Old Arabia, the landmass that makes up the Arabian Peninsula, lies to the southwestern of the Asian continent. Covering approximately 3 million square kilometers, the southeastern area of the peninsula is the Rub’al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), the world’s largest expanse of continuous sand. Politically, the Arabian Peninsula is home to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, and the Republic of Yemen. These countries together, excluding Yemen, constitute the “Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf” (CCASG), or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as it is better known.
Founded on 26 May 1981, the GCC is a political and economic union of Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf and located on or near the Arabian Peninsula. One professed aim of this collective is to promote coordination between member states in all fields with a view to achieve unity. This area has some of the fastest growing economies in the world, mostly due to a boom in oil and natural gas revenues coupled with a building and investment boom backed by decades of saved petroleum revenues. We present here to our readers a brief snapshot of the GCC countries, to enhance our understanding about this region, which accounts in large part for forex remittances into India in general, and Kerala in particular.
Occupying four-fifths of the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the peninsula. Located in the southwestern corner of Asia, Saudi Arabia covers an area of about 22,40,000 square kilometers, of which more than half is barren 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 on the 23rd of 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, totaling one-third of its output, with a capacity to produce 10 million barrels per day. 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 even today, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s leading producers of dates, and the fishing industry continues to grow.
Qatar occupies a peninsula that extends northward for about 180 kilometers into the Arabian Gulf from the Arabian Peninsula. The country is bordered to the south by Saudi Arabia for a stretch of 56 kilometers. The total area of Qatar is 11,437 square kilometers. 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.
The Kingdom is an archipelago of thirty-three islands. The largest island, Bahrain (derived 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 kilometers from the east coast of Saudi Arabia and twenty-eight kilometers from Qatar. The total area of the islands is about 678 square kilometers.
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 14th February 2002, a new constitution was brought into force 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. These proposals came into effect in 2004, making Bahrain 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 IT.
Kuwait is located in the northeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Bordered by Iraq to the north and northwest, and by Saudi Arabia to the south and southwest, it fronts the Arabian Gulf to the east. A small state of 17,818 square kilometers, Kuwait includes nine gulf islands within its territory. In addition to being the country’s capital and center 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 center of the country’s agricultural industry, which primarily produces fruits and vegetables. A prominent geographic feature is Kuwait Bay, which extends for 48 kilometers 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.
Located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, the Sultanate of Oman covers an area of about 2,12,457 square kilometers. 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 sited on the northern tip of the Musandam
Peninsula (Ras Musandam). It borders the Strait of Hormuz, 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. Given its location at the mouth of the Gulf, Oman has for 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 fiberglass products.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven Sheikhdoms located in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Bordered by the Sultanate of Oman and the Gulf of Oman to the east, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and by the Arabian Gulf to the north, the total land area, including 20 islands, is 83,000 sq km. The seven emirates are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. The capital and the largest city of the federation, Abu Dhabi, is located in the emirate of the same name. Each emirate, unique and rich in tradition, is an essential component necessary for making up the whole.
ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate, is ruled by the Al Nahyan family. It occupies 67,340 square kilometers or 86.7% of the total area of the country. The emirate is a vast desert area with about two dozen islands in the coastal waters, including the island where the city of Abu Dhabi is located, plus six sizeable islands further out in the Arabian Gulf. The population of the emirate is concentrated in three areas: the capital city, Abu Dhabi; Al Ain, an oasis city located near the Hajar Mountains; and the villages of the Liwa oases. Traditionally, the population along the coast relied on fishing and pearl-diving for their livelihood, whilst those in the hinterland relied on date plantations and camel herding. Through remarkable leadership and personal commitment, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan developed Abu Dhabi into an influential, fully modernized state. Upon Sheikh Zayed’s death in November 2004, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan became UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.
DUBAI: Dubai, the second largest of the seven emirates, is ruled by the Al Maktoum family. It occupies an area of approxi- mately 3,900 kilometers, which includes a small enclave called Hatta, situated close to Oman among the Hajar Mountains. Dubai, the capital city, is located along the creek, a natural harbor, which traditionally provided the basis of the trading industry. Pearling and fishing were the main sources of income for the people of Dubai. Under the wise leadership of its rulers, Dubai’s focus on trade and industry transformed it into a leading trading port along the southern Gulf. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the current ruler of Dubai.
SHARJAH: Sharjah, which shares its southern border with Dubai, is ruled by the Al Qasimi family. It is approximately 2,600 square kilometers and is the only emirate to have coastlines on both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. In the 19th century the town of Sharjah was the leading port in the lower Gulf. Produce from the interior of Oman, India and Persia arrived there. Sharjah’s salt mines meant that salt constituted an important part of its export business, along with pearls. In the 1930s when the pearling industry declined and trade decreased due to the creek silting up, Imperial Airways’ flying boats set up a staging post for flights en route to India, which benefited the residents of Sharjah. Today, under the leadership of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Sharjah is the cultural and educational centre of the UAE and takes pride in preserving the country’s cultural heritage, promoting Arab culture and traditions.
AJMAN: Ajman is the smallest emirate, being only 260 square kilometers in size. It is ruled by the Al Nuami family. Surrounded mostly by the emirate of Sharjah, Ajman also possesses the small enclaves of Manama and Musfut in the Hajar Mountains. Along the creek dhow building was the specialised trade. Fishing and date-trees provided the local population with their primary means of sustenance. Ajman benefited greatly from the union of the emirates, a fact that is reflected today in their stately buildings and infrastructure. Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuami has been the ruler since 1981. UMM AL QAIWAIN: Umm Al Qaiwain is ruled by the Al Mualla family. It is the second smallest emirate, with a total area of around 770 square kilometers. Positioned between the emirates of Sharjah and Ajman to the south and Ras Al Khaimah to the north, Umm Al Qaiwain has the smallest population. Fishing is the local population’s primary means of income. Date farming also plays a significant role in the economy. After the union of the emirates in 1971 Umm Al Qaiwain developed into a modern state, and continues to progress under its present ruler, Sheikh Rashid bin Ahmed Al Mualla.
RAS AL KHAIMAH: Ras Al Khaimah, the most northerly emirate, is ruled by another branch of the Al Qasimi family. It covers an area of 1,700 square kilometers. Thanks to the run-off water from the Hajar Mountains, Ras Al Khaimah has a unique abundance of flora, so it is no surprise that agriculture is important to the local economy.
The emirate also benefits from its stone quarries, and fishing, which is plentiful in the rich waters of the Gulf. The city of Ras Al Khaimah, situated on an inlet, has a rich history. It was renowned for its prosperous port and for its exquisite pearls, which were famous as being the whitest and roundest available anywhere. Ras Al Khaimah’s current ruler is Sheikh Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.
FUJAIRAH: The only emirate without a coastline on the Arabian Gulf is Fujairah, which is ruled by the Al Sharqi family. Situated along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, Fujairah covers about 1,300 square kilometres. Unlike other emirates, where the desert forms a large part of the terrain, mountains and plains are its predominant features. Fujairah’s economy is based on fishing and agriculture. Like Ras Al Khaimah, the land in Fujairah is irrigated by rainwater from the Hajar Mountains, making it ideal for farming. Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi is the present ruler.