The Arabian Peninsula is divided into seven independent countries.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia occupies about four fifths of the peninsula.
The other countries are the Emirate of Kuwait, the Emirate of Qatar,
and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on the Persian Gulf; the Emirate
of Bahrain, consisting of eight islands in the Persian Gulf; the Sultanate
of Oman, facing the Arabian Sea; and the Republic of Yemen, on the
Red and Arabian seas. The northern part of the Syrian Desert extends
into Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.
The people of the Arabian Peninsula are Arabs, members of the Semitic
subgroup of the Caucasoid race, with some admixture of other Caucasoid
groups and of Negroids from Africa in the coastal areas. The Negroid
admixture is due chiefly to the importation of slaves from Africa,
which was an active trade until recent years. Arabic is the chief
written and spoken language. Practically all of the indigenous inhabitants
are Muslims. The small, chiefly urban foreign colony is composed mostly
of diplomatic personnel and employees of foreign-owned firms. The
population (est. 1994) totals 35,200,000. (See also Arabs.)
The Arabian Peninsula is essentially a great tilted block of rock,
highest in the west and sloping gradually eastward. Its surface presents
a considerable diversity of relief features. This pattern is broken
only in the southeast by the highlands of Oman. The area can be divided
into the following landform regions: (1) Western and Southern Highlands;
(2) the Nejd; (3) the Sand Areas (Great Nafud, Dahana, and Rub` al
Khali); (4) the Syrian Desert; (5) the Persian Gulf lowlands; and
The Western and Southern Highlands vary in elevation from 1,500 feet
(460 meters) near Mecca to 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) in Yemen. The
northern segment, from the Gulf of Aqaba to 100 miles (160 km) south
of Mecca, is known as Hejaz. It has a general elevation between 2,
000 and 3,000 feet (600-900 meters), with some mountains attaining
6,000 to 9,000 feet (1,850-2,700 meters). Many streams rise in these
highlands and flow onto the narrow (20-to-40-mile-wide [32-to-64-km])
coastal plain, the Tihama, but the waters evaporate before reaching
the Red Sea. Southward the highlands continue into Asir but at a considerably
higher elevation; much of the area lies between 5,000 and 7,000 feet
(1,500-2,150 meters), with peaks above 9,000 feet (2,700 meters),
and is very rugged. The mountains of Yemen in the southwestern corner
of Arabia are the highest of the peninsula. Sizable areas are between
6,500 and 9,000 feet (2,000-2,700 meters), with peaks reaching 10,
000 to 12,000 feet (3,000-3,700 meters). Eastward, through the Hadhramawt,
the highlands gradually decline to 2,000 feet (600 meters) in Dhofar.
These mountains are extremely rugged.
The Nejd lies to the east of the Western Highlands and is bordered
on its north, east, and south by sand areas. Western Nejd is a desolate
tableland crossed by dry watercourses (wadis), which become filled
with torrential streams after storms. Separating western Nejd from
eastern Nejd is the Nafud Dahi, a series of sand hills or ridges that
runs from the Great Nafud (An Nafud) on the north to the Rub` al Khali
on the south. Eastern Nejd is marked by conspicuous north-south ridges
with steep western fronts.
The two great sandy areas of the peninsula, the Great Nafud in the
north and the Rub` al Khali in the south, are connected on the east
by the Dahana, a belt of sand hills and ridges that varies in width
from 15 to 50 miles (20-80 km). A similar but discontinuous band of
sand ridges lies on the western edge of the Nejd, also connecting
the Great Nafud and Rub` al Khali. The Great Nafud has an estimated
area of 22,000 square miles (57,000 sq km) and is composed of many
hills, ridges, and mounds of sand, most 20 to 50 feet (6-15 meters)
high, with some rising to as much as 100 feet (30 meters) above the
surrounding features. The sand surface may be hard-packed, rippled,
or so loose that men and animals sink easily into it. Between the
sand hills are sand- or gravel-covered basins. Some surfaces have
been stripped clean of loose material by wind, but a sandy cover is
characteristic. Sand of a reddish or pink color is widespread in the
Great Nafud and Dahana. South of the Nejd is the Rub` al Khali, or
``Empty Quarter,'' one of the larger sand areas of the world. Like
the Great Nafud, it is a sea of sand hills, dunes, and ridges, some
of which are as high as 500 feet (150 meters). In the southern half
of the Dahana and the northern Rub` al Khali are extensive areas of
shifting sand dunes.
North of the Great Nafud is the Syrian Desert, which stretches into
Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. The surface consists mainly of alluvial material
from which most of the fine materials have been stripped; it is referred
to as desert pavement. Wadis, occasional mesas and buttes, and sandy
areas break the monotony of the desert scene. The most dissected part
is the divide area between the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates drainage
The Persian Gulf lowlands extend from the head of the Persian Gulf
to the Musandam Peninsula of Oman. Largely a low plains area (less
than 600 feet [180 meters]), the relief is broken in a few places
by elevated ridges or escarpments. The immediate coast is fringed
with coral reefs, mud islands, and bars; marshes and lagoons are common.
Inland are silt-filled lagoons and sand plains that give way northward
to the gravel surface of the Syrian Desert and westward and southward
to the sands of the Dahana and the Rub` al Khali.
Oman has a series of rugged mountain ranges parallel to the coast.
The Jabal al Akhdar attains a height of 9,957 feet (3,035 meters)
in the peak of Jabal Ash Sham.
Climate and Water Resources.
The climate, except in the higher mountains and parts of the Syrian
Desert, is tropical desert. In summer the whole region is intensely
hot and very dry. Summer daytime temperatures regularly reach or exceed
100°F. (38°C.) and may reach 130°F. (54°C.). The daily range of temperature
during summer is commonly 30°F. to 40°F. (-1.1°C. to 4°C.), so that
nights are relatively cool. The average temperature for the hottest
month is generally well above 90°F. (32°C.). The winter temperatures
are less extreme and more pleasant. Days are warm to hot and nights
cool. The average nighttime low is in the vicinity of 40°F. (4°C.),
and only in the far south have night temperatures never fallen to
Except in the immediate coastal regions, the relative humidity is
low, making the heat more bearable. The coastal areas have a constantly
high humidity that makes activity very trying, especially in summer.
The low night temperatures are important since they often produce
heavy dew that is of some importance to natural vegetation.
The major part of the peninsula receives less than 5 inches (125 mm)
of precipitation annually, many areas receiving as little as 3 and
4 inches (75-100 mm) a year. Not only is the amount meager, but it
is also highly variable, so that a given locality may receive no rain
for several years. Winter is the season of maximum precipitation;
summers are almost entirely dry. The mountains in Asir (a region in
Saudi Arabia along the Red Sea north of Yemen), Yemen, and Oman receive
larger amounts of rain because of elevation: probably 10 to 15 inches
(250-380 mm), except in Yemen, where the highest areas receive up
to 30 inches (760 mm). Yemen is unique in Arabia in receiving more
rain in summer than in winter. The higher land in Hejaz and Nejd gets
more rains than the lower areas of the plateau and plains. There are
virtually no permanent streams in Arabia. Surface runoff from storms
gathers into the wadis and seeps into the alluvium of their beds.
Wadis usually carry water for only a few hours or days or, at best,
for a few weeks during the winter.
Although deficient in surface waters, Arabia has considerable reserves
of underground water, which may be brought to the surface in various
ways. Existing surveys indicate the eastern Nejd and Hasa as the best
endowed with such groundwater resources. Natural springs occur in
the limestone southeast of Riyadh. Many of the older wells were hand-
dug; today there is an increased use of modern drilling and pumping
devices. Water, however, remains the critical element of life and
is strictly conserved.
Almost nothing is known in detail about the soils of Arabia; no surveys
have been made, and less than one percent of the area is in crops.
In general, desert and steppe soils are high in mineral but low in
organic content. There is always danger in arid climates of the accumulation
of excessive salts in the upper horizon of soils, which destroys their
agricultural value. This may occur through natural means or, where
irrigation water is regularly used, by raising the water table and
bringing salts to the surface. When properly cared for, irrigated
alluvial or volcanic soils can be highly productive.
Except in areas of relatively high moisture, natural vegetation is
sparse and scanty. There are few areas entirely devoid of plant life,
but vegetation is rarely sufficient to produce a continuous cover.
Most plants are highly drought-resistant (xerophytic). Exposed rock
surfaces, shifting dune areas, and some salt flats maintain little
or no plant life. Perennial plants, shrubs, and a few trees are widely
but unevenly distributed over the peninsula, as are annual plants
and various types of grasses. No systematic survey or classification
of natural vegetation has ever been made for Arabia. Traditional Arabic
names are thus the only means for identifying many of the region's
plants and shrubs.
Among the more common trees are acacia and tamarisk, the latter now
grown widely in oases for its wood, which is valuable for construction
purposes. Once abundant in the Southern Highlands, but now greatly
reduced in number, are the trees that yielded frankincense and myrrh
as resins. Among the bushes valuable as fuel and fodder are ghaza,
'abl, and rimth, found in the sand hill areas and on the gravelly
plains. Many of the flowering plants and grasses appear only after
rains and may temporarily cover considerable areas of desert surface;
these plants and grasses provide forage for livestock. In the more
humid mountain areas, there is subtropical and middle-latitude vegetation.
