"Gulf countries" is a general term with multiple possible meanings. In its most fundamental form, "gulf countries" refers to the countries of the Persian Gulf/Arabian Gulf region of the Middle East, including some or all of the nations on the Arabian peninsula that connects Asia to Africa. However, exactly which of those countries are and are not considered "gulf countries" often depends upon the source and context. Of particular importance is whether one is grouping the countries by geographical location or by political or cultural similarities.
Geographically speaking, "gulf countries" typically refers to the eight countries that border the Persian Gulf. In socio-political terms, it may refer to the seven Arab Gulf States (Arabic-speaking countries that border the Persian Gulf), or to the eight members of the intercontinental Arab League that are located in the region. Finally, the term may also refer to the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional intergovernmental union.
|Country||Gulf coastline (km)||GCC member||Arab League||On Peninsula|
|United Arab Emirates||900||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Frequently excluded or "borderline" gulf states
Three gulf states in particular have a notable tendency to be included by some sources but excluded by others.
- Iran — Two factors keep this oil-rich country off many lists: It is Persian-majority, with less than 2% Arabic citizens, and it is geographically located east of the gulf.
- Iraq — The most borderline of the three, Iraq's geographical location poses no concerns, but its politics, history, and culture are different enough from that of its gulf neighbors that it is often considered more Persian or Mesopotamian than Arabic. Its 1990 invasion of Kuwait did not help matters, though the two countries have mended relations since then.
- Yemen — This 92.8% Arabic country shares major cultural connections with several other gulf states, but its coastline touches the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden rather than the Persian Gulf, which is a sticking point in some scenarios.
Similarities among gulf countries
Many of the gulf states share very similar cultures, values, and lifestyles. From favored pastime activities such as theater, radio, and soap operas to musical styles and a maritime-focused lifestyle, there are many commonalities among people throughout the region. All gulf countries are Muslim-majority states and part of the global south. Most are also Sharia Law countries and many rank among the world's most conservative countries
The gulf states also tend to have similar economies, as all are oil-producing countries that often focus heavily upon petroleum production and exports. That said, many gulf nations are becoming less reliant on petroleum and have branched out into other sectors, including banking and tourism.
Not every similarity is desirable. Gulf countries tend to be among the handful of countries around the world that do not celebrate Christmas, and they tend to display poor gender equality and rank among the most homophobic countries in the world.
Differences between gulf countries
The gulf states do have their differences, particularly when it comes to political structures. Some of the nations are constitutional monarchies, while states like Saudi Arabia are hereditary monarchies and the Sultanate of Oman has an advisory council that is elected. Civil unrest is a concern in some gulf countries, with Yemen and Iraq in particular ranking among the world's most dangerous countries.
Iran and Iraq tend to have the greatest political and cultural differences from other gulf countries, due in part to the Persian influences that are not present in other gulf nations. Some of these differences are positive, such as the fact that the gulf includes many of the world's hottest countries, but only Iraq has moved to become a more solar-powered country.
Iran and Iraq are also the most populous of the Gulf countries, with populations of more than 86 million and 42 million people, respectively. With a population of about 1.78 million residents per 2022 projections, Bahrain is the least populous gulf nation.