Kingdom of Bahrain
مملكة البحرين
Mamlakat al-Baḥrayn
Flag Emblem
Anthem: Bahrainona
Location of  Bahrain  (green)

in the Middle East  (grey)  —  [Legend]

(and largest city)
26°13′N 50°35′E / 26.217°N 50.583°E / 26.217; 50.583
Official language(s) Arabic
Demonym Bahraini
Government Constitutional Monarchy
 -  King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
 -  Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
 -  Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Legislature National Assembly of Bahrain
 -  From Persia 1783 
 -  Termination of special treaty with the United Kingdom 15 August 1971 
 -  Total 750 km2 (185th)
290 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0
 -  2010 estimate 1,234,596[1] (155th)
 -  Density 1,646.1/km2 (7th)
4,257.2/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $29.712 billion[2] 
 -  Per capita $26,852[2] 
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $22.656 billion[2] 
 -  Per capita $20,474[2] 
HDI (2010) increase 0.801[3] (very high) (39th)
Currency Bahraini dinar (BHD)
Time zone AST (UTC+3)
Drives on the Right
ISO 3166 code BH
Internet TLD .bh
Calling code 973

About this sound Bahrain (Arabic: ‏البحرين‎, al-Baḥrayn), officially the Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: مملكة البحرين‎, About this sound Mamlakat al-Baḥrayn), is a small island state near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family. The population in 2010 stood at 1,214,705, including 235,108 non-nationals.[4] Formerly an emirate, Bahrain was declared a kingdom in 2002.

Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands, the largest being Bahrain Island, at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway. Qatar is to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain. The planned Qatar Bahrain Causeway will link Bahrain and Qatar and become the world's longest marine causeway.[5]

Known for its oil and pearls, Bahrain is also home to many large structures, including the Bahrain World Trade Center and the Bahrain Financial Harbour, with a proposal in place to build the 1,022 m (3,353 ft) high Murjan Tower. The Qal’at al-Bahrain (the harbour and capital of the ancient land of Dilmun) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.[6] The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix takes place at the Bahrain International Circuit.[7]



In Arabic, bahrayn is the dual form of bahr ("sea"), so al-Bahrayn means "the Two Seas". However, which two seas were originally intended remains in dispute.[8] The term appears five times in the Qu'ran, but does not refer to the modern island — originally known to the Arabs as "Awal" — but rather to the oases of al-Katif and Hadjar (modern al-Hasa).[8] It is unclear when the term began to refer exclusively to the Awal islands, but it was probably after the 15th century.

Today, al-Hasa belongs to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain's "two seas" are instead generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island,[9] the seas north and south of the island,[citation needed] or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground.[10] In addition to wells, there are places in the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water, noted by visitors since antiquity.[11]

An alternate theory offered by al-Ahsa was that the two seas were the Great Green Ocean and a peaceful lake on the mainland;[which?] still another provided by al-Jawahari is that the more formal name Bahri (lit. "belonging to the sea") would have been misunderstood and so was opted against.[10]



Asia in 600 AD, showing the Persian Empire in Sassanid era before the Arab conquest.

Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf. It is the best natural port between the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and Oman, a source of copper in ancient times.[12] Bahrain may have been associated with Dilmun, an important Bronze age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley.[13] It has been ruled by the Assyrians,[citation needed] Babylonians,[citation needed] Persians,[14] and then Arabs, under whom the island became first Christian and then Islamic.

From the 6th to 3rd century BC, Bahrain was added to the Persian Empire by the Achaemenian dynasty. By about 250 BC, the Parthians brought the Persian Gulf under its control and extended its influence as far as Oman. During the classical era, the island was known as Tylos in Europe. In order to control trade routes, the Parthians established garrisons along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf.[15] In the 3rd century, Ardashir I, the first ruler of the Sassanid dynasty, marched on Oman and Bahrain, where he defeated Sanatruq II.[16] At this time, Bahrain comprised the southern Sassanid province along with the Persian Gulf's southern shore.[17]

The Sassanid Empire divided their southern province into the three districts of Haggar (now al-Hafuf province in Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir (now al-Qatif province in Saudi Arabia) and Mishmahig (which in Middle-Persian/Pahlavi means "ewe-fish").[16] Early Islamic sources describe the country as inhabited by members of the Abdul Qais,[18] Tamim, and Bakr tribes who worshipped the idol Awal, from which the Arabs named the island of Bahrain Awal for many centuries. However, Bahrayn was also a center of Nestorian Christianity, including two of its bishoprics.[16]

Islamic conversion and Portuguese control

Traditional Islamic accounts state that Al-ʿAlāʾ Al-Haḍrami was sent as an envoy to the Bahrain region by the prophet Muhammad in AD 628 and that Munzir ibn-Sawa al-Tamimi, the local ruler, responded to his mission and converted the entire area.[19]

In 899 AD, the Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect seized Bahrain, seeking to create a utopian society based on reason and redistribution of property among initiates. Thereafter, the Qarmatians demanded tribute from the caliph in Baghdad, and in 930 AD sacked Mecca and Medina, bringing the sacred Black Stone back to their base in Ahsa, in medieval Bahrain, for ransom. According to historian Al-Juwayni, the stone was returned 22 years later in 951 under mysterious circumstances. Wrapped in a sack, it was thrown into the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq, accompanied by a note saying "By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back." The theft and removal of the Black Stone caused it to break into seven pieces.[16][20][21]