Animal life, like vegetation, is severely restricted by the natural
environment. The most common larger animal is the gazelle, which is
found in almost all areas north of the Rub` al Khali. Within the Rub`
al Khali, the oryx, a large member of the antelope family, is still
found. Leopards and baboons survive in small numbers in the southeast.
Among the carnivorous animals still reasonably abundant are wolves,
foxes, lynxes, wildcats, and jackals. Hares and kangaroo rats are
the most common rodents. Reptiles include a variety of nonvenomous
lizards and several types of snakes, some venomous. Game birds, depleted
by hunting, and smaller species of birds are widely distributed. Fish
abound in the coastal waters, especially in the Gulf of Oman and in
the Persian Gulf east of Qatar.
Arabia is unique among the major regions of the world in that its
economic development has been linked to a single factor, the discovery
and exploitation of oil. The enormous disparities in wealth among
countries and within countries in the region are invariably traceable
to the presence or absence of petroleum resources. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi
have come to be dominated by oil production and related activities
such as refining and transport. In Yemen, where oil is not a factor,
sedentary subsistence farming and nomadic herding are the dominant
activities, as they once were in all of Arabia.
A comparison of Kuwait and Yemen underscores the extent of this uneven
development. In Kuwait, with a population (est. 1996) of about 2 million,
one percent of the labor force is in agriculture, 33 percent in processing
and manufacturing, and the remainder is in services and government.
About 93 percent of the people live in urban centers. Because of Kuwait'
s wealth in petroleum, which accounts for almost all of its export
earnings, the per capita national product was about $15,000 in 1978.
In Yemen, with a population (est. 1996) of 11.8 million, about 90
percent of the labor force is in agriculture, and only 11 percent
of the population lives in urban centers. Coffee and other agricultural
products provide all of the export earnings. The per capita product
in 1978 was only $600. Similar disparities show up in health, education,
and social welfare facilities and in the development of the foundations
of a modern national economy, such as roads and power plants.
Within the group of oil-rich states some significant economic gradations
occur. In Saudi Arabia the land is too vast and the population too
diffuse to permit total absorption into the oil economy. Many regions
still rely on subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry, and the
oil and subsistence economies function in relative isolation from
one another. The extent of this duality is perhaps best exemplified
by the fact that most urban points in the country are connected only
by airlines and camel caravans. In Oman oil revenues, although substantial,
have not nearly sufficed to overcome the general level of poverty.
In the United Arab Emirates the laws of confederation did not provide
for full economic integration. Thus, profitable oil exploitation in
Abu Dhabi and Dubai has had little direct effect on the other five
members, where economic activity continues to center on fishing and
Although the great majority of the people of Arabia depend on agriculture
for a livelihood, only a small portion of the area is cultivated.
Estimates are as low as one percent for Saudi Arabia and Yemen combined.
Agriculture is restricted to three areas. Sedentary cultivation dependent
on rainfall alone occurs in Oman, Yemen, and Asir at elevations above
one mile (1.6 km). Sedentary cultivation also occurs in highland areas
with moderate rainfall and additional water in the form of runoff
from adjacent mountains. Oasis cultivation occurs where an adequate
water supply is available from springs or wells.
A variety of crops are grown in the highlands. In Yemen millet, wheat,
and barley are grown at elevations of 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400-
2,700 meters). Mangoes and citrus fruits are raised at altitudes ranging
up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). A wide assortment of fruits are grown
between 600 and 5,000 feet (180-1,500 meters). Coffee and qat, a stimulant,
are the major cash crops of Yemen, while coffee and henna, used in
dye making, are cash crops in the highlands of southwestern Saudi
Date palms and cotton are raised below 2,500 feet (750 meters). Dates
are the principal crop in the oases and are grown there along with
fruit trees and clover, which is used as livestock feed. About one
fifth of the agricultural land in Saudi Arabia is in date palms, and
one sixth is in vegetables. Vegetable cultivation is concentrated
in the Medina, Jidda, and Mecca regions along with date palms, fruit
trees, and summer field crops, such as rice, millet, and sorghum.
Nomadic herding traditionally has complemented sedentary farming.
Sheep, goats, and camels are even more important than date palms as
a source of wealth in the rural economy. The bedouin Arabs specialize
in pastoral activities. The camel, the distinctive animal of this
economy, requires the use of large land areas. Yet the bedouin do
not live in isolation from sedentary settlements but rather in close
economic association with the villagers. In recent decades petroleum
production and associated activities together with the growth of cities
have offered new economic opportunities to the bedouin, especially
in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the oil states of the Persian Gulf. (See
With the exception of oil processing and refining, there is little
modern industry in Arabia. A small amount of handicraft production,
largely for home consumption, takes place both in villages and in
cities. In the coastal areas fishing, pearling, and shipbuilding are
important. There has been profitable mining of gold in the west, with
silver and copper as by-products.
Petroleum is the only significant source of wealth in Arabia. The
oil fields are concentrated in the Persian Gulf area from Oman north
to Kuwait. They account for about one half of the known reserves of
the non-Communist world and they supply about one third of the world'
s total oil production. Royalties from petroleum production are the
primary source of government income. In 1979 they amounted to more
than $90 billion.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are the two major petroleum producers. The
Neutral Zone, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman have significant
oil resources, but follow far behind the two leaders. More than half
of the crude oil is marketed in Europe, about 20 percent goes to other
parts of Asia, and some 10 percent to North America. Only about 7
percent is used locally, although this share is increasing. Crude
and refined oil is shipped from ports near the producing fields or
from Sidon in Lebanon, which is connected to the oil fields by the
Trans-Arabian Pipeline. Refineries in Arabia produce 2 percent of
the world's refined oil.
Petroleum production and associated activities have brought vast changes
to some areas, of which the United Arab Emirates is an excellent example.
Before 1966 the seven states depended primarily on contraband commerce
and on pastoral nomadism. Since then petroleum production in Abu Dhabi
has given it immense wealth. A new highway links it with Dubai, a
thriving contraband port with more than 4,000 registered traders.
Thousands of illegal immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Iran, lured
by jobs in the petroleum industry, arrive each month. Fujaira, by
contrast, remains relatively untouched by these developments although
it is less than 100 miles (160 km) from Abu Dhabi.
Developments in the petroleum industry were especially significant
in the 1960's and 1970's. During the 1960's, new fields were discovered
both onshore and offshore in the Persian Gulf area; new pipelines,
export facilities, and refineries were built; and national efforts
to discover and exploit oil reserves were increased, particularly
in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In the 1970's the oil-producing countries
gained control of the petroleum industries, which had been primarily
foreign-owned; and they also, through the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC), won huge increases in the price paid for
petroleum, including a fourfold increase in 1973-1974.
Petroleum production has affected development directly and indirectly.
The direct influence comes about through the payment of royalties-
-which have, of course, increased greatly, as the price charged for
oil has gone up--and wages and the local purchase of materials and
supplies by the petroleum companies. Kuwait has used royalties to
support a welfare state as well as to furnish development funds for
other Arab states. Saudi Arabia has invested royalties in oil refining,
petrochemical, steel, and other industries.
Indirect influence has been important in a number of ways. Private
enterprise has flourished, especially in associated service activities.
Commerce, transport, and public and private services have expanded
to absorb the majority of the nonagricultural workers. These commercial
activities and services continue to grow in importance, although the
proportion of the labor force in industry and petroleum production
remains relatively low and stable. New transport networks have been
built to fit the inflexible location of the petroleum fields. The
road networks in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the most highly developed.
A new railroad links Riyadh with Ad Dammam. New facilities have helped
to expand foreign trade at a number of ports. Aden, although far removed
from the main oil fields, has had related growth, as it is the major
bunkerage port for petroleum tankers from the Persian Gulf.
Both the direct and the indirect influences are perhaps most evident
in the growing urban centers. Riyadh has experienced recent rapid
growth as have most of the regional capitals of Saudi Arabia, such
as Mecca, Medina, and Jidda. Kuwait City has also grown. Most urban
population growth is due to internal migration in search of new employment.
Of the new towns developed near the major oil fields, the Dhahran
cluster is the largest.
Development has only increased the economic differences between and
within states. The gap between the oil states and those without oil
has increased, in some cases dramatically. Kuwait is unique in that
it is small and internal development is guided by central planning.
Saudi Arabia has undertaken regional urban and rural planning in an
attempt to reduce regional disparities by spreading development more
evenly. However, the Saudi attempt has been only moderately successful.
The problems of uneven development will become more critical as the
pace of development accelerates throughout Arabia.
Knowledge of Arabia on the part of Europeans dates back to the time
and the works of Herodotus and other early Greek geographers and much
later to studies by Arab geographers. The best-known work of classical
antiquity on Arabia is Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, compiled by
an unknown Alexandrian Greek in the first century a.d. It described
the trade and the coasts of the Red Sea, south Arabia, and the western
Indian Ocean. Exploration by Europeans began in the 16th century,
when the Portuguese circumnavigated Arabia and occupied Muscat and
other points on the Gulf coast. Between 1762 (when Carsten Niebuhr
started his expedition in southwest Arabia) and 1900, Europeans had
gained knowledge of the major physical lineaments of the peninsula
except for the great sand area of the Rub` al Khali. Information on
exact locations, on archaeology, on tribal life and customs, and on
flora and fauna had also been collected. The Rub` al Khali was first
crossed by a European in 1931. Exploration since has been largely
a matter of refinement of preexisting knowledge and the correction
of minor details.
