Guide to Saudi Arabia

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Population: 26 million

Main Language: Arabic

Currency: Saudi Arabian Riyal

Calling Code: 966

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad was born and united various tribes of the Arabian peninsula to found a single Islamic polity. After Muhammad's death in 632, Muslim rule expanded throughout the region and found its center in more developed empires based in Cairo, Baghdad or Istanbul. Saudi Arabia remained a peripheral state until the 18th century, when the Saudi royal family, known as the Al Saud, emerged and allied with religious leader Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. In 1902, Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn al-Saud (Ibn Saud) forced religious authorities in modern-day capital Riyadh to swear allegiance to the Al-Sauds, and in 1932 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was officially formed, with Ibn Saud proclaiming himself King of the Hejaz and Sultan of Najd.

Guide to Pakistan

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Population: 184 million

Main Language: Urdu and English

Currency: Rupee

Calling Code: +92

Pakistan, the "Land of the Spiritually Clean and Pure," owes its name to Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, a student at Cambridge University. The country's earliest civilizations, dating back to the 2500-1500 BC, built impressive cities and counted with a sophisticated system of government. The Aryans, Mauryas and others soon arrived to spread religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, which mixed with the Greek culture brought by Alexander the Great. In 711, Arab general Mohammed bin Qasim and his cavalrymen brought the religion of Islam, which would lead to the establishment of an Islamic government and a Muslim ruling class.

Guide to Sweden

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Population: 9 million

Main Language: Swedish

Currency: Krona

Calling Code: +46

The Kingdom of Sweden is the third largest country in the European Union. On the Scandinavian Peninsula, this Nordic country neighbours Norway to the west and Finland to the east, and presumably owes its name to the settlement of a Germanic tribe called Swedes whose arrival in modern Swedish territory was documented before the year 100 AD. The Viking Age put Sweden at the center of world affairs as Swedish Viking vessels sailed around the globe, leading to military expeditions, enhanced trade and overseas settlements.

The twentieth century saw Sweden declare neutrality in the two world wars, even though it allowed German troops to march through Swedish territory on their way to Norway, and even though it welcomed refugees, especially Jews, from neighbouring countries. More recently, Sweden has developed a strong welfare state, leading to a high standard of living and virtual eradication of poverty. After a battle with unemployment and a period of economic crisis, Sweden recovered and joined the European Union in 1995.

Guide to Netherlands

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Population: 16 million

Major Language: Dutch

Currency: Euro

Calling Code: +31

Germanic tribes, Batavians and Frisians first inhabited the region that is now the Netherlands. The Dutch revolt of 1558 unified the seven northern Dutch provinces into a single republic following invasion by the Romans, Franks, Austrians and Spanish.Two centuries later, the Netherlands experienced a golden era when it became a colonial power and arts blossomed under the brush of Old Masters such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. A series of wars with Spain, France and England in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, eroded Dutch economic and political power, meaning that the Netherlands would not recover until it allied with Belgium to defeat Napoleon.

The Netherlands remained neutral during the two world wars of the twentieth century. Even then, World War II had devastating effects on the country as German troops invaded in 1940, forcing Queen Wihelmina to establish a government-in-exile from London. Over 75% of Dutch Jews would die during the Nazi occupation, including the famous Anne Frank. The end of the war coincided with the breakdown of the Dutch empire, and territories such as Suriname and Indonesia were granted full independence or autonomy. 

Guide to Germany

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Population: 81 million

Major Language: German

Currency: Euro

Calling Code: +49

Germany has the largest population of any country and Europe, whilst it is also the continents most industrialized country. All this is despite a history rife with conflict; a fact that can be seen in its population today who have as far ranging influences as Scandinavian, Iranian and Roman.

The cliché of German efficiency is not unfounded and it took all the people's strength to recover economically and socially after two defeats in World War I and II left the country divided and crippled. The country was left split in to East and West Germany, just as its capital was split by the infamous Berlin Wall. However, with the end of the Cold War, the country was reunited and has since gone from strength to strength.

Equally, with a strong tradition in sport, music, literature and food and drink, Germany is not just about economic and industrial strength.

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