Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) is a West Asian country in the Arabian Peninsula. It is the fifth-largest country in Asia, the second-largest country in the Arab world, and the largest country in West Asia and the Middle East. It is bordered by the Red Sea to the west; Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to the north; the Persian Gulf, Qatar, and the United Emirates to the east; and Oman and Yemen to the south.  Its largest city and capital is Riyadh. Other notable cities are Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam. 

The Islam religion emerged in Saudi Arabia in the 7th century when the prophet Muhammad united the Arabian Peninsula and created a single Islamic religious polity. Muslim rule spread beyond Arabia, from the Iberian Peninsula to parts of Central and South Asia. Some Arab dynasties from Saudi Arabia founded the Rashidun, Umayyad, Abbasid, and Fatimid caliphates.

The modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by King Abdulaziz (Ibn Saud). He united the four regions of Hejaz, Najd, Al-Ahsa, and Asir. Saudi Arabia has since been an absolute monarchy under the Saud dynasty. 

Saudi Arabia has the world’s second-largest oil reserves and the fourth-largest gas reserves. It is the second-largest oil producer and the world’s largest oil exporter. World Bank categorizes its economy as a high-income economy and is the only Arab country to be part of the G20 major economies. It is also the largest economy in the Middle East, the world’s 18th largest economy by nominal GDP, and the 7th largest by PPP. Saudi Arabia is also home to the world’third-largestst immigrant population and one of the world’s youngest populations, with 50% of the population being under 25 years old.

Saudi Arabia uses the Saudi riyal (SAR) as its currency. One riyal is equivalent to 100 halala. The currency is pegged to the US dollar at a constant rate of exchange. The Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency (SAMA) is the issuing authority in Saudi Arabia. It opened for business in Jeddah on October 22, 1952. In 2016, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency changed its name to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority. The acronym remains unchanged. 

Due to a charter that prohibited SAMA from issuing paper currency in 1953, officials issued “pilgrim receipts” as a traveler’s check to meet the demand for riyals by pilgrims. At first, these pilgrim receipts were fully backed by the silver riyal and were intended for pilgrim use only. However, the backing was degraded and the use of the receipts became widespread throughout the kingdom. 

The first series of banknotes issued by SAMA was issued in 1961. These notes featured different landmarks in front and the national emblem of Saudi Arabia at the back. The denominations included in the series were 1 riyal, 5 riyals, 10 riyals, 50 riyals, and 100 riyals. These notes were printed by Thomas De La Rue and had solid security threads and coat of arms watermarks as the security features. 

The second series of notes were issued in 1968. These notes were redesigned to include other landmarks at the back. In 1976, the designs were updated to include the portrait of King Faisal in front and the watermark to show King Faisal instead of the coat of arms. 

In 1984, SAMA redesigned its banknotes and included the 500-riyal banknote. The 500-riyal banknote had two different printers—the Orell Fussli Security Printing and the Bradbury Wilkinson & Company. It also features King Abdul Aziz and the Holy Mosque in Mecca. The other notes featured the portrait of King Fahd and cultural artifacts in front and a view of different landscapes and the national emblem at the back. These notes also had King Fahd as their watermarks. In 2003, the notes upgraded their security features.

In 1999, SAMA released two commemorative notes—the 20-riyal and the 200-riyal— to celebrate the centenary anniversary of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These notes feature King Abdulaziz, scenes from Mecca and Riyadh, and the centenary logo. 

In 2007, SAMA released redesigned notes. These notes featured King Abdullah and cultural artifacts in front and different landmarks at the back. After SAMA was renamed in 2016, a new series of banknotes was issued to reflect the change. The portrait of King Salman bin Abdulaziz replaced the portrait of King Abdullah and the 1 riyal note was replaced with a coin.

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