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State of Bahrain

Dawlat al-Bahrayn

CAPITAL: Manama (Al-Manamah)

FLAG: Red with a white vertical stripe on the hoist, the edge between them being saw-toothed.

ANTHEM: Music without words.

MONETARY UNIT: The Bahrain dinar (bd) is divided into 1,000 fils. There are coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 fils and notes of 500 fils and 1, 5, 10, and 20 dinars. bd1 = $2.63158 (or $1 = bd0.38) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is used; local measures also are used.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; National Day, 16 December. Movable Muslim religious holidays include Hijra (Muslim New Year), 'Ashura, Prophet's Birthday, 'Id al-Fitr, and 'Id al-'Adha'.

TIME: 3 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in the western Persian Gulf, 29 km (18 mi) nw of Qatar, the State of Bahrain consists of a group of 33 islands (6 inhabited) with a total area of 620 sq km (239 sq mi), extending 48 km (30 mi) ns and 19 km (12 mi) ew. Comparatively, Bahrain occupies slightly less than 3.5 times the area of Washington, DC. Bahrain, the main island, is linked by causeways and bridges to Muharraq and Sitra islands and to Saudi Arabia; other islands include the Hawar group, Nabih Salih, Umm an Nasān, and Jiddah. The total coastline is 161 km (100 mi). Bahrain's capital city, Manama, is located on the northeastern coast.


A narrow strip of land along the north coast of Bahrain is irrigated by natural springs and artesian wells. South of the cultivable area, the land is barren. The landscape consists of low rolling hills with numerous rocky cliffs and wadis. From the shoreline the surface rises gradually toward the center, where it drops into a basin surrounded by steep cliffs. Toward the center of the basin is Jabal ad-Dukhan, a rocky, steep-sided hill that rises to 122 m (400 ft). Most of the lesser islands are flat and sandy, while Nabih Salih is covered with date groves.


Summers in Bahrain are hot and humid, and winters are relatively cool. Daily average temperatures in July range from a minimum of 29°c (84°f) to a maximum of 37°c (99°f); the January minimum is 14°c (57°f), the maximum 20°c (68°f). Rainfall averages less than 10 cm (4 in) annually and occurs mostly from December to March. Prevailing southeast winds occasionally raise dust storms.


Outside the cultivated areas, numerous wild desert flowers appear, most noticeably after rain. Desert shrubs, grasses, and wild date palms are also found. Mammalian life is limited to the jerboa (desert rat), gazelle, mongoose, and hare; some 14 species of lizard and 4 types of land snake are also found. Bird life is especially varied. Larks, song thrushes, swallows, and terns are frequent visitors, and residents include the bulbul, hoopoe, parakeet, and warbler.


Bahrain's principal environmental problems are scarcity of fresh water, desertification, and pollution from oil production. Population growth and industrial development have reduced the amount of agricultural land and lowered the water table, leaving aquifers vulnerable to saline contamination. In recent years, the government has attempted to limit extraction of groundwater (in part by expansion of seawater desalinization facilities) and to protect vegetation from further erosion.

Bahrain has developed its oil resources at the expense of its agricultural lands. As a result, lands that might otherwise be productive are gradually claimed by the expansion of the desert. Pollution from oil production was accelerated by the Persian Gulf War and the resulting damage to oil-producing facilities in the Gulf area, which threatened the purity of both coastal and ground water, damaging coastlines, coral reefs, and marine vegetation through oil spills and other discharges.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 1 type of mammal, 7 species of birds, 4 types of reptiles, and 6 species of fish. A wildlife sanctuary established in 1980 was home to threatened and at-risk Gulf species, including the Arabian oryx, gazelle, zebra, giraffe, Defassa water-buck, addax, and lesser kudu. Bahrain has also established captive breeding centers for falcons and for the rare Houbara bustard. The goitered gazelle, the greater spotted eagle, and the green sea turtle are considered endangered species. There are two Ramsar international wetland sites in the country: the Hawar Islands and Tubli Bay.


The population of Bahrain in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 731,000, which placed it at number 158 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 28% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 132 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.8%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 965,000. The population density was 1,059 per sq km (2,744 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 87% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.01%. The capital city, Manama (Al-Manamah), had a population of 139,000 in that year. Manama is connected by causeway with the other major city, Al Muharraq, population 91,939.

The vast majority of the population lives on the main island of Bahrain. Approximately 40% of the population is made up of immigrants who come for work in the country. Although the percentage of the population infected with HIV/AIDS is small (0.2%), the number of women ages 1549 with HIV/AIDS doubled between 2001 and 2003.


The proportion of aliens increased from 20% of the total population in 1975 to an estimated 40% in 2000, and the expatriate labor force comprised nearly 69% of the labor force that year. Most are temporary workers from Iran, Pakistan, India, the Republic of Korea, and other Arab countries. Many skilled workers are Europeans. In 2005, the net migration rate was estimated as 1.04 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views these migration levels as satisfactory requiring no intervention.

A population of stateless inhabitants in Bahrain is the Bidun, a name derived from the Arabic expression meaning "without nationality." The Bidun have no proof of citizenship for their home country. In 2001, Bahrain granted the majority of 9,00015,000 Bidun citizenship status, giving them the right to own land, start a business, or get government loans. Most Bahraini Bidun are of Iranian origin, and are mostly Shiite, with some Christians.


According to a 2005 report, about 63% of the population consisted of indigenous Bahrainis, the vast majority of whom were of northern Arab (Adnani) stock, infused with black racial traits. Asians accounted for 19% of the population; other Arab groups (principally Omanis) 10%; Iranians 8%; and other ethnic groups 6%.


Arabic is the universal language; the Gulf dialect is spoken. English is widely understood. Farsi and Urdu are spoken by small groups of people.


In 2005, an estimated 98% of the country's citizens were Muslim, with about two-thirds practicing the Shia branch and the others Sunni. Foreigners make up 38% of the total population; roughly half are non-Muslim, including Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Baha'is. All are free to practice their own religions, keep their own places of worship, and display the symbols for their religions. Islam, however, is the official religion. Religious groups are required to obtain a license from the government through the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, but small unlicensed groups have operated without government interference. Sunni Muslims, though a minority, seem to enjoy a favored status, as Shias face discrimination and disadvantage in social and economic realms.


The outline of the present road network was traced in the early 1930s, soon after the discovery of oil. The four main islands and all the towns and villages are linked by excellent roads. There were 3,498 km (2,176 mi) of roadways in 2003, of which 2,768 km (1,722 mi) were paved. A four-lane, 2.8-km (1.7-mi) causeway and bridge connect Manama with Al Muharraq, and another bridge joins Sitra to the main island. A four-lane highway atop a 24-km (15-mi) causeway, linking Bahrain with the Saudi Arabian mainland via Umm an Nasān, was completed in December 1986 and financed by Saudi Arabia. In 2003, there were 290,600 passenger vehicles and 124,500 commercial vehicles.

Bahrain's port of Mina Sulman can accommodate 16 oceangoing vessels drawing up to 11 m (36 ft). In 2005, Bahrain had a merchant fleet of eight ships of 1,000 GRT or over, totaling 219,083 GRT. Also in 2004, there were four airports. As of 2005, a total of three had paved runways, and there was a single heliport. The international airport near Al Muharraq can handle large jet aircraft and serves more than two dozen international airlines. In 1997, the airport was in the midst of a major expansion. Gulf Air, headquartered in Bahrain and owned equally by the governments of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), flies to other Gulf countries, India, and Europe. In 2001, 1,250,100 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


The history of Bahrain has been traced back 5,000 years to Sumerian times. Known as Dilmun, Bahrain was a thriving trade center around 2000 bc; the islands were visited by the ships of Alexander the Great in the third century bc. Bahrain accepted Islam in the 7th century ad, after which it was ruled alternately by its own princes and by the caliphs' governors. The Portuguese occupied Bahrain from 1522 to 1602. The present ruling family, the Khalifa, who are related to the Sabah family of Kuwait and the Saudi royal family, captured Bahrain in 1782. Following an initial contact in 1805, the ruler of Bahrain signed the first treaty with Britain in 1820. A binding treaty of protection, similar to those with other Persian Gulf principalities, was concluded in 1861 and revised in 1892 and 1951. After World War II, Britain maintained at Bahrain its headquarters for treaty affairs in the lower Gulf. Claims to Bahrain pressed by Iran were abandoned in 1971 after a UN mission ascertained that the Bahrainis wished to remain independent of that nation.

Between 1968 and 1971, Bahrain participated in discussions aimed at forming a federation of the nine sheikhdoms of the southern Gulf. On 14 August 1971, Sheikh 'Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa declared that, in view of the failure of the larger federation to materialize, Bahrain would declare its independence. Its treaties with the United Kingdom were replaced by a treaty of friendship and cooperation, and on 15 August, the country became the sovereign State of Bahrain. Bahrain promulgated its first constitution in 1973, which occasioned the convening of an elective National Assembly; the legislature was dissolved in August 1975 amid charges of communist influence. The emir continued to set state policy, and his brother, Crown Prince Hamad bin 'Isa al-Khalifa, directed government administration. In 1993, Bahrain established an appointive Consultative Assembly (Majlis al-Shura). On 14 February 2001, a referendum was held that endorsed a return to constitutional rule. Under the constitution amended 14 February 2002, the country is no longer an emirate, but a constitutional monarchy. The emir was replaced by a king. A two-house National Assembly was established, along with an independent judiciary.

Owing to its small size, Bahrain generally takes its lead in foreign affairs from its Arab neighbors on the Gulf. A founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, it shares with the other five members a long-standing concern with pressures from Iran and Iraq. During the Iran-Iraq War, Bahrain joined most other Arab states in supporting Iraq. Subsequently, it has carefully tried to foster better relations with Iran through trade. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, Bahrain stood with the allies, contributing military support and facilities to the defeat of Iraq.

Bahrain has long assisted the American naval presence in the Persian Gulf. In 1977, a formal agreement for home-porting US naval ships was replaced by arrangements to continue ship visits and other security cooperation. Since the Gulf War, this cooperation has expanded with arms sales, plans for joint exercises, and US pre-positioning of military material for future contingencies. In 1991, the United States signed an agreement giving the Department of Defense access to facilities on the island. The country is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet.

Since 1994, Bahrain, like several traditional emirates of the Gulf, experienced sometimes severe civil disturbances from a Shiite-led resistance opposed to the ruling family and supportive of establishing an Islamic democracy. In 1996, a band of 44 Bahraini Islamists were arrested for allegedly planning a coup to overthrow the ruling family. The emirate broke relations with Iran, which the former accused of fomenting its civil disturbances which between 1994 and 1996 had resulted in 25 deaths. In 1997, the United States disclosed that it had uncovered a plot to attack its military forces stationed in the country.

On 6 March 1999, Sheikh 'Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who had ruled his country since its independence in 1971, died of a heart attack. He was succeeded on the throne by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin 'Isa al-Khalifa. Over the following year, there were signs that while the new ruler would continue his father's pro-Western foreign-policy orientation, domestically he would take a more liberal approach to government. In April, Sheikh Hamad released high-profile Shiite dissident, Sheik Abdul Amir al-Jamri, from jail together with hundreds of other political prisoners. Another broad pardon of dissidents took place in November. By February 2001, the emir had pardoned and released all political prisoners, detainees, and exiles.

On 16 March 2001, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) resolved a territorial dispute between Bahrain and Qatar over the potential oil- and gas-rich Hawar Islands. The islands were controlled by Bahrain since the 1930s but were claimed by Qatar. Bahrain also claimed the town of Zubarah, which is on the mainland of Qatar. The dispute has lasted for decades and almost brought the two nations to the brink of war in 1986. In its judgment, the ICJ drew a single maritime boundary in the Gulf of Bahrain, delineating Bahrain and Qatar's territorial waters and sovereignty over the disputed islands within. The ICJ awarded Bahrain the largest disputed islands, the Hawar Islands, and Qit'at Jaradah Island. Qatar was given sovereignty over Janan Island and the low-tide elevation of Fasht ad Dibal. The Court reaffirmed Qatari sovereignty over the Zubarah Strip.

In August 2002, Hamad (now king) made the first state visit to Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The two countries voiced their support for solidarity with the Iraqi people. Iraq was at that time under the threat of a military attack led by the United States for its possession of weapons of mass destruction. Bahrain and Iran urged Iraq to implement all UN resolutions then pending, so that Iraq's territorial integrity and sovereignty could be honored. President Mohammed Khatami of Iran and King Hamad also noted the importance of preserving security and stability in the region, and thus pledged to strengthen ties with one another. Several trade, taxation, and naval agreements were signed at the conclusion of the state visit. As well, both countries agreed to "open a new page" in their bilateral relations, previously strained due to Iran's support for Bahraini opposition movements, and Iran's criticism of the American military presence in Bahrain.

In January and March 2003, demonstrations took place in Bahrain in opposition to a potential US-led war with Iraq. By 13 January, there were approximately 150,000 US troops in the Gulf region, many of which were stationed in Bahrain, in addition to Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. US naval operations were headquartered in Bahrain with 4,000 US troops stationed aboard Fifth Fleet ships. As anti-American sentiment in the Gulf increased, the government arrested five men plotting attacks against Americans in February 2003; and by July 2004 Americans were warned to leave. In May 2003 the king was petitioned by thousands of victims of alleged torture to cancel the law which prevented them from suing suspected torturers. Bahrain signed a free trade pact with the United States in September 2004. Under the terms of the agreement 100% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products became duty-free. In addition, Bahrain and the United States provided immediate duty-free access on virtually all products in their tariff schedules and planned to phase out tariffs on the remaining handful of products within 10 years. Between March and June 2005, thousands attended protest marches led by Shiite opposition demanding a fully elected parliament. In Iraq, gunmen ambushed a senior Bahraini diplomat in July 2005. In this same month Bahrainis staged a demonstration about unemployment, estimated by economists to be at 20%.


Under its constitution, amended 14 Februrary 2002, Bahrain is no longer an emirate but a constitutional hereditary monarchy. As a result of the change, the State of Bahrain became the Kingdom of Bahrain, and Sheikh Hamad bin 'Isa al-Khalifa became King Hamad, by his own decree. A referendum held on 14 February 2001 endorsed a return to constitutional rule by 98.4%.

The new legislature is called the National Assembly (Al-Majlis al-Watani). It consists of two houses, an appointed Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura) and an elected Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nawab). The Chamber of Deputies consists of 40 members, elected for a four-year term. The Chamber of Deputies elects a president and two vice presidents. The Consultative Council consists of 40 members appointed by the king for a four-year period. The king also appoints the Council speaker and the Shura Council elects two vice presidents. Both chambers must concur to pass legislation, which is then sent to the king for ratification. The king has the power to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, but new elections are to be held within four months from the date of the dissolution; if they are not, the dissolved Chamber reassumes its constitutional powers and is reconvened. In April 2004 a woman was made health minister, the first woman to be appointed head of a government ministry.

The constitution specifies that Shariah (Islamic law) is a principal source of legislation but also pledges freedom of conscience. It guarantees equality of women with men "in political, social, cultural and economic spheres, without breaching the provisions of Shariah." The constitution states that every citizen is entitled to health care. It protects private property, but states that "all natural wealth and resources are state property." Discrimination is banned on the basis of sex, national origin, language, religion, or creed.

In the first parliamentary elections since 1973, 190 candidates ran for 40 seats in the Chamber of Deputies on 24 October 2002. In nearly half the races, runoff elections were held between the top two vote getters due to close election results. Under the new constitution, women have the right to vote and run for public office. Of the eight women seeking election in the October parliamentary elections, two forced runoff elections by being among the top two vote getters. As in municipal elections held in May 2002, women constituted over half of those voting. Leaders of Bahrain's Shia population and labor-oriented groups called for a boycott of the elections, claiming dissatisfaction with the structure of parliament. Voter turnout was 53.2%. Moderate Sunni Islamists and independents won 16 of 40 seats on 24 October. In a second round held on 31 October, the independents won 12 seats and the Islamists 9. In total, secular representatives or independents secured a total of 21 of the 40 seats, and Islamists 19.