European explorers entered Arabia for various reasons: a few of them
were Arabic scholars; most were military or political officers; others
were naturalists, archaeologists, or scientists. Almost all of them
had great curiosity about the region. Their observations varied considerably
in acumen, but they presented a wealth of important information, and
some of their writings have become literary classics.
a German mathematician and surveyor, traveling with a party of five
under the auspices of the king of Denmark, landed at Jidda in 1762.
The group of which Niebuhr was a member, and also the only survivor,
consisted of Peter Forsskal, a physician and botanist; Christian
Kramer, a surgeon and zoologist; Frederick von Haven, a philologist
and orientalist; and George Baurenfeind, an artist. The objective
of the expedition was to explore the fertile regions of southeast
Arabia. The party examined the Tihama in detail from Loheiya (Al Luhayyah)
to Mocha (Al Mukha). They then ascended to Sana`, in Yemen, where,
because of ill health, they remained only about ten days. Two of
the party died in the Yemen. Niebuhr continued on to Muscat and the
Persian Gulf, returning to Europe by way of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).
Although Niebuhr covered relatively little ground, he is outstanding
because of the high quality of his observations and reporting.
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt,
a Swiss, had lived for a number of years in the Levant and was well
known as the discoverer of the ancient site of Petra. He was a fine
scholar and Arabist and a convert to Islam. Under the auspices of
Muhammad Ali, who was then engaged in occupying Hejaz and Nejd, Burckhardt
entered Arabia at Jidda in 1814 and remained at Mecca and Medina for
about nine months. Ill health forced him to leave, and he died in
1817 in Cairo before entirely completing his reports.
Burckhardt, like Niebuhr, covered relatively little territory, but
what he did see he described in minute detail. He was resident in
Mecca both during and after the main annual pilgrimage, and his description
of the pilgrimage and of everyday life in Mecca and Medina left little
to be added by those following him. He also collected much information
about other parts of Arabia, which he incorporated in his Travels
in Arabia and Notes on the Bedouins and Wahabys.
George Forster Sadlier,
a captain of the British army, was commissioned in 1819 to congratulate
Ibrahim Pasha on his reduction of the Wahhabi power and to offer him
the aid of Great Britain. Sadlier landed on the east coast of Arabia
in June and proceeded from Hofuf to Diriyah and then to Unayzah and
Medina, where he met Ibrahim. He proceeded to Yanbu on the Red Sea,
thus completing the first crossing of the peninsula. Sadlier was
able to fix scientifically a number of points hitherto incorrectly
J. R. Wellsted,
a young lieutenant in the Indian Navy, was the first European to set
foot in the interior of Oman. Beginning in 1820 the Arabian coasts
were explored and accurately charted for the first time by officers
of the Bombay Marine (later the Indian Navy) and the British Royal
Navy, some of whom ventured into the hinterland along the south and
east coasts. Starting late in 1835 from the easternmost point of Oman,
Wellsted made his way westward through the Ja`alan region to the
Wahibah Sands and then struck north up the Wadi Batha to Samad. There
he was joined by Lieutenant F. Whitelock, also of the Indian Navy,
who had set out from Muscat later. Together they reached Nazwa, the
ancient capital of Oman, and climbed the lower slopes of the Jabal
al Akhdhar, in central Oman. In January 1836 they arrived on the Al
Batinah coast and then turned west, recrossing the Hajar mountains
and emerging on the edge of the Dhaharah, the rocky steppe that stretches
west toward the Rub` al Khali. Their intention was to travel north
to Nejd, but they were barred by a Wahhabi raiding party and forced
to return to Muscat. Nearly 100 years elapsed before another European
penetrated as deeply into Oman as had Wellsted and Whitelock.
Georg August Wallin,
a trained and distinguished Arabist from Finland, traveled in northern
Arabia in the service of Muhammad Ali. He started his journey in 1845
and traveling by the Wadi Sirhan reached Al Jawf. He next crossed
a section of the Great Nafud and came to Ha`il, the seat of the Rashid
family in Jabal Shammar. After staying there some time, Wallin next
went to Medina and Mecca and then returned to Cairo. Before reporting
on his journey, in 1848 Wallin again returned to Arabia. This time
he landed on the west coast at Al Muwaylih and struck directly inland
into Midian. He proceeded to the oases of Tabuk and Tayma' and on
to Ha`il. From Ha`il he traveled northeastward to Meshed Ali (An Najaf)
and Baghdad. Wallin was the first European to traverse much of northern
Sir Richard F. Burton
is probably the most widely known of all the 19th-century explorers
of Arabia, in part because of his other explorations, his literary
works, and his colorful personality. Burton's first journey to Arabia
in 1853 was in disguise as a pilgrim to Mecca and Medina. After several
expeditions to Africa and tours in the British diplomatic service,
Burton returned to Arabia in 1877 under the auspices of the Egyptian
government to explore Midian for gold. Burton and his Egyptian crew
found few signs of gold but did a first-rate job of geographic exploration.
Especially important was Burton's tracing of the drainage system of
the Wadi Hamdh, which was found to extend considerably farther into
Nejd than had originally been thought.
William Gifford Palgrave
is perhaps as well known for his remarkable personality and background
as for his work in exploration. A member of a Jewish family originally
named Cohen, he converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Jesuit.
In 1862, Palgrave and one companion entered Arabia, ostensibly to
begin missionary work, but actually under the auspices of Napoleon
III, who desired the friendship of Arabian leaders in an area that
was shortly to become of major importance to France because of the
opening of the Suez Canal.
Palgrave's route was by way of the Wadi Sirhan to Al Jawf and thence
to Ha`il and eventually Riyadh. From there he proceeded into southern
Nejd as far as Aflaj, farther than any of his predecessors; from Nejd
he went next to Hasa, where he remained some time, and then to Muscat
before he returned to Europe in 1863. Palgrave's major contributions
to a knowledge of Arabia were his findings in and descriptions of
southern Nejd, never before penetrated, and Hasa, seen and described
only briefly by Sadlier.
A certain amount of mystery and conjecture surrounds Palgrave's work
in Arabia. His descriptions are more flamboyant than most, and there
are numerous exaggerations and overstatements of fact; but there was
no real question by his contemporaries as to his travels and his main
a French Jew born in Adrianople, Turkey, entered the Yemen in 1869
in the guise of a Jerusalem rabbi. He was interested primarily in
the history of the area, its ancient civilizations, and its present
He descended the eastern slope of the uplands of the Yemen and reached
the southern Al Jawf oasis, where he discovered the ruins of Ma`in,
which site he ascribed to the Minaeans, an ancient Semitic people.
From Al Jawf he traveled northward along the western edge of Rub`
al Khali to the oasis of Najran (ancient Negrana), not visited by
any European since 24 b.c., when the Roman prefect Aelius Gallus scouted
the region for Augustus. The importance of this area was its position
between the Yemen and Nejd, which constituted a trade route bypassing
the Rub` al Khali.
On leaving Najran, Halévy retraced his route and proceeded south till
he reached the Wadi Dana and the ruins of Ma`rib and its famous dam,
built in the eighth century b.c. and associated with the Sabaeans
and Queen Balk of Sheba (Saba). Halévy was the first to cover the
entire wadi area of important oases between the eastern slope of the
Yemen and the Rub` al Khali.
Charles Montague Doughty
traveled by himself for about two years (1877-1878) in north-central
Arabia as a Christian and an Englishman--which makes him unique. As
he made no attempt to conceal his identity, he left himself open to
abuse and real danger. His fame as an explorer has grown with time,
and his book, Travels in Arabia Deserta, became a classic of English
Doughty's curiosity and interest in things Arabian was omnivorous,
but he was especially interested in all phases of bedouin life, in
ancient inscriptions and ruins, and in hydrography. He explored and
correctly determined the headwater areas of both the Wadi Hamdh, which
flows into the Red Sea, and the Wadi ar Rumma, which originates in
the Harrat Khaybar.
Wilfrid S. Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt's
journeys were primarily to gain information on the Arabian horse and
secondly to satisfy a curiosity about bedouin life. This English couple-
-she was the granddaughter of Lord Bryon and the first European woman
to enter the peninsula--went to Arabia in 1879 under the auspices
of a noble Arab family of Palmyra. They continued south across the
Great Nafud to Ha`il and and the Shammar tribal areas. Lady Anne's
journals contain geographic information about the region.
Charles Huber and Julius Euting
did their most significant work in concert in 1883-1884. Huber, an
Alsatian Frenchman, had been in Nejd on a previous trip (1878-1880)
under the auspices of the French government. He had discovered a number
of important inscriptions but was not qualified to decipher or understand
them. He had also made a significant contribution, as did Doughty,
to the existing knowledge of the hydrography of Nejd. In 1883 Huber
was joined by Julius Euting, a German scholar of Semitic epigraphy.
Together they made copies and rubbings of the inscriptions of the
Tayma' oases. Inscriptions from early Arabian cultures and also some
of ancient Syrian origin (500 to 400 b.c.) were uncovered. They also
purchased a stele, the Tayma' Stone, which recounts the introduction
of a foreign worship into the oasis. This stone, now in the Louvre,
is accounted fourth in importance among ancient Semitic inscriptions.
Shortly afterward Euting returned to Germany. Huber, having gone to
Jidda to send his finds to Europe, was murdered by his guides (1884)
on his return to Ha'il.
