Arabian Peninsula

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Great peninsula of southwest Asia bounded by the Persian/Arabian Gulf to the east and the Red Sea to the west.

The Arabian Peninsula is about 1,300 miles (2,090 km) wide at its maximum breadth and about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) in length along the Red Sea. It is bounded at the north by Jordan and Iraq. It is fertile in some of the coastal regions, but the center is an arid plateau, called in ancient times Arabia Deserta (not to be confused with the Arabian Desert of Egypt, east of the Nile River to the Gulf of Suez). No rivers exist in the peninsula's arid region, but there are many short wadis and a few oases. The Arabian Peninsula is an important region for petroleum production, and the Gulf states of the peninsula that produce petroleum include Bahrain (islands in the Gulf), Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, and the large central kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Arabian Sea is that part of the Indian Ocean between India on the east and the peninsula on the west.

The people of the peninsula belong to Semitic tribes; they are mainly Arab whose consolidation was begun by the prophet Muhammad. The consolidation was extended after his death in 632 c.e. but collapsed into tribal warfare during the 700s, after the disintegration of the Umayyad caliphate (661750). Arabia was then generally dominated by the Mamluks until the early 1500s, then by the Ottoman Empirebut various parts were virtually independental-Hasa, Oman, Yemen, and Najd. The Wahhabi movement of Islam began in Arabia, centered in Najd, where resistance against the Ottoman Turks was organized in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Reconquered for the Turks by Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt (18111820), the Wahhabi Empire was reestablished from 1843 to 1865, but internal strife continued between tribes and Islamic sects. During World War I, the British officer T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) directed a resistance effort here with Amir Faisal and his followers against the Ottoman Empire. In the early 1920s and 1930s, a gradual consolidation was effected by Ibn Saʿud into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

see also arab; kuwait; mamluks; muhammad; oman; petroleum, oil, and natural gas; qatar; saudi arabia; united arab emirates.


Netton, Ian Richard, ed. Arabia and the Gulf: From Traditional Society to Modern States. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1986.

Martha Imber-Goldstein