Political parties are illegal in Bahrain. Groups known as political societies, or blocs, remnants of the former Communist left and the Islamist right, hold some seats in parliament: National Islamic Society, Islamic Action Party, National Democratic Action, Democratic Bloc, Al Meethaq, National Action Charter Society, Progressive Democratic Front, Nationalist Democratic Rally Society. Several underground groups, including branches of Hizbollah and other pro-Iranian militant Islamic groups, have been active. Anti-regime dissidents have frequently been jailed or exiled. However, Sheikh Hamad bin 'Isa al-Khalifa in 1999 issued an amnesty for most political prisoners, ended the house arrest of Shiite opposition leader Sheikh Abdul Amir al-Jamri, and granted permission for the return of 108 people in exile. By February 2001, the emir had pardoned and released all political prisoners, detainees, and exiles. In addition, the reinstatement of dissidents fired from public sector jobs, the lifting of travel bans on political activists, and the abrogation of state security laws have all created a more open atmosphere for political expression.

Beginning with municipal elections in May 2002, candidates from a wide variety of political groups formed a more pluralistic political culture in Bahrain. These groups were not officially designated as political parties, but they had the attributes of democratic parties in the West: they fielded candidates in elections, organized activities, and campaigned freely. There are seven main political groups: the Arab-Islamic Wasat (Center) Society (AIWS); the Democratic Progressive Forum (DPF); the Islamic National Accord (INA); the National Action Charter Society (NACS); the National Democratic Action Society (NDAS); the National Democratic Gathering Society (NDGS); and the National Islamic Forum (NIF).

In addition, numerous other nongovernmental organizations were set up after the constitution was endorsed in February 2001, among them the Bahrain Human Rights Society, the Supreme Council for Bahraini Women, and the Organization Against Normalization with Israel. These organizations campaign on single-issue platforms, hold public discussions and meetings, consult with the government, and are members of Bahraini delegations to international forums.

The partially elected bicameral parliament that was approved in a referendum in 2001 held its first session in December 2002 after elections were held that October. In the 40-member directly-elected House of Deputies, independents took 21 seats, Sunni Islamists won 9 seats, and other groupings held 10 seats.


Under the new constitution, there are five municipal councils in Bahrain, each with 10 elected members and an appointed chairman. The first local elections since 1957 were held on 9 May 2002. In the five new municipal councils, 30 of the 50 seats contested were decided in the first round of voting, with the remaining 20 seatswhere no candidate received an absolute majoritybeing decided in a second round of voting on 16 May. Candidates with links to Islamist groups won the majority of seats. There were 31 women among 306 candidates in the first round of voting, but none won. After the elections, some political figures suggested that a quota system should be set up to assure that some women would obtain seats in the municipal councils. Out of the 50 municipal seats, 38 were won by candidates affiliated with Islamist parties. Voter turnout in the first round of voting was 51.3%.

The democratic municipalities are responsible for the provision of local goods and services, including transportation, waste disposal, street cleaning and beautification, and enforcing health and safety standards.


The law of Bahrain represents a mixture of Islamic religious law (Shariah), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulations. The new constitution promises an independent judiciary. A Higher Judicial Council supervises the courts. Courts have been granted the power of judicial review.

The new reforms establish a constitutional court, consisting of a president and six members, appointed by the king for a specified period. Members are not liable to dismissal. The government, or either house of the National Assembly, may challenge the constitutionality of any measure before the court. The king may refer to the court draft laws prior to their adoption, to determine their consitutionality.

Military courts are confined to military offenses only, and cannot be extended to others without the declaration of martial laws.

Shariah governs the personal legal rights of women, although the new constitution provides for women's political rights. Specific rights vary according to Shia or Sunni interpretations of Islamic law, as determined by the individual's faith, or by the courts in which various contracts, including marriage, have been made. While both Shia and Sunni women have the right to initiate a divorce, religious courts may refuse the request. Women of either branch of Islam may own and inherit property and may represent themselves in all public and legal matters. A Muslim woman legally may marry a non-Muslim man if the man converts to Islam. In such marriages, the children automatically are considered to be Muslim.


In 2005 Bahrain's armed forces had 11,200 active members. The Army consisted of 8,500 personnel, equipped with 180 main battle tanks, 46 reconnaissance vehicles, 25 armored infantry fighting vehicles, more than 235 armored personnel carriers, and 69 artillery pieces. The Navy had 1,200 active personnel. Major naval units included one frigate, two corvettes, and eight patrol/coastal vessels. The Air Force had 1,500 active members and 33 combat capable aircraft including 12 fighters, 21 fighter ground attack aircraft, and 24 attack helicopters. Paramilitary troops consisted of an estimated 10,160 personnel, including the police, national guard, and coast guard. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $526 million.


Bahrain joined the UN on 21 September 1971 and is a member of ESCWA, all major regional organizations, and several nonregional specialized agencies. It also belongs to the Arab League, the Arab Monetary Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, OAPEC, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), the Gulf Cooperation Council, and G-77. The country joined the WTO 1 January 1995. Bahrain was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, inaugurated in 1981. The country is also a part of the Nonaligned Movement and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. In environmental cooperation, the country is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


For centuries, Bahrain depended almost exclusively on trade (or piracy), pearl diving, and agriculture. The discovery of oil on 1 June 1932 changed that. Although its economy has been based on oil for the last six decades, Bahrain's development has been tempered by relatively limited reserves. Proven reserves are 125 million barrels, all from one diminishing oil field, the Awali field. At current production levels, the field has a life of less than 10 years. Oil revenue accounted for 24.4% of GDP in 2003. Oil and petroleum products also made up 74.4% of export earnings in 2003.

Significant progress has been made in enhancing Bahrain as an entrepôt (trade center) and as a service and commercial center for the Gulf region. Bahrain provides ample warehousing for goods in transit and dry dock facilities for marine engine and ship repairs. Bahrain also acts as a major banking, telecommunications, and air transportation center. Bahrain also began diversifying its economy to rely on services to a higher degree after the Lebanese civil war in the late 1970s and early 1980s essentially ended that country's status as a safe, regulation-free banking environment. Services accounted for 56.9% of all economic activity in the country in 2005.

Although the Bahrain economy slowed considerably in the mid-1990s, foreign investment in the earlier part of that decade helped enable GDP to growth at an annualized rate of 4% between 1988 and 1998. Low world oil prices created a negative growth situation in 1998, but real growth has been steady since then. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that real GDP grew 4.3% in 1999, 5.3% in 2000, 4.5% in 2001, 5.1% in 2002, and 5.7% in 2003. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates 2005 GDP at $14.08 billion, and growth of 5.9%.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Bahrain's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $14.1 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $20,500. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.9%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 2.7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 0.6% of GDP, industry 42.5%, and services 56.9%.

Approximately 32% of household consumption was spent on food, 8% on fuel, 1% on health care, and 6% on education.


The Bahraini labor force in 2005 was estimated at 380,000. In 1997 (the latest year for which data was available), employment by sector was estimated as follows: industry, commerce, and services accounted for 79%; government 20%; and agriculture 1%. In 1998, (the latest year for which data was available), unemployment was estimated at 15%. Nonnationals in 2005 made up an estimated 44% of the country's population between the ages of 15 and 64.

Although the constitution permits workers to organize, the government bans trade unions. With this absence of legitimate trade unions, no collective bargaining entities or collective agreements exist. Workers may express grievances through joint labor-management committees (JLCs). JLCs are generally created at each major company and have an equal number of labor and management representatives. As of 2000, there were a total of 20 JLCs. There are no internationally affiliated trade unions, and foreign workers are underrepresented in the General Committed of Bahrain workers which coordinates the JLCs.

The government set minimum wage scales for public sector employees and this generally provides a decent standard of living for workers and their families. The minimum wage for public-sector wages were specified on a contract basis. All foreign workers must be sponsored by Bahrainis or Bahrain-based companies, which can revoke the residence permit of anyone under their sponsorship. Migrant workers from developing countries are often unwilling to report health and safety abuses for fear of forced repatriation. Nor do labor laws apply to foreign workers, who often work far in excess of official maximum hour laws. The minimum age for working is 14 years and until age 16, special work conditions and hour limits apply to workers. There is general compliance with this in the industrial sector, but there is rampant abuse outside it, especially in family-owned businesses.


Only 2.9% of the land is arable. Agriculture accounts for only about 1% of the GDP. Ninety farms and small holdings produce fruit and vegetables, as well as alfalfa for fodder. The date palm industry has declined sharply in recent years due to heavy demands on the limited water supply, and dates have become a luxury item. In 2004, 7,667 tons of vegetables and 19,000 tons of fruit crops were produced. The government's goal is for output to meet 16% of demand, compared with the current 6%.


Most domestic meat consumption is supplied through imports of live cattle, goats, and sheep. About 9,000 head of cattle, 39,000 sheep, and 25,000 goats were kept for milk and meat production in 2004. A thriving poultry industry provided 13,500 tons of meat and 5,000 tons of eggs in 2004. A national dairy pasteurization plant has been established in order to centralize all milk processing and distribution. In 2004, milk production totaled 11,000 tons. An abattoir that opened in 1984 slaughters imported sheep and cattle.


Although the more than 300 species of fish found in Bahraini waters constitute an important food source for much of the population, local fishing and pearl diving have declined because of industrial pollution. The catch totaled 13,641 tons in 2003. The government operates a fleet of seven trawlers. By encouraging traditional angling, giving incentives to fishermen, improving fishing and freezing equipment, and establishing cooperatives, the government is attempting to increase the annual catch. There is a modern fishing harbor at Al Muharraq, which provides docking and landing facilities, storage areas, an ice plant, and a water supply.


There are no forests in Bahrain. Bahrain's imports of forest products amounted to $60.5 million in 2003. That year, Bahrain re-exported about $1.9 million of forest products, including about 1,000 tons of industrial roundwood.


Bahrain's oil-based economy produced few minerals other than crude oil and natural gas. In 2004, crude oil and refined petroleum products accounted for around $5.5 billion of the nation's $7.5 billion in exports. Cement production in 2004 was reported at 153,483 metric tons, up from 88,806 metric tons in 2000. Sulfur production totaled 71,258 metric tons in 2004.


The Arabian Peninsula's first oil well was drilled in Bahrain in 1932, and production began in 1934. From the 1930s to the mid-1970s, oil development was a monopoly of the Bahrain Petroleum Co. (BAPCO), which in 1936 came under the ownership of Caltex, a corporation registered in Canada and jointly owned by Texaco and Standard Oil of California. In 1975, the Bahrain government acquired a 60% holding in BAPCO, and it later formed the Bahrain National Oil Co. (BANOCO) to take over full ownership. In 1980, BANOCO announced its acquisition of a 60% interest in Bahrain's main refinery, which had been wholly owned by Caltex.

Total daily crude petroleum production, after reaching a peak in 1970, has declined gradually. Crude oil production was estimated at 35,000 barrels per day in 2003, with proven oil reserves in Bahrain estimated at 125 million barrels as of 1 January 2004. From 1972 until 1996, Bahrain shared revenues from the Abu Safa oil field, which lies halfway within Saudi Arabian territorial waters, with Saudi Arabia. In 1996, the Saudi government ceded the remainder of its share of the field to Bahrain, increasing the government's revenue by about $200 million.

Bahrain gained the right to offer concessions in offshore oil fields in the Gulf of Bahrain after a territorial dispute with Qatar was settled by the International Court of Justice in March 2001 and Bahrain won control of the Hawar Islands. In November 2001 drilling rights were awarded to Petronas and Chevron Texaco, and oil exploration began in late 2002. As of early 2003 a $900 million modernization was planned for Bahrain's only refinery, Sitra, which had a capacity of 248,900 barrels per day. Plans to build a second refinery, approved in 1999, had been delayed due to financing problems.

Bahrain's natural gas resources were estimated at 90 billion cu m (3.2 trillion cu ft) as of end 2004. Production of gas was 9.8 billion cu m in 2004, most of which was associated with drilling in the Awali oil field.

The Directorate of Electricity operates plants at Manama, Sitra, and Rifaa. In 2002, electricity generation was 6.841 billion kWh, of which 100% came from fossil fuels. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 6.362 billion kWh. Total capacity at the beginning of 2002 was estimated at 1.4 gigawatts (GW). Power is principally derived from a municipal power station at Jufair, from the Sitra power and water station, from two gas turbines at Al Muharraq, and from the power station at East Rifaa, which was completed in 1985 and is the largest and most modern. BANOCO produces its own electricity from a 60 MW plant. Phase One of the Hidd power project, completed in 1999, created an additional 280 MW of gas-fired generating capacity. Completion of Phase Two would add another 630 MW.


Bahrain was the first Gulf state to discover oil and built the region's first refinery in 1935. Known as the Bahrain Oil Company, it has been 60% owned by the Bahrain National Oil Company and 40% owned by the US company Caltex since 1980. The Bahrain National Oil Company also maintains holdings in the Bahrain Petroleum Company, which was formed in 2002 through a merger with a government-owned petroleum enterprise. Most of the crude oil processed in Bahrain's refinery comes from Saudi Arabia. Because Bahrain's own oil reserves are relatively limited, an agreement with Saudi Arabia allows the country to receive revenues from Saudi Arabia's Abu Saafa offshore oilfield. Bahrain's oil production had stabilized at about 40,000 barrels per day in early 2006, and its reserves were expected to last 10 to 15 years.

Bahrain also has a gas liquefaction plant, operated by the Bahrain National Gas Company. Gas reserves are expected to last about 50 years.

Other petroleum enterprises include the Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, a joint venture of the petrochemical industries of Kuwait, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, and the Government of Bahrain, which produces ammonia and methanol for export. Bahrain also has awarded exploration rights to two multinational companiesPetronas from Malaysia and Chevron Texaco from the United States.

A government-controlled aluminum industry, Aluminum Bahrain BSC (ALBA), was launched in 1971 with an original smelter capacity of 120,000 tons annually; the successful completion of a 1997 expansion project increased production to more than 500,000 metric tons in 1998 and to 720,000 metric tons in 2005. It is the world's second-largest aluminum smelter, and is 77% owned by the government. Other aluminum factories include the Aluminum Extrusion Company and the Gulf Aluminum Rolling Mill. Bahrain also has an iron ore palletizing plant, and a shipbuilding and repair yard.

Overall industrial production accounts for 42.5% of GDP.


The economy depends heavily on advanced petrochemical technologies, and many Bahrainis have had or are receiving technical training. The University of Bahrain, at Isa Town, has a college of engineering and science. The Arabian Gulf University, founded in 1980 by the seven Gulf states, has colleges of medicine and applied sciences. The Bahrain Society of Engineers and the Bahrain Computer Society, in Manama, and the Bahrain Medical Society in Adliya, are leading professional groups. The College of Health Sciences, founded in 1976, had 528 students in 1996. The Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research, founded in 1981, conducts scientific study and research.


Bahraini shops have become increasingly modernized and specialized. American-style supermarkets are open in Manama and most supplies and services are available in shops throughout the country. Business hours for most shops are from 8:30 am to 12:30 and from 4 to 8 pm, Saturday through Wednesday, with a half day on Thursday. Government offices and banks are generally open Saturday through Thursday. Of all the Gulf states, Bahrain offers the most scope for consumer advertising through its publications, cinemas, direct mail facilities, and radio and television stations.

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 6,609.8 5,401.7 1,208.1
Area nes 4,681.6 2,066.8 2,614.8
Saudi Arabia 454.9 315.5 139.4
United States 282.8 189.0 93.8
Other Asia nes 199.3 24.2 175.1
India 113.2 132.0 -18.8
United Arab Emirates 106.5 156.9 -50.4
Qatar 76.4 76.4
Japan 63.8 415.0 -351.2
Kuwait 60.1 35.9 24.2
Malaysia 58.1 47.2 10.9
() data not available or not significant.


Petroleum products drive Bahrain's economy and export market (70%). Aluminum, which is manufactured in government-controlled enterprises, ranks as the country's second-largest export commodity (14%). Other exports include apparel (4.6%), iron (3.5%), and chemicals (2.5%).

