HOME I. Introduction

Oman, officially the Sultanate of Oman, nation occupying the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. To the west it borders Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). To the east it borders the Arabian Sea and to the north the Gulf of Oman. Its northernmost extension, on the Musandam Peninsula (separated from the rest of Oman by the UAE), overlooks the Strait of Hormuz and has a few miles of Persian Gulf coastline.

The principal home of the Ibadis, a minority Islamic sect distinct from both Sunni and Shia Islam, Oman has been led by the Al Bu Said dynasty since 1749. Masqat, also known as Muscat, is the capital of Oman and the center of the country's largest metropolitan area.

II. Land and Resources

Oman covers an area of about 309,500 sq km (about 119,500 sq mi). Until the 1990s Oman had border disputes with its three neighbors; agreements were reached with Saudi Arabia in 1990, with Yemen in 1992, and with the UAE in 1993. The borders with Yemen and Saudi Arabia were demarcated in 1995; the border with the UAE awaits final demarcation. Oman is largely a desert land, with five distinct geographical regions. The Al Batinah coastal plain along the Gulf of Oman coast is about 10 km (about 6 mi) wide and about 270 km (about 170 mi) long and is the country's main agricultural area. The Al Hajar mountain range, to the west of the plain, extends about 700 km (about 400 mi) from the Strait of Hormuz to Ra's al Hadd, the easternmost point of Oman. The highest elevation is at Al Jabal al Akhdar, or Green Mountain, reaching about 3,000 m (about 10,000 ft) in the Al Hajar al Gharbi (Western Hajar), which is divided from the Al Hajar ash Sharqi (Eastern Hajar) by a major valley, the Sami'il Gap. Inner Oman extends from the Al Hajar Mountains into the Rub' al Khali, or Empty Quarter, the great sand desert of southern Arabia, and contains a number of oases. Central Oman is a large, generally barren area south of Inner Oman. Lastly, between Inner Oman and the border with Yemen is a distinctive area called Dhofar, which includes a desert interior, rugged mountains made verdant by monsoon rains, and a coastal plain about 50 km (about 30 mi) long and 16 km (10 mi) wide. The main Omani islands are the Kuria Muria group, part of Dhofar Governorate, and Masirah off the coast of Central Oman. There are no rivers or permanent lakes, but there are numerous oases which, together with wells, provide drinking water. 

A. Plant and Animal Life

Despite its general aridity, Oman is home to a variety of plants and animals. Grasses, shrubs, and hardy trees such as the acacia grow naturally. Grapes and apricots are grown on the slopes of Al Jabal al Akhdar. Coconut palms grow on the south side of the mountains in Dhofar and frankincense trees on the north. There are no truly fertile agricultural soils; the best are the alluvial soils washed down from the mountains, both in the interior and along the coast. Some of the richest fishing grounds in the world are off the coast of Oman, with tuna and sardines among the principal catches. Goats, sheep, camels, and some cattle are raised. Wildlife includes several hundred species of birds, lizards, snakes, and scorpions. Rare animal and plant species are protected in nature reserves and protected coastal areas. 

B. Natural Resources

Oman's most important mineral resource is oil, although its reserves are modest compared to those of neighboring Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It also has significant natural gas reserves. In addition, there are modest deposits of copper, gold, chromite, manganese, asbestos, coal, and limestone. 

C. Climate

Summers are extremely hot, with coastal temperatures reaching 46° C (115° F) and those in the interior even higher. The winters are quite warm; the average annual temperature in Masqat is 29° C (84° F). The climate of the coastal plain and mountains of Dhofar is moderated by the monsoons that deposit about 760 mm (about 30 in) of rain annually on the south side of the mountains and about 150 mm (about 6 in) along the coast. Parts of the Hajar Mountains receive up to 460 mm (18 in), while Masqat receives less than 100 mm (4 in). Flash floods can occur when sudden, heavy rains run off the mountains and down the wadis, or valleys. In Oman's interior summer winds cause large sandstorms and periodic droughts occur. In the south monsoon winds can endanger shipping.