Saudi Arabia: The world’s largest oil producer hosts about
7,000 U.S. troops and an airbase, a major grievance for Saudi-born
terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden. The Sunni Muslim rulers follow a
strict sect called Wahhabism — requiring women to cover up and
prohibiting them from driving, for instance — but oil wealth has
brought Western influences and friction. Bin Laden was stripped of
his Saudi citizenship for opposing the deployment of Western troops
in the vicinity of Islam’s holiest shrines during the Persian Gulf
War, prompted by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Oct. 12, 2000
suicide bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen has been linked
to bin Laden followers. In 1994, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh
enlisted veterans of the Afghan-Soviet conflict, some of whom worked
with bin Laden in Afghanistan, to crush secessionist communists in
the south. Though born in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden is thought to have
drawn his intense religious beliefs and disdain for Western ways
from the traditions of his father’s native village in Yemen.
Area: Saudi Arabia (756,983 square miles, slightly more
than one-fifth the size of the United States); Yemen (203,800 square
miles); Kuwait (6,900 square miles).
Population: Saudi Arabia (22.7 million); Kuwait (2
million); Yemen (18 million).
Economy: An expanding population and low oil prices have
decreased per-capita income in Saudi Arabia by almost half over the
past 25 years, to about $10,000 a year.