Bahrain exports its products widely throughout the world. As a

result, no one country commands a significant share of Bahrain's exports: its largest trading partners in 2004 were India (4.3%), Saudi Arabia (3%), the United States (2.9%), and the United Arab Emirates (2.2%). Imports come from Saudi Arabia (32.4%), Japan (7.3%), Germany (6.1%), the United States (5.6%), the United Kingdom (5.4%), and France (4.8%).


Traditionally, Bahrain relied on a substantial influx of funds from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, and Iran to finance capital out-lays. In recent years, however, increased income from tourism and financial services, have placed Bahrain in a favorable payments position.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 the purchasing power parity of Bahrain's exports was $11.17 billion while imports totaled $7.83 billion. The country's current account balance was $1.569 billion in 2005. Bahrain's foreign reserves totaled $2.433 billion in 2005. Since 1992, Bahrain has received $150 million annually from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003 Bahrain had exports of $6.6 billion, of which $4.9 billion were petroleum products. Imports in 2003 totaled $5.5 billion.


Bahrain is considered the preeminent fiancial services center in the Middle East. The Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA), Bahrain's equivalent of a central bank, issues and redeems bank notes, regulates the value of the Bahrain dinar, supervises interest rates, and licenses and monitors the activities of money changers. One factor contributing to Bahrain's growth as a Middle Eastern financial services center is that unlike some of its larger, richer neighbors, there is no serious religious opposition to western banking practices-especially the accrual of interestwhich some Islamic scholars consider to be contrary to Muslim teachings. There are, however, several large banks in Bahrain classified as Islamic; they don't pay or charge interest, don't finance or otherwise support "un-Islamic" enterprises, and make a conscious effort to invest in socially productive enterprises. Another important factor influencing the growth of the financial sector is the tax-free environment.

The value of assets and liabilities held by Bahrain's commercial banks rose by 43%, and offshore banking units (DBUs) rose by 20% between 1991 and 1995. The consolidated assets and liabilities of commercial and offshore banks in Bahrain reached over $82 million in 1997. In 2000, Bahrain was home to 20 full commercial banks, 2 specialized banks, 52 offshore banks, 37 representative offices, 33 investment banks, 6 foreign exchange and money brokers, 8 investment and financial advisory services, and 18 money-changing companies. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggrgate

Current Account -68.4
     Balance on goods 1,610.5
         Imports -5,079.3
         Exports 6,689.8
     Balance on services 197.0
     Balance on income -536.0
     Current transfers -1,340.0
Capital Account 50.0
Financial Account -252.9
     Direct investment abroad -741.4
     Direct investment in Bahrain 516.7
     Portfolio investment assets -3,064.4
     Portfolio investment liabilities 688.4
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -20,786.6
     Other investment liabilities 23,134.3
Net Errors and Omissions 314.9
Reserves and Related Items -43.7
() data not available or not significant.

commonly known as M1were equal to $1.5 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $6.3 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 3.9%.

The Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE) was planned in 1987 after the unofficial Kuwait Stock Exchange collapsed. The BSE has become an important Gulf center of share trading; volume or shares increased from its inception from 62 million in 1989 to almost 400 million in 1993. Beginning in 1995, the BSE listed foreign companies, bonds, and investment funds. Trading in foreign investment vehicles was made open to all Bahrainis, and resident and non-resident foreigners in late 1996. As of 2004, there were 42 companies listed on the BSE. Market capitalization as of December 2004 stood at $13.513 billion, with the BSE up 30.2% from the previous year.


The total value of direct premiums underwritten in 2003 in Bahrain was $159 million, of which nonlife premiums accounted for the largest portion at $124 million. The country's top nonlife insurer that year had gross nonlife written premiums of $46 million, with Zürich the top life insurer, with gross life written premiums totaling $23.8 million in 2003.


The budget is presented biennually and regularly updated, and represents a large section of economic activity. More than half of government revenues come from oil production and refining; the oil industry is completely controlled by the government. The public deficit is covered by internal borrowing, loans from Arab funds, and the IDB; although privatization has become increasingly important to controlling the budget. The oil and aluminum industries are still controlled by the government, although utilities, banks, financial services, and telecommunications have started to fall into private hands.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Bahrain's central government took in revenues of approximately $4.6 billion and had expenditures of $3.4 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $1.2 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 51.5% of GDP. Total external debt was $6.831 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues in millions of dinars were 1,144.8 and expenditures were 1,055.5. The value of revenues in millions of US dollars was $4,304 and expenditures $3,969, based on a official exchange rate for 2003 of. 26596 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 33.1%; defense, 16.5%; public order and safety, 10.6%; economic affairs, 1.9%; housing and community amenities, 9.9%; health, 7.6%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.5%; education, 15.4%; and social protection, 4.4%.


The only taxes in Bahrain are an income tax on oil production and a municipal tax of 10% on residential rents. The rate is 7.5% on furnished rentals, office, and commercial rents. As an offshore tax haven, Bahrain allows foreign firms to remit accumulated profits and capital without taxation.


Import licenses for items sold in Bahrain are issued only to local companies that are at least 51% Bahraini-owned. Principal prohibited items are arms, ammunition, liquor (except by authorized importers), and cultured pearls. Customs duties are 20% on corn and palm oil; 5% on foodstuffs and nonluxuries; 7.5% on consumer goods; 20% on cars and boats; 70% on tobacco and cigarettes; and 125% on authorized imports of liquor. A free transit zone operates at the port of Mina Sulman. Free trade is available with Gulf

Revenue and Grants 1,144.8 100.0%
     Tax revenue 137.7 12.0%
     Social contributions 55 4.8%
     Grants 18.8 1.6%
     Other revenue 933.3 81.5%
Expenditures 1,055.5 100.0%
     General public services 349.5 33.1%
     Defense 174.5 16.5%
     Public order and safety 111.4 10.6%
     Economic affairs 19.9 1.9%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 105 9.9%
     Health 80.6 7.6%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 5.6 0.5%
     Education 162.8 15.4%
     Social protection 46.2 4.4%
() data not available or not significant.

Cooperation Council (GCC) countries if products have at least 40% local value-added content.


Bahrain has well-established communication and transport facilities. The strength of its infrastructure, along with the generous incentives it offers to foreign investors, have made the country home to many multinational companies doing business in the Persian Gulf. In recent years, the government has sought to control more of the country's key businesses. Bahrain, however, continues to court international investment; the country does not tax corporate or individual earnings. Only petroleum royalties are subject to taxation.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reported foreign direct investment (FDI) in Bahrain of $865 million in 2004. FDI stocks totaled $7.585 billion in 2004, about 70.5% of GDP.


Since the late 1960s, the government has concentrated on policies and projects that will provide sufficient diversification in industrial, commercial, and financial activities to sustain growth in income, employment, and exports into the post-oil era. To this end, Bahrain in September 2004 became the first Gulf state to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the United States. The pact was ratified by the Bahraini parliament in July 2005 and by the US Congress in December 2005. US President George W. Bush signed the agreement into law in January 2006, and implementing legislation to allow full enactment was pending.

Despite diversification efforts, the oil and gas sectors remain the cornerstone of the economy. The reliance on oil poses one of Bahrain's biggest long-term economic challenges. Unemployment and a shortage of long-range water resources also are issues. Much of Bahrain's labor force, estimated in 2005 at 380,000, consists of non-Bahrainis. In hopes of encouraging more employment among its citizenry, the country has adopted a policy of matching job seekers with potential employers. It also is promoting training programs that would give young adults marketable skills. The country also is considering a labor law that would stress the value of vocational training and require that benefits for public and private sector employees be equal. It also is considering introduction of a minimum wage law.

The strongest possibility for growth in Bahrain lies in its financial sector. Bahrain leads an effort to develop Islamic financial services, and has 28 Islamic banks based in the country. More than 100 offshore banks also operate in Bahrain, helping to boost financial services activity to 24.2% of GDP in 2005. In hopes of keeping the sector both vibrant and efficient, it has consolidated regulation of banks, insurance companies, and capital markets under one umbrella.


Impoverished families receive subsistence allowances from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Beginning in 2005 all establishments with one or more employees are covered by the social insurance system. A social security fund provides old age, disability, survivor, and accident insurance. Contributions amount to 5% of earnings by workers and 7% by employers. Work injury insurance exempts domestic servants, self-employed and agricultural workers.

Islamic law, either Shia or Sunni, dictates the legal rights of Bahraini women. Women may initiate divorce proceedings, although religious courts often refuse the request. Men retain legal rights over children, even in case of divorce. Custody of young children is granted to women, but fathers automatically regain custody when the children reach the age of nine (for daughters) and seven (for sons). Women make up approximately 17% of the labor force. The majority of working women are young and single, and most women cease working outside the home after marriage. Bahrain's labor law does not recognize the concept of equal pay for equal work, and women are often paid less than men. Sexual harassment is a common problem. As of 2004 spousal abuse remained widespread, especially in economically deprived areas. It is estimated that 30% of married women are victims of spousal abuse though few women seek assistance.

Bahrain's government regularly violates citizens' human rights. There was a continuation of torture, arbitrary arrest, denial of the right to a fair trial, and restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and workers' rights. The treatment of foreign workers, especially women employed as domestic help, is especially abusive.


In 1960, Bahrain inaugurated a free national health service, available to both foreign and indigenous segments of the population through a system of primary care health centers and modern hospital facilities. Bahraini patients who require sophisticated surgery or treatment are sent abroad at government expense.

Medical services are provided by the government and a small private sector. Health care centers are accessible to the population free of charge. In 1990, there were 4 government-operated hospitals (including a psychiatric hospital and a geriatric hospital), 5 maternity hospitals, 19 health centers, 6 environment health centers, and 16 maternity and child welfare centers. In 2004, there were an estimated 160 physicians, 413 nurses, 21 dentists, and 22 pharmacists per 100,000 people.

Infant mortality was estimated at 17.27 per 1,000 live births in 2005. In 1994, 93% of the country's one-year-old children were vaccinated against measles. In 1990, 100% of the population had access to health care services and 93% had access to safe drinking water. Life expectancy in 2005 was 74.23 years. Malaria was reported in 258 people while polio, measles, and neonatal tetanus were nonexistent. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 3.00 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 600 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


According to the 2001 government census, there were 105,686 housing units within the country. About 18% were private villas (single family, independent structure homes). There were 8,076 apartment buildings containing a total of about 36,320 flats. About 72% of all units were connected to the public water system. About 14.8% of homes relied on bottled water. About 63,374 units were occupied by single (nuclear) families. The greatest number of housing units (32,538) was available in Manama.


Education is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 15. Primary education lasts for six years followed by an intermediate program of three years. Students may then choose from three options for their secondary education: general (science or literary tracks), technical, or commercial. Each secondary program is a three-year course of study. The academic year runs from October to August. The primary languages of instruction are Arabic and English. The Ministry of Education is the primary administrative body. As of 1995, public expenditure on education was estimated at 3.6% of GDP.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 89.9% of age-eligible students; The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 87% of age-eligible students. Less than 1% of children ages three to five attend preschool programs. It is estimated that 99% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 16:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 12:1.

Bahrain's principal university is the University of Bahrain, established in 1986 after a merger between the University College and Gulf Polytechnic. It is comprised of five colleges and an English language center: colleges of arts, sciences, engineering, education, and business administration. The Arabian Gulf University (founded in 1980) has faculties in science, engineering and medicine, and is in fact a joint venture project among the six Gulf Cooperation Council members and Iraq. Each nation is allocated 10% of the seats (total 70%) and the remaining 30% are given to other countries. Also important is the Bahrain Training Institute, which currently has over 50% female students.

There are also 67 adult education centers in Bahrain, which have helped to reduce the illiteracy rate of the country. For promoting technical education, a "10,000 Training Plan" was launched in 1980. Nearly 6,500 students have participated in this program since its inception and scholarships are given to students to pursue higher studies at Bahrain or abroad. In 1994 all institutions of higher learning had 655 teachers and enrolled 7,147 students. The adult literacy rate in 2003 was estimated about 89.1%; 91.9% for men and 85% for women.


Manama Public Library was the first to open in the country in 1946; it contains the collection of United Nations related publications. The Bahrain National Bank Public Library in Muharraq (opened in 1969 as the Muharraq Public Library) includes the Mohammed Hassan Al-Hassan Collection of over 400 books on national and international law (with volumes in Arabic and English), a library for the blind, a children's library, and a special section on travel and tourism. The Central Public Library in Isa Town has 124,000 volumes. In 2005, there were nine public libraries nationwide under supervision of the Directorate of Public Libraries at the Ministry of Education. The University of Bahrain in Manama (1978) holds 140,000 volumes, while the Manama Central Library holds 155,000 volumes. In 2003, the first specialized law library opened at the University's Sakhir campus. The Educational Documentation Library in Manama holds the largest collection of educational research materials with about 22,000 books and nearly 200 periodicals; publications are available in Arabic and English. The Bahrain National Commission for Education, Science and Culture Library, also in Manama, was established in 1967, serving primarily as a research library; holdings include materials from four main international organizations: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States (ABEGS), and Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO).

The Bahrain National Museum in Manama holds art, archaeological, and historical exhibits, chronicling the rise of the Dilmun civilization. Muharraq Island hosts a few of traditional homes that are open to visitors. The Royal Tombs in A'ali are popular archeological sites.


Modern telephone, cable, and telex systems are available. In 2003, there were about 185,800 mainline telephones in use, along with 443,100 mobile phones. Basic service is provided by the National Telephone Company (BATELCO).

In 1998, there were two AM and three FM stations and four broadcast television stations, all of which were owned and operated by the government. In 1997 there were 499 radios and 420 television sets in use per 1,000 population. Internet service is provided through the national phone company, with 195,700 subscribers counted in 2003. Government control restricts access to some Internet sites considered with content that is considered anti-Islamic or antigovernment. Many districts of Manama have cyber cafes. It is estimated that about 22% of the population owns personal computers.

Bahrain's first daily newspaper in Arabic, Akhbar al-Khalij (circulation 17,000 in 2002), began publication in 1976, and the first English daily, the Gulf Daily News (50,000), was established in 1991. Al Ayam, an Arabic daily founded in 1989, had a 2002 circulation of 37,000.

Though the Bahraini constitution has provisions for freedom of expression, press criticism of the ruling family or government policy is strictly prohibited.


In addition to the national Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bahrain is a committee member of the International Chamber of Commerce. There are numerous Bahraini and multinational groups, including the Bahrain Red Crescent Society and the Children's and Mothers' Welfare Society. Health and welfare organizations include the Bahrain Family Planning Association and the Bahrain Diabetic Association. Youth organizations include those representing the Youth Hostel Federation, Red Crescent Youth, the Boy Scouts of Bahrain and the Girl Guides, and Arab Student Aid International (ASAI). The Bahrain Olympic Committee coordinates activities for about 12 national youth sports federations.


Bahrain has been a fast growing destination in the Middle East since the early 1990s. Tourist attractions include archeological sites, notably Qal-at Al-Bahrain (The Portuguese Fort), the National Museum, and the Heritage Center. Recreational riding and horse racing are both popular in Bahrain. Pearl diving is also part of Bahrain's heritage. In 2002, there were 4,830,943 tourist arrivals, almost 4,000,000 of whom were from other Middle Eastern countries, and tourism receipts totaled $985 million. Hotel rooms numbered 7,880 in 2002 with 10,759 beds and an occupancy rate of 53%. Most visitors need a visa and a valid passport.


Sheikh 'Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa (193399) ruled from 1961 until his death in 1999. He was succeeded by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin 'Isa al-Khalifa (b.1950).


Bahrain has no territories or colonies.


Dun and Bradstreet's Export Guide to Bahrain. Parsippany, N.J.: Dun and Bradstreet, 1999.

Fakhro, Munira A. Women at Work in the Gulf: A Case Study of Bahrain Fakhro. London and New York: Kegan Paul International, 1990.

Gillespie, Carol Ann. Bahrain. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Holes, Clive. Dialect, Culture, and Society in Eastern Arabia. Boston: Brill, 2001.

Hourani, Albert Habib. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.

Seddon, David (ed.). A Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2004.

