Arabia, the area made up of the Arabian Peninsula, is located in the southwestern region of the Asian continent. Covering about 3 million square kilometres, the southeastern area of the peninsula is the Rub'al-Khali, the Empty Quarter, which is the world's largest expanse of continuous sand. Politically, the Arabian Peninsula consists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, and the Republic of Yemen. Together, these countries (excluding the Republic of Yemen) constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Founded on 26 May 1981, the aim of this collective is to promote coordination between member states in all fields in order to achieve unity. In this summary the countries of the GCC will be introduced, except for the United Arab Emirates, which is the subject of a separate summary. Please refer to that page for in-depth information on the UAE.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Occupying four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is the largest country on the peninsula. Located in the southwestern corner of Asia, Saudi Arabia covers an area of about 2,240,000 square kilometres or 864,900 square miles (estimates vary) of which more than half is desert. The country is bordered by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba to the west, by the Republic of Yemen and the Sultanate of Oman to the south, the Arabian Gulf, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to the east, and Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait to the north. The richest oil fields in the world are found in the eastern region. Riyadh, the capital and largest city, is located in the east central region of the country. Jeddah, the second largest city, is the country's main port on the Red Sea. It is also the main port through which pilgrims enter to perform Umrah, Haj, or to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the Al Saud family. The Al Saud dynasty dates back to the mid-18th century with Mohammed bin Saud, who was the ruler of Diriyah in central Arabia. The late King Abdul'Aziz Al Saud founded the modern Saudi state, established 23 September 1932. The written constitution and bill of rights were introduced during the 1982-2005 reign of King Fahd bin Abdul'Aziz Al Saud. Since August 2005, Saudi Arabia has been ruled by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
Oil is the most important industry in Saudi Arabia . The Kingdom has the world's largest proven reserves and is the largest producer in OPEC, totalling one-third of output. Saudi Arabia has the capacity to produce 10 million barrels per day (bpd). Working toward diversifying its economy, the Kingdom is promoting heavy industry, such as petrochemicals, fertilizers, and steel. Traditionally fishing and agriculture were sources of revenue for the Kingdom and today Saudi Arabia is one of the world's leading producers of dates and the fishing industry continues to grow.
An archipelago of thirty-three islands, the largest island, Bahrain (from the Arabic word for "two seas"), is believed to have separated from the Arabian Peninsula around 6000 BC. Located in the Arabian Gulf, the islands are about twenty-four kilometres from the east coast of Saudi Arabia and twenty-eight kilometres from Qatar. The total area of the islands is about 678 square kilometres or 262 square miles (estimates vary). The capital, Manama, is located on the northeastern tip of the island of Bahrain. The main port, Mina Salman, and the major petroleum refining facilities and commercial centers are also located on the island. Causeways and bridges connect Bahrain to adjacent islands and to the mainland of Saudi Arabia. Al Muharraq, the second largest island, is linked to Bahrain by the oldest causeway, originally constructed in 1929. The country's second largest city, Al Muharraq, and the international airport are located there.
Bahrain is an independent state with a traditional monarchy. On 14 February 2002, a new constitution was published and Bahrain declared itself a kingdom. The ruling family of Bahrain, the Al Khalifa, arrived in the islands in the mid-18th century after they first established a settlement in the peninsula of present-day Qatar. Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is the King, and has ruled Bahrain since 6 March 1999.Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa is the prime minister. In February 2001, proposals for political reform put forward by the ruling family received almost unanimous support in a national referendum. The proposals are due to come into effect in 2004, and will mean that Bahrain becomes a constitutional monarchy with an elected lower chamber of parliament and an independent judiciary.
Oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Bahrain in June 1932. The first Gulf state to discover oil, it was also the first to reap the benefits that came with the revenues, in particular a marked improvement in the quality of education and health care. By Gulf standards, Bahrain 's oil reserves are quite small. To decrease its reliance on oil revenues, the government is striving to diversify Bahrain 's economy by attracting more commercial companies, particularly in the IT field.
Kuwait is located in the northeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Bordered by Iraq on the north, northwest and by Saudi Arabia on the south, southwest, it fronts the Arabian Gulf to the east. A small state of 17,818 square kilometres (6,880 square miles), Kuwait includes nine gulf islands within its territory. In addition to being the country's capital and centre for trade and commerce, Kuwait City is an important port for oil and the production of petroleum products. The nearby city of Al Jahrah is the centre of the country's agricultural industry, which primarily produces fruits and vegetables. A prominent geographic feature is Kuwait Bay, which extends for 48 kilometres (30 miles) inland.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy governed by the Al Sabah family, the ruling family since 1756. The constitution, which was approved on 11 November 1962, authorizes the Al Sabah family council to select the emir, traditionally from the Al Sabah line. Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah is the current Emir of Kuwait.
Crude oil and refined products account for most of the country's exports. The reserves of crude oil are estimated to be 10% of the world total, the third largest quantity in the world. Kuwait's other main industries include desalination, food processing, and the manufacturing of building materials, which include plastics, cement, and metal pipes.
Qatar occupies a peninsula, which extends northward for about 180 kilometres (100 miles) into the Arabian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula. The country is bordered to the south by Saudi Arabia for a stretch of 56 kilometres or 35 miles. The total area of Qatar is 11,437 square kilometres or 4,260 square miles. Doha, the capital city, is located on the east coast.
A traditional monarchy, the State of Qatar is ruled by the Al Thani family. The Al Thani family arrived in Qatar in the early part of the 18th century, originally settling in the northern region of the country, and moving to Doha in the mid-19th century. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has been emir since early 1995. Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifah Al Thani is the prime minister. In 1999 the country's first elections were held, to elect a 29-member municipal council. Women were allowed to vote and stand for office in this election.
The State of Qatar produces less than 1% of the world's oil output. Crude oil and liquefied natural gas account for about 80% of the country's exports. The banking sector also plays an important role in Qatar's economy.
Occupying the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman covers an area of about 212,457 square kilometres (82,030 square miles); however, estimates do vary considerably. Oman proper is bordered by Yemen to the southwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, the Gulf of Oman to the north, and by the Arabian Sea to the east and south. Included in its territory is Ruus al Jibal ("The Mountaintops"), which is located on the northern tip of the Musandam Peninsula (Ras Musandam). It borders the Strait of Hormuz, which is a waterway linking the Gulf of Oman with the Arabian Gulf, and separated from the rest of Oman by a strip of territory belonging to the United Arab Emirates. Thanks to its location at the mouth of the Gulf, Oman has long been seen as strategically important. At one time, its territory stretched down the East African coast and it competed against Portugal and Britain for influence in the Gulf. Muscat, the capital of Oman since 1741, is located on the Gulf of Oman coast. The country was known as Muscat and Oman until 1970.
Oman is a monarchy. The ruling family, the Al Said, first came to rule in 1744 after the expulsion of the Iranians from Muscat. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said has ruled since 1970. The sultan also holds the posts of prime minister, minister of defence, minister of foreign affairs, and minister of finance. There is a Council of State for consultation purposes.
Oman 's principal natural resources are petroleum and natural gas. The proved petroleum reserves (4 billion barrels) are not substantial, and the government is aiming to transform Oman into a major natural gas exporter. Manufacturing is growing in importance. Major products include textiles, cement blocks, furniture, fertilizers, and fibreglass products.
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