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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 | 18:38 GMT
Syria
Syria

Modern Syria is located along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, bordering Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Syria’s main geographic challenge is uniting its diverse ethnic groups under one domestic power. This is the result of mountainous terrain and ethnic cores that contradict the state’s current borders. Syria’s population is composed of Sunni Arabs, Alawites, Kurds, Druze, and Christians, among others. The traditional core of Syria's ruling Alawite minority sits on the northern coastal plain to the west of the Jabal an Nusayriya mountains and to the north of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. Between these two ranges, the Homs Gap has often been the point of invasions from the Mediterranean Sea. The interior region is dominated by the majority Sunni Arab peoples. The Syrian Desert divides this area into two competing regions with strong local identities. The first, Damascus, is the historical capital and the modern seat of power for the Alawites. The other, Aleppo, is situated in the agricultural heartlands of the Aleppo plateau. The Euphrates river divides this plateau from the much more arid Jazirah plateau and allows for irrigation in an otherwise desert region. Syria’s modern boundaries fall short of the historical concept of Greater Syria—spanning from Lebanon to the west and Jordan and Israel to the south. Its current borders were set by the League of Nations' French Mandate, following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Lebanon, especially Beirut, has always been important to Syria because of its trade ports and access to Mediterranean markets. Syria’s recent civil unrest is the latest example of its geographic challenge. Maintaining unity remains difficult so long as its current boundaries continue to overlap regional and ethnic fault lines.

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Regions & CountriesJanuary 23, 2020 | 15:21 GMT
Germany
Germany

Germany is a country located in Central Europe, bordered by Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. The country has mountainous terrain in the south, dominated by the Alps, with a plateau and forests in the center and the north. The Rhine, the Danube and the Elbe rivers, combined with Germany's central location in Europe and its access to the North Sea, allowed the country to become a leading exporter and one of the most prosperous economies in Europe. Between the late 10th and early 19th centuries, the territories of today's Germany were the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, a collection of small kingdoms, principalities, duchies and city-states. This led to the development of multiple seats of political and economic power that achieved unity in 1871. While Berlin is Germany's capital and most populous city, the country also has several economic and political centers, including Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt. Germany’s location in the heart of the North European Plain has led to constant conflicts with its neighbors like France and Russia. After World War II, Germany was divided between East Germany, in the Soviet orbit, and West Germany, integrated to the European Economic Community and NATO. The country achieved reunification in 1990. Germany’s main geographic challenge is preserving its territorial unity and maintaining a political balance between regions within the country. It also seeks to maintain a political alliance with France and a balance of power in Europe to preserve peace and keep markets open for trade. Berlin's efforts to keep the European Union closely integrated amid the current economic crisis are in line with this strategy.

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