Following a 976 AD defeat by the Abbasids,[22] the Quarmations were overthrown by the Arab Uyunid dynasty of al-Hasa, who took over the entire Bahrain region in 1076.[23] The Uyunids controlled Bahrain until 1235, when the archipelago was briefly occupied by the Iranian ruler of Fars. In 1253, the Bedouin Usfurids brought down the Uyunid dynasty, thereby gaining control over eastern Arabia, including the islands of Bahrain. In 1330, the archipelago became a tributary state of the rulers of Hormuz,[24] though locally the islands were controlled by the Shi'ite Jarwanid dynasty of Qatif.[25]

Until the late Middle Ages, "Bahrain" referred to the larger historical region of Bahrain that included Al-Ahsa, Al-Qatif (both now within the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia) and the Awal Islands (now the Bahrain Islands). The region stretched from Basra in Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz in Oman. This was Iqlīm al-Bahrayn's "Bahrayn Province". The exact date at which the term "Bahrain" began to refer solely to the Awal archipelago is unknown.[26] In the mid-15th century, the archipelago came under the rule of the Jabrids, a Bedouin dynasty also based in Al-Ahsa that ruled most of eastern Arabia.

In 1521, the Portuguese allied with Hormuz and seized Bahrain from the Jabrid ruler Migrin ibn Zamil, who was killed during the takeover. Portuguese rule lasted for nearly 80 years, during which time they depended mainly on Sunni Persian governors.[27] The Portuguese were expelled from the islands in 1602 by Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty of Iran, who declared Shia Islam the official religion of Bahrain.[28] For the next two centuries, Iranian rulers retained control of the archipelago, interrupted by the 1717 and 1738 invasions of the Ibadhis of Oman.[29][30] During most of this period, they resorted to governing Bahrain indirectly, either through the city of Bushehr or through immigrant Sunni Arab clans. The latter were tribes returning to the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf from Persian territories in the north who were known as Huwala (literally: those that have changed or moved).[27][31][32] In 1753, the Huwala clan of Al Madhkur invaded Bahrain on behalf of the Iranians and restored direct Iranian rule.[33]

Rise of the Bani Utbah

In 1783, Nasr Al-Madhkur, ruler of Bahrain and Bushire, lost the islands of Bahrain following his defeat by the Bani Utbah tribe at the 1782 Battle of Zubarah. Bahrain was not new territory to the Bani Utbah; they had been a presence there since the 17th century.[34] During that time, they started purchasing date palm gardens in Bahrain. A document belonging to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi, one of the shaikhs of the Al Bin Ali tribe (an offshoot of the Bani Utbah), states that Mariam Bint Ahmed Al Sindi, a Shia woman, sold a palm garden on the island of Sitra to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi in the year 1699–1111 Hijri calendar, preceding the arrival of the Al-Khalifa to Bahrain by more than 90 years.[35]

The Al Bin Ali were the dominant group controlling the town of Zubarah on the Qatar peninsula,[36][37] originally the center of power of the Bani Utbah. After the Bani Utbah gained control of Bahrain, the Al Bin Ali had a practically independent status there as a self-governing tribe. They used a flag with four red and three white stripes, called the Al-Sulami flag[38] in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the Eastern province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was raised on their ships during wartime, in the pearl season and on special occasions such as weddings and during Eid ul-Fitr as well as in the "Ardha of war".[39] The Al Bin Ali were known for their courage, persistence, and abundant wealth.[40]

Later, different Arab family clans and tribes, mostly from Qatar, moved to Bahrain to settle after the fall of the Zand Dynasty of Persia.  These families and tribes included the Al Khalifa, Al-Ma'awdah, Al-Fadhil, Al-Mannai, Al-Noaimi, Al-Sulaiti, Al-Sadah, Al-Thawadi, and other families and tribes.

Most of these tribes settled in Muharraq, the capital of Bahrain and center of power at that time since the Al Bin Ali lived there. The oldest and largest neighborhood in Muharraq city is called Al Bin Ali. Members of this tribe lived in this area for more than three centuries.[citation needed]

Al Khalifa ascendancy to Bahrain and their treaties with the British

In 1797, fourteen years later after gaining the power of the Bani Utbah, the Al Khalifa family moved to Bahrain and settled in Jaww, later moving to Riffa. They were originally from Kuwait having left in 1766. Al-Sabah family traditions relates that the ancestors of their tribe and those of the Al-Khalifa tribe came to Kuwait after their expulsion from Umm Qasr upon Khor Zubair by the Turks, an earlier base from which they preyed on the caravans of Basra and pirated ships in the Shatt Al Arab waterway.[41]

In the early 19th century, Bahrain was invaded by both the Omanis and the Al Sauds. In 1802 it was governed by a twelve year old child, when the Omani ruler Sayyid Sultan installed his son, Salim, as Governor in the Arad Fort.[42]

In 1820, the Al Khalifa tribe came to power in Bahrain and entered a treaty relationship with Great Britain, by then the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. This treaty granted the Al Khalifa the title of Rulers of Bahrain.

After Egyptian Mohammad Pasha took the Arabian Peninsula from the Wahhabis on behalf of the Ottoman Empire in 1830, Sheikh Abdul Al Khalifeh declared allegiance to the Iranian Government to avoid the Egyptians taking control of Bahrain.

In 1860, the Government of Al Khalifeh used the same tactic when the British tried to overpower Bahrain. Sheikh Mohammad Ben Khalifeh wrote a letter to Nasseredin Shah of Iran declaring himself, his brother and all of members of Al Khalifeh and the people of Bahrain Iranian subjects. In another letter to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammad demanded that the Government of Iran provide direct guidance and protection from British pressure.

