The small peninsula jutting out from Arabia into the Persian Gulf is an Arab land in transition. Ruled by an emir who has supported democratic reforms, Qatar is moving forward with a globalization policy similar to other Westernized nations. Many of these reforms are similar to those in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Oil and gas exports have fueled a building boom that has produced shopping malls, wide boulevards, and even a large US military base. Women are allowed to vote, Western clothing and products are permitted, and rap music can be heard in the streets. Though still politically restrictive in many ways, Qatar is more open than many of its neighbors. Qatar is also home to the Al Jazeera news organization (click here to visit their YouTube channel), which often balances out Western news programming. Al Jazeera is also allowed to report critically on its home country.
Modernization efforts have supported Qatar’s push for a greater emphasis on education. Infrastructure and financial support have been allocated to support educational reform, and university opportunities are expanding rapidly. Qatar University was founded in 1973, and in the last decade many more universities from Western countries have opened up branch campuses in Education City, which was established to advance Qatar’s educational reform goals.
Education City is a campus which hosts local branches of the Weill Cornell Medical College, Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Texas A&M’s School of Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, and other Western institutions.
The emir’s second wife has actively promoted educational reforms and has encouraged women to pursue higher education to excel in their careers. She has also created greater visibility for women in public roles and has broken through some of the cultural barriers and taboos that have restricted women in other conservative Islamic Arab countries.
United Arab Emirates
Seven small Arab emirates joined together in 1971 to form the UAE. Each emirate is an absolute monarchy ruled by a sheik. The UAE has been integrating its economy with the global marketplace and has established a high standard of living for its people. Two of the emirates—Abu Dhabi and Dubai—possess most of the oil reserves. Abu Dhabi is the capital city and consists of 87 percent of the land area in the UAE. The head of the royal family in this emirate is considered the head of state for the UAE.
Dubai has turned its small emirate into an international trade center. The emirate has used its oil reserves to promote trade and commerce. Dubai built itself a world-class port facility equaling that of Hong Kong or New York. As a free-trade zone, there are no taxes or tariffs, so international corporations use the location as a trade center to bring high-volume buyers and sellers together. Dubai has been looking ahead to its future when the oil runs out. The creation of an international trade center would be a means to gain economic income when the revenue from the sale of oil diminishes.
Noncitizens make up about 80 percent of the population; about half the noncitizens are from South Asia, and many are Muslims from India. The large number of laborers that are required to develop the infrastructure has created an imbalance between the percentage of men and women. There are about twice the number of men than there are women in Dubai. This has created an interesting dynamic for women in Dubai, who have more rights and opportunities than those in more conservative Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Dubai has the world’s tallest structure, the most expensive hotel, the world’s most expensive airport (when completed), and the world’s largest artificial islands. Dubai is even home to an indoor downhill ski resort complete with real snow.
The traditional food of the Emirates has always been rice, fish, and meat. The people of the United Arab Emirates have adopted most of their foods from other West and South Asian countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, and Oman. Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. Meat and rice are other staple foods, with lamb and mutton preferred to goat and beef. Popular beverages are coffee and tea, which can be complemented with cardamom, saffron, or mint to give them a distinctive flavor.
With the influence of western culture, fast food has become very popular among young people, to the extent that campaigns have been held to highlight the dangers of fast food excesses. Alcohol is allowed to be served only in hotel restaurants and bars. All nightclubs are permitted to sell alcohol. Specific supermarkets may sell alcohol, but these products are sold in separate sections. Likewise, pork, which is haram (not permitted for Muslims), is sold in separate sections in all major supermarkets.
The Sultanate of Oman
Ruled by a sultan, the absolute monarchy of Oman on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula also controls the tip of land next to the Strait of Hormuz. All oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf must pass through this vital choke point.
Mountains reach more than nine thousand feet in the eastern region of Oman, and rugged arid central plains cover the central region. The country gets plenty of sunshine and has some excellent beaches. Annual rainfall varies from four inches or fewer in the eastern sector to as much as twenty-five inches in the southwest. The climate is generally hot: temperatures can reach 120 °F from May to September.
Salalah, which is located in the southeastern portion of Oman is transformed into lush greenery during the monsoon season from about June to early September. During the monsoon this area and the Dhofar Mountains are rainsoaked and shrouded in fog.