J. Snouck Hurgronje,
a learned Dutch Arabist, is noted for his studies of Arab life in
Jidda and Mecca and also as a historian of Hejaz. Hurgronje's work
is similar to that of Burckhardt but is important because Hurgronje
had a remarkable command of Arabic. He also had the friendship and
confidence of local authorities, which enabled him to come and go
with ease. He spent five months in Jidda prior to going to Mecca,
where he stayed another five months. Hurgronje's picture of Meccan
society during and between pilgrimage (hajj) is detailed and accurate.
an Austrian archaeologist, is associated primarily with southwest
Arabia through three trips that he made during the 1880's under Turkish
authority. Glaser is best known for the collection of Himyaritic inscriptions
he gathered in and about Ma'rib, center of the ancient Sabaean civilization,
where he remained for about a month in 1889. Besides collecting some
400 inscriptions, he also made a sketch survey of the district.
Earlier (1884), Glaser had penetrated the Yemeni upland north of '
Amran, farther north than any of his predecessors. Glaser found that
it was essentially a flattened inward (western) edge of the eastern
Yemeni slope to the Rub` al Khali and the area in which a number of
wadis (Jawf, Najran) had their origin. This trip enabled cartographers
to fill in a hitherto empty section of the map of the Yemen.
an Austrian orientalist, is the first explorer of Arabia of the modern
period. His travels took place between 1896 and 1915, and although
most of his time and effort was expended in the Syrian Desert, he
did explore northwestern Arabia and northern Nejd and added valuable
information and maps to the growing store of detailed knowledge of
Musil's general objectives were to gain an insight into the origin
and evolution of monotheism, to get an understanding of the part Arabia
has played in the broader history of civilization, and to obtain detailed
information on topography. He attained his goals through his friendship
with powerful tribal rulers as well as through his own scholarship.
His published works contain a wealth of material on the area's history,
tribal culture, and physical geography.
Harry St. John Philby
is undoubtedly the best known of the 20th-century explorers of Arabia.
He spent more time there than any other European in the pursuit of
geographic information. In 1917 he first visited the Nejd as an Indian
political officer on a mission to Ibn Saud. He later returned to Saudi
Arabia as a private citizen, became the confidant of Ibn Saud, and
explored the peninsula. He published his findings in a number of books,
including The Arabian Highlands, The Heart of Arabia, and Land of
Probably the greatest disappointment of Philby's career was that he
was not the first European to traverse the Rub` al Khali. When in
1932 he managed the crossing, it had already been accomplished the
year before by Bertram Thomas.
Bertram S. Thomas
spent a number of years in British political service in Arabia and
other parts of the Middle East. He was the first European to cross
the Rub` al Khali (1931). Thomas held a post in the Muscat government
when he became fascinated by the great sand area to the west. For
several years prior to his crossing, he spent winters exploring and
traveling in Oman and Dhufar to gain experience. He reached Dhufar
in late 1930, and after a long wait he found guides who would accompany
him across the eastern side of the desert to the Qatar Peninsula.
Thomas published an account of the trip in Arabia Felix: Across the
Empty Quarter of Arabia (1932).
Wilfred Patrick Thesiger,
an Englishman with wartime experience in Africa, became interested
in Arabia while a member of the Middle East Anti-Locust Survey after
World War II. The Rub` al Khali especially fascinated him, and in
the winter of 1945-1946 he explored the southern margin of the area.
The following winter he crossed from Dhufar in the Trucial Coast near
Abu Dhabi (Abu Zaby) and back to the Arabian Sea along the eastern
base of the Oman highlands. Much of this trip was through unexplored
Thesiger's most remarkable journey was made in 1948, when he crossed
the western Rub` al Khali from Wadi Hadhramaut to As Sulayyil oasis
at the southern end of the Tuwayq Mountains in Nejd. Although Philby
had cut well into the desert in 1932, Thesiger was the first to cross
it completely at its western end, from south to north. His record
of his journeys, Arabian Sands (1959), is probably the last epic of
The history of Arabia has been dominated by the region's physical
geography, by its relative isolation from the rest of the world, and,
since the seventh century, by Islam. The Arabs call the peninsula
jazirat al-arab, the Arab island, because it is surrounded on three
sides by the sea and enclosed on the fourth side by the sands of the
Great Nafud and the vast stretches of the Syrian Desert. In ancient
times it was only in the mountains of the southwest and the southeast
that settled cultivation and local civilizations developed. In the
northern and central reaches of the peninsula, cut off from the southwestern
and southeastern corners by the sand sea of the Rub` al Kali (Empty
Quarter), the life of the early inhabitants was nomadic, based upon
widely scattered oases. But with the domestication of the camel in
the second millennium b.c. the deserts that divided and hemmed in
Arabia no longer limited the wanderings of these nomads. Instead,
the deserts afforded the nomads access not only to the more remote
parts of the peninsula but also to the civilizations of the Fertile
Crescent (Syria and Mesopotamia). From that time on, the history of
Arabia was one of migration and warfare.
Of Arabia's ancient history very little is known, and that depends
almost entirely upon archaeological finds and epigraphic evidence.
Archaeological investigation has been limited, and the usefulness
of the epigraphic evidence, mostly from the numerous stone inscriptions
in south Arabia, is impaired by the absence of references to the events
recorded there in the extant literature of the ancient world.
It is known that the Egyptians made voyages down the Red Sea to obtain
spices and incense at least as early as the third millennium b.c.
and that in the second millennium they competed with the Assyrians
for control of the trade route leading out of Arabia. There is evidence
in the cuneiform inscriptions of Assyria of intercourse with eastern
Arabia as early as the third millennium b.c., and mention is made
of a land (or even, perhaps, of a civilization) of Dilmun lying southeast
of Mesopotamia. Archaeological discoveries point to the possible identification
of Dilmun with the island of Bahrain and the adjacent region of the
The earliest historical references to the Arabs or their forebears
occur in the Assyrian and Babylonian records, in the Bible, and in
the south Arabian inscriptions. The Arabs were part of the Semitic
group of peoples (including, for example, Hebrews Aramaeans, and Assyrians),
but where they originated, how they were differentiated from the
other Semites, and how they came to inhabit Arabia is not known. One
basic theory, based upon the resemblance between the civilizations
of south Arabia and those of the Fertile Crescent, claims that the
Arabs originated somewhere in the northern borderlands of Arabia and
later migrated north into the region between Syria and Mesopotamia
and south to the fertile southwestern corner of the peninsula. The
other theory, taking note of the two distinct groups inhabiting Arabia
in the second half of the first millennium b.c.--the Bedouin, or nomads,
of the north and the settled cultivators of the south--postulates
a dual origin for the Arabs. This theory echoes Arab genealogical
tradition, which holds that the Arabs are descended both from Qahtan
(Joktan of the Bible), the offspring of Shem, and from Adnan, the
descendant of Ishmael. The progeny of the former are the ``true Arabs'
' (al-arab al-ariba) of south Arabia, whereas the descendants of the
latter are the ``Arabized Arabs'' (al-arab al-mustariba) of the north.
However, neither group remained wholly separate from the other, as
Qahtani Arabs later migrated northward and the Adnani southward. To
render the picture even more confused, Arab genealogists also speak
of the ``lost Arabs'' (al-arab al-baida), who may have been the original
inhabitants of Arabia.
Arabs appear in the records of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires,
sometimes as tributaries but more often as marauders threatening
the trade routes from the Persian Gulf into Syria and from south Arabia
to Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. The struggle for control of
these trade routes was one of the principal features of Middle Eastern
history in the first millennium b.c., and the northern Arabs, because
of their geographical position, were drawn into the struggle, in turn
by the Babylonians, Achaemenids, Hellenes, Seleucids, Egyptians, and
Romans. Alexander the Great of Macedonia dispatched a naval expedition
to reconnoiter the Persian Gulf in 326 b.c. as a preliminary to the
circumnavigation and conquest of Arabia. His death in 323 b.c., however,
ended the project. A century later the Ptolemies of Egypt sent naval
squadrons into the Red Sea and established a base on the Arabian coast
above Yanbu in an effort to cut the incense road south of where it
branched northwestward toward Syria and the Seleucid empire. They
were frustrated by the opposition of the Nabataeans, a people of Arab
stock from the tribe of Anbat, one of the first of the northern Arab
tribes to abandon nomadism and lead a settled life. By the fourth
century b.c. the Nabataeans had made their capital, Petra, one of
the most important stations on the caravan route to Syria; for two
centuries thereafter they held the balance of power between the Ptolemies
Himyarite-Sabaean Civilization of Southwestern Arabia.
The civilization that evolved in southwestern Arabia in the second
half of the first millennium b.c. was founded upon agriculture and
trade, especially upon the spice trade between India and the Mediterranean
and upon a frankincense trade monopoly. Frankincense was cultivated
along the south coast of Arabia--in the Hadhramaut (in southwest Arabia),
the Mahrah country (west of the Hadhramaut), and Dhufar (along the
southeastern coast of the peninsula). A succession of kingdoms emerged
in this corner of Arabia beginning in the fifth century b.c. They
included the Saba (biblical Sheba), Ma`in, Qataban, Hadhramaut, and
Himyar, of which the Sabaean was the most influential. Sabaean merchants
and seafarers monopolized the trade in pearls, spices, silks, slaves,
ivory, gold, and incense between the Mediterranean world and Africa,
India, and Arabia. Saba's economy was also supported by extensive
agriculture, made possible by an elaborate system of irrigation fed
by a great dam at Marib, the Sabaean capital. The dam was breached
several times, and the consequent disruption to the country's life
caused a series of migrations to other parts of Arabia. Attracted
by the wealth of Saba, the Romans sent an army under the command of
Aelius Gallus, prefect of Egypt, to conquer the kingdom in 24 b.c.
