Saudi Arabia Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In this lesson, we take a look at the various ethnic groups that live in Saudi Arabia. While almost the majority are Arab, there are still several other groups that make up the country.

Saudi Arabia's Population

Few countries have undergone the types of changes that Saudi Arabia has in just 60 years. During the middle of the twentieth century, most Saudis were still nomadic, using camels to traverse the dunes and vast deserts of their homeland. Today, many Saudis live in a handful of massive, super-modern cities. Yet it's not just the settlement patterns of the Saudis that have changed. In this lesson, we'll see how Saudi Arabia has ethnic divisions that help to define the country to this day.

The Saudi flag shows the emphasis on Islam with the Shahada present
Saudi Flag

An Arab Majority

As you might expect from a country that has the word 'Arabia' in its name, Saudi Arabia is mostly Arab. More than 90% of its citizens are Arab, but they are far from a homogenous bunch. In addition to those city dwellers, there are still some Bedouin, who are an partially nomadic group that descended from people who lived in the deserts of the surrounding area. Their name roughly translates to 'desert dwellers' in Arabic language. But that's not the biggest division. Despite being a state that embraces the Sunni side of Islam, many Shia live in the eastern parts of Saudi Arabia. For a country that in no small way defines itself according to religion, this is a major point of contention.


The next largest ethnic group that forms the citizenship of Saudi Arabia are Afro-Arabs. Saudi Arabia is separated from Africa primarily by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, making travel and trade between the two areas particularly attractive. The Afro-Arabs descended from those Africans that came to the Arabian Peninsula hundreds of years ago for various reasons. Originally, many Africans traveled to the Arabian Peninsula as slaves, but now large portions of the Afro-Arab population is actually Afro-Asian, being people whose more recent ancestors were Asian but are ultimately descended from African homelands.

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