Terterov, Marat (ed.). Doing Business with Bahrain: A Guide to Investment Opportunities and Business Practice. 2nd ed. Sterling, Va.: Kogan Page, 2005.

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State of Bahrain

Major City:


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 2000 for Bahrain. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Site of some of the oldest civilizations in the world (thought by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden), Bahrain is packed with archaeological digs, historical museums, dhow-building yards, and back-street souqs.

As modern as central Manama may be, the basic rhythms of life in the island's many villages remain remarkably traditional. By the same token, where there is tradition in the Gulf there is Islamic conservatism: Women cover themselves from head to foot.

Traditional craftwork continues in Bahrain: Dhows (fishing boats) are built on the outskirts of Manama; cloth is woven at Bani Jamrah; and pottery is thrown at A'ali. A few goldsmiths still operate in the souq. One of the mainstays of Bahraini culture is the drinking of traditional Arabian coffee. You cannot go far without finding a coffee pot in a shop or a souq. Traditional Arabian street food like shawarma (lamb or chicken carved from a huge rotating spit and served in pita bread) and desserts such as baklava are also ubiquitous. While a bit thin on Arabic food, Bahrain has a bonanza of Indian, Pakistani, Thai, and other Asian specialties.

Bahrain's main island has almost certainly been inhabited since prehistoric times. The archipelago first emerged into world history in the 3rd millennium BC as the seat of the Dilmun trading empire. Dilmun, a Bronze Age culture that lasted about 2000 years, benefited from the islands' strategic position along the trade routes linking Mesopotamia with the Indus Valley.

Eventually Dilmun declined and was absorbed by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. The Greeks arrived around 300 BC, and Bahrain remained a Hellenistic culture for some 600 years.

After experimenting with Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Manicheism, in the seventh century many of the islands' inhabitants converted to Islam.

In the 1830s, Bahrain signed the first of many treaties with Britain, who offered Bahrain naval protection from Ottoman Turkey in exchange for unfettered access to the Gulf. Oil was discovered in 1932, and large-scale oil-drilling soon followed. Oil money brought improved education and health care to Bahrain. It also brought the British closer: The main British naval base in the region was moved to Bahrain in 1935.

In the 1950s, the waves of Arab nationalism that swept through the region led to increasing anti-British sentiment. Bahrain proclaimed its independence on August 14, 1971.

As the price of oil went through the stratosphere during the 1970s and 1980s, the country grew by leaps and bounds. Despite the Gulf-wide economic downturn of the late 1980s, Bahrain remained calm and prosperous.

Bahrain's reputation as a relatively liberal and modern Arabian Gulf State has made it a favorite with travelers in the region and an excellent introduction to the Gulf. While their neighbors staked everything on oil, Bahrainis diversified their economy and created some of the region's best education and health systems. Years of British influence have made English widely spoken. Development has been swift, but it hasn't swallowed up everything.



Manama is a cosmopolitan city of about 144,000. Central Manama is undergoing extensive urban development, featuring new banks, hotels, offices, and six-lane, divided highways on land reclaimed from the sea during the past 15 years. The growth has resulted in moderately increased traffic congestion and the distinct beginnings of urban sprawl. Yet the city is livable, and many consider it the preferred location in the Gulf. The discomfort of the outdoor summer weather and the real, as well as psychological, isolation of living on a small island community cause frustration for some.


Electricity is 220v-240v, 50 hertz. Because voltage fluctuates, delicate electrical equipment such as stereos should have voltage regulators. These are available locally, but at high prices.


Clean, modern, U.S.-style supermarkets are numerous. Excellent prawns and fish, superb dates, good eggs, fresh chickens, and fresh dairy products, including pasteurized milk, are grown or produced on the island. Depending on the season, fresh fruits and vegetables are also available. The latter is supplemented by an abundance of imported fresh fruit and vegetables. Beef, mutton, lamb, veal, pork, poultry, cheeses, other dairy products, cereals, and canned or dry goods are all imported, primarily from the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, and Europe, and are readily available in the island's supermarkets and shops. Prices, however, are often high. Smart shoppers spend time in the cheaper, covered central market in downtown Manama.


Fabrics and sewing supplies are plentiful and moderately priced. Tailors are good at copying patterns and models, but most do not create or design clothing. Local stores offer expensive ready-made clothing of varying quality and limited selection from Europe and the U.S.

Bahrain has no official clothing taboos. As guests of a society that traditionally is very strict among its own members, especially the women, visitors are expected to dress modestly. Shorts, short dresses, and bare shoulders are inappropriate outside the home. Skirts and dresses for women and long pants for men are recommended for general wear. Sneakers for tennis and other sports are locally available but at high prices.

Men: Take cool, lightweight suits for summer wear and many cotton shirts. Sweaters and a moderate supply of light winter clothes are necessary. Winter nights can be as chilly as 45°F. Since winter is also the rainy season and some streets are unpaved, boots and galoshes are useful to negotiate the many puddles that linger after heavy rains.

Women: Shoe shopping presents a problem, especially for women. Only the latest European styles are available at local boutiques. Because of the heat and humidity, natural clothing fibers (especially cotton) are best during summer. Double-knits and synthetic materials are very uncomfortable during the hot season.

Children : Children's shoes and clothing are available but are usually expensive. Shoes are of poor quality, and children's galoshes are hard to find.

Supplies and Services

Almost everything is available in Bahrain, but is invariably more expensive. Laundry soaps and bleaches, though fairly expensive, are readily available locally. Small appliances, linens, utensils, tools, cosmetics, soaps, and perfumes are available but are also expensive. Specific brand names may not be available, but suitable substitutes abound. Color film is expensive. It may be processed locally or in the U.S. Dog, cat, and bird foods are available locally. Kitty litter, dog collars, leashes, and toys are usually available, but are expensive, and the selection is limited.

A large variety of personal and professional services are available in Bahrain, from picture framing to motor vehicle rust-proofing, legal and tax counseling, to insect extermination. However, costs exceed those of comparable services in the U.S.

Shoe repair shops provide reasonably priced and satisfactory work. Dry-cleaners are adequate for materials not requiring special treatment. Men's suits are cleaned and pressed for $5. For women's silk clothing, however, reliable drycleaning may be $7 for a dress.

Beauty shops are found throughout Manama. Their work is good and at prices comparable to those in the U.S. Barbershops are also common and fairly inexpensive.

Repairs for automobiles, radios, and electrical appliances are usually satisfactory. Long delays sometimes occur due to a prevailing lack of spare parts.

Finished carpentry products are inferior to and more expensive than U.S. products. Residential furniture is expensive.

Domestic Help

Most middle-class Bahraini families and Westerners in Bahrain employ domestic servants. Going rates (as of 1999) for domestic servants are as follows: Full-time cooking and cleaning $160-$350/month Part-time cooking and cleaning $2.65-$3/ hour. Part-time gardener $70-$100/ month Babysitter (American teenagers) $2.50-$3/hour.

Religious Activities

Bahrain allows freedom of worship. Although most Bahrainis are Muslims, several Christian churches serve the foreign community. Both Protestant and Catholic services are held every Friday and Sunday on the navy base (NSA). Protestant Sunday school is available for kindergarten through adult levels at the National Evangelical Church in Manama. Sacred Heart (Roman Catholic), St. Christopher's (Anglican), and the Church of the Latter-day Saints, as well as Syrian Orthodox churches, have active congregations. Most churches hold services on Friday to correspond to the local Sabbath, but Sunday services are also held. Many churches have nurseries to care for children during services, and services are conducted in a variety of languages. Bahrain's Jewish community is too small to sustain a synagogue.


The Bahrain School is an international school of about 1,000 pupils representing 50 nationalities for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The school is operated by the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, Europe (DODDSEUR). In addition to a standard American curriculum, it offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program that is recognized in more than 40 countries for university entrance. American colleges will generally give one year's advance placement for IB diploma holders. The Secondary School meets the accreditation standards of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (NCA). Under DODDS regulations, children of U.S. military personnel are accorded priority in admission, while other students, including children of U.S. civilian agency personnel, are accepted on a space-available basis. The Bahrain International School Association (BISA) is the local governing body, but management authority is held by DODDS.

The school year runs from early September through late June. The school week conforms to the Muslim week, Saturday through Wednesday, with a Thursday to Friday weekend. The school day is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for all grades.

Group registration is held before the beginning of the new school year. Thereafter, parents may register their children in the school's administrative office upon arrival in Bahrain. Children must be accompanied by a parent or sponsor at registration and must present all records from prior schools, passport number, and immunization records. Placement tests are also required upon registration.

The Habara School and the Nadeen School offer a pre-nursery and beginning primary school syllabus to a predominantly British and American enrollment aged 2-7 years, at a cost of about $500-$600 a term (i.e., $1,500-$1,950 per school year). Half-day summer play school is available for kindergarten and primary-school-age children. NSA also operates a year-round day care center for children.

Other schools, including St. Christopher's (British) and one with a French curriculum, are also available.

Special Educational Opportunities

The University of Bahrain offers bachelor's degrees in business, science, education, engineering, art, and health sciences. The language of instruction is Arabic.

The University of Maryland is a U.S. institution that offers undergraduate courses through the Bahrain School and on a part-time basis for adults wishing to begin or continue work toward an associate's or bachelor's degree. Additionally, seminar classes are scheduled at various times. These classes are one semester hour of credit that requires 16 hours of classroom instruction.

The Bahrain Government and some private schools offer Arabic-language, secretarial, business management, and computer classes. Several schools offer hands-on computer courses.

The Bahrain Arts Society offers classes in drawing, painting, and poetry. The Music Institute provides instruction in a variety of musical instruments to adults and children at reasonable cost. As funds permit, the Embassy also maintains an Arabic-language program. Classes are also available through the Bahrain Ministry of Education or various schools and individuals. Ballet, ice skating, karate, aerobics, and yoga classes are available. Most of the five-star hotels also have thriving health clubs for men and women.

Recreation and Social Life

Summer is difficult for children and parents because the intense heat and humidity preclude outdoor activities. Bring games, handicrafts, hobby supplies, and beach toys. An outdoor grill and equipment for light camping are useful in winter.

Power boating and sailing are popular with many Westerners in Bahrain. There are four sailing clubs on the island. Used pleasure boats and sailboats are sold, but at high prices when available. Groups rent Arab dhows for a day of water sightseeing, swimming, fishing, and picnicking. Only saltwater fishing is done; take your own gear, as it is expensive there. Scuba diving is popular, and the sea floor around Bahrain is interesting in parts; but the water is often murky. Rental costs are prohibitive. U.S.-certified scuba diving classes are available, and two clubs offer courses at reasonable tuition.

The BAPCO (Bahrain Petroleum Company) Club at Awali permits some foreigners in the business and diplomatic communities to hold memberships (about $300 yearly) to use its beach, bowling, dining, and swimming facilities. All the major hotels in Bahrain (Meridien, Hilton, Sheraton, and Holiday Inn) offer memberships in their swimming pool, health club, and tennis facilities, but the cost is high. Several private clubs (Al Bandar and the Marina) offer membership to foreigners and have attractive, well-located facilities. There is a small indoor ice-skating rink open to the public. Horseback riding and riding lessons are available.

Attending the weekly horse races at the racetrack about 5 miles south of Manama is a pleasant way to spend a winter afternoon. Races are run using an excellent stock of Arabian horses and are free to all who wish to attend. Betting and alcoholic beverages are prohibited at the racing grounds.

A new sporting era has dawned in Bahrain. The Riffa Golf Club has created an 18-hole course on more than 150 acres. What was once a desert is now a green oasis of sporting excellence.

Local travel agents offer a range of tours, usually 3-7 days, to places in the Middle East, India, the Far East, or Europe. These package trips are popular among Westerners. In addition, excellent half day tours in Bahrain are available through private tour companies. Camping is possible in the central part of the island during the winter and spring. Private groups frequently arrange dhow trips into the Gulf during the non-winter months.

Many interesting archeological and historical sites are in Bahrain. This is the largest ancient necropolis in the world with more than 100,000 grave mounds, ancient forts, temples, and city sites going back to the Dilmun era, circa 2500 BC. The Bahrain National Museum has an excellent display of both ancient Bahrain and the more recent Arab traditions. Two restored houses can be toured and traditional craftsmen still work in some villages. At Jasra is a handicraft center where visitors can watch traditional Arab artisans plying their craft. Finished pieces can be purchased at the gift shop.

Several air-conditioned movie theaters show recent films in English, French, Italian, Arabic, and Hindi at modest admission prices. Several video rental outlets carry the latest U.S. and European films and most Westerners own video equipment.

Many good but expensive restaurants feature international cuisine and music groups. The major hotels schedule well-known entertainers for brief engagements in the fall, spring, and winter. Some medium-priced restaurants specialize in tasty Chinese, Thai, Turkish, Arabic, and Indian foods. American fast food is available at high prices from Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardee's, Burger King, Baskin Robbins, Dairy Queen, McDonald's, Chili's, Pizza Hut, Dominoes Pizza, Fuddrucker's, Hole-in-One Donuts, and Subway for deli-style sandwiches. Much entertaining is done at home.

Bahrain has a well-developed tradition of club life directed mainly at the sporting community. The BAPCO Club, Dilmun Club, Yacht Club, and British Club have extensive recreational facilities. High fees at the Marina Club make membership unattractive; however, pier and mooring facilities are available at various other locations on the island.

The American Women's Association is a focal point for American community activities, and the American Association arranges monthly luncheon meetings, an annual picnic, and other social events.

Bahrain abounds with attractive special interest clubs: the Historical and Archeological Society, Natural History Society, drama groups, the Garden Club, bridge groups, tennis league, and cross country and motor groups, plus some possibilities for Americans to enjoy rugby, soccer, and cricket.


Geography and Climate

The State of Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 small, low-lying islands in the Persian Gulf, halfway down the east coast of Saudi Arabia and about 15 miles from the Saudi mainland. Total land area is about 300 square miles.

Five of the six principal islands are linked by a causeway system. Bahrain Island, where the capital city of Manama is located, is the largest. It is about 30 miles long and 10-12 miles wide. A four-lane causeway links Manama with the island and town of Muharraq, site of the newly expanded international airport. Bridges also connect Sitra, Nabih Saleh, and Um al-Nassan Islands to Bahrain Island, which is linked to the mainland of Saudi Arabia by a causeway to Dhahran and Al-Khobar.

Bahrain, with a desert climate, is one of the world's hottest areas. Its hottest and most humid weather is from June through September. Most buildings and all Embassy staff housing are air-conditioned. The weather is pleasant from November through May, but the combination of poor soil drainage and few storm sewers can result in its infrequent rainfall leaving muddy city streets and puddles.

A narrow strip of land along the northern and northwestern coasts of Bahrain Island is cultivated with date palms, alfalfa, and vegetables. A desert, punctuated by a north-south plateau, extends south of the cultivated area. Surrounding this plateau is a rolling basin surrounded by overhanging bluffs sloping into the sea. The ground is hard and infertile with a gravel surface until the spring when a pale, soft green covering appears on the desert following the winter rains. It provides a welcome contrast to the summer's aridity.


Bahrainis are Muslims. With an estimated 666,000 people, of whom 38% are non-Bahrainis, the population is divided between the Shi'a community and the ruling Sunnis. The Shi'a community is principally split between ethnic Arabs and Iranians. Indians, Pakistanis and other Asians comprise the majority of resident foreigners. Bahrain has a large Western community, which includes about 6,000 British and approximately 3,000 Americans. The majority of the indigenous population is under 25 years old.

Bahrainis are cosmopolitan people noted for their hospitality, moderation, and tolerance. Although many still wear traditional Arab dress, others have adopted Western attire. Modern Bahraini culture is the latest in a succession of civilizations dating back thousands of years. The island of Bahrain was called Dilmun in the Babylonian and Sumerian eras, Tylos in the Seleucid era, then Awal, and finally Bahrain.


The extended Al-Khalifa family has ruled the State of Bahrain since the late 18th century. It dominates Bahrain's society and Government. The constitution confirms the Amir as hereditary ruler, with the assistance of a Prime Minister and an appointed Cabinet.