The rigors of the Arabian climate and terrain, however, forced the
expedition to retreat to Egypt.
Soon after the beginning of the Christian era Saba fell under the
Himyarite kingdom, which originated on the south coast west of Al
Mukalla, probably in the third or second centuries b.c. Two centuries
later it absorbed the Qataban kingdom, and by the first century a.d.
it had formed a dual monarchy with Saba, with its capital at Zafar,
in the mountains of Yemen.
The decline of the Himyarite-Sabaean civilization is traditionally
ascribed to the final bursting of the great dam at Marib in the middle
of the sixth century. But its decline began at least three centuries
earlier, when the Romans penetrated the Red Sea and the Seleucids
and Parthians diverted the spice trade from western Arabia to the
Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Little is known of events in western
Arabia from the end of the third century until the early sixth century,
when southwestern Arabia was subdued by the Abyssinians. They in
turn were driven out by the Sassanians of Persia, who had subjugated
most of eastern Arabia in the preceding century.
Ghassanid, Lakhmid, and Kinda Kingdoms.
The Abyssinian and Sassanian invasions of Arabia stemmed from the
lengthy struggle between the Sassanians and the East Roman (Byzantine)
Empire for dominance of all western Asia. As their struggle continued
it drew in, on either side, most of the petty states of Arabia. The
Ghassanid and Lakhmid kingdoms of north Arabia served the East Roman
and Sassanian empires respectively as buffer states in the fifth and
sixth centuries. Both kingdoms had been founded by south Arabian tribes
that had migrated northward in the first century, the Ghassanids to
southeast Syria, the Lakhmids to Hira in lower Mesopotamia, not far
from the ruins of Babylon. In time the Ghassanids were converted to
Monophysite Christianity, but the Lakhmids, although most of their
subjects were Nestorian Christians, remained pagans. A third petty
kingdom, Kinda, also founded by a south Arabian tribe, arose in central
Arabia in the second half of the fourth century. At its zenith Kinda
stretched from the Hejaz to Bahrain and successfully challenged both
the Ghassanids and the Lakhmids; but by the middle of the sixth century
it had disintegrated. The Ghassanid and Lahkmid kingdoms were swept
away from the Islamic expansion from Arabia in the seventh century.
Politics and Religion on the Eve of Islam's Birth.
Muslim Arabs describe the period before the coming of the Prophet
Muhammad as al-jahiliyah, the age of ignorance. The term applies to
the century preceding Muhammad's proclamation of his mission in the
second decade of the seventh century, but it is also loosely used
to denote the entire span of Arabian history before that time. As
a description of the condition of most of the peninsula's inhabitants
on the eve of Islam, it is somewhat justified. However, it could scarcely
be applied to the civilization of the Minaeans, Sabaeans, and Himyarites.
That civilization, however, was now in ruins, and throughout the greater
part of Arabia there was disorder and disunity.
The Bedouin tribes of northern and central Arabia were constantly
at war with one another and with their neighbors, harassing the trade
routes and raiding the frontiers of the Byzantine and Sassanian empires.
Their conflicts gave rise to a body of heroic poetry, and its diffusion
throughout northern and western Arabia contributed to the eventual
triumph of northern Arabic as the dominant language of the peninsula.
The religion of the northern tribes was as primitive as their politics.
Caves, trees, springs, and stones were held to be the abode of spirits;
the desert was believed to be peopled with malevolent beings, jinns;
and the moon was worshiped as a beneficent power.
In the Hejaz, Asir, and Yemen, religious beliefs and practices also
focused largely upon sacred stones and springs, the most famous of
which were the Black Stone, a meteorite set in the southeast corner
of the Kaaba in Mecca, and the well of Zemzem in the adjacent courtyard.
In other towns kaabas, or cube-shaped structures, housed similar sacred
objects. A pantheon of deities was worshiped in the Hejaz, whose sanctuaries
were places of pilgrimage. The principal deity of Mecca, Allah (al-
ilah, the god), was held to be the ultimate god, the creator of the
world and the heavens.
The emergence of this concept of an immanent supreme being was probably
due in part to the influence of Christianity and Judaism, which had
penetrated the Hejaz and Yemen in preceding centuries. Many of the
merchants of the Hejaz, during their travels abroad, had also been
brought into contact with the monotheistic religions of the Mediterranean
world. There were, in addition, several Christian and Jewish communities
in western Arabia; the most well known were the Christians of Najran,
in the southwest corner of modern Saudi Arabia, and the Jews of Yathrib,
on the spice route 300 miles (480 km) north of Mecca.
Muhammad and the Rise of Islam.
It was in this environment that Muhammad, son of Abd Allah of the
tribe of Quraysh, began preaching to the people of Mecca his doctrine
of redemption, salvation, and the oneness of God. His fellow citizens
disliked his preaching, especially his condemnation of idolatry and
his insistence upon his role as the prophet of Allah. In a.d. 622
they forced him and his converts to flee Mecca. Muhammad and his followers
found refuge at Yathrib, which became known as madinat al-nabi (the
city of the prophet), or simply Medina (the city). The year of the
flight (hegira) marked the beginning of the Muslim era. Muhammad lived
for ten years at Medina, converting its inhabitants, expelling the
Jewish community, and eventually, in 630, making Mecca subject to
him. By the time he died in 632 several towns and districts in the
Hejaz acknowledged his authority and paid him tribute, and there were
converts to his teaching in many parts of Arabia.
The new religion of Islam (that is, resignation or submission to the
will of God, Allah) provided the unifying force that Arabs had lacked.
The process of unification was aided by the use of northern Arabic
as the language of the Koran, the posthumous transcription of Muhammad'
s revelations. Islam and Arabic were henceforth inseparable, and together
they eventually gave the Arabs a sense of a common identity.
Muhammad's death left the Muslim community without a leader. Because
he and his followers had believed him to be the last of the prophets,
he could not be replaced. Thus the new leader, Abu Bakr, who was
Muhammad's father-in-law, was simply designated caliph (khalifa, or
successor) of the Prophet of God. Abu Bakr's two-year reign was almost
wholly occupied with bringing back into the Muslim fold those tribes
that had apostatized on the death of Muhammad and with converting
the rest of Arabia. When Abu Bakr died in 634 the peninsula was unified
for the first and only time.
The Diminishing Influence of Arabia in the IslamicEmpire.
Because the tribes of Arabia were forbidden by the new Islamic theocracy
to fight among themselves, they had to direct their warlike energies
to conquest beyond Arabia. Under the caliphs Omar and Othman they
overran the Sassanian empire and inflicted defeats upon the armies
of Byzantium before being stopped at the Taurus mountains in modern
Turkey. Syria and Mesopotamia were absorbed into the Arab empire along
with Egypt, conquered in 640.
With the accession in 656 of the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib,
the son-in-law of Muhammad, the unity of the empire was shattered.
Ali easily defeated a rebellion by the Prophet's widow, Aisha, and
some of the Prophet's former companions, but he faced a more formidable
adversary in Mu`awiya, the governor of Syria and a kinsman of the
late caliph Othman. To cope with Mu`awiya, Ali moved his capital from
Medina to Kufa in lower Mesopotamia. In the spring of 657 the armies
of the two rivals battled at Siffin on the Euphrates River. Because
the fighting was inconclusive the two commanders submitted their contest
to arbitration, which developed into a wrangle over the legitimacy
of Ali's succession. When the arbitrators declared both Ali and Mu`awiya
ineligible for the caliphate, Ali broke off the arbitration. A number
of his followers denounced him for having submitted his claim to the
judgment of men when the decision lay with God alone, and the more
extreme among them, the khawarij (outsiders or seceders), violently
rejected his rule. Although Ali crushed their revolt, his authority
was crumbling, and in 661 he was assassinated. His son Hasan succeeded
him, but abdicated shortly afterward in favor of Mu`awiya, who had
been proclaimed caliph in Jerusalem in 660.
Under the Umayyad caliphate (Mu`awiya's family name), which lasted
from 661 to 750, the Arab empire reached its greatest extent. In the
east, Persia and Afghanistan were subdued and India invaded, while
in the west, North Africa and most of Spain were brought under Muslim
Inevitably these sweeping events diminished the status of Medina and
the importance of Arabia in the Islamic empire, especially as the
number of converts to Islam among the conquered peoples far exceeded
the Arab Muslims of the peninsula. The capital was moved to Damascus,
from where the entire empire was ruled. Shortly after Mu`awiya's
death in 680 an attempt was made to restore the Islamic capital to
Medina when Ali's son Husain, together with Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr,
the son of one of the Prophet's principal companions, rebelled against
the Umayyads. Husain was slain at Karbala in Iraq, and Ibn al-Zubayr
was killed when an Umayyad army captured Mecca in 692.
Proliferation of Islamic Sects.