Later on, under pressure from Colonel Sir Lewis Pelly, Sheikh Mohammad requested military assistance from Iran, but the Government of Iran at that time had no ability to protect Bahrain from British aggression. As a result the Government of British India eventually overpowered Bahrain. Colonel Pelly signed an agreement with Sheikh Mohammad in May 1861 and later with his brother Sheikh Ali that placed Bahrain under British rule and protection. In 1868, British representatives signed another agreement with the rulers of Al Khalifeh making Bahrain part of the British protectorate territories in the Persian Gulf. This treaty was similar to those entered into by the British Government with the other Persian Gulf principalities. It specified that the ruler could not dispose of any of his territory except to the United Kingdom and could not enter into relationships with any foreign government without British consent. In return the British promised to protect Bahrain from all aggression by sea and to lend support in case of land attack. More importantly the British promised to support the rule of the Al Khalifa in Bahrain, securing its unstable position as rulers of the country. Other agreements in 1880 and 1892 sealed the protectorate status of Bahrain to the British.

According to School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) academic, Nelida Fuccaro:

From this perspective state building under the Al Khalifa shayks should not be considered exclusively as the result of Britain's informal empire in the Persian Gulf. In fact, it was a long process of strategic negotiation with different sections of the local population in order to establish a pre-eminence of their particularly artistic Sunni/Bedouin tradition of family rule.
—Nelida Fuccaro, Persians and the space in the city in Bahrain 1869–1937[43]

Unrest amongst the people of Bahrain began when Britain officially established complete dominance over the territory in 1892. The first revolt and widespread uprising took place in March 1895 against Sheikh Essa Ben Ali, then ruler of the Al Khalifeh. Sheikh Essa was the first of the Al Khalifeh to rule a land without Iranian relations. Sir Arnold Wilson, Britain's representaive in the Persian Gulf and author of The Persian Gulf, arrived in Bahrain from Masghat at this time. The uprising developed further with some protesters killed by British forces.

Peace and trade brought a new prosperity to Bahrain. With the country no longer dependent upon pearling, by the mid-19th century it became the pre-eminent trading centre in the Persian Gulf, overtaking rivals Basra, Kuwait, and finally, in the 1870s, Muscat.[44] At the same time, Bahrain's socio-economic development began to diverge from the rest of the Persian Gulf undergoing transformation from a tribal trading centre to a modern state.[45] This process was spurred by the arrival of large numbers of Persian, Huwala, and Indian merchant families who set up businesses on the island, making it the hub of a web of trade routes across the Persian Gulf, Persia and the Indian sub-continent. A contemporary account of Manama in 1862 found:

Mixed with the indigenous population [of Manamah] are numerous strangers and settlers, some of whom have been established here for many generations back, attracted from other lands by the profits of either commerce or the pearl fishery, and still retaining more or less the physiognomy and garb of their native countries. Thus the gay-coloured dress of the southern Persian, the saffron-stained vest of Oman, the white robe of Nejed, and the striped gown of Bagdad, are often to be seen mingling with the light garments of Bahreyn, its blue and red turban, its white silk-fringed cloth worn Banian fashion round the waist, and its frock-like overall; while a small but unmistakable colony of Indians, merchants by profession, and mainly from Guzerat, Cutch, and their vicinity, keep up here all their peculiarities of costume and manner, and live among the motley crowd, ‘among them, but not of them’.
WG Palgrave, Narrative of a Year's Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862–3)[46]

Palgrave's description of Manama's coffee houses in the mid-19th century portrays them as cosmopolitan venues in contrast to what he describes as the ‘closely knit and bigoted universe of central Arabia’.[46] Palgrave describes a people with an open – even urbane – outlook: "Of religious controversy I have never heard one word. In short, instead of Zelators and fanatics, camel-drivers and Bedouins, we have at Bahrain [Manama] something like 'men of the world, who know the world like men' a great relief to the mind; certainly it was so to mine."[46]

The great trading families that emerged during this period have been compared to the Borgias and Medicis[46] and their great wealth – long before the oil wealth the region would later be renowned for – gave them extensive power, and among the most prominent were the Persian Al Safar family, who held the position of Native Agents of Britain in 19th century.[46] The Al Safar enjoyed an 'exceptionally close'[46] relationship with the Al Khalifa clan from 1869, although the al-Khalifa never intermarried with them – it has been speculated that this was to limit the Safars' influence on the ruling family or because the Safars were Shia Muslims.

Bahrain's trade with India saw the cultural influence of the subcontinent grow dramatically, with styles of dress, cuisine, and education all showing a marked Indian influence. According to Exeter University's James Onley "In these and countless other ways, eastern Arabia's ports and people were as much a part of the Indian Ocean world as they were a part of the Arab world."[46]

In 1911, a group of Bahraini merchants demanded restrictions on the British influence in the country. The group's leaders were subsequently arrested and exiled to India. In 1923, the British deposed Sheikh Issa Ben Ali who they accused of opposing Britain and set up a permanent representative in Bahrain. This coincided with renewal of Iran's claim over the ownership of Bahrain, a development that Sheikh Essa had been accused of welcoming. The preference shown by the people of Bahrain towards the renewal of Iran ownership's claim also caused concern for Britain. To remedy these problems, in 1926, Britain dispatched Sir Charles Belgrave, one of her most experienced colonial officers, as an advisor to the Emir of Bahrain. His harsh measures intensified the increasing aversion of people towards him and led to his eventual expulsion from Bahrain in 1957. Belgrave's colonial undertakings were not limited to violent deeds against the people of Bahrain but also included a series of initiatives that included removal of Iranian influence on Bahrain and The Persian Gulf. In 1937, Belgrave proposed changing the name of the Persian Gulf to the "Gulf of Arabia", a move that did not happen place but was implemnted by Abdul Karim Ghasim, the dictator of Baghdad[citation needed].

