The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

1) The UAE consists of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Dubai, Umm al Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah, and Fujairah. Together they have a population of about 4.1 million, of whom 3.2 million are servants and expatriate "guest workers".

2) The Emirates amount to nothing more than a high-end shopping precinct (cf. Baer 2009).

3) Abu Dhabi sits on 94 per cent of the UAE's oil reserves.

4) While Abu Dhabi has all the money, Dubai has mostly debt, and needs to borrow to survive. It is a bubble-city on the brink of collapse, and was recently rescued by Abu Dhabi.

5) Westerners flock here in hundreds of thousands, to make money. But few want to stay. There is nothing to see and it is too hot to live there. When the wealth is gone - which may take a while - it will be time to shut up shop.

Bahrain

1) Bahrain was part of Iran until 1783. In 1797 one family, the Al Khalifa family, seized the island. To protect themselves they first made an alliance with Britain, and later with the USA.

2) The country's large Shia population is a continual threat to its Sunni rulers.

Qatar

1) "Qatar has the population of a large scale hotel. The life in the Arab states along the Persian Gulf all bears a strong resemblance to the situation in Havana in the years before Castro took over." (Baer 2009)

2) Fewer than 300,000 Qatari citizens are being served by 1.4 million foreigners. This is a family business where key posts are distributed to the Emir's family (ministers) and that of his wife (army and security services). Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani owns 17 per cent of Volkswagen, 7 per cent of Barclays Bank, 25 per cent of Sainsbury's (Britain's third-largest supermarket chain), part of London's Canary Wharf, and the famous Harrods of London.

3) Where does the money come from? The country is the largest exporter of liquefied gas in the world.

4) The Emir of Qatar runs one of the world's most successful news organizations, AlJazeera. It has rapidly won market share not only in the Arab world, but in Europe too, being seen by many as a welcome counterweight to the more biased American networks. Many Shias view Al Jazeera as a pro-Sunni weapon against Syrian and Iran influence in the region.

Oman

1) Oman owes its independence to the Rubal Khali or Empty Quarter, a vast, virtually-uninhabited desert which few men would enter and none would consider fighting over.

2) In this country, which is neither Sunni nor Shia, but has its own unique "Ibadi" form of Islam, the Sultan is absolute ruler.

Yemen

1) Yemen comprises Shias of a ferocious warrior type, so it was never realistic for the Wahhabi Sauds to annexe the country. Even the Romans failed to conquer what they knew as Arabia Felix, home of the Queen of Sheba.

2) North and South Yemen were reunited in 1990, after South Yemen had been Communist for two decades. Until recently the country's northern borders were undefined, since the land here is practically uninhabitable (though remarkably beautiful).

Today the country is divided into three areas with three distinct groups: Shias in the north (supported militarily by Iran, trained in Eritrea), rebels in the south, and the government in the middle.

4) This is the new hideout for Islamic fundamentalists, and Somali pirates operate freely from its coast.

5) For Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled North Yemen from 1978 just until recently when he became ill and the whole country since unification in 1990, al-Qaeda was always a minor problem relative to the secessionist movements in the north and south of the country. Now he has passed on power to his long-time friend and military leader, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi.

 
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