The death of Ibn al-Zubayr signified the passing of the Arabian (or
Medinan) caliphate and the relegation of Arabia to a position of relative
obscurity in Islamic history. Arabia was little affected by the overthrow
of the Umayyads (Ommiads) of Damascus by the Abbasids of Baghdad in
750 or by subsequent dynastic changes. The annual pilgrimage (hajj(hajj))
to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina gave the peninsula some importance,
but its main distinction from the eighth to the 18th century was
as a breeding ground for rebellion and as a refuge for dissident Islamic
A remnant of the khawarij, the Ibadiya, found their way into Oman,
where they converted many tribes. Their chief belief denied dynastic
succession to the caliphate or imamate (leadership) of Islam, even
in the Prophet's own family. Beginning in the mid-eighth century,
the Ibadiya of Oman elected their own imams, although sometimes the
imamate was in abeyance.
A greater source of trouble to the Umayyad caliphs, and later to the
Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad, were the Shiites. The death of Ali had
opened a split in Islam between the Sunnite, or orthodox, Muslims,
who held that the caliphate should remain in the Prophet's family
(the Quraysh), and the Shiites, who preferred the title of imam and
insisted that the imamate be confined to the line of Ali. Doctrinal
differences widened the political breach, and in time a proliferation
of Sunnite and Shiite sects destroyed the original unity of Islam.
One of the earliest and more important of the Shiite sects was the
Ismaili, who split off from the main body of the Shiites in 765 and
began an unremitting campaign of subversion against the Abbasid caliphs.
Under the name of Karmathians (Qarmatians) they established an independent
state in eastern Arabia at the close of the ninth century. They discarded
prayer, fasting, and the pilgrimage, which made them detested by pious
Muslims, and espoused revolution. In 930 they captured and sacked
Mecca, carrying off the sacred Black Stone from the Kaaba; they were
only persuaded to return it 20 years later by the Fatimid rulers of
North Africa, an Ismaili dynasty set up in Tunis in the early tenth
century. The Karmathians broke with the Fatimids shortly afterward
and then went into decline. Their disintegration was accelerated in
the 11th century by the increasingly intense Sunnite reaction against
Shiite excesses. By the end of the century the Karmathian state in
Hasa had vanished.
Triumph of Sunnitism.
Much of the impetus for the Sunnite reaction against the Shiites came
from the Seljuq Turks, Sunnites who conquered Baghdad in 1055 and
declared themselves the protectors of the Abbasid caliphate. The Abbasid
empire had for well more than a century been a hollow shell, its caliphs,
like the later Roman emperors, mere puppets of their praetorian guards.
Other Turkish dynasties also appointed themselves champions of Sunnite
The Ayyubids of Damascus (a Turkish dynasty of Kurdish origin), under
the leadership of Salah al-din (Saladin of the Crusades), conquered
Egypt in 1171 and suppressed the Fatimid caliphate. Salah al-din next
turned his attention to southwest Arabia, where Ismaili and other
Shiites had wielded much influence since the second half of the eighth
Between the eighth and the twelfth century a bewildering assortment
of Shiite dynasties and principalities had come and gone in Yemen,
of which the most long-lived was the Zaidi imamate of Sa`dah in the
north. In 1174 Salah al-din sent his brother, Turan Shah, to conquer
Yemen, and by 1176 the petty Shiite states had been crushed, marking
the triumph of Sunnitism over Shiitism throughout Arabia.
Yemen and the Hejaz from the 10th to the 16thCenturies.
An Ayyubid kingdom, organized on military lines, was set up in Yemen
by Turan Shah with its capital at Ta`izz; it was displaced in 1230
by the Rasulid dynasty, another Turkish line. When the Mongols under
Hulagu Khan captured Baghdad in 1258 and put to death the last Abbasid
caliph, the reigning Rasulid proclaimed himself Caliph of Islam, but
none of his successors claimed that title. For the next two centuries
the Rasulids ruled from their capital at Ta`izz over most of Yemen,
Asir, and Hadhramaut and controlled the commerce of the Red Sea.
In the mid-15th century, they were overthrown and Hadhramaut regained
its independence. Similarly, southern Arabia and the interior were
fragmented into small tribal holdings.
Under the Abbasids the Hejaz had remained a backwater of the empire,
although the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, endowed with great
wealth by pious Muslims, became centers of learning, poetry, and music,
as well as places of refuge for political malcontents. Mecca was
dominated by the descendants of Ali's son, Hasan, and Medina by those
of Hasan's brother Husain. In the mid-tenth century, in the wake of
the disorders caused by the Karmathians in Arabia, the head of the
ruling Hasanid family of Mecca assumed the title of sharif (exalted
or noble), thus founding the generally independent sharifate of Mecca
(which endured until 1925). As the Abbasid empire disintegrated the
Hejaz became increasingly isolated and turbulent, its holy places
the scenes of strife, plunder, and sacrilege. Mecca was occupied by
Turan Shah in 1173 on his way to Yemen. Four years later the Crusader
Renaud de Châtillon sent a squadron of galleys to cruise in the Red
Sea and harry the ports of the Hejaz. The Mamluk (often spelled Mameluke
in older literature) sultans of Egypt, who came to power in the mid-
13th century, exercised a sporadic overlordship of the holy cities
for two-and-a-half centuries. Their rule ended in 1517 when Egypt
was conquered by the Ottoman sultan Selim I and the Hejaz became,
in name at least, part of the Ottoman empire.
European Influence in the Early Ottoman Period.
Beginning in the early 16th century Arabian history was influenced
by European nations in quest of trade and dominion, as well as by
the Ottoman Turks. The first Europeans to venture into Arabian waters
in modern times were the Portuguese, who had discovered the sea route
to the East at the end of the 15th century and became determined to
acquire control of Asia's trade with Europe. That trade--consisting
of spices, aromatics, drugs, dyes, precious stones, ivory, and gold-
-was controlled by Arab merchants and seafarers, who carried the precious
goods up the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf to Egypt and Syria, where
they passed to the Venetians. Hoping to gain control of the Red Sea
and the Persian Gulf, the Portuguese in 1507 attacked the island kingdom
of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Hormuz was made tributary
to Portugal and for the next 100 years the Portuguese monopolized
the trade of the Persian Gulf. They also attempted to take Aden in
1513, and although they failed, they did considerable damage to trade
and shipping in the Red Sea. Inevitably, the forays by a Christian
power provoked a Muslim reaction. The Ottoman Turks, who after conquering
Egypt had asserted control over the coastal lowlands of Yemen, unsuccessfully
challenged the Portuguese at sea several times between 1529 and 1589.
A more serious threat to Portugal's dominance came from the English,
who, after the formation of the English East India Company in 1600,
established factories, or trading stations, on the west coast of
India. In 1622, in alliance with Shah Abbas I of Persia, they successfully
stormed the Portuguese stronghold of Hormuz and ended Portugal's monopoly
of the Persian Gulf trade. With the rise to power of the Ya`ariba
line of Ibadi imams of Oman, the Portuguese lost control of their
remaining strongpoints at Muscat and other places on the coast of
The first of the Ya`ariba line, Nasir ibn Murshid, was elected in
1624. By the time of his death in 1649 only Muscat remained in Portuguese
hands, and it fell the following year. The Ya`ariba imams made Muscat
the greatest non-European naval power in the eastern seas in the second
half of the 17th century, plundering Portuguese, English, and Dutch
shipping alike and driving the Portuguese from Mombasa and other ports
on the east coast of Africa.
The power of the Ya`aribas, however, lasted barely a century. Civil
war broke out in Oman in the early 1720's over the succession to the
imamate and continued for more than 20 years, splitting the country
and subjecting it for a time to Persian occupation. In the 1740's
the war was brought to an end and the Persians expelled by Ahmad ibn
Said, of the clan of Al Bu Said; he was elected imam in 1749. His
interests, like those of the Ya`ariba, lay in trade and overseas expansion,
and under his rule and that of his successors Muscat became the great
emporium for the trade of eastern Arabia and the east African slave
The decline of Portuguese power in Arabia was paralleled by the decline
of Turkish power. Only about 100 years after they had subdued the
region, the Turks were expelled from Hasa in eastern Arabia in 1664
by the Bani Khalid tribal confederacy; in southwest Arabia they retained
footholds only along the coast of Yemen. There was a strong religious
animosity between the Turks and the Yemeni tribes because the Turks
were Sunnite Muslims of the Hanafi rite, whereas the coastal tribes
were mostly Sunnites of the Shafi rite; the upland tribes were predominantly
Shiites of the Zaidi sect, owing allegiance to the imams of Sa`dah.
A determined campaign by successive Zaidi imams early in the 17th
century drove the Turks from Sana, which became the Zaidi capital.
And in 1635 the Turks lost their hold on the coastal plain, the Tihama.
As the fortunes of Aden, hard hit by Turkish and Portuguese attacks,
declined, Mocha, the principal port of the Yemen, began to prosper.
Coffee had been introduced into Yemen from Abyssinia, probably in
the 15th century, and it became the country's principal export, attracting
European traders to Mocha, particularly the Dutch and English, who
opened trading stations there. The Dutch trading post was withdrawn
in 1738 as a consequence of the successful cultivation of coffee in
the East Indies, but the English post remained for another 100 years.
In the Persian Gulf beginning in the late 17th century the Dutch,
English, and French competed for the commercial ascendancy relinquished
by the Portuguese. By the late 18th century only the English remained,
and they too would probably have left it had it not been for the
landing of Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt in 1798. The defense of their
possessions in India and the need to suppress piracy in Arabian waters
kept the English East India Company in the Gulf after the turn of
the 19th century.