In 1927, Rezā Shāh demanded the return of Bahrain in a letter to the Allied Nations Community.[clarification needed "League of Nations?"] Britain believed that weakened domination over Bahrain would cause her to lose control all over the Persian Gulf, and decided to bring uprisings amongst the people of Bahrain under control at any cost. To achieve this they encouraged conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Bahrain.

Bahrain underwent a period of major social reform between 1926 and 1957, under the de facto rule of Charles Belgrave, the British advisor to Shaikh Hamad ibn Isa Al-Khalifa (1872-1942). The country's first modern school, the Al-Hiddaya Boys School, was established in 1919, whilst the Arab Persian Gulf's first girls' school opened in 1928. The American Mission Hospital, established by the Dutch Reform Church, began work in 1903. Other reforms included the abolition of slavery. At the same time, the pearl diving industry developed at a rapid pace.

These reforms were often vigorously opposed by powerful groups within Bahrain including sections within the ruling family, tribal forces, the religious authorities and merchants. In order to counter conservatives, the British removed the Emir, Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa in 1923 and replaced him with his son. Some Sunni tribes such as the al Dossari left Bahrain to mainland Arabia, whilst clerical opponents of social reforms were exiled to Saudi and Iran. The heads of some merchant and notable families were likewise exiled[citation needed]. Britain's interest in Bahrain's development was motivated by concerns over the ambitions of the Saudi-Wahabbi and the Iranians.

Discovery of petroleum

Bahrain political map, 2003

The discovery of oil in 1932[47] brought rapid modernization to Bahrain. Relations with the United Kingdom became closer, as evidenced by the British Royal Navy moving its entire Middle Eastern command from Bushehr in Iran to Bahrain in 1935.[48] British influence continued to grow as the country developed, culminating with the appointment of Charles Belgrave as an advisor.[46] He went on to establish a modern education system in Bahrain.[46] After World War II, increasing anti-British sentiment spread throughout the Arab World and led to riots in Bahrain. The riots focused on the Jewish community, which included distinguished writers, singers, accountants, engineers and middle managers working for the oil company[clarification needed "What oil company"], textile merchants with business all over the peninsula, and free professionals.

In 1948, following rising hostilities and looting,[49] most members of Bahrain's Jewish community abandoned their properties and evacuated to Bombay, later settling in Israel (Pardes Hanna-Karkur) and the United Kingdom. As of 2008, 37 Jews remained in the country.[49] The issue of compensation was never settled. In 1960, the United Kingdom put forward Bahrain's future for international arbitration and requested that the United Nations Secretary-General take on this responsibility.

Separation of Bahrain from Iran

Iran's parliament passed a bill in November 1957 declaring Bahrain to be the Fourteenth province of Iran,[50] with two empty seats allocated for its representatives. This action caused numerous problems for Iran in its international relations, especially with some United Nations bodies, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and a number of Arab countries. It also provided a major opportunity for Iraqi extremists to extend their anti-Iran campaign in the region.

At this time, Britain set out to change the demographics of Bahrain. The policy of “deiranisation” consisted of importing a large number of different Arabs and others from British colonies as labourers.[51]

Demonstrations in 1956 forced the rulers of Al Khalifeh to leave Manama (the capital of modern Bahrain) for the village of Refae Al Gharbi where only Sunni Arabs serving as their bodyguards were allowed to live.

In 1965 Britain began dialogue with Iran to determine their borders in the Persian Gulf. Before long extensive differences over borders and territory came to light, including the dispute over the dominion of Bahrain. The two were not able to determine the maritime borders between the northern and southern countries of the Persian Gulf. At the same time King Faisal of Saudi Arabia arrived in Iran on a visit which included the creation of an Islamic Conference and the decision to determine the maritime borders of the two countries. In return, the Shah of Iran agreed to visit Saudi Arabia in 1967. A week before this visit, the Saudis received Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the Emir of Bahrain as a head of state in the Saudi capital Riyadh. As a result the Shah's visit was cancelled, seriously damaging relations between the two countries. Following mediation by King Hassan II of Morocco the relationship was repaired.

Eventually Iran and Britain agreed that the matter of Dominion of Bahrain to put to international judgment and requested the United Nations General Secretary take on this responsibility.

Iran pressed hard for a referendum in Bahrain in the face of strong opposition from both the British and the Bahraini leaders.[51] Their opposition was based on Al Khalifa's view that such a move would negate 150 years of his clan's rule in the country. In the end, as an alternative to the referendum, Iran and Britain agreed to request the United Nations conduct an opinion poll in Bahrain that would determine the political future of that territory. In reply to letters from the British and Iranians, U Thant, then Secretary General of the United Nations, declared that an opinion poll would take place on March 30, 1970. Vittorio Winspeare-Giucciardi, Manager of The United Nations office in Geneva was put in charge of the project. Report no. 9772 was submitted to the UN General Secretary and on May 11, 1970, the United Nations Security Council endorsed Winspeare's conclusion that an overwhelming majority of the people wished recognition of Bahrain's identity as a fully independent and sovereign state free to decide its own relations with other states.[52] Both Britain and Iran accepted the report and brought their dispute to a close.