Britain conducted Bahrain's foreign relations and ensured its defense through a treaty relationship from the mid-19th century until 1971, when Bahrain declared its independence. The mercantile and adaptive spirit of the Bahraini people enabled Bahrain to establish public schools, an effective and efficient modern bureaucracy, a Western legal system, and a sophisticated economy at an earlier stage than its Arabian Gulf neighbors. Bahrainis continue to welcome foreign contributions to the economic and social life of the country.

Since independence, Bahrain has joined the U.N., the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Gulf Cooperation Council was formed in 1981 to coordinate developmental, educational, commercial, and security affairs among its six Arab Gulf State members.

Arts, Science, and Education

The first public school in Bahrain opened in 1919, and its literacy level remains high by regional standards. Bahrain was the first country in the area to introduce co-education in public schools. Many Bahrainis are well educated and well traveled. Many have studied at the American University of Beirut or in England, Egypt, or in the U.S. English is widely spoken, especially in the business community. Knowledge of Arabic is not essential, but the ability to communicate in Arabic opens many doors in Bahrain and increases social access for Westerners.

Bahrain has a national university and a college of health sciences. The regional Arabian Gulf University is also located in Bahrain. Its medical school opened in the fall of 1984. The campus is a modern architectural marvel, with separate facilities for men and women.

Bahrain features a number of talented artists whose works are displayed and sold at frequent exhibitions.

The role of Bahraini women is changing. Their position in society is expanding and developing. Many opportunities in both education and business that had never before been open to Arabian Peninsular women have become available. Some women still wear the "abaya," a traditional black cloth covering the whole body, outside their homes. Other Bahraini women dress in the latest European fashions, drive cars, and occupy positions of responsibility, including mid-level Government posts.

Commerce and Industry

Bahrainis have an ancient tradition of trade, travel, and receptivity to cultural influences from abroad. They are cosmopolitan and accept many Western customs.

Much of Bahrain's current prosperity can be traced to the discovery of oil in 1932, the first find on the Arab side of the Gulf. Bahrain does not have a large oil reserve and, therefore, has sought to diversify its industrial base. Banking, communications, oil-related services, general commerce, and industries, including aluminum smelting and downstream product production, have broadened the base of economic activity in the country.

Approximately 90 American firms capitalize on the geographic, service, and environmental advantages of having regional offices in Bahrain.

Despite modernization, traditional enterprises have not disappeared. Handmade Arab dhows ply the seas as they have for more than 1,000 years. From the sea come a variety of fish, including delicious shrimp. Expensive natural pearls, once the economic mainstay of the island, are still found in limited commercial quantities. Bahrainis take great pride in their quality and color. A limited number of craftsmen continue to make traditional baskets, cloth, and pottery. Also available in local markets are a variety of imported handicrafts from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.



All family members who are at least 18 years old and intend to drive in Bahrain should take along a valid U.S. driver's license. Local authorities permit U.S. license holders to drive for one month until a permanent Bahraini license is obtained.

Bahrain's climate and roads shorten a car's life span. Many people find a used car adequate in this small country. Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors products are available in Bahrain. European and Japanese autos are still cheaper than U.S models. The local market for used cars is active.

Although it is difficult to drive large cars in many parts of Manama, they are very common. A mechanically simple car is preferable since maintenance/repair can be expensive, and spare parts are often in short supply. Local third-party insurance is required and is available for less than $100 for most cars. Full coverage costs about 5% of the value of the car.

Gasoline prices are comparably lower than U.S. prices. Unleaded gasoline is available.

Rental cars are available locally, from about $397 to $550 a month, depending on condition and the comfort options requested.


A network of roads connects Manama with other villages on Bahrain Island and to the three neighboring islands. Most major roads in the northern third of Bahrain are four-lane and well maintained. In the older parts of Manama and Muharraq, many streets are narrow and twisting or in poor condition. Congested areas of pedestrians, hawkers, and cars make driving difficult and dangerous, particularly in the market ("souq") area. Roundabouts (traffic circles) are found at most intersections. However, even with Bahrain's 140,000 registered vehicles congesting the streets, the drive to work from most residential areas takes no more than 15-20 minutes. Taxis are readily available, but most are not metered and fares are subject to intense negotiation.

Buses operate regularly, but are often crowded and sometimes require lengthy waiting periods in extreme heat. They are not air-conditioned and are not considered a suitable alternative to taxis by most Westerners.


Bahrain International Airport's ultramodern new terminal is one of the busiest in the Gulf. Approximately 22 carriers serve Bahrain with connections to other Middle Eastern destinations, Europe, Africa, and the Far East. There are no direct flights between Bahrain and North or South America. Bahrain also has a modern and busy port. It offers direct and frequent cargo shipping connections to the U.S., Europe, and the Far East. The four-lane causeway linking Bahrain with Saudi Arabia is open to vehicle traffic, affording access to most parts of the mainland. Only males are permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia.


Telephone and Telegraph

Bahrain has one of the most efficient telephone networks in the Middle East. A radio and telecommunications station links the Gulf, via INTELSAT, to the rest of the world with good connections. A call to the U.S. usually takes only a few seconds to place and costs about $1.29 a minute. Reduced rates ($1.04 a minute) are in effect between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily, and all day Friday. INET services are available, in addition to AT&T and MCI "Dial America."


Bahraini international mail is also a quick and safe method of corresponding with the U.S.

Radio and TV

Several TV stations can be received clearly in Bahrain. Channel availability is strictly dependent on each housing compound, and the selection varies widely. The Bahraini Government-owned station has both Arabic-and English-language services. The latter airs from 5 to 11 p.m. and includes a 30-minute English-language newscast, as well as American series, movies, cartoons, and British and Indian programs. BBC World Service Television from Hong Kong is broadcast over open TV channels. CNN is available on a pay-for-service channel, as are a large number of other stations broadcasting American films and TV shows. Another English-language station is transmitted by ARAMCO from neighboring Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This station presents mostly rerun American programs, but also offers several recently taped sports events on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Programming is provided only during the late afternoon and evening and is entirely English. With a suitable antenna, you can pick up four other stations, including Qatar, Dubai, and Kuwait. The English-language newspapers carry tentative schedules for some stations.

All local TV stations use the European scan (PAL/SECAM 625 lines). American NTSC TV's are not compatible and will not work. In addition to regular programs, an active video rental market offers many current movies.

ARAMCO also maintains an excellent AM/FM radio service. ARAMCO presents popular, classical, country-western, and rock music on two wavelengths. Radio Bahrain has an AM/FM stereo service with strong signals broadcasting modern and classical music, topical programs, and English newscasts on two channels. English programming from Qatar and Dubai is also received. The latest news is broadcast on shortwave and medium wave by VOA's Middle East and African services during the morning and evening, by the World Service of the BBC, and by Armed Forces Radio and Television Services (AFRTS). A dependable short-wave receiver is desirable due to atmospheric conditions around Bahrain, which frequently cause poor reception, especially of VOA. Equipment must be adjustable to the local 220V, 50-cycle power. An all-channel TV antenna that also serves for FM stereo might be the best buy, and it is available locally.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

The Gulf Daily News and Bahrain Tribune are two daily English-language papers that are published in Bahrain and directed toward the English-speaking community. The English-language Gulf News is available daily from the U.A.E. The International Herald Tribune usually arrives a day after publication and costs about $2 per issue.

International newsmagazines such as Time, Newsweek, and The Economist are available uncensored locally at several bookstores. Women's magazines, mostly British, and hobby and sports magazines are found on many newsstands. These are expensive, so it is preferable to subscribe to magazines. Bookstores have a limited selection of titles and are more expensive than in the U.S.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

The oldest hospital in Bahrain is the American Mission Hospital, run by the Mission of the Reformed Church in America, and the newest is the International Hospital. Emergency services are also available at the Bahrain Defence Force Hospital in Riffa, and Awali Hospital. Routine dental care is available at local Bahraini medical facilities, but it is advisable to have a thorough checkup and treatment of serious problems before leaving the U.S.

Community Health

The Government of Bahrain provides free public health care to all Bahrainis and foreigners through six hospitals and a network of clinics throughout the island. Most health care provided at the facilities is professional, competent, and modern. However, doctors and staff cannot always handle large numbers of people.

The most common insects are mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies, ants, and meal mites. Flies are troublesome during the spring, late summer, and early fall. Insecticides are available in local stores. Rats and mice are also found, particularly near uncollected and decaying garbage heaps throughout the city. Cleanliness and precautions such as storing food in airtight containers are advisable. Brownish-green lizards (geckos) are useful, silent friends who populate the upper reaches of house walls. Common in many parts of the world, they bother no one except the squeamish and feed on insects that find their way into houses despite screening and the use of insecticides.

Fleas, sand ticks, and wood ticks are prevalent in Bahrain and are a problem for pets. There is no heart-worm in Bahrain. Veterinarians are available and competent, but expensive.

An extensive drainage system is currently under construction in Bahrain. Some houses still have septic tanks that can occasionally overflow.

When enjoying beach activities or indulging in water sports, wear either plastic or canvas shoes and avoid stepping on sharp pieces of shell, buried pieces of metal or glass, sea urchins, stonefish, and cone shells that can sting painfully and sometimes dangerously. Sea snakes, jellyfish, stingrays, and sharks are found in Bahrain waters but rarely pose a threat close to shore. Minor ear infections are sometimes contracted through swimming in polluted water and should receive prompt medical attention. Seek advice on the location of clean and safe swimming areas. Irritation to ears and eyes may also be caused by the draft from fans and air conditioners or the dust and sand carried in strong winds.

Preventive Measures

Health precautions include preventing sunstroke and heatstroke, which are real risks during the summer and fall. Outdoor activities must be carefully planned and exertion kept to a minimum during the daytime in that period.

In the summer, good health is best maintained by drinking a lot of liquid, getting plenty of sleep, and taking extra salt on food, or, if preferred, salt tablets, with a physician's guidance. The high summer humidity can be troublesome to those with asthmatic or bronchial ailments.

Summer colds are often brought on by sudden changes of temperature due to extensive air-conditioning in buildings and cars. Avoid direct drafts from air conditioners.

Some medications are not available in Bahrain. Take an initial supply from the U.S. that can be refilled through mail.


Customs, Duties & Passage

Passports and visas are required. Two-week visas may be obtained for a fee upon arrival at the airport. Prior to travel, visitors may obtain from Bahraini embassies overseas five-year multiple entry visas valid for stays as long as one month. Visitors who fail to depart the country at the end of their authorized stay are fined. An exit tax is charged all travelers upon departure. Residents of Bahrain who intend to return must obtain a re-entry permit before departing. For further information on entry requirements, travelers can contact the Embassy of the State of Bahrain, 3502 International Drive, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 342-0741; or the Bahrain Permanent Mission to the U.N., 2 United Nations Plaza, East 44th St., New York, N.Y. 10017, telephone (212) 223-6200. Information also may be obtained from the Embassy's Internet home page at

The following items are strictly prohibited: firearms and ammunition or other weaponry, including decorative knives; cultured, bleached, or tinted pearls and undrilled pearls produced outside the Arabian Gulf, pornography or seditious literature; and habit-forming or hallucinatory drugs. Videocassettes will be inspected and viewed on arrival and should not be shipped in hand or checked baggage.

Travelers should note that the local definition of pornography is considerably stricter than in the Western world.

Magazines such as Playboy are likely to be confiscated at the airport. Adults may import two bottles of alcohol, and the duty-free shop at Bahrain's International Airport is open to arriving as well as departing passengers.

Americans living in or visiting Bahrain are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Manama and obtain updated information on travel and security within Bahrain. The U.S. Embassy is located at Bldg. 979, Road no. 3119, Zinj District (next to Al Ahli Sports Club). (The mailing address is P.O. Box 26431, Manama, Bahrain.) The telephone number is 973-273-300. The Consular Section fax number is 973-256-242. The Embassy maintains an English language hotline providing information on current travel conditions in Bahrain at telephone 973-255-048. The Embassy's website, which includes consular information, is The workweek in Bahrain is Saturday through Wednesday.


The Bahrain Minister of Commerce and Agriculture issued a Ministerial decree in 1984 that banned the importation of dogs, cats, and monkeys into Bahrain from countries where rabies is found.

Bahrain is rabies free and certain rules have to be met when importing a pet. Within one month of your departure date, obtain a veterinary health certificate that identifies the pet, states the origin and name of the exporter; verifies that the animals/birds were examined prior to shipment, confirms that the animal is free from all contagious diseases (as well as ecto-parasites), and is fit for travel. The following vaccination certificates must accompany the animal when it arrives in Bahrain:

Cats: Rabies, Feline Enteritis Dogs: Rabies, Distemper, PARVOV

If an animal is not permitted entry into Bahrain, it is the responsibility of the owner to pay for its return.

Firearms and Ammunition

Firearms and ammunition are not to be imported into Bahrain under any circumstances.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

Citibank is the only American bank currently established in Bahrain that provides full commercial banking services (individual Bahraini dinar, U.S. dollar checking and savings accounts, fund transfers). Citibank and several other banks, as well as commercial money changers, accept U.S. Treasury dollar checks or travelers checks and will disburse either U.S. dollars or Bahrain dinars at the established rate, often with a surcharge. However, banks usually do not cash personal checks.

The exchange rate is: US$1.00 = Bahrain Dinar (BD).377 (or 377 fils); BD1=US$2.65. The Dinar is pegged to the US$; it will not fluctuate.

Bahrain officially adopted the metric system of weights and measures in December 1977.

Taxes, Exchange, and Sale of Property

Bahrain does not have personal or sales tax. An active resale market in Bahrain is open to those seeking to sell personal property, including automobiles. Bahrain has a free exchange of currency. Money changers will quickly convert dollars or travelers checks to virtually any currency desired.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Dec 16 & 17 National Day

Eid Al-Adha*

Islamic New Year*


Prophet's Birthday*

Eid al Fitr*

*variable, based on Islamic calendar


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.

Abercrombis, T.J. and S. Raymer."Bahrain: Midas Touch on the Persian Gulf." National Geographic. September 1987.

Belgrave, James. Welcome to Bahrain. Augustan Press: Manama, 1975.

Bibby, T.G. Looking for Dilmun. Penguin Books: New York, 1970.

Bullock, J. The Gulf: A Portrait of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and U.A.E. Century Publishing: London, 1984.

Cottrell, Alvin J., ed. The Persian Gulf States: A General Survey. The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1980.

Clark, Angela. Bahrain-Oil and Development 1929-1989. Immel Publishing, Ely House: London, 1986.

Clark, Angela. Bahrain-A Heritage Explored. Meed Books: London, 1986 (Reprinted, Gulf Public Relations Company: Bahrain, 1991).

Jenner, M. Bahrain: Heritage in Transition. Longman: London, 1984. Khuri, Fuad 1. Tribe and State in Bahrain. University Press of Chicago: Chicago, 1980.

Lawson, Fred. Bahrain: Modernization of Autocracy. Westview Press, Inc.: Boulder, Colorado, 1989.

Nakhleh, Emile A. Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernized Society. Lexington Books: Lexington, 1976.

Owen, R. The Golden Bubble: Arabian Gulf Documentary. Collins: London, 1986.

Parsons, A. They Saw the Lion: Britain's Legacy to the Arabs: A Personal Memoir. Jonathan Cape: London, 1986.

Runaihi, M.G. Bahrain, Social and Political Change Since the First World War. Bowker Press: London and New York, 1976.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: State of Bahrain
Region: Middle East
Population: 634,137
Language(s): Arabic, English, Farsi, Urdu
Literacy Rate: 85.2%
Academic Year: September-June
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 72,876
  Secondary: 57,184
  Higher: 7,676
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 106%
  Secondary: 94%
Teachers: Higher: 655
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 18:1
  Secondary: 15:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 106%
  Secondary: 98%

History & Background

The State of Bahrain is an archipelago consisting of 1 large island and about 35 smaller islands located in the shallow waters of the Arabian-Persian Gulf. Only four of these islands are actually inhabited. In Arabic "Bahrain" means "two seas." Ancient legends associate Bahrain with the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life, and the name "The Pearl of the Gulf," gives an indication of the beauty found on this island-oasis amid generally barren desert. It has been listed as the second most attractive tourist location in the Middle East. Although located in a desert region, the country benefits from underground aquifers that provide life-sustaining water. The total land area of Bahrain is 706,550 square kilometers, and the main island, Bahrain Island, comprises 85 percent of the country's total land area. The capital city of Manama is situated on Bahrain Island, which is linked to the Saudi Arabian mainland by the King Fahd Causeway. Two of the smaller islands, Al Muharraq and Sitrah, are linked to Bahrain Island by causeways.

