The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is still a monarchy, and its government exerts tight control over economic production, most of which is related to oil. Saudi Arabia has about 20% of the world’s reserves of oil and is the world’s single largest exporter. While that has brought the country wealth, the lack of diversification leaves Saudi Arabia vulnerable to fluctuations in world oil prices.
The Saudi ruler, King Abdullah (alternate spelling Abdallah), has demonstrated commitment to economic, political, and educational reform, further opening the country to foreign investment. He responded to the political instability that spread throughout the Arab world in 2011 by creating a massive ($130 billion) social welfare program as a means of tempering demand for structural changes in the Saudi government. Women also obtained the vote, and for now the king has secured his throne.
America and Saudi Arabia have maintained strong ties for many years, and their relationship is currently strengthened by perception of a common menace in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and by growing American dependence on Saudi oil. There is one note that should be made for foreign students in the country: female students must be accompanied by a male guardian, which can complicate arrangements.