The oil boom of the 1970s benefited Bahrain greatly, although the subsequent downturn hurt the economy. The country had already begun diversification of its economy and benefited further from the 1970s Lebanese Civil War, when Bahrain replaced Beirut as the Middle East's financial hub after Lebanon's large banking sector was driven out of the country by the war.[53] Following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, in 1981 Bahraini Shī'a fundamentalists orchestrated a failed coup attempt under the auspices of a front organization, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. The coup would have installed a Shī'a cleric exiled in Iran, Hujjatu l-Islām Hādī al-Mudarrisī, as supreme leader heading a theocratic government.[54] In 1994, a wave of rioting by disaffected Shīa Islamists was sparked by women's participation in a sporting event.

During the mid-1990s, the Kingdom was badly affected by sporadic violence between the government and the cleric-led opposition in which over forty people were killed.[55] In March 1999, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah succeeded his father as head of state and instituted elections for parliament, gave women the right to vote, and released all political prisoners. These moves were described by Amnesty International as representing an "historic period of human rights".[56] As part of the adoption of the National Action Charter on February 14, 2002, Bahrain changed its formal name from the State (dawla) of Bahrain to the Kingdom of Bahrain.[57]


The Bahrain Royal Flight (Boeing 747SP).

Bahrain is a Constitutional monarchy headed by the King, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa; the head of government is the Prime Minister, Shaikh Khalīfa bin Salman al Khalifa. Bahrain has a bicameral National Assembly (al-Jamiyh al-Watani) consisting of the Shura Council (Majlis Al-Shura) with 40 seats and the Council of Representatives (Majlis Al-Nuwab) with 40 seats. The 40 members of the Shura are appointed by the king. In the Council of Representatives, 40 members are elected by absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies to serve 4-year terms.[58]

The first round of voting in the 2006 parliamentary election took place on 25 November 2006, and in the second round Islamists hailed a huge election victory.[59]

The opening up of politics has seen big gains for both Shīa and Sunnī Islamists in elections, which have given them a parliamentary platform to pursue their policies[citation needed]. This has meant parties launching campaigns to impose bans on female mannequins displaying lingerie in shop windows,[60] and the hanging of underwear on washing lines.[61]

Analysts of democratization in the Middle East cite the Islamists' references to respect for human rights in their justification for these programmes as evidence that these groups can serve as a progressive force in the region[citation needed]. Islamist parties have been particularly critical of the government's readiness to sign international treaties such as the United Nation's International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.[62] At a parliamentary session in June 2006 to discuss ratification of the Convention, Sheikh Adel Mouwda, the former leader of salafist party, Asalah, explained the party's objections: "The convention has been tailored by our enemies, God kill them all, to serve their needs and protect their interests rather than ours. This why we have eyes from the American Embassy watching us during our sessions, to ensure things are swinging their way".[63]

Both Sunnī and Shī'a Islamists suffered a setback in March 2006 when 20 municipal councillors, most of whom represented religious parties, went missing in Bangkok on an unscheduled stopover when returning from a conference in Malaysia.[64] After the missing councillors eventually arrived in Bahrain they defended their stay at the Radisson Hotel in Bangkok, telling journalists it was a "fact-finding mission", and explaining: "We benefited a lot from the trip to Thailand because we saw how they managed their transport, landscaping and roads".[65] Bahraini liberals have responded to the growing power of religious parties by organizing themselves to campaign through civil society in order to defend basic personal freedoms from being legislated away[citation needed]. In November 2005, al Muntada, a grouping of liberal academics, launched "We Have A Right", a campaign to explain to the public why personal freedoms matter and why they need to be defended[citation needed].

Women's rights

Women's political rights in Bahrain saw an important step forward when women were granted the right to vote and stand in national elections for the first time in the 2002 election.[66] However, no women were elected to office in that year's polls. Instead, Shī'a and Sunnī Islamists dominated the election, collectively winning a majority of seats[citation needed]. In response to the failure of women candidates, six were appointed to the Shura Council, which also includes representatives of the Kingdom's indigenous Jewish and Christian communities[citation needed]. Dr. Nada Haffadh became the country's first female cabinet minister on her appointment as Minister of Health in 2004. The quasi-governmental women's group, the Supreme Council for Women, trained female candidates to take part in the 2006 general election. When Bahrain was elected to head the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 it appointed lawyer and women's rights activist Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa President of the United Nations General Assembly,[67] only the third woman in history to head the world body.[68] The King recently[when?] created the Supreme Judicial Council[69] to regulate the country's courts and institutionalize the separation of the administrative and judicial branches of government;[70] the leader of this court is Mohammed Humaidan.