Most of the population of Bahrain lives in the northern part of Bahrain Island. The population in 1994 was an estimated 568,000, reaching 600,000 people in 1997, demonstrating a growth rate of 2.6 percent. Of these figures, approximately one-third of the population consisted of expatriate workers from Iran, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, and India, as well as from other Asian countries and Europe. Shiite Muslims constitute the majority (about 60 percent), but the ruling Al Khalifa family is of the Sunni Islamic sect. Islam is the state religion, and Arabic is the official language, although English and Farsi are widely spoken. People descended from the original island inhabitants are known as the Baharna, those with origins in Saudi Arabia trace their ancestry to the Hassawis, and others, known as the Ajami, are descended from earlier migrants from Iran.

In ancient times Bahrain was known to the Sumerians as Dilmun, and as the Land of Eternal, mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh as a land abundantly supplied with the essentials of life: water and food. Thus, from earliest recorded history the island has been known as a trading center, famous for its pearls, agricultural produce, and fishermen. The Greeks referred to the island of Bahrain as Tylos, as depicted on the 200 A.D. map of Ptolemy.

Arab settlements on the island began around 300 B.C., and control was maintained by the Rabyah tribe, who converted to Islam in 630 A.D.. The island's strategic importance led to various occupations amid jostlings for power in the Gulf by the Portuguese and the Persians, while Britain later controlled the island well into the twentieth century. The Portuguese established their presence from 1521 onwards, until they were evicted in 1602 by a combined Bahraini-Persian force supported by Shah Abbas the Great. A Persian influence followed the eviction of the Portuguese until 1718, when Oman temporarily annexed Bahrain. But the Persians returned and renegotiated their control in 1719, effected through a local puppet ruler. In 1783 the Persians invaded the island of Zubara, the home of the Al Khalifa tribe, who with the help of the Al Sabah tribe of Kuwait repelled the Persian attack on Zubara, then defeated the occupying Persians on Bahrain Island. The ruler of the Al Khalifa, Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, became known through this conquest as Ahmed Al Fatih, or Ahmed the Conqueror. In 1861, Britain took over Bahrain as a protectorate to prevent further foreign encroachment. The Al Khalifa dynasty still controls the monarchial rule of the modern state of Bahrain, maintaining its rule for more than 200 years.

Bahrain was the first Arab Gulf state to discover oil, with the first oil well commencing production in 1932. As such, Bahrain's development began much earlier than the other Arab Gulf states, giving Bahrain the advantage of being the most socially advanced and developed of the Arab Gulf countries. But in comparison to the richer petroleum-exporting states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, the Bahraini oil reserves are insignificant, currently meeting little more than domestic consumption requirements. Significant gas reserves, however, and Bahrain's petroleum refining industry, which processes Saudi crude petroleum, are likely to maintain a comfortable standard of living for Bahrainis well into the twenty-first century. As of 1996, oil and gas reserves totaled an estimated 65 percent of national revenues (Sick 1997) for Bahrain, the lowest percentage of all the Arab Gulf states, and an indicator of Bahrain's economic diversification. The early realization that Bahrain's oil reserves were relatively insignificant drove Bahrainis to embrace the diversification of their economy and to prepare for the time of oil-reserve depletion. As a result, the country has made a great investment in human resources development, including the development of educational and training programs.

This emphasis on human development in the 1990s was quite successful: Bahrainis are more involved than ever in the education sector as well as other sectors of the economy. Women have benefited greatly from the human resources development drive. Female employees work in one of the best labor environments in the world, where liberal maternity leave is strictly enforced. Women in Bahrain have moved beyond the traditionally acceptable role of teacher into such areas as banking, finance, engineering, the civil service, commerce, and administration. In 1996 through 1998, Bahrain came in first among Arabian countries on the Human Development Index as part of the United Nations Development Program's Human Development Report. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Bahrain's status as one of the mostif not the mostsocially developed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries was underscored by the progress made in education.

Shifts in the political climate have also been influential. In the late twentieth century, Bahrain began a process of rapid change under the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa. From being one of the most oppressive and authoritarian Arab Gulf states, Bahrain appears to be moving toward becoming one of the most liberal and socially advanced. When Sheikh Hamad came to power in 1999, he did away with censorship, ordered the release of political prisoners, invited exiles home, and most importantly, issued a charter calling for a national parliament and outlining a national vision of Bahrain as a European-style democratic monarchy. Bahrain's first experiment with democracy had ended in failure shortly after independence from Britain in 1971. By 1975 the parliament was suspended, and strong opposition movements, mainly Shiite majority factions opposing the Sunni Al Khalifa family, were brutally crushed. The 1999 referendum for the new national charter was approved by 98.4 percent of the voters with a 90 percent voter turnout rate. These changes in Bahrain's system of governance appear to be the beginning of a new era in the country's history, likely to increase domestic tranquillity and decrease monarchial control by the ruling Al Khalifa family.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The constitutional foundations of Bahraini education are based upon two principles set forth by the Ministry of Education:

  1. The provision of education for all school age children throughout the country.
  2. The improvement of the quality of education to meet the needs both of the students and that of the country's social and economic development.

Adopted on May 26, 1973, and effective since December 6, 1973, the Constitution of the State of Bahrain guarantees education as a basic right of Bahraini citizens. Article 4 of the Constitution refers to education as one of the "pillars of society guaranteed by the State." Article 5 ensures the government's oversight of the "physical, mental, and moral growth of youth." Article 6 elucidates the Islamic orientation of Bahraini education:

The State shall preserve the Arab and Islamic heritage, it shall participate in the furtherance of human civilization, and it shall strive to strengthen ties with the Muslim countries and to bring to fruition the aspirations of the Arab Nation for unity and advancement.

Finally, Article 7 sets forth the commitment to encouraging the arts and sciences, literature, and research, and to ensuring the provision of educational and cultural services to citizens. Primary education is made compulsory, and the government's plan to eliminate illiteracy is outlined. The article prescribes religious education (i.e., Islamic education) to foster an Islamic identity and pride in the Arab national heritage. The establishment of private schools is permitted "under the supervision of the State," and the inviolability of educational institutions is guaranteed.

In addition to the constitutional provisions, the government has enacted further legislation in support of education. The Education Law Project of 1989 specifically outlines the objectives underlying the regulation of education in Bahrain. These include opportunities for citizens to improve their standard of living through education; individual development along physical, mental, emotional, social, moral, and spiritual lines; the acquisition of critical thinking skills and sound judgment; and the inculcation of the Islamic faith and an Arab identity. Legislation has also addressed private educational and training institutions, training systems, student evaluation systems, equalization of GCC students in public education, school placement guidelines for new entrants, academic degree equivalence, and licensing of educational service providers. Such legislation has the general aim of promoting community-minded, socially active, educated citizens who are aware of their roles within local, regional, and international contexts.

Progress has not been easy. To meet the goal of placing more Bahraini nationals in the workforce, the government has supplemented education with laws assuring the employment of nationals. The "10,000 jobs" project and other initiatives have focused on training Bahrainis to replace foreign professionals. Even so, businesses have been reluctant to hire nationalswhose retention tend to require higher wagesand have instituted practices such as year-long internships prior to completing the hiring process. Moreover, the perception that the royal family, and not the other levels of society, is the sole beneficiary of national wealth and development, stifles motivation and productivity. Thus even in 1997 the estimated unemployment rate stood at 15 percent (Bromby 1997).

Changing political trends may help Bahrain meet its educational objectives. For much of the twentieth century and earlier, disagreements with the ruling family called for constitutional reform, and parliamentary restoration constituted treasonable acts punishable by imprisonment and exile. At the start of the twenty-first century, however, the state of Bahrain appeared to be moving toward less repressive state control. If this trend carries through, the greater freedom and involvement of Bahrainis in their system of governance will likely enable more significant progress toward Bahrain's educational goals.

Educational SystemOverview

Given its early start, Bahrain has been at least a generation ahead of its neighbors in modern educational development, but it has also upheld its traditions. From the beginning, Bahraini education has been noncoeducational, and there appear to be no plans to change this structure. In 1919 the first elementary school in Bahrain was established for boys, while the first girls' elementary school opened in 1928. In 1936 the first industrial school was established, and a secondary school for girls was opened in 1951. A religious school for Shari'a (Islamic law) scholars opened in 1943, which later became the Religious Institute of Bahrain in 1960. The Teachers College was inaugurated in 1966, and in 1968 Bahrain University opened its doors, after a reincorporation of Khaliji Technical College (also known as Gulf Polytechnic). The first private education endeavors began in 1952 with the opening of the Manama School, an in 1961 the Private Education Act was promulgated. As of 2001, private education accommodated an estimated 15 percent of school age students. In 1971 the Joint National Committee for Adult Education was organized, and in 1979 the Bahrain University's College of Arts, Sciences, and Education opened. In the same year the Arabian Gulf University was inaugurated with the institution of its Faculty of Medicine.

From 1990 to 2000 the number of government schools in operation steadily increased, as did student enrollment in these schoolsand the percentage of Bahraini nationals working in the education sector. In the academic year 1990-1991 there were 158 government schools up to the secondary level. This number jumped to 193 by academic year 1999-2000. Total student enrollment in the government schools for 1990-1991 was 100,658, while by 1999-2000 this figure had reached 114,669. In 1999-2000, about 88 percent of the teachers in these schools were Bahraini, a dramatic increase of nearly 20 percent throughout the 1990s from only 68.5 percent of the teachers being Bahraini in 1990-1991. According to UNESCO, the literacy rate in 1997 was 85.2 percent, up from a 45 percent literacy rate in 1984. The improvements in adult literacy have allowed the Ministry of Education to shift its focus from general illiteracy to computer illiteracy.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Nursery and preprimary schools, both private and public, provide care and instruction for preschool age children. Primary education in Bahraini government schools throughout the three cycles of basic education centers on compulsory core subjects including religious education (Islamic education), Arabic language, science and technology, social studies, art, physical education, and music. English language and family-life studies do not begin until the fourth grade in the second cycle, and practical studies do not begin until the seventh grade in the third cycle. The study plan for the third cycle allows for three additional periods per week in order to increase the subject range for students as well as the teacher-student contact hours.

In the academic year 1999-2000 there were a total of 165 government schools in the primary school category, including 115 schools (59 male, 56 female) classified by the government as primary schools, 18 (12 male, 6 female) classified as primary/intermediate, and 32 (14 male, 18 female) classified as intermediate. Enrollments in government primary schools totaled 90,938, with 62,289 students at the primary level (31,043 male, 31,246 female) and 28,649 at the intermediate level (14,094 male, 14,555 female) according to government classification.

Secondary Education

At the secondary level of education, students diverge along various educational tracks and vocational professional specializations, including science, literary studies, agriculture, printing, textiles, and advertising, among others. Most technical and vocational programs are limited to men, and textile and advertising are limited to women. Thus while male enrollment is split fairly evenly between the traditional arts and sciences tracks and the more vocationally oriented programs, female enrollment at the secondary level is predominantly in the science and literary programs, in some cases representing more than 60 percent of a given track's enrollment. The coursework at this level comprises core courses, courses in the area of the student's specialization, free elective courses, and programs designed to prepare students for either higher education or the labor market.

In 2000 there were 28 government schools at the secondary level, including 3 commercial secondary schools, 17 general secondary schools, 4 technical schools, a religious institute for men, and 3 schools classified by the Ministry of Education as intermediate/secondary institutions. There were a total of 1,879 teachers at the secondary level in 1999-2000, of whom 466 were non-Bahraini expatriate teachers, roughly a quarter of the total number of teachers at this level. Performance evaluation of secondary schools consists of both internal and external indicator review as well as cumulative and summative evaluations.

Higher Education

Bahrain has two universities for higher education: Bahrain University (BU), founded in 1968, and the Arabian Gulf University (AGU), which opened in 1979. In the late 1970s and 1980s higher education in Bahrain saw rapid development. Within the university system, the College of Health Services graduated students for entry into the health profession, and Gulf Polytechnic expanded in the 1980s to meet the specialized technical needs of the Gulf region in such areas as computer science, engineering, and business management.

Arab Gulf countries, sharing a common heritage and common challenges, established AGU with the goals of calibrating programs and curricula according to the cultural, scientific, and occupational needs of the GCC member states. Education and research related to the Gulf region is the mandate of AGU carried out in the programs of study and research within its two colleges: the College of Medicine and Medical Sciences, and the College of Postgraduate Studies. Beyond AGU, promising students are funded for studies abroad in areas such as the medical sciences, information and communications sciences, energy sciences, desertification, biotechnology, astronomy, oceanography, educational planning, guidance and counseling, vocational education, and special education.

While institutions of higher learning in the Arab world and the Gulf region have proliferated, coordination among these institutions has been less than ideal. In 1995 Muain H. Jamlan, Chair of the Department of Educational Technology in BU's College of Education, proposed incorporating trends in distance learning and the concept of an Arab "open" university to deliver online instruction as a way of addressing the challenges of greater cooperation in educational planning.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Ministry of Education in Bahrain administers the government's educational institutions and supervises private educational institutions in the country. The organization consists of the Minister of Education, the Under-secretary, and the Assistant Undersecretaries, who oversee the following directorates: Educational Services and Private Education, General and Technical Education, Financial and Administrative Affairs, Curricula and Training, and Educational Planning and Information. The development of Bahrain's human resources potential is a high priority: the Ministry aims to develop Bahrain's services and industrial sectors to compensate for decreases in oil revenues. Under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Training Promotions Office is working to establish an internationally accredited national vocational qualification system, modeled after the British system. Aligning the industrial and services sectors with the national education system is a key component of this strategy. The government is pursuing ambitious technological agendas, as exemplified by the introduction of Internet-based teaching and learning initiatives in government schools. In 1998 the government's investment in education totaled BD (Bahraini Dinars) 82 million (about US$21.8 million).

In 1999 Dr. Hamad Ali Al Sulayti, formerly Director of Bahrain's Educational Planning and Cultural Affairs under the Ministry of Education, and previously the Acting Secretary General of the Bahraini Center for Studies and Research, outlined in a cutting-edge report some of the common challenges faced by GCC countries in reforming and developing their educational systems. This report, delivered at an educational conference in Abu Dhabi, underlined the importance of aligning the education sectors of Gulf countries with actual labor market needs so as to ensure greater economic productivity, workforce efficiency, and social stability. Bahrain has taken the lead in meeting such challenges, and as an educational pioneer can draw on its own experience of facing the early necessity for economic diversification. Important requirements for GCC countries suggested by educational research include curriculum reform, employer involvement, and a higher level of quality assurance through systems of external accountabilityareas in which Bahrain already has a head start.

Nonformal Education

Institutions in Bahrain offering special education include the Saudi-Bahraini Institute for the Welfare of the Blind, the Al-Amal Institute, the Social Rehabilitation Center (including a hearing defect unit and a vocational rehabilitation unit). The Ministry of Education's Directorate of Adult Education oversees illiteracy eradication programs and continuing education programs for adults. The continuing education programs offer language courses (English, Arabic, French, German, Japanese) and specialized courses in auto mechanics, electrical appliance maintenance, art, family life, and office/secretarial skills. The Youth and Sports Authority sponsors junior science clubs, science centers, and the Sulman Cultural Center for children. There are also a number of training centers, as part of Bahrain's plan to develop the country's training resources, and to promote Bahrain as the regional center for such programs. The Higher Council for Vocational Training is the main government body tasked with this agenda, and throughout the late 1980s and 1990s the council qualified 10,528 Bahraini workers in its training programs.