Oman has been using its oil income to build infrastructure to benefit its people. The sultan of Oman has widespread support from his people and has built up goodwill from the international community for his investments in his country. He has built a free-trade zone with a giant container port facility, luxury tourist hotels, a good road system, and a first-rate international airport. He has also provided clean drinking water to the rural areas. Though Oman is not a democracy, the sultan has been positive role model for other monarchs. He has used Oman’s oil wealth to help his country develop and modernize. The mountains of Oman have additional natural resources such as gold, marble, and copper.
A lack of fresh water is a concern for Oman. The nation has limited renewable water resources. More than 90 percent of the water available is used in agriculture, and the rest is used for industry and domestic consumption. Fresh water is piped throughout most of the country, but shortages occur at times because of droughts and limited rainfall.
Environmental problems have also arisen in Oman. For example, irrigation operations have caused soil conditions such as a salt buildup. Oil tankers traveling through the Strait of Hormuz and along the coast in the Gulf of Oman have leaked oil, which has washed up on coastal areas where attractive beaches are located. The higher level of exploitation of the environment by a growing population has exacted a toll on the organisms that live in the fragile desert ecosystems. Mammals, birds, and other organisms are in danger of extinction, including the Arabian leopard, the mountain gazelle, and the Arabian oryx. The country may lose its biodiversity unless action is taken toward preservation.
Yemen is a mountainous country bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia. The tallest mountains on the peninsula—reaching more than twelve thousand feet in elevation—are located here. The four main regions of Yemen are the eastern desert region of the Rub’ al Khali; the Eastern Highlands south of the Rub’ al Khali; the Western Highlands, which have the highest peaks; and the western coastal plains. The Western Highlands receive about thirty inches of rain per year, while the eastern desert received almost no rainfall. A number of volcanic islands are located off the coast. A volcano on one of the islands erupted as recently as 2007. This region is an extension of the rift valley system coming out of East Africa.
The economy has traditionally been based on agriculture. Most of the farmland is in the form of terraces cut into the mountainsides that trap rainwater as it flows down the slope from one terrace to the next. Food production is a primary concern because in 2020 the population was almost thirty million and increasing rapidly. The arid land has few trees, but firewood is in high demand for cooking. The demand for firewood has caused deforestation, which in turn has caused serious soil erosion and damage to the mountain terraces that produce the food. Yemen is facing serious environmental concerns. The fast-growing population will only put more pressure on the environmental systems. On the positive side, oil and natural gas reserves are being found in some quantities, which will assist with the economic conditions and help supply the energy needed in the future.
Women in Yemen do not have the opportunities available in some of the more urbanized and modernized Gulf States.
The population of Yemen is about 40 percent Shia and 60 percent Sunni. Yemen sided with Iraq and Saddam Hussein in the First Persian Gulf War in Kuwait, which resulted in Saudi Arabia expelling thousands of Yemeni workers. Yemen and Saudi Arabia have had a long-standing territorial dispute and only recently agreed on the desert border between the two countries. As the lone democracy on the peninsula, Yemen contrasts with the more conservative Islamic states and monarchies such as Saudi Arabia that are more common in the Middle East. Poor, rural, and agriculturally based, Yemen does not fit the mold of the typical oil-rich sheikdom of the region.
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Next: Iraq, Turkey, and Iran
Additional information and image credits:
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32649948
Near Doha, Qatar
By Alex Sergeev (www.asergeev.com) – http://asergeev.com/pictures/archives/compress/2013/1211/20.htm Al Asmakh Mosque in Musheirebhttp://asergeev.com/pictures/archives/compress/2013/1186/23.htm Safliya Island near Doha Qatar CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75800228
United Arab Emirates
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31089985
By Wikiemirati – Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=63730459
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32649818
Strait of Hormuz map
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18432795
Wadi Shab, Oman
By Andries Oudshoorn – 080316-30 Oman – Wadi ShabUploaded by mangostar, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6833512
CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3503976
Yemen map – Map courtesy of CIA World Factbook – public domain.
By Ferdinand Reus from Arnhem, Holland – cropped version of Yemen, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5962270
By Diego Delso – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8757000