On 11–12 November 2005, Bahrain hosted the Forum for the Future, bringing together leaders from the Middle East and G8 countries to discuss political and economic reform in the region.[71] The near total dominance of religious parties in elections has given a new prominence to clerics within the political system, with the most senior Shia religious leader, Sheikh Isa Qassim, playing an extremely important role. According to one academic paper, "In fact, it seems that few decisions can be arrived at in Al Wefaq – and in the whole country, for that matter – without prior consultation with Isa Qassim, ranging from questions with regard to the planned codification of the personal status law to participation in elections".[72] In 2007, Al Wefaq-backed parliamentary investigations were credited with forcing the government to remove ministers who had frequently clashed with MPs: the Minister of Health, Dr. Nada Haffadh and the Minister of Information, Dr Mohammed Abdul Gaffar.[73]

1990s uprising in Bahrain

The "1990s Uprising in Bahrain" or "1990s Intifada" was a rebellion in Bahrain between 1994 and 2000 in which leftists, liberals and Islamists joined forces. The event resulted in approximately forty deaths and ended after Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa became the Emir of Bahrain in 1999.[74] A referendum on 14–15 February 2001 massively supported the National Action Charter.[75]

2011 Bahraini uprising

Thousands of demonstrators gather for "Sticking to our national demands" rally in Musalla, Bahrain on July, 22

During the Arab Spring Revolutions of 2011, protestors began pouring into the Pearl Roundabout area. The protesters selected 14 February as a day of protest to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the National Action Charter.[76] On 18 February five people were killed when police raided the Pearl Roundabout protests early in the morning.[77] The Bahrain troops retreated within a week's time. They allowed the protestors to continue a festival type event at the Pearl Roundabout where different groups came and shared their views. The Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa promised a dialogue during this period. Within this time, Robert Gates, Defense Secretary of the United States, visited Bahrain to discuss the situation along with a visit to the UAE on an arms deal. Historically, the 2nd line of defense against a Shia uprising has been to call the Saudi National Guard ever since the British army left in 1971. Due to the media attention on the protests, the idea to use the Saudi Arabian troops along with other GCC member states under the operating name of the Peninsula Shield was a plan. It was decided that if the protests could be moved to a financial district, based on the guidelines of the formation of this military body, it would be able to move legally into the country, even though it was the first time it was used internally against GCC citizens. Kuwait declined taking part on this ground operation based on this "misuse" of the organization, though it sent naval help later on.

Within a few days, the protestors were lured into the Financial Harbour, an area filled with exchanges and banks. On March 15, the government began a retaliatory "crackdown", a term used mainly by the Bahraini government. On March 14, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates entered Bahrain with the stated purpose of protecting essential facilities including oil and gas installations and financial institutions. The maneuver was carried out under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council.[78][79] The following month was filled with alleged arrests, tortures, and deaths. The Saudi forces began using "night raids" as has been done in the Eastern Provinces for generations. Most of the protestors are from the Shia Islamic sect who make up the majority of Bahrainis but are disproportionately represented by the Sunni royal led government.

On June 23, 2011, Hasan Mushaima, Abdulhadi Khawaja, and several other opposition activists were sentenced to life in prison by a military court.


For further information, see Decree-Law establishing governoratesPDF (732 KB) from the Bahrain official website.

Bahrain is split into five governorates. These governorates are:

Map Governorates
Governorates of Bahrain.svg
1. Capital Governorate
2. Central Governorate
3. Muharraq Governorate
4. Northern Governorate
5. Southern Governorate


Sunset at the King Fahd Causeway

According to a January 2006 report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain has the fastest growing economy in the Arab world.[80] Bahrain also has the freest economy in the Middle East and is tenth freest overall in the world based on the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal, .[81]

In 2008, Bahrain was named the world's fastest growing financial center by the City of London's Global Financial Centres Index.[80][80] Bahrain's banking and financial services sector, particularly Islamic banking, have benefited from the regional boom driven by demand for oil.[80] In Bahrain, petroleum production and processing account for about 60% of export receipts, 60% of government revenues, and 30% of GDP.

Economic conditions have fluctuated with the changing price of oil since 1985, for example during and following the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990–91. With its highly developed communication and transport facilities, Bahrain is home to a number of multinational firms and construction proceeds on several major industrial projects. A large share of exports consist of petroleum products made from imported crude oil. In 2004, Bahrain signed the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, which will reduce certain trade barriers between the two nations.[82]

Unemployment, especially among the young, and the depletion of both oil and underground water resources are major long-term economic problems. In 2008, the jobless figure was at 4%,[83] with women over represented at 85% of the total.[84] In 2007 Bahrain became the first Arab country to institute unemployment benefit as part of a series of labour reforms instigated under Minister of Labour, Dr. Majeed Al Alawi.[85]


Desert landscape in Bahrain

Bahrain is a generally flat and arid archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia. It consists of a low desert plain rising gently to a low central escarpment with the highest point the 134 m (440 ft) Mountain of Smoke (Jabal ad Dukhan). Bahrain has a total area of 665 km2 (257 sq mi), which is slightly larger than the Isle of Man, though it is smaller than the nearby King Fahd International Airport near Dammam, Saudi Arabia (780 km2 (301 sq mi)).

As an archipelago of thirty-three islands, Bahrain does not share a land boundary with another country but does have a 161 km (100 mi) coastline. The country also claims a further 22 km (12 nmi) of territorial sea and a 44 km (24 nmi) contiguous zone. Bahrain's largest islands are Bahrain Island, Muharraq Island, Umm an Nasan, and Sitrah. Bahrain has mild winters and very hot, humid summers. The country's natural resources include large quantities of oil and natural gas as well as fish in the offshore waters. Arable land constitutes only 2.82%[86] of the total area.

92% of Bahrain is desert with periodic droughts and dust storms the main natural hazards for Bahrainis. Environmental issues facing Bahrain include desertification resulting from the degradation of limited arable land, coastal degradation (damage to coastlines, coral reefs, and sea vegetation) resulting from oil spills and other discharges from large tankers, oil refineries, distribution stations, and illegal land reclamation at places such as Tubli Bay. The agricultural and domestic sectors' over-utilization of the Dammam Aquifer, the principal aquifer in Bahrain, has led to its salinization by adjacent brackish and saline water bodies.[citation needed]


The Zagros Mountains across the Persian Gulf in Iraq cause low level winds to be directed toward Bahrain. Dust storms from Iraq and Saudi Arabia transported by northwesterly winds cause reduced visibility in the months of June and July.

