi Arabians have much to be proud of, and much to look forward to in the future.

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