Saudi Arabia / Geography /
Asir has its name from Arabic, meaning "difficult". This may not only reflect the mountainous nature, but also the independent nature of its inhabitants.
Asir region and province corresponds largely to another, but the province has come to include regions in the Red Sea coastal plain. In from this, the high mountains are intersected by valleys. Seasonal rivers cut through all of the landscape. Mountains rise to 3,207 metres (Sawda Mountain, or Black Mountain), and a few places even small forests can be found, the only ones in Saudi Arabia. Most parts of the mountains are however dry and without or with very little vegetation.
Due to insufficient statistical data, the actual precipitation of Asir is not known, but estimated to be between 300 and 500 mm annually. Most of the rain falls in the months of March and April.
In addition to the capital, there is another city in Asir, Khamis Mushayt. The third largest urban settlement is Qalat Bishah, along a fertile seasonal in the north, along a river off the mountainous region. Agriculture is the traditional acitivity of Asir, and remains of great importance even in modern times. Due to its climate, Asir has a significant importance in the food production of the kingdom. The agriculture happens is on terraced mountainsides or in river valleys. The produce are wheat, coffee, cotton, indigo, ginger, vegetables and dates. In addition comes the raising of cattle, sheep, goats and camels. There are mineral resources many places in the mountains, but this remain unexploited and it is not certain that its extraction is profitable.
Due to the Saudi politics of religious suppression of everything non-Sunni, figures on religions in Asir is very uncertain. It is generally assumed that a large part of Saudi Arabia's adherents to the Isma'ili religion live in Asir. They may constitute between 20% and 40% of the 1.8 million inhabitants. Even more difficult to asses, is the number of Zaydi Shi'i Muslims. A minority are Sunnis, perhaps between 5% and 20%. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Asir are commonly not counted as anything but Arabs, but they are closer to Yemenis and Saudis in the country's main territories.
Asir has good communications, the difficulties of the mountains taken into consideration. There are a couple of airports, and excellent highways out of the mountainous heartland, connecting to the cities in the Red Sea region, the capital Riyadh and beyond.
Recent decades have made Asir's towns and cities look more and more like other urban centres around the country. Still, there are many examples of the region's special architecture of high rising buildings with leaning walls and simple, but effective decorations.
Asir is still dominated by tribal customs and laws, and its population is largely dominated by two major tribes. Throughout the history of Saudi Arabia, the peoples of Asir has often been in opposition to the government in Riyadh. Asir has also developed into a region of Islamist recruitment.