By far the most significant development of the 18th century was the
emergence of the Wahhabi, or Saudi, state of Nejd. It originated in
central Africa as a religious reform movement begun by Muhammad ibn
Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) of Ayaina. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab's mission was
to persuade his fellow Muslims to return to a simpler and more rigorous
observance of the tenets of Islam, according to the Hanabali rite.
He particularly deplored the cult of saints, which to him smacked
of idolatry and polytheism, and he carried his objections to the point
of condemning what seemed to him the excessive veneration of Muhammad.
His message was fundamentalist and puritanical and represented Islam
in its most pristine form. Perhaps the chief reason it was adopted
by the easygoing townsmen and the superstitious Bedouin of central
Arabia was that it carried with it a license to persecute and plunder
non-Wahhabis. Another reason was the Ibn Abd al-Wahhab converted Muhammad
ibn Saud, a chieftain of the Anaiza tribe, who resided at Ad Dir`iyah
in the Nejd. With Ibn Saud's military backing, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was
able to persuade or coerce the tribesmen of Nejd to accept the reformed
faith and to unite in a military-religious confederacy for its dissemination
Muhammad ibn Saud died in 1765. His son and successor, Abd al-Aziz,
married the daughter of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and at some time around
the reformer's death in 1792 Abd al-Aziz was acknowledged as imam
by the Wahhabi community. Under the command of Abd al-Aziz' son, Ibn
Saud, the Wahhabis between 1792 and 1795 subdued Hasa and then raided
the frontiers of Turkish Iraq. In 1801 they sacked the holy city of
Karbala, burial place of the Shiite martyr, Husain, arousing the fury
of the Shiite world. Turning west they invaded the Hejaz, occupied
Mecca in 1803, and captured Medina in 1804. Neither the pasha of Baghdad
nor the sharif of Mecca was able to halt the Wahhabis, who in the
next few years raided and pillaged as far north as the outskirts of
Damascus. To the south they made inroads into Oman and provoked the
tribes of the southern shore of the Persian Gulf, the so-called Pirate
Coast, into making widespread attacks upon Arab, Indian, and European
The Ottoman sultan, unable to restore his nominal authority over the
Hejaz, ordered his vassal, Mehemet Ali Pasha, vali (governor-general)
of Egypt, to retake Mecca and Medina. Mehemet Ali's campaign began
in 1811 and was successfully concluded by his son, Ibrahim Pasha,
seven years later, when the Wahhabi capital of Dir`iyah was destroyed.
The ruling Wahhabi imam, Abd Allah ibn Saud, was taken prisoner and
sent to Constantinople (now Istanbul), where he was beheaded. The
British government in India, which had tried unsuccessfully in 1809-
1810 to extirpate the piratical strongholds along the Pirate Coast,
sent a second expedition in 1819. It managed to subdue the maritime
tribes and force them to conclude a treaty in which they forswore
The Wahhabis recovered under the imam Turki ibn Abd Allah (r. 1824-
1834), who established a new capital at Riyadh, not far from the ruins
of Dir`iyah. Once more, however, they had to contend with Mehemet
Ali Pasha, who sought to extend his control to Damascus and Baghdad
as well as to the trading routes through the Red Sea and the Persian
Gulf. In 1833 Mehemet Ali forced the Ottoman sultan to cede most of
Syria, and at the end of the same year he began an invasion of Yemen.
Early in 1837 he sent a second expedition into Nejd. Riyadh fell in
May 837 and at the close of the following year Egyptian troops reached
the Persian Gulf. The Wahhabi imam, Faisal ibn Turkik, was sent to
Cairo as a prisoner. The invasion of Yemen was less successful, and
it was forestalled in its ultimate object, the capture of Aden, by
a British expedition from India, which occupied that port in January
1839. At the end of 1840 Russia, Great Britain, Austria, and Prussia
intervened to end the hostilities. They issued the London Convention,
which forced the pasha to relinquish control of most of the Ottoman
territory he had captured, including Syria and the Hejaz, and to return
Egypt nominally to the Ottoman empire.
During the middle of the 19th century the fortunes of Arabia were
largely controlled by the Wahhabi imam, Faisal ibn Turki (r. 1834-
1838, 1843-1865) and by the British government in India. The British
were concerned principally with protecting the maritime approaches
to India, ensuring the safety of shipping in the Persian Gulf and
the Red Sea, and suppressing the slave trade. A perpetual maritime
truce was subscribed to in 1853 by the sheikhdoms of the Pirate Coast,
which then became known as the Trucial Coast. British relations with
the Wahhabis were confined to opposing sporadic Wahhabi attempts to
conquer Bahrain, Oman, and the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms, to prevent
the truce from being endangered. The campaign against the slave trade
was directed primarily toward Oman, ruled from 1806 to 1856 by Said
ibn Sultan, the most famous of the Al Bu Said line. Said was compelled
by the British government in 1845 to forbid the export of slaves from
his east African dominions of Zanzibar and the adjacent coast. Subsequent
treaties imposed by the British upon the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms,
Bahrain, and Persia gradually closed the area to the slave trade.
The slave trade also brought Said into contact with the United States
and France, which led to commercial conventions in 1833 and 1844,
On Said's death in 1856 his sons quarrelled over succession to the
sultanate. The British government in India intervened and, largely
to suppress the slave trade more effectively, divided the sultanate
in 1861. Al Bu Said rule in Oman, already shaken by various Wahhabi
invasions, was further weakened by the loss of Zanzibar. Successive
Al Bu Said rulers had also estranged many of the tribes by allowing
the Ibadi imamate to lapse, preferring to reign as temporal sovereigns
with the title of sayyid (lord), while by Europeans they were called
sultans. Tribal rebellions plagued Oman into the 20th century.
Growing Turkish Control.
After the withdrawal of the Egyptians from the Hejaz in 1840 effective
power there was applied by the sharif of Mecca, Muhammad ibn Aun.
It was not until his death in 1858 that the Ottoman sultan was able
to wield full authority in western Arabia. In the middle of the century
the Turks subdued the Asir and occupied the Tihama, Mocha, and Hodeida
(Al Hudaydah). No effective opposition was offered by the Zaidi imam
at Sana. Anarchy reigned in the highlands as a series of sanguinary
conflicts was fought over the imamate. With the opening of the Suez
Canal in 1869 the Turks were able to move troops and supplies to Arabia
with greater rapidity. They tightened their hold on the Hejaz and
extended their control of Yemen to the western highlands. Sana was
occupied in 1872, a Turkish vali appointed to its government, and
the imam reduced to the status of a vassal. Turkish rule, however,
was never secure in the Hejaz or in Yemen. To the south, Aden remained
in British hands and grew in importance and prosperity as the traffic
through the newly built Suez Canal increased. Great Britain gradually
extended its control over the hinterland of Aden by means of treaties
of protection with the local rulers.
The Turks also took the offensive in eastern Arabia after the opening
of the Suez Canal. When the Wahhabi imam Faisal ibn Turki died in
1865 his sons Abd Allah and Saud disputed the succession. After sitting
on the throne for six years, Abd Allah in 1871 called upon the Turks
for help in subduing his brother. They responded by invading and subduing
Hasa, which remained under Turkish control for the next 40 years.
The fortunes of the Al Saud now declined steeply as the imamate changed
hands seven times within the next five years. Their power was eclipsed
by that of the rival house of Ibn Rashid, also Wahhabis but Turkish
vassals as well, whose capital lay to the north, at Hail in Jabal
Shammar. The Rashidis captured Riyadh in 1885 and six years later
incorporated it into their dominions, the Saudi head being forced
into exile at Kuwait.
Kuwait at this time was nominally under the suzerainty of the Ottoman
sultan, although in fact it enjoyed virtual independence. German and
Russian plans for the construction of a railroad to the head of the
Persian Gulf led the British government in 1899 to obtain from the
ruler of Kuwait a pledge not to alienate any of his territory or conduct
relations with a foreign power. To counter Russian, German, and French
activities in the Gulf, similar pledges had already been extracted
by the British from the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms and Bahrain in 1892.
The sultan of Muscat had bound himself in 1891 not to alienate any
portion of his territories except to Great Britain.
Arabia in the 20th Century.
The increase in Ottoman and European political and strategic interest
in Arabia at the beginning of the 20th century resulted in the first
attempts to define frontiers within the peninsula. Lengthy negotiations
between the Ottoman and British governments brought about agreements
in 1913 and 1914 that defined, in the east, the frontiers of Kuwait
with Turkish Iraq and Hasa and the frontier of Hasa with Qatar and
the Trucial Coast, and, in the southwest, the frontier of Yemen with
the western Aden protectorates. The convention embodying the settlement
in eastern Arabia was never ratified by the Turks, and in any case
its usefulness was nullified by the expulsion of the Turks from Hasa
by the Saudis.
The resurgence of Saudi power was accomplished by Ibn Saud, the grandson
of Faisal ibn Turki. In 1901-1902 he came out of exile in Kuwait and
expelled the Rashidis from Riyadh. Rallying the tribes of Nejd to
him, he reasserted the authority of the Al Saud in central Arabia,
and in May 1913 he drove the Turks from Hasa.
