The Arabian peninsula is almost as large as India and a third the size of the continental United States, a statistic which belies its importance. Despite the concentration in Arabia of the world's largest oil reserves, it still contains some of the most underdeveloped parts of the Middle East; and many of its inhabitants still live at the subsistence level, due largely to a lack of arable land and water. Yet the average Westerner often romantically views the whole Middle East in the light of his impression of Arabia before its oil reserves were developed--as a region peopled by nomadic Bedouin tribes roaming the vast desert expanses. Even in the Arabian heartland that image is much less true today than it was before World War II; in recent years the inhabitants have begun to settle in permanent habitations and sedentary occupations. The modern world's demand for oil and the subsequent development of modern communications in Arabia have ended the isolation that made the region a romantic land of fantasy peopled by noble horsemen and camel caravans. The great oil companies and their auxiliary industries have set in motion a trend toward Westernization that can no longer be reversed and is revolutionizing life styles.
The peninsula today is dominated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which occupies about nine-tenths of the land surface. In addition, there are Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
After Islam had expanded northward in the seventh and eighth centuries, the Arabian peninsula was isolated for nearly a thousand years. The center of Islam moved to Damascus and then to Baghdad, and the birthplace of the religion lost its predominant influence. The great flowering of Arab civilization in Syria and Iraq barely affected Arabia. Only for a brief period during the tenth century when the Carmathians, an Ismaili offshoot (see
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Publication information: Book title: The Middle East Today. Edition: 6th. Contributors: Don Peretz - Author. Publisher: Praeger. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 466.
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