Teaching Profession

Throughout the 1990s the education sector saw the number of Bahraini teachers steadily increase. By academic year 1999-2000 approximately 88 percent of the teachers in government schools were Bahraini. Among female educators, nearly 97 percent were Bahraini nationals, while among male educators, 79 percent were Bahraini. By contrast, in 1990 some 68 percent of teachers in government schools were Bahraini (79.6 percent of females and 57.8 percent of males).

Student-teacher ratios are comparatively low in the government schools. According to statistics from 1999-2000, the ratios decreased according to age and level of specialization. From a rate of 20:1 at the primary level, the ratio gradually decreases to 18:1 at the intermediate level, 13:1 at the intermediate/secondary level, 15:1 at the general secondary level, 14:1 at the commercial secondary level, 10:1 at the technical secondary level, and 11:1 at the Religious Institute of Bahrain. On average the student-teacher ratio is 17:1 in Bahraini government schools.


The statistics and social indicators relevant to the education sector in Bahrain are relatively positive. Although petroleum revenues are important to the development of the physical facilities and technological capabilities of Bahrain's educational infrastructure, the priority of human resources development is even more crucial. Some of the social problems faced by other Arab Gulf stateshigh unemployment, lack of coordination between educational programs and the labor market, even apparent apathyseem to have been tempered in Bahrain, a country with significantly less oil wealth than its richer neighbors. But it is an awareness of constraints brought on by resource depletion that has provided the motivation for Bahrain's human resources development and the establishment of its services and industrial sectors.

Bahrain has forged highly successful enterprises in the face of resource-depletion challenges. This spirit of entrepreneurialism has established the country as the leading financial center of the Middle East, a pioneer in education, an innovator in training services, and a model for other Arab Gulf states. Moreover, the ruling Al Khalifa family appears to be relinquishing some of its monarchical control, which bodes well for the greater freedom and motivated involvement of Bahrainis in developing their individual and collective potential.


Al-Sulayti, Hamad."Education and Training in GCC Countries: Some Issues of Concern." In Education and the Arab World: Challenges of the Next Millennium, 271-278. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 1999.

"Bahrain." In Arab Gulf Cooperation Council: The 19th GCC Summit, 18-43. London: Trident Press, 1998.

"Bahrain: Your Kingdom for Our Rights." The Economist, 24 February 2001.

Bromby, Robin."Bahrain and Qatar Have Big Import Appetites." In Contemporary Women's Issues Database, 2: 5-8. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group: 1997.

Government School Education Statistics, The Bahrain Ministry of Education. 15 March 2001. Available from

Jamlan, Muain H."Proposal for an Open University in the Arab World." Technological Horizons in Education Journal 22, January 1995: 53-55.

Sick, Gary. G."The Coming Crisis in the Persian Gulf." In The Persian Gulf at the Millennium: Essays in Politics, Economy, Security, and Religion, eds. Gary G. Sick and Lawrence G. Potter, 11-30. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.

Yamani, Mai."Health, Education, Gender, and the Security of the Gulf in the Twenty-first Century." In Gulf Security in the Twenty-first Century, eds. David E. Long and Christian Koch, 265-279. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 1997.

John P. Lesko

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State of Bahrain

Dawlat al-Bahrayn



Bahrain is the smallest country and the only island-state in the Persian Gulf and the wider Middle East. It covers an area of 620 square kilometers (385 square miles), about 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C. Bahrain consists of 33 islands, of which only 3 are inhabited. The capital, Manama, is on the main island of Bahrain, which contains most of the population and is linked to Saudi Arabia by a causeway. A southern portion of the main island is a restricted zone where the U.S. Middle East Operations Force is based.


With an estimated 645,361 inhabitants in 2001, Bahrain has the smallest population of all Gulf States, but its annual population growth of 3 percent (1990-98) was among the highest in the world, with an equally high fertility rate (3.2 percent). According to UN figures, it is estimated that the population will double by 2017. Approximately one-third of the population is under 14 years of age. Bahrain's population is highly urbanized: 91.06 percent of Bahrainis lived in cities in 1998.

As much as one-third of the people are non-nationals, mainly foreign workers from Asia (19 percent) or other Arab countries (10 percent). Some 8 percent of the population is of Iranian descent, and the majority of the people (85 percent) are Muslims, 75 percent of whom are members of the Shi'a branch of Islam and 25 percent of the Sunni branch. Half of the Shi'a population is under 15 years old. The remaining 15 percent of the population is made up of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Parsee minorities.


Bahrain was the first country on the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf to discover oil in 1932. Oil wealth dramatically improved education and health care, but the country's oil reserves are relatively limited in comparison to most of its neighbors. Bahrain has therefore developed a more diversified economy than most of the Gulf States.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Bahrain emerged as the principal financial and communications center of the Gulf region. Oil and gas, however, still play a dominant role in the country's economy, providing about half of the government's income and accounting for two-thirds of exports. An undersea pipeline pumps oil from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain's large refinery, Sitrah. An estimated 70 percent of Bahrain's oil revenues come from the sale of products refined from crude oil extracted from an oilfield that is shared with Saudi Arabia, but from which Bahrain takes all the income. In effect, therefore, Saudi Arabia supplies Bahrain with financial aid. In addition, it enjoys grants from Abu Dhabi and Kuwait, which contribute considerably to the government budget. Most of the budget (60 percent) is used to pay salaries to Bahrainis and foreigners working in the public sector .

Until very recently, wholly or partially government-owned enterprises dominated much of the Bahrainieconomy, but there has been an increase in private sector activity in recent years. This situation stems from the general decline in oil prices during the 1980s, which resulted in decreasing revenues. This financial downturn made an increase in free enterprise and foreign investment necessary in order to maintain the country's high standard of living and to guarantee its economic welfare. Bahrain became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1992 and has since overhauled many laws and regulations. Nevertheless, the government has been slow to implement required measures. For example, it has only partially privatized 14 government-owned companies, and only one of these is an important industrial enterprise.


Bahrain is characterized by autocratic tribal rule, with authority invested in a single family. The al-Khalifa family, minority Sunni Muslims in a majority Shi'a country, hold 11 of the 20 cabinet posts, while the rest are controlled by the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa, who is the uncle of the ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa. The present emir (prince) succeeded to the throne in March 1999, on the death of his father, and depends to a large degree on his much more experienced uncle, the prime minister, for the running of everyday government affairs. While Sheikh Hamad himself, and his son, Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad, are in favor of implementing cautious political reforms, the prime minister is seen as the vanguard of the old order.

In 1899, the al-Khalifa family became the first of the ruling families in the Gulf to sign a so-called "exclusive agreement" by which local rulers granted control of foreign affairs to Britain in exchange for military protection. On August 14, 1971, during the reign of Sheikh Isa bin Salman, which lasted from 1961 until his death in 1999, Bahrain became independent, and a constitution was issued in May 1973. The elected National Assembly convened in December 1973 but was dissolved only 20 months later when the emir decided that radical assembly members were making it impossible for the executive to function properly. For 20 years, the country functioned without a representative body.

Since 1993, there has been a Consultative Shura Council, which is wholly appointive and does not possess any legislative power. There are no political parties and no elections for government positions. In many ways, Bahrain is a typical rentier state, i.e., a state whose political system benefits from large revenues from the sale of natural resources, in this case oil. The government distributes the state income to its citizens by providing them with jobs and a generous welfare system; in addition, the level of taxation is very low. In return, these citizens are tied to the state and remain loyal to undemocratic regimes. Such a relationship is often encapsulated in the phrase, "no taxation, no representation."

During the mid-1990s, the country experienced civil unrest directed against the regime, during which several people were killed. Protests, mainly orchestrated by the underprivileged Shi'a majority, have since continued, although on a lesser scale. The new emir, Sheikh Hamad, has promised municipal elections in the near future and has made new appointments to the Shura Council, including a woman and a Jewish representative. In addition, a Supreme Council for Economic Development, chaired by the prime minister, was created in 2000 with the aim of identifying, developing, and promoting foreign investment opportunities. In February 2001 Bahrainis voted to approve a new constitution that would institute a partially elected parliament and grant political rights to women.


Bahrain's infrastructure is modern, and the government is currently forging ahead with several major projects. These include constructing a new water distribution network, upgrading the Sitrah power and water station, and expanding other water, power, and waste-treatment facilities. Bahrain invested heavily in its infrastructure during the years of the oil boom, but the demand for water and electricity already taxes available capacity, and the expansion of the present facilities is a major priority.

The country's road network, with 2,433 kilometers (1,511 miles) of paved roads, is excellent. The low fees of Bahrain International Airport, located on Al-Muharraq Island, have turned it into a regional hub. The principal port, Mina' Salman, handles most of the country's general cargo, and petroleum products are loaded at the Sitrah jetty. A national bus company provides public transport throughout the populated areas of the country. There are no railways in Bahrain.


There are 3 main power stations. Rifaa, with a capacity of 700 Megawatts (mw), is the largest. Domestic demand for electricity was estimated to have reached 5.752 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 1999, and this demand is more than exceeded by production of 6.185 billion kWh in 1999.


Bahrain is the communications center of the Gulf and has invested heavily in the sector since the late 1960s. There are excellent cable and satellite services using the latest digital exchange technology. The Bahrain Telecommunications Company (BATELCO) owns a 60 percent stake in the telecommunications network, which is operated by the United King-dom's Cable & Wireless company. BATELCO is also the country's monopoly Internet service provider (ISP) and has recently begun to cut its relatively high access rates in an effort to boost subscriptions. Bahrain's cellular phone network has about 170,000 subscribers, according to the U.S. Department of State's Country Commercial Guide for 2001.


Due to its small size and shortage of natural resources other than oil, Bahrain has developed a relatively diversified economy in comparison with the other Gulf states, which are almost exclusively dependent on oil. Oil, gas, and related products still dominate the economy, but finance, banking, industrial production (mainly in aluminum), and tourism are also important sectors in the country's economy and are becoming increasingly significant.


The agricultural sector accounted for only 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998 and employed 2 percent of the workforce. The development of agriculture is limited by lack of water and the strong salinity (saltiness) of the soil. Over a period of 30 years since 1971, Bahrain's cultivated area has been reduced from around 6,000 hectares to less than 1,500 hectares. The major crop is alfalfa for animal fodder, although farmers also grow dates, figs, mangos, pomegranates, melons, papayas, water turnips, potatoes, and tomatoes, and produce poultry and dairy products for the local market.

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Bahrain 152,000 58,543 AM 2; FM 3; shortwave 0 338,000 4 275,000 1 37,500
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Saudi Arabia 3.1 M (1998) 1 M (1998) AM 43; FM 31; shortwave 2 6.25 M 117 5.1 M 42 (2001) 400,000 (2001)
Qatar 142,000 43,476 AM 6; FM 5; shortwave 1 256,000 2 230,000 1 45,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

Bahrain's fishing industry is small and only serves the domestic market. In the 1970s, the fishing industry declined, largely as a result of pollution and over-fishing in the Gulf. Since 1993, the government has been releasing young fish into local waters in order to boost stocks. Since 1997, trawlers have been banned from operating during the breeding season.


The industrial sector contributed 19 percent to GDP in 1996 and employed 34 percent of the labor force . Bahrain's aluminum industry was launched some 30 years ago as a measure to diversify the economy and take advantage of the country's low energy costs. The government-owned Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA) is one of the largest single-site aluminum smelters in the world and the biggest aluminum producer in the Middle East. Aluminum exports are one of Bahrain's biggest earners, particularly in light of increasing world prices. ALBA dominates the manufacturing sector with a production capacity of 500,000 metric tons per year.

Iron and steel production is increasing, and various free industrial zones have attracted export-oriented light and medium industries. These include plastics, paper, steel wool and wire-mesh producers; marine service industries; aluminum extrusion, assembly, and asphalt plants; cable manufacturing; prefabricated building; and furniture. In 1997, it was announced that the government was investing US$2.8 billion in the construction of a new seaport and a new industrial area in the eastern part of the country, and work was underway by 2000.


The mining and hydrocarbons (oil and related products) sector contributed 20.8 percent to GDP in 1998 but employed only 1 percent of the workforce. Bahrain is not a member of Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) and is thus not faced with production quotas but is a member of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). Total oil reserves are estimated at between 150-200 million barrels, a minimal quantity in comparison with neighboring Arab monarchies.


Services contributed 53 percent of GDP in 1996. Tourism is Bahrain's fastest-growing industry and a heavily-promoted sector. It already accounts for over 10 percent of GDP and employs 16.7 percent of the workforce. Most visitors (3.3 million in 1999) come from the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia, to enjoy the beaches and the comparatively liberal atmosphere in Bahrain, where alcohol is served and Muslim women are not forced to cover their heads. As of July 2000, the government has allowed citizens from member states of the GCC to visit the country using their local identity cards, and the number of tourists is expected to increase substantially over the next few years.


Bahrain's banking sector has shown consistent growth, particularly since the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975, when many foreign banks began searching for an alternative regional base. There are now more than 200 financial institutions present in Bahrain. Assets of the country's offshore banking units have risen by more than 50 percent in the past decade. Bahrain also has the largest concentration of Islamic banking operations in the Middle East. Islam prohibits interest rates, and Islamic banking thus employs other methods of creating financial gains from investments.


Over the course of the last 30 years, Bahrain has maintained a relatively even balance of trade , with imports usually slightly exceeding exports. In 2000, however, the situation was reversed, with imports of US$4.2 billion trailing exports of US$5.8 billion. Bahrain's main export destinations are India (14 percent), Saudi Arabia (5 percent), the United States (5 percent), the United Arab Emirates (5 percent), Japan (4 percent), and South Korea (4 percent). All these countries import mainly processed and refined oil and oil-related products, which have the largest share in Bahrain's exports. Another important export for Bahrain is aluminum, accounting for about 7 percent. Bahrain's total exports rose by nearly 63 percent from 1998 to 2000, while oil-related exports increased from 52 percent of total exports in 1998, to 66 percent in 1999, and back down to 61 percent in 2000.

Bahrain's imports come from a similarly large range of countries. France supplies the majority of imports, with 20 percent, followed by the United States (14 percent), the United Kingdom (8 percent), Saudi Arabia (7 percent), and Japan (5 percent). The heavy trade volume between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia stems from the under-sea pipeline between the 2 countries and the shared oilfield located in Saudi Arabia. Bahrain's imports, mainly machinery, manufactured goods, chemicals and food, come from developed industrial states.


The exchange rate of the Bahraini dinar is fixed to the U.S. dollar, which means that developments in the American economy have repercussions for Bahrain. Bahrain's central bank is the Bahrain Monetary Agency (BMA), an independent organization praised for its adherence to international standards.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Bahrain
Exports Imports
1975 1.107 1.189
1980 3.606 3.483
1985 2.897 3.107
1990 3.761 3.712
1995 4.113 3.716
1998 N/A 3.463
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Bahrain
Exports Imports
1975 1.107 1.189
1980 3.606 3.483
1985 2.897 3.107
1990 3.761 3.712
1995 4.113 3.716
1998 N/A 3.463
SOURCE : International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Bahrain
Bahraini dinars (BD) per US$1
2001 0.3760
2000 0.3760
1999 0.3760
1998 0.3760
1997 0.3760
1996 0.3760
Note: Fixed rate pegged to the US dollar.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

The Bahrain Stock Exchange (BSE) opened in 1989, and in 1995 Bahrain and Oman signed an agreement linking their stock exchanges. The link-up allows cross-listing of companies on both exchanges, which between them have 110 listed companies with a total market capitalization of US$8.1 billion. In 1996, the Bahraini and Jordanian stock exchanges linked up, and the BSE also has links with the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi exchanges and plans to link up with the Bombay Stock Exchange.


Although Bahrain is generally a wealthy country, there is a considerable gap between the rich and the poor. Wealthy families shop for the latest fashions in spacious new malls, young Saudi Arabians cruise the broad highways and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the island state, and foreign employees of the national oil company take advantage of huge leisure centers built for their exclusive use. The poor live only a short drive away from the cities, in many villages all over the island. Shiites, who make up 75 percent of the Muslim population, are often excluded from government jobs and form the poorest segment of Bahraini society. The ruling al-Khalifa family is Sunni Muslim and has "imported" many Sunnis from other Arab countries, and it is they who form the backbone of the widely resented security forces.

