LOCATION: Middle East Peninsula; it’s the small thumb beside the Emirates sticking out of Saudia Arabia, with which it has a 60km border.
AREA: 11,437 sq km (about the size of Cork and Kerry combined).
CLIMATE: Arid; mild, pleasant winters and hot humid summers (up to 50C).
TERRAIN: Flat and barren desert; highest point in Q&rayn Abu al B*wl (103m).
NATURAL RESOURCES: Petroleum, natural gas, fish.
LAND USE: Arable land 1.64%; permanent crops 0.27%; other (desert) 98.9% (2005)
NATURAL HAZARDS: Haze, dust storms, sand storms.
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: No water, so dependant on large-scale desalination facilities.
POPULATION: 885,359 (July 2006 est).
MALE TO FEMALE RATIO: 1.87 men to each woman.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: Male – 71.37 years; female 76.57.
ETHNIC GROUPS: Arab 40% (about half these are true natives)), Indian 18%, Pakistani 18%, Iranian 10%, other 14%.
GOVERNMENT TYPE: Traditional (!) monarchy. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the monarch; the heir apparent is his third son.
ELECTIONS: In April 2003, nationwide elections took place for a 29-member Central Municipal Council, which has consultative powers aimed at improving the provision of municipal services. The last true elections for the “Advisory Council” were held in 1970. Since then, members have had their four year terms extended every four years. However under the new Constitution, ratified on 9 June 2005, elections for a 45-members Consultative Council will take place in early 2007. The public will elect two-thirds of the council, with the amir appointing the other third.
POLITICAL PARTIES: None.
POLITICAL PRESSURE GROUPS AND LEADERS: None.
LEGAL SYSTEM: Shari’a law dominated family and personal matters; if an unmarried and unrelated man and woman share a “closed” space, they can be reported by a jealous neighbour, and could possibly spend some time in jail before getting deported. A father with an unmarried daughter cannot bring male friends into his house; a married couple cannot share accommodation with single men. Thankfully, with so many educated Westerners coming to to work here, the more restrictive rules are being tacitly ignored because otherwise they would have no staff.
Press freedom: The arrival of satellite television station Al J&%^$$a in 1997 has made a difference; it has become widely regarded as the authoritive voice of the Arab people, but shies away from local issues. An English version arrives in June 2006. Local papers are filled with pictures of the Emir, his wife the Sheika and various other dignitories shaking hands with business people and other “important” people. Freedom House which monitors such things, describes this country as “not free” (see www.freedomhouse.org).
ECONOMIC OVERVIEW: Oil and gas account for more than 60% of GDP, roughly 85% of export earnings and 70% of government revenues; a per capita GDP about 80% of leading Western industrial countries (about $26,100 per person; since taxi drivers, cleaners, and those on the many construction sites, earn about $1,000 a month, you can see than there is a huge gap between the enormously wealthy and the poor). Oil reserves of 16 billion should last another 23 years. Good news however is the discovery of offshore gas, which with reserves of 25 trillion cubic metres, the third largest in the world, amounts to 5% of the world’s total. So no need to start relying on sun and wind power here yet. Indeed this country is expected to become the world’s top liquified natural gas exporter by 2007.
BUDGET: Revenue of $17.31 billion; expenditure of $11.31 billion (2005).
EXPORT PARTNERS: Japan 41.9%; South Korea 15.8%, Singapore 9.1%, India 5.4%.
IMPORT PARTNERS: France 26.6%, US 9.5%, Saudi Arabia 9.4%, UAE 6.3%, Germany 5.2%, Japan 5.2%, UK 5.1% (2004).
(Mostly from www.cia.gov)