Afghanistan’s population is an estimated 32 million, with almost 3 million refugees living in Pakistan and Iran. The country has one of the world’s lowest average life expectancies of 45 years. Crime and a seemingly perpetual state of warfare result in a turbulent and unpredictable way of life for many Afghans.
One of the most mountainous countries in the world, known internationally as Persia until 1935, modern day Iran has an average population of 66 million. One of the first areas to be occupied by Islamic armies in the 6th and 7th centuries, Iran maintains much of its religious history in its present-day culture, in the form of architecture, art and literature, which continue to draw inspiration from aspects of traditional Shiite Islam.
50% of the country is under the age of 15, leaving Yemen under great pressure to create and find jobs for the coming generation. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and depends greatly on its oil resources for national income. Foreign corporations are reluctant to invest heavily in Yemen due to the unstable political situation and the targeting of foreign workers in kidnappings for large ransoms.
Oman is generally considered to be one of the most developed and modernized countries in the region. Recently, it has faced an increase in unemployment, now at 15%, as well as scrutiny from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International for its treatment of civilian protestor
The UAE is ruled by seven Emirs, the Supreme Council of Rulers, who are responsible for appointing a Prime Minister and cabinet. Political parties are not allowed. It was the only state in the world not to have elected bodies until December 2006. Legislation is based on Sharia law, and even foreigners may be subject to flogging if convicted on drugs charges, adultery or prostitution.
Qatar has been ruled by a monarchy since the 19th century, despite only declaring independence in 1913 from Britain. The country continues to be ruled by Emirs, with the right to rule being passed down the Al-Thani family.
For a Gulf State, Bahrain is considered to have a great diversity of religions, owing partly to the large migrant population. 80% of the country is Muslim, 10% Christian and the remainder is a mixture of Hindus, Sikhs and other various South-East Asian religions.
Formerly one of the poorest countries in the world, reliant on minimal agriculture and revenue from pilgrimages, Saudi Arabia is now the world’s largest producer of petroleum. With 20% of the world’s oil reserves, the fossil fuel accounts for approximately 90% of export earnings.
Kuwait is ruled by an Emir, currently Emir al-Sabah, as well as a Prime Minister who is elected by popular vote, a national assembly and a municipal council. The position of Emir, or Sheikh, is hereditary. It was the first of the Gulf States to adopt an elected parliament. Shari’a Law is the main source of legislation, to which all residents must adhere.
Iraq currently has a population of 29 million people, of which 75% are ethnically Arab, 20% Kurdish, and the remainder a mixture of Iraqi Turkmen or foreigners. Due to the isolated pockets of population, resulting from the geographical characteristics of Iraq, there is much regionalism and ethnic division.