Due to the Persian Gulf area's low moisture, summers are very hot and dry. The seas around Bahrain are very shallow, heating up quickly in the summer to produce high humidity, especially at night. Summer temperatures may reach more than 40 °C (104 °F) under the right conditions. Rainfall in Bahrain is minimal and irregular. Rainfalls mostly occur in winter, with a recorded maximum of 71.8 mm (2.83 in).[87]

Climate data for Manama
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 20.0
Average low °C (°F) 14.1
Precipitation mm (inches) 14.6
Avg. precipitation days 2.0 1.9 1.9 1.4 0.2 0 0 0 0 0.1 0.7 1.7 9.9
Source: World Meteorological Organisation (UN) [88]


Religion in Bahrain
religion percent[86]

In 2010, Bahrain's population grew to 1.234 million, of which more than 666,172 (54%) were non-nationals,[1] up from 1.05 million (517,000 non-nationals) in 2008.[89] Though a majority of the population is ethnically Arab, a sizable number of people from South Asia live in the country. In 2008, approximately 290,000 Indian nationals lived in Bahrain, making them the single largest expatriate community in the country.[90]

The official religion of Bahrain is Islam, and a majority practise Shia Islam.[91] Approximately 70 percent of Bahraini muslims are Shias.[92][93][94] However, due to an influx of immigrants and guest workers from non-Muslim countries, such as India, Philippines and Sri Lanka,[95] the overall percentage of Muslims in the country has declined in recent years. According to the 2001 census, 81.2% of Bahrain's population was Muslim, 9% were Christian, and 9.8% practiced Hinduism or other religions.[86] There are no official figures for the proportion of Shia and Sunni among the Muslims of Bahrain.

A Financial Times article published on 31 May 1983 found that "Bahrain is a polyglot state, both religiously and racially. Discounting temporary immigrants of the past ten years, there are at least eight or nine communities on the island". These may be classified as:

Community Description
Afro-Arabs Descendants of Africans, primarily from East Africa and of mostly Sunni faith
Ajam Ethnic Persians from Shia and Sunni faith
Baharna Shia Arabs divided between those indigenous to the islands, and the Hassawis hailing from the Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia.
Banyan (Bania) Indians who traded with Bahrain and settled before the age of oil[96] (formerly known as the Hunood or Banyan, Arabic: البونيان‎), of mostly Hindu faith
Tribals Sunni Arab Bedouin tribes allied to the Al-Khalifa including the Utoob tribes, Dawasir, Al Nuaim, Al Mannai etc.
Huwala Descendants of Sunni Arabs who migrated to Persia and later returned, although some are originally Persians[97][98]
Najdis (also called Hadhar) Non-tribal urban Sunni Arabs from Najd in central Arabia. These are families whose ancestors were pearl divers, traders, etc. An example is the Al Gosaibi family.


Bahrain is sometimes described as "Middle East lite"[99] due to its combination of modern infrastructure with a Persian Gulf identity. While Islam is the main religion, Bahrainis are known for their tolerance towards the practice of other faiths.[citation needed]

It is too early to say whether political liberalization under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has augmented or undermined Bahrain's traditional pluralism. The new political space for Shia and Sunni Islamists has meant that they are now more able to pursue programs that often seek to directly confront this pluralism. At the same time, political reforms have encouraged an opposite trend whereby society becomes more self-critical and shows a greater willingness to examine previous social taboos.[citation needed]

In common with the rest of the Muslim world, though Bahrain has take strong strides for women's rights, it does not recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.[citation needed]

Another facet of the new openness is Bahrain's status as the most prolific book publisher in the Arab world, with 132 books published in 2005 for a population of 700,000. In comparison, the 2005 average for the entire Arab world was seven books published per one million people, according to the United Nations Development Programme.[100] Ali Bahar is the most famous singer in Bahrain. He performs his music with his Band Al-Ekhwa (The Brothers).

Language and religion

Arabic is the official language of Bahrain though English is widely used. Bahrani Arabic is the most widely spoken language. Bahrain's primary religion is Islam. Muslims belong to the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam. The Shi'a constitute over 70 percent of the Muslim population.

Formula One and other motorsports events

Bahrain has a Formula One race-track, which hosted the inaugural Gulf Air Grand Prix on 4 April 2004, the first in an Arab country. This was followed by the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2005. Bahrain hosted the opening Grand Prix of the 2006 season on 12 March of that year. Both the above races were won by Fernando Alonso of Renault. The 2007 event took place on April 13, 14th and 15th.[101]

In 2006, Bahrain also hosted its inaugural Australian V8 Supercar event dubbed the "Desert 400". The V8s will return every November to the Sakhir circuit. The Bahrain International Circuit also features a full length drag strip where the Bahrain Drag Racing Club has organised invitational events featuring some of Europe's top drag racing teams[citation needed] to try and raise the profile of the sport in the Middle East.


