For hundreds of years, Saudi Arabia was little more than a dustbowl -- a collection of warring kingdoms wedged between Africa and Asia.
For hundreds of years, Saudi Arabia was little more than a dustbowl -- a collection of warring kingdoms wedged between Africa and Asia. Camel trains of nomadic tribesmen wandered the desert, always pre-occupied with the searth for water beneath the sand.
Not until this century did they realise they had been walking on immense wealth for under the sand was oil. As world demand grew, Saudi Arabia became the biggest supplier of oil to Western industrial nations and it made this kingdom immensely rich.
Today, Saudi Arabia still has the world's biggest reserves of oil -- something like 300 billion barrels of it. And its earnings from oil this year are likely to be about GBP 10,000 million sterling.
With a population of only six millions, oil income makes Saudi Arabia one of the richest nations in the world. Almost uniquely in the present day, it has the problem of what to do with all its money.
Decisions like that -- as in everything else -- rest with Saudi Arabia's King Faisal. The 69-year-old King assumed power in his land in 1954 after a bloodless take-over in which he deposed his brother.
In the ten years in which he has reigned he has always maintained a pro-Western attitude, and was a moderating voice in the political collision between oil sonsumers and oil producers which resulted in a world-wide fuel crisis.
Internally, King Faisal has presided over a decade of public expenditure unknown in his kingdom. With the avowed aim of modernising his nation, he has put in hand programmes for education, medicine, housing and transportation on a scale never previously imagined.
But in Saudi Arabia, progress has to be tempered with moderation. For this kingdom has within its boundaries the city of Mecca and is therefore custodian of the most sacred shrine of the Islamic faith.
It is a guardianship which King Faisal is bound to uphold. But strict observant of the faith is a brake to progress in a country where forward planning must be balanced by the teachings of the Koran.
Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia has made spectacular advances towards King Faisal's aim of strengthening his nation's position, power and prestige in the world.
As long as the world needs oil -- and that is the foreseeable future -- Saudi Arabia's power and prestige can only increase, for it practically floats on oil.
With its power and wealth guaranteed, Saudi Arabia is poised to fulfil King Faisal's ambition to transform it into a modern nation. For in the problem of making the desert flower, Saudi Arabia is best equipped to succeed.