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A century-old choice created one of the Gulf’s strangest geopolitical features

Tonhe is the busiest Gas stations in the United Arab Emirates (United Arab Emirates), a local joke, not in United Arab Emirates. Heading south from Khor Fakkan, a small town on the east coast of the country, a right turn will take you across the almost invisible border (see map). There are no police stations or customs checkpoints, just a small sign welcoming you to Oman – and long lines at gas stations where a liter of petrol costs 62 cents. Across the street and across the border, it costs 18 percent more.

The villages of Nahwa and Madha are geopolitically peculiar places: United Arab Emirates inside the enclave of oman United Arab Emirates. On a map, they look a bit like fried eggs with the yolk being Nahwa. Only a handful of these double enclaves exist in the world. There is a complication on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. Bangladesh and India did not have them until 2015.

The story begins a century ago, when this corner of the Arabian peninsula was known as the country of Trusil, a collection of emirates administered by the United Kingdom. Four clans are vying for control of Musandam, a rocky headland jutting into the Strait of Hormuz. In the 1930s—or maybe the 40s, no one’s quite sure—they sent out emissaries to make sure nearby villagers took an oath of allegiance. Those of Nahwa side with the powerful clan of the Qassemis on the west coast.

They made a different choice in their then-wealthy neighbors of Madha. Oil has yet to be discovered. Water is a more valuable commodity. There are many Madhawis, and other clans fight over them. They thought the Sultan of Oman would protect their well.

History has an irony. It was logical to side with Oman at the time. It was once an empire, and the Qassemis, an old man in Madha joked, had a reputation as pirates.But Qassemis continues to join United Arab Emirates; today, their descendants rule two of the seven emirates.With the world’s eighth-largest oil reserves, the UAE now enjoys the second-highest oil reserves gross domestic product per person in the Middle East. Oman is much poorer.

The fortunes of the two enclaves diverged. The villagers of Nahwa moved in the 1990s to a new town with a clinic and school. There are farms, date palm groves and hanging gardens. Madha feels like it hasn’t changed in decades.

Chat about turning it into a tourist attraction: This enclave has spectacular hiking trails. When our reporter visited, on the second day after a winter rain, the road was full of cars from other places. United Arab Emirates, family and friends came to have a picnic in the newly filled stream. Nearly a century later, the water is still the valley’s main draw — though today, no one is arguing about it.

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