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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:47 GMT
Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
Comprising a majority of the Arabian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is surrounded by Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The kingdom's main geographic challenges are controlling its sparsely populated territory and maintaining shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz. Surrounded by vast deserts, the central Najd plateau is the core of Saudi Arabia and is home to the country's capital, Riyadh. Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities, are protected by mountains in the west and flanked by the Red Sea. The security of these cities is a key to the monarchy's legitimacy. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I set the stage for the House of Saud to unify the territory that became Saudi Arabia in 1932. Oil and natural gas have been the country's main exports and source of wealth since their discovery in 1938. A restive Eastern Province holds a majority of the kingdom's reserves and makes the country vulnerable to invasion from the north or the Persian Gulf. Cross border tribal ties also expose the kingdom to unrest in the south on the border with Yemen. A scarcity of fresh water and a small population density limit Saudi Arabia's defensive capabilities. Since the vast majority of Saudi oil exports pass via the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint, the kingdom has historically relied on a foreign power to balance regional rival, Iran and keep the Strait open. As global oil consumption continues to rise, Saudi Arabia will continue to play a dominant role in the Middle East despite its geographic challenges.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 18:31 GMT
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates is located on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. To its west is Saudi Arabia and to its east is Oman. Iran is only a few miles north, across the Persian Gulf. With desert in its west and south, dry mountains in its east and the warm waters of the Persian Gulf to the north, the United Arab Emirates' climate is unable to support agriculture beyond small-scale oases and camel herds. The country is divided into three broad regions: the coastal harbors of the Gulf, bounded by the sandy desert of the Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter; the interior, where settlements cluster around oases; and the northeast, which is broken up by the Al Hajar Mountains. There are no natural rivers and few timber supplies in the United Arab Emirates, and nearly all the country's drinkable water is trapped beneath oases. In the premodern era, citizens mainly survived off piracy, trade and pearling, and the most powerful settlement was the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah near the Al Hajar Mountains. After the discovery of oil in the 1962, power shifted permanently to the more southern Abu Dhabi, which holds 94 percent of the country's proven oil reserves. These coastal cities are the core of the country. Founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan established the United Arab Emirates — the Arab world's only successful federation — in 1971 and ruled until his death in 2004. At that time, his son and current president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan took over power. The United Arab Emirates seeks to maximize its independence while warding off the influence and control of more powerful regional players Saudi Arabia and Iran. To do this, it has leveraged its energy supply and strategic location to secure alliances with extra-regional powers like the United States. Utilizing its oil receipts, the United Arab Emirates has imported foreign labor from South and East Asia, as well as the Arab world. Combining that labor with global technology, the country has rapidly transformed itself from a desert backwater to a key transport hub, tourist destination and regional military power.
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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:13 GMT
Egypt
Egypt
Located in the northeast corner of Africa, Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab World. Comprised of mostly uninhabitable desert, 99 percent of the country's 93 million people live along the banks of the Nile River. This region, from the Aswan High Dam to the Mediterranean shore is Egypt's core. The Nile, while not commercially navigable, forms the basis of Egypt's irrigation-dependent agricultural sector. The long, narrow stretch of population requires expensive infrastructure development — especially related to transportation, straining the capital-poor government's resources. The desert topography demands a great deal of investment on a national scale necessitating a strong central state, helping to explain Egypt's history of authoritarian regimes beginning with the pharaohs. Egypt's main geographic challenge has been to develop beyond the narrow Nile corridor and project power eastward. The Saharan desert has largely insulated the Nile core from its western flank and contained Egypt's westward expansion. Egypt has been able to translate its strong central government and border with Israel into developing a relationship with the United States, the key foreign backer protecting the Suez Canal and the northern coastline. This area contains the majority of Egypt's offshore hydrocarbon reserves. The Sinai Desert has traditionally been the overland route of foreign invasion, but its more manageable geography also accommodates Egyptian attempts to interact with the Levant and Arabian Peninsula and competition with Saudi Arabia for the role of regional Arab hegemon.
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