Large areas in Arabia consist only of desert or steppe, occupied by Bedouin tribes, who are forced to adopt a nomadic existence. Considerable portions of the Nefud, or Northern Sand-belt, and the whole of the Ruba el-Khali, or great Southern Desert of soft sand, are quite uninhabitable, although they supply good grazing at certain seasons. There are many tribal communities, settled, half settled, and nomadic, who give effective allegiance only to their own chiefs while admitting the loose overlordship of one of the greater Emirs. They are to be found mainly in the Hinterland of Yemen, in the Asir Highlands, in the interior of Oman, and all round the northern fringe of the Nefud desert, which divides Arabia proper from the Syrian Desert or Hamad. But the oases of Central Arabia and most of the fertile coastal districts are occupied by settled communities, under eight independent systems of government. The total area is approximately 1,000,000 square miles, with a population roughly estimated at four or five millions.
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