About 80 miles north-east of Abu Thabi is the real metropolis of northern Oman, the growing town of Debai [Dubai or Dubayy]. In the Persian Gulf Pilot (edition 1890), the population of this town was given as 5,000; it is at least three times as large now. Between Abu Thabi and Debai the coast is desert, and so flat that a hill 225 feet high is called Jebel All (the high mountain). This is the only landmark on the coast, and visible 17 miles.
The town of Debai has many houses built of native stone, and well plastered on the outside; the harbour is an inlet or khor, and the town is built on both sides of this, so that ferry-boats ply between continuously, and the place has a business-like aspect quite unusual in Arab towns. At present the rate of growth is such that Debai will soon outstrip all the other towns.
Sharka is still a Wahabi centre, although this Moslem sect has lost a great deal of its old fanaticism. The people of Debai, however, consider their neighbours heretics, and make sport of a rival bazaar where tobacco is still sold secretly; other Arabs are all inveterate smokers. Formerly this entire region was noted for the savage ferocity of its inhabitants. Forty years ago Sir John Malcolm wrote: "Their occupation is piracy, and their delight murder; they are monsters." Thanks to the British trade and influence in the Persian Gulf, these fanatic Wahabis have become tamed, and they have settled down in many places to begin agriculture. Young date-plantations are a sign of the progress of civilization, and commerce is crowding the nomad spirit out.
From Sharka the coast continues flat and sandy until you reach Ras-el-Kheima [Ras Al Khaimah, Ras Al Khaymah]. The low, sandy coast with coral-rock formation, so characteristic of all the Arabian littoral from Kuweit down the gulf, ceases here and gives place to rugged headlands so well described by Moore in Lalla Rookh as:
Jebel-el-Harim, one of the chief peaks of these headlands, is 4,470 feet high, rugged, precipitous, and as naked of vegetation as are most of the peaks of Ruus-el-Jebel.
Ras-el-Kheima, the largest of the northern towns, was identified by Bochart and Sprenger as the Raamah of Scripture (Gen. x. 7, Ezek. xxxvii. 22), while the Greek geographers speak of it as Regma Polls. There are said to be ancient inscriptions on the rocks in the region back of the harbour, but I did not visit the spot. There is coffee-house talk in Eastern Oman concerning a mysterious race of light-complexioned people who live in the mountains somewhere, shun strangers, and speak a language of their own. I think I have found the clue to this strange story that has puzzled travellers to Maskat. At Khasab, near Ras Musandum, live a tribe whose speech is neither Persian, Arab, nor Baluchi, but resembles the Himyaritic dialect of the Mahras described by Carter (Journal Bombay R. A. Soc., July, 1847). This language is used by them in talking to each other, although they speak Arabic with strangers. Their complexion is, however, like that of the average Arab, and their religion Islam. Perhaps this is the tribe the rumours refer to and they are a remnant of the aborigines driven northward by successive Semitic waves of immigration reaching the highlands of Oman.
It may be of interest to note our mode of travel in this primitive country, where there are no beasts of prey but where every one goes armed for fear of his neighbour. I quote from my diary:
In the mountain passes of Oman the roads run almost invariably along the wadi-beds. Sometimes these are sandy water-courses with huge boulders; again deep, rocky ravines or broad, fertile valleys. Vegetation is fairly abundant. Tamarisks, oleanders, euphorbias, and acacias are the most common trees and shrubs.
The population of Oman is estimated at nearly one and one-half million. Very few of the tribes are nomadic; the greater part live in towns and villages along the wadi-beds, and were it not for continual feuds between the tribes, agriculture would prosper, as irrigation is nearly everywhere possible.
Every peasant goes armed, and one does not even pass a greybeard riding a diminutive donkey without seeing a rifle, or at least a crooked dagger at his side. Yet, in spite of continual warfare, they cultivate every fertile spot assiduously, and raise all sorts of crops—barley, wheat, sesame, vegetables, and even tobacco. In one village we rested on the wide threshing-floor, where the old-fashioned "threshing instrument with sharp teeth" lay idle.
The Oman plough is better than that of Mesopotamia, where they use a crooked stick with a sharp prong to cultivate the sandy loam. In this mountain region the law of the survival of the fittest has given the peasants skill in making a real coulter of iron, fitted to a heavy frame and braced to an upright handle of three bars set at right angles to the frame...
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The Trucial States of the Persian Gulf coast granted the UK control of their defense and foreign affairs in 19th century treaties. In 1971, six of these states - Abu Zaby, 'Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah, Dubayy, and Umm al Qaywayn - merged to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They were joined in 1972 by Ra's al Khaymah.
The UAE's per capita GDP is not far below those of leading West European nations. Its generosity with oil revenues and its moderate foreign policy stance have allowed the UAE to play a vital role in the affairs of the region.
CIA World Factbook: United Arab Emirates
Area of United Arab Emirates: 82,880 sq km slightly smaller than Maine
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July 2008 estimate This estimate is based on the results of the 2005 census, which included a significantly higher estimate of net immigration of non-citizens than previous estimates.
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