With the outbreak of World War I, in 1914, the British government
in India sent an expeditionary force to Turkish Iraq. Shortly afterward
the British opened negotiations with Ibn Saud, which resulted in the
conclusion of a treaty in December 1915 recognizing him as ruler of
Nejd and Hasa. In return he assumed obligations toward Great Britain
similar to those entered into earlier by the Trucial sheikhs. Ibn
Rashid, the Saudis' dynastic enemy to the north, remained loyal to
the Turks. So also did the imam of Yemen, Yahya ibn Muhammad, his
passivity enabling the Turks to invade the western Aden protectorate,
occupy Lahej, and hold it until the end of the war. The sharif of
Mecca, Husain ibn Ali, was also approached by the British with the
suggestion that he rebel against the Turks. After hesitating for a
year and a half while he secured promises of substantial subsidies
and independence after the war, the sharif revolted in June 1916.
The Turkish garrison at Medina was besieged, and a tribal army was
raised under the command of Husain's sons, Faisal, Abd Allah, and
Ali, to harry the Turks along the Hejaz railroad. With the aid of
Colonel T. E. Lawrence of the British army, the sharifian army in
the next two years gained much notoriety. The Turkish garrison at
Medina, however, held out comfortably until the war was over.
Ibn Saud's attention during the war had been directed mainly toward
his rival, ibn Rashid of Jabal Shammar. It was not until 1921, however,
that Ibn Saud was able to defeat him and annex his principality.
In the meantime the British had placed Husain's sons, Faisal and Abd
Allah, on the thrones of the newly created kingdoms of Iraq and Transjordan
(modern Jordan), respectively. Raids by Ibn Saud's fanatical warriors,
the Ikhwan (brethren), into Iraq and Transjordan provoked a strong
British reaction, and in 1922 and 1925 Ibn Saud was forced to conclude
agreements fixing the frontiers of Nejd with Iraq, Transjordan, and
Kuwait. The animosity that had always existed between the Hashemite
sharifs of Mecca and the Saudi imams flared into open warfare in 1924,
when Husain ill-advisedly assumed the title of caliph after the Ottoman
caliphate had been abolished by republican Turkey. Condemning him
as a heretic, Ibn Saud's Ikhwan swept down upon the Hejaz and occupied
Mecca in October 1924. Husain abdicated as king of the Hejaz (a title
he had adopted during the war) in favor of his son Ali; but Ali could
not withstand the Saudis and in December 1925 he too abdicated, surrendering
Medina and Jidda (Juddah) to the Wahhabis. Ibn Saud, who had adopted
the title of sultan of Nejd in 1921, now assumed the title of king
of the Hejaz as well. His dual sovereignty and independence were recognized
by Great Britain in 1927 in the Treaty of Jiddah. In 1932 Ibn Saud
changed the name of his kingdom to Saudi Arabia, which immediately
achieved full international recognition as an independent state. Both
Husain and Ali died in exile.
After the conquest of the Hejaz, Ibn Saud incorporated the Asir into
his dominions. This provoked a quarrel with the imam Yahya, the ruler
of Yemen, which had been independent since the departure of the Turks
after World War I. Early in 1934 a Saudi force occupied Hodeida, but
it withdrew in May after agreement was reached to define the Yemen-
Asir border, a task accomplished two years later. In 1934 Ibn Saud
also entered into a treaty with Great Britain to define the Aden-Yemen
frontier and began a series of negotiations to determine the frontiers
of Saudi Arabia with the Trucial Coast sheikhdoms, Qatar, Muscat and
Oman, and the eastern Aden protectorate.
Border determination had been made necessary by the granting of oil
concessions during the 1930's by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and
the other Persian Gulf states. Oil was first discovered in Bahrain
in 1932. It was struck in Kuwait and in Saudi Arabia in 1938. Border
negotiations continued until the eve of World War II, but in 1939
the British and Saudi governments had still not agreed on frontiers.
U.S. interest in Arabia, aroused initially by missionary activities
and later by oil exploration, increased during World War II. Both
the United States and Great Britain gave financial aid to Saudi Arabia,
in spite of its official neutrality until 1945. After the war, U.S.
interest in Arabia continued, for strategic reasons and because large
reserves of oil had been discovered in Hasa.
Oil exploration was resumed and resulted in important oil finds in
Qatar, some of the Trucial States, and Oman, reviving the question
of Saudi Arabia's eastern and southern frontiers and reawakening Ibn
Saud's ambition to extend his influence in the manner of his ancestors
over the littoral states. Negotiations between the Saudi and British
governments on frontiers were again unsuccessful, and the situation
was complicated by new developments in Arabia and the rise of nationalism
in the rest of the Arab world.
In Oman, dissatisfaction with Al Bu Said rule had led the highland
tribes to elect an Ibadi imam in 1913 and again in 1920. In the latter
year the reigning sultan at Muscat signed a written guarantee not
to interfere in the affairs of the Omani tribes. This compromise between
the Ibadi imam and the sultan of Muscat lasted until the post-World
War II period, when rivalries, involving both conflicting Arab claims
and British interests, developed for control of the Buraimi oasis,
which was believed to contain oil. When the second imam, who died
in 1954, was succeeded by a third elected imam who proclaimed an independent
state of Oman and began to receive support from Saudi Arabia and Egypt,
the sultan was provoked into intervening in the interior. Eventually,
British troops were sent to help the sultan suppress the revolt.
Oil was discovered in Oman in 1964, and by 1970 Sultan Said ibn Taimur
had lost the confidence of the British, who welcomed his overthrow
in a coup intended to modernize and unify the country.
Oil had also changed Saudi Arabia. Ibn Saud died in 1953 and was succeeded
by his oldest surviving son, Saud, who was deposed 11 years later
by the Saudi family and succeeded by his brother Faisal. Saud's downfall
was due as much to extravagance as to misgovernment; the vast revenues
from oil production had seduced many of the Al Saud from their adherence
to the stern doctrines of Wahhabism and sapped the religious foundations
of Saudi society. Under King Faisal the erosion was slowed.
Events in Yemen and Aden in the 1960's caused considerable uneasiness
throughout Arabia. Yahya, who was assassinated in 1948, had been succeeded
by his son Ahmad. Dissatisfaction with Ahmad's rule grew in the 1950'
s, particularly among officials and army officers who admired the
successful military coups in other Arab countries. When Ahmad died
in September 1962 they rose against his successor, declared the imamate
abolished, and proclaimed Yemen a republic. Almost immediately troops
and ammunition arrived from republican Egypt to help consolidate the
revolution and to exploit the opportunity now afforded President Gamal
Abd al-Nasser (commonly spelled Gamal Abdel Nasser) to realize the
ambitions once held by Mehemet Ali. Nasser's aim was to replace Great
Britain's waning influence in Arabia with his own and to bring about
the downfall of the traditional regimes. His troops, however, were
unsuccessful, and six months after Egypt's defeat in the Arab-Israeli
war of 1967 Nasser withdrew his forces from Yemen. Nevertheless, the
republican government survived in Yemen on the basis of a compromise
worked out by the republicans and the royalists.
Egypt's intervention between 1962 and 1967 in Yemen also intensified
unrest in Aden and the adjacent protectorates. Since its occupation
in 1839 Aden had been ruled by the British Indian government, but
in 1937 Aden was declared a crown and brought under the control of
the Colonial Office in London. In 1963 Aden was joined to the protectorates
in a British-sponsored federation that was expected to become independent.
Arab nationalists in Aden, however, resented sharing power with the
traditional rulers of the more populous protectorate states. Supported
and armed by Yemen and Egypt, they waged a successful guerrilla campaign
against the federal government and the British. In November 1967 the
British abandoned Aden, the protectorates, and the federation, and
independent Southern Yemen came into being.
Shortly after abandoning Aden, Great Britain announced its intention
to terminate its agreements with the Persian Gulf states and withdraw
from the area by the end of 1971. A first step in this direction had
been taken in 1961, when the 1899 agreement with Kuwait had been abrogated
and British protection ended. Iraq immediately asserted a claim to
sovereignty over Kuwait, but was rebuffed by the deterring presence
of British and Saudi troops in Kuwait. A similar claim of much longer
standing by Iran to sovereignty over Bahrain was withdrawn in 1970
after a majority of the island's population voted for independence
in a plebiscite conducted under UN auspices. The persistence of Saudi
Arabia's and Iran's territorial claims to the Trucial States did not
deter Britain from withdrawing from the Gulf. Before leaving, the
British had endeavored to persuade Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial
States to join in a federation, but Bahrain and Qatar both chose to
become independent separately during 1971. The Trucial States achieved
independence as the United Arab Emirates in 1971.
Great changes occurred in Arabia after World War II, the most striking
of them brought about by the exploitation of oil. Wealth brought the
products of the Western world in profusion, and to a lesser degree
elements of Western culture and philosophy. It also attracted to the
oil-rich Gulf states many Arabs from the more advanced Arab countries,
as well as non-Arabs. Arabs from the north of Arabia brought with
them not only the intellectual and emotional baggage of Arab nationalism
but also novel political doctrines of republicanism and revolution.
As wealth from oil poured into the Persian Gulf states, the juxtaposition
of sheikhs ruling as patriarchs with an urban proletariat of detribalized
peninsular Arabs, Iranians, and others and with a restless quasi-intelligentsia
from the northern Arab lands provided a classic situation for revolution.
Non-Arab powers with economic or strategic interests in Arabia, like
the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, looked with apprehension
upon the peninsula's future. Other nations, such as the Soviet Union,
prowled expectantly around its edges. The last remnants of Arabia'
s isolation have been dispersed, and its history has entered upon
a new era of turbulence. For recent developments, see Bahrain; Kuwait;
Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; United Arab Emirates; and Yeman, as well
as Persian Gulf War (1990-1991).