THE FIVE COUNTRIES covered in this volume--Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar,
the United Arab Emirates, and Oman--are all Arab states on the
Persian Gulf that share certain characteristics. But they are
not the only countries that border the gulf. Iran, Iraq, and Saudi
Arabia share the coastline as well, and they too shared in the
historical development of the area. Of the five states covered
in this volume, Oman has a particular culture and history that
distinguish it from its neighbors. It also is the state with the
shortest coastline along the Persian Gulf. Most of Oman lies along
the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea .
The main element that unites these countries is the nature of
their involvement with people and nations beyond the region. The
gulf has been an important waterway since ancient times, bringing
the people who live on its shores into early contact with other
civilizations. In the ancient world, the gulf peoples established
trade connections with India; in the Middle Ages, they went as
far as China; and in the modern era, they became involved with
the European powers that sailed into the Indian Ocean and around
Southeast Asia. In the twentieth century, the discovery of massive
oil deposits in the gulf made the area once again a crossroads
for the modern world.
Other factors also bring these countries together. The people
are mostly Arabs and, with the exception of Oman and Bahrain,
are mostly Sunni (see Glossary) Muslims. Because they live in
basically tribal societies, family and clan connections underlie
most political and economic activity. The discovery of oil and
the increasing contact with the West has led to tremendous material
and social changes.
Important distinctions exist, however, among the five countries.
Bahrain is an island with historical connections to the Persian
Empire. Kuwait is separated from the others by Saudi Arabia. In
Oman high mountain ranges effectively cut off the country's hinterland
from the rest of the region . Moreover, various tribal loyalties
throughout the region are frequently divisive and are exacerbated
by religious differences that involve the major sects of Islam--
Sunni and Shia (see Glossary)--and the smaller Kharijite sect
as well as Muslim legal procedures.
Data as of January 1993