On 1 September 2006, Bahrain changed its weekend from being Thursdays and Fridays to Fridays and Saturdays, in order to have a day of the weekend shared with the rest of the world. Other non-regular holidays are listed below:

Date English name Local (Arabic) name Description
1 January New Year's Day رأس السنة الميلادية The Gregorian New Year's Day, celebrated by most parts of the world.
1 May Labour Day يوم العمال  
16 December National Day اليوم الوطني National Day, Accession Day for the late Amir Sh. Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa
17 December Accession Day يوم الجلوس  
1st Muharram Islamic New Year رأس السنة الهجرية Islamic New Year (also known as: Hijri New Year).
9th, 10th Muharram Day of Ashura عاشوراء Commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein.
12th Rabiul Awwal Prophet Muhammad's birthday المولد النبوي Commemorates Prophet Muhammad's birthday, celebrated in most parts of the Muslim world.
1st, 2nd, 3rd Shawwal Little Feast عيد الفطر Commemorates end of Ramadan.
9th Zulhijjah Arafat Day يوم عرفة  
10th, 11th, 12th Zulhijjah Feast of the Sacrifice عيد الأضحى Commemorates Ibrahim's willingness to sacrifice his son. Also known as the Big Feast (celebrated from the 10th to 13th).


Royal Bahraini Navy RBNS Sabha

The kingdom has a small but well equipped military called the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). The BDF is primarily equipped with United States equipment, such as the F16 Fighting Falcon, F5 Freedom Fighter, UH60 Blackhawk, M60A3 tanks, and the ex-USS Jack Williams, an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate renamed the RBNS Sabha. The Government of Bahrain has a cooperative agreement with the United States Military and has provided the United States a base in Juffair since the early 1990s. This is the home of the headquarters for Commander, United States Naval Forces Central Command (COMUSNAVCENT) / United States Fifth Fleet (COMFIFTHFLT), and about 1500 United States and coalition military personnel.[102]


Students at the University of Bahrain, wearing the traditional garb

At the beginning of the 20th century, Qur'anic schools (Kuttab) were the only form of education in Bahrain. They were traditional schools aimed at teaching children and youth the reading of the Qur'an. After World War I, Bahrain became open to western influences, and a demand for modern educational institutions appeared. 1919 marked the beginning of modern public school system in Bahrain when the Al-Hidaya Al-Khalifia School for boys opened in Muharraq. In 1926, the Education Committee opened the second public school for boys in Manama, and in 1928 the first public school for girls was opened in Muharraq.

In 2004 King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa introduced the "King Hamad Schools of Future project that uses Information Communication Technology to support K–12 education in Bahrain. The project's objective is to connect all schools within the kingdom with the Internet. In addition to British intermediate schools, the island is served by the Bahrain School (BS). The BS is a United States Department of Defense school that provides a K-12 curriculum including International Baccalaureate offerings. There are also private schools that offer either the IB Diploma Programme or United Kingdom A-Levels.

In 2007, St. Christopher's School Bahrain became the first school in Bahrain to offer a choice of International Baccalaureate or A-Levels for students. Numerous international educational institutions and schools have established links to Bahrain. A few prominent institutions are DePaul University, Bentley College, the Ernst & Young Training Institute, NYIT and the Birla Institute of Technology International Centre Schooling is paid for by the government. Primary and secondary school attendance is high[citation needed] even though it is not compulsory.

Bahrain also encourages institutions of higher learning, drawing on expatriate talent and the increasing pool of Bahrain Nationals returning from abroad with advanced degrees. The University of Bahrain was established for standard undergraduate and graduate study, and the King Abdulaziz University College of Health Sciences, operating under the direction of the Ministry of Health, trains physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and paramedics. The 2001 National Action Charter paved the way for the formation of private universities such as the Ahlia University in Manama and University College of Bahrain in Saar. The Royal University for Women (RUW), established in 2005, was the first private, purpose-built, international University in Bahrain dedicated solely to educating women. The University of London External has appointed MCG[clarification needed "What is MCG"] as the regional representative office in Bahrain for distance learning programs. MCG is one of the oldest private institutes in the country. Institutes have also opened which educate Asian students, such as the Pakistan Urdu School, Bahrain and the Indian School, Bahrain.


A 123 m (404 ft) high fountain off the coast of Manama. The mechanism is contained in a barge, anchored to the seabed.

As a tourist destination, Bahrain receives over eight million visitors per annum[citation needed]. Most of these are from the surrounding Arab states although an increasing number hail from outside the region due to growing awareness of the kingdom's heritage and its higher profile as a result of the Bahrain International F1 Circuit. The Lonely Planet Guide describes Bahrain as "an excellent introduction to the Persian Gulf",[103] because of its authentic Arab heritage and reputation as a liberal and modern country. The kingdom is also home to the popular tourist attraction, the Bahrain City Center.

The kingdom combines modern Arab culture and the archaeological legacy of five thousand years of civilization. The island is home to castles including Qalat Al Bahrain which has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Bahrain National Museum has artifacts from the country's history dating back to the island's first human inhabitants some 9000 years ago.

See also


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External links

Coordinates: 26°01′39″N 50°33′00″E / 26.0275°N 50.55°E / 26.0275; 50.55

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  • Bahrain — noun 1. an island in the Persian Gulf • Syn: ↑Bahrain Island, ↑Bahrein, ↑Bahrein Island • Instance Hypernyms: ↑island • Part Holonyms: ↑Persian Gulf, ↑Arabian Gulf …   Useful english dictionary

  • Bahrain — also Bahrein geographical name 1. islands in Persian Gulf off coast of Arabia 2. an independent sultanate capital Manama (on Bahrain Island) area 255 square miles (661 square kilometers), population 485,600 3. island, largest of the group, 27… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Bahrain — noun A country in the Middle East. Official name: Kingdom of Bahrain …   Wiktionary

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