Most members of the ruling political elite are Sunni Muslims, and Bahrain's wealth is heavily concentrated

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Bahrain N/A 12,022 8,797 8,551 9,260
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Saudi Arabia 9,658 11,553 7,437 7,100 6,516
Qatar N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Bahrain 32 7 8 1 6 9 37
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Saudi Arabia N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Qatar 22 12 11 5 13 8 29
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

among them, while there are only a few wealthy Shiites in the country. Many Shiites have charged that there has been a systematic process of discrimination against them. Their dissatisfaction with the political and economic situation came to the fore in demonstrations and protests that turned violent in 1994 and 1995, triggering the first change of cabinet for more than 20 years in 1995.

For decades, the country has seen an influx of foreign workers who can earn good salaries in the oil industry or as domestic servants and in other jobs locals do not want to do, further exacerbating the plight of the Shi'a community. Immigration to Bahrain began in the early years of the oil boom and resulted in the employment of foreigners rather than Bahraini Shiites, who are often less educated and treated with suspicion by the ruling Sunni minority.


Due to the sharp rise in the growth of the local population since the 1980s and the increasing levels of education, the government, as in many other states in the Gulf region, needs to provide young Bahrainis entering the job market with employment. It plans to gradually reduce dependence on foreign labor by training the local workforce and by insisting that expatriates coming to Bahrain to work must have better expertise and skills and be willing to train their local counterparts. After decades of importing foreign labor, foreigners comprised about 44 percent of the workforce of 295,000 in 1998.

Population growth has been proportionately higher among foreigners and Shiites than among Sunni Muslims, who have enjoyed relative job security in government positions. Foreign workers and Shiites have increasingly had to compete for both skilled and unskilled jobs. Since Bahraini Shiites are not allowed to join the armed forces and are discriminated against for senior positions in the civil service, an increasing number of young Shiites try to enter the job market with few qualifications and few opportunities for work.

Officially, unemployment stands at only 2.4 percent, but the United States embassy in Bahrain estimates that the actual rate is closer to 18 percent. Among the Shi'a community in Bahrain, especially those under the age of 30, unemployment may be as high as about 30 percent. In rural areas, agricultural laborers represent about 25 percent of the population. Women are traditionally confined to the household and cannot participate freely in the labor market. Thus, only about 19 percent of the labor force is female, equaling figures in other Middle Eastern countries.


1820. Bahrain becomes a British protectorate with the signing of the General Treaty of Peace but is ruled by the al-Khalifa family. Treaties of protection with Britain are re-signed in 1861, 1892, and 1951.

1928. Iran claims ownership of Bahrain. The dispute is not resolved until 1970 when Iran accepts a United Nations report stating that the vast majority of Bahrainis want to retain complete independence.

1932. Oil is first discovered in Bahrain, to be followed shortly thereafter by discoveries in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

1968. Bahrain joins Qatar and the Trucial States (now the United Arab Emirates) in the Federation of Arab Emirates. These countries had all enjoyed the protection of Great Britain up until this point.

1971. Bahrain gains complete independence on August 15, leaving the Federation of Arab Emirates.

1973. A constitution is adopted and elections held for the National Assembly. The Assembly is disbanded in 1975 and indefinitely suspended in 1976.

1981. Bahrain is one of the six founding members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

1990. Bahrain actively supports the allied forces against Iraq in the Gulf military conflict, and is the target of an Iraqi missile attack.

1994-97. Civil unrest breaks out following the decline of the economy and expectations of more political rights for the mainly Shiite population after the Gulf war.

1999. Sheikh Isa Bin-Sulman al-Khalifa dies and is succeeded by his son Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa in March.

2001. In February Bahrainis vote to approve a new constitution that would institute a partially elected parliament and grant political rights to women.


With high oil prices in 2000 and 2001, the pressure on the Bahraini government to reform the economy has recently eased a little. But given that the country cannot sustain its dependence on oil for much longer, economic reform remains necessary. The government is expected to push for limited privatization, starting with public transport, although the major state revenue-generating organizations such as the Bahraini Petroleum Company (BAPCO) and Aluminum Bahrain (ALBA) will remain off limits.

At the end of 2000, a new corporate law was introduced, aimed at streamlining regulations and enticing foreign investment. In addition, the establishment of a new international Islamic banking system in Bahrain in October 2001 suggests that there will be further progress in developing the offshore financial services sector. Unemployment among locals remains the government's main economic and social problem. The government will continue to emphasize training to enhance the skills of existing workers and the 6,500 new entrants into the job market each year. But where government policy clashes with the interests of foreign firmsfor example, over efforts to encourage companies to replace foreign workers with locals (the so-called "Bahrainization" of the work-force)the development of a welcoming business environment will take precedence.

Politically, there are several challenges ahead. The emir has signaled his will to broaden political participation but is still struggling with the prime minister over the pace of reform. In the long run, however, both political and economic liberalization will prove unavoidable, with one reinforcing the other to the benefit of the country.


Bahrain has no territories or colonies.


Allen, Robin. "Survey: Bahrain." Financial Times. 20 November 2000.

Cordesman, Anthony H. Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE: Challenges of Security. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.

Embassy of the State of Bahrain. <http://www.bahrainembassy .org>. Accessed September 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Bahrain. < Accessed September 2001.

Zahlan, Rosemarie Said. The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 1998.

Ralph Stobwasser

Markus R. Bouillon


Manama (Al-Manamah).


Bahrain dinar (BD). One dinar equals 1000 fils. There are coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 fils. There are notes of 500 fils, and 1, 5, 10, and 20 dinars.


Petroleum and petroleum products (61 percent), aluminum (7 percent).


Non-oil imports (59 percent, including machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, chemicals, food, and live animals), crude oil (41 percent).


US$10.1 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$5.8 billion (f.o.b., 2000). Imports: US$4.2 billion (f.o.b., 2000).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: State of Bahrain
Region (Map name): Middle East
Population: 634,137
Language(s): Arabic, English, Farsi, Urdu
Literacy rate: 85.2%

Bahrain (Al Bahrayn ), its name meaning "two seas," is the principle island in an archipelago of some 36 islands that make up the Kingdom of Bahrain (Al Mamlakah al Bahrayn previous to February 14, 2002 the conventional form was the State of Bahrain and the local long form was Dawlat al Bahrayn. The local shortform remains unchanged as al Bahrayn ). The country boasts connection with the ancient civilization of Dilmun existing 5,000 some years ago when it was also considered an island paradise by the Sumerians; a kind of Valhalla or Elysian Fields where the wise and brave enjoyed eternal life. Bahrain is situated in the Persian Gulf about 28 kilometers northwest of the Qatar Peninsula and 24 kilometers east of Saudi Arabia. Bahrain became accessible by automobile as of November 1986 when it established a causeway with Saudi Arabia. A causeway with Qatar is also expected in the near future having become a possibility as of March 2001 when the International Court of Justice (ICJ), finding in favor of Bahrain, resolved a longstanding ownership dispute concerning the Hawar islands.

Febuary 14, 2002 Bahrain adopted a new constitution changing its status from emirate to monarchy. This fulfilled a portion of a referendum drafted in late December 2000 that has met with overwhelming public support. Other aspects of the referendum to be implemented by 2004 include an elected bicameral parliament and an independent judiciary. The referendum continued a trend toward increasing respect for human rights, religious tolerance, and freedom of expression in Bahrain. In May of 2000 the Emir (Sheikh Hamad Bin-Isa Al-Khalifah) appointed women and non-Muslims to the Consultative Council for the first time a move welcomed by much of the international community and immediately preceding the December referendum the Emir ordered the release of all political prisoners. In February 2001 the 1974 State Security Law and the 1995 State Security Court were abolished. As well, Bahrain has licensed the Bahrain Society for Human Rights, has promised NGO's increasing favor in the eyes of the government, and has granted citizenship to Shi'ite Muslims of Iranian descent who have had numerous generations living in Bahrain. This is especially important due to the ruling Al-Khalifah family, in power since 1783 upon expelling the Persians, being part of the Sunni Bani Utbah tribe while the majority of the population is Shi'ite.

Bahrain, the smallest of the Persian Gulf states, still has a commendable set of communications media that far precedes its political independence gained in 1971. The press began during the 1930s and maintained independent status until 1957 when the government curtailed all independent press functions due to their support of 1950s riots and labor group strikes. Then, the Bahrani government issued a press law in 1965 that allowed for newspaper production to begin again according to unambiguous regulations that essentially disallowed for criticism of state interests in the broadest sense. However, even under these stringencies the press began to reemerge.

In 1967, Akhbar al Khaleej, Bahrain's first Arabic daily opened under the possession of Abdulla Mardi. Today there are four dailies with a fifth that has offices in Manama (the capital), but originates in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The two Arabic dailies are Akhbar al Khaleej or Gulf News (circ. 17,000) and Al-Ayam or The Days (circ. 37,000). The two English dailies are the Bahrain Tribune (circ. 12,500) and the Gulf Daily News (circ. 50,000). The fifth daily originating in the UAE is the Khaleej Times (circ. 72, 565). There are also about eight weeklies that circulate and tend to have more pronounced political leanings than the dailies. Among the largest weeklies are Al-Adwhaa' or Lights (circ. 7,000),Al-Bahrain ath-Thaqafya and Huna al-Bahrain published by the Ministry of Information, Al-Mawakif (circ. 6,000), Oil and Gas News (circ. 5,000), and Sada al-Usbou' which circulates in various Gulf states (circ. 40,000).

There are 15 periodicals that circulate currently, many of which are business and tourism related. Some of these include Bahrain of the Month (monthly circ. 9,948), Discover Bahrain, Gulf Construction (monthly circ. 12,485), Gulf Panorama (monthly circ. 15,000), Al-Hayat at-Tijariyaor Commerce Review (monthly circ. 7,500), Al-Hidayah or Guidance (monthly circ. 5,000), Al-Musafir al-Arabi or Arab Traveller (bimonthly), Shipping and Transport News International (bimonthly circ. 5, 500), and Travel and Tourism News Middle East (montly circ. 6,333).

Bahrain's television and radio media are respectively run by an agency with state ties previously state-owned, in 1993 ruled an independent corporation to be committee-run by the Emir and a commercial agency: Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation (BRTC) and Radio Bahrain. The BRTC operates on five terrestrial TV Channels, broadcasting in Arabic and English. The main Arabic and English channel each accept advertising. BRTC's signals are strong enough to cover eastern Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. For its radio programs the BRTC utilizes two 10-kilowatt transmitters and also broadcasts in Arabic and English. Radio Bahrain broadcasts in English and Arabic 24 hours a day. Its programming includes news, music, the arts, sports, and religion. There are two other factors which play into the traditional electronic media situation in Bahrain. First, English language TV and radio programs can be received by Bahrani's from Saudi Arabian Saudi Aramco and from the U.S. Air Force in Dharan. And, while satellite TV is officially banned, as of 1999 roughly 6 percent of the country's 230,000 homes had access. Statistically, people owning televisions in 2000 was 402 per 1,000 and owning radios was 545 per 1,000.

In 2000 there were an estimated 40,000 Bahraini internet subscribers representing nearly 6 percent of the population as compared with 2,000 in 1995. In 2000 there were approximately 138.7 personal computers per 1,000 people, while there had only been 50.3 in 1995. The government maintains an official Web site and has links leading to newspapers, periodicals, radio, and television stations also available on the internet. Routing of all traffic occurs on only seven secure servers.

Bahrain maintains positive relations with foreign agencies. Agence France-Presse (AFP), Associated Press (AP), Reuters, and Gulf News Agency all maintain offices in Manama. As well, contributing to strong ties with the foreign press and maintaining the governmental trend toward increasing press respect, the Bahrain Journalists Association was allowed and founded in 2000 and maintains a membership of 250 members.

Though the press and the country as a whole are experiencing relaxed government control there are a few issues that have caused concern as of late. First, in November 2001, Hafez El Sheikh Saleh, a journalist with the daily Akhbar al Khaleej was charged by the justice minister as betraying national unity and creating writings antithetical to the National Charter and the constitution. Nabil Yacub al-Hamer, the information minister, banned Saleh from traveling abroad or practicing journalism. Second, in November 2001, Bahrain prohibited the London published Arabic daily Azzaman from being printed in the country because it had been accused of criticizing the emir of Qatar therefore breaking the press and publications law. Third, at the end of March 2002 the Bahraini government blocked at least five Web sites said to have offensive content, lies and questionable information. Sites blocked included one run by Islamic fundamentalist Abdel Wahab Hussein, one by the Bahrain Freedom Movement a political opposition group, and Al-Manama an online newspaper. Finally, in May of 2002, Bahrain refused to let Qatari based Al-Jazeera TV cover municipal elections. Al-Hamer said Al-Jazeera was "trying to harm Bahrain" and was "infiltrated by Zionists." Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontiéresRSF) wrote that it was suggested that Al-Jazeera was refused due to earlier unauthorized coverage of Bahraini protests in Manama against Israeli incursions into the West Bank.

While the material presented here sounds a somber note, overall the future appears positive for Bahrain. King Al-Khalifah has worked extraordinarily hard to facilitate reform while maintaining political stability in the country. Bahraini Political trends, technological development, and public desire all suggest expanding frameworks for freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and inclusive citizenship.


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Al-Alyam (The Days). Available:

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Boyd, Douglas. Broadcasting in the Arab World: A Survey of the Electronic Media in the Middle East, 3rd ed. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1999.

CIA. The World Factbook 2001. Available:

Clarke, Angela. Bahrain: Oil and Development, 1929-1989. London: Immel, 1998.

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Gulf Daily News. Available:

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Kurian, George, ed. World Press Encyclopedia. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1982.

Maher, Joanne, ed. Regional Surveys of the World: The Middle East and North Africa 2002, 48th ed. London: Europa Publications, 2001.

Radio Bahrain. Available:

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The Middle East, 9th ed. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2000

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Wheatcroft, Andrew. The Life and Times of Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa: Ruler of Bahrain 1942-61. London: Kegan Paul Intl., 1995.

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Zahlan, Rosmarie Said, and Owen, Roger. The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman. Reading: Ithaca Press, 1997.

Clint B. Thomas Baldwin

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An independent state comprising an archipelago of thirty-three islands in the heart of the Persian Gulf.

The Bahrain islands lie some 15 miles off the northeast coast of Saudi Arabia and 13 miles to the northwest of the Qatar peninsula. Connected by causeway to Saudi Arabia, al-Awal, the largest, is 27 miles by 10 miles. The total land area of the country, 213 square miles, in 2001 supported a population of 650,600. Manama is the capital and largest city. The ruling family, the Al Khalifa, is a branch of the

Bani Utub confederation of the northern Gulf, which conquered the islands in 1782 and set up a commercial, estate-holding elite. Class distinctions between the new rulers and the indigenous population were reinforced by religious ones, since the Al Khalifa and their tribal allies were and remain adherents of Sunni Islam, while the local farmers, pearl divers, and fisherfolk remain Shiʿa. A British protectorate was imposed in 1880.

British Era: 1910s to 1973

Outbreaks of nationalist, labor, and religious unrest have been a recurrent feature of modern Bahraini politics. During the 1910s and 1920s, local merchants, tradespeople, and pearl divers rose in opposition to a number of innovative economic regulations imposed by the government of British India, which took charge of the islands' affairs at the end of the nineteenth century. From the 1930s to the 1950s, a broad coalition of merchants, intellectuals, and oil workers (petroleum was discovered in 1932) demonstrated against continued British domination, against the presence of large numbers of foreign workers, in favor of allowing local labor to unionize, and in favor of establishing an elected legislature.

After the 1950s, outbreaks became increasingly localized and intermittent. Some episodes, such as the March 1972 general strike by the construction, shipyard, and aluminum-factory workers remained class based, while others took on sectarian overtones, as when Shiʿa openly demonstrated support for the Iranian Revolution during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Shaykh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa became ruler of Bahrain in 1961, upon the death of his father, and took the title amir at independence in 1971. Since then, close relatives of the ruler have filled the most important posts in the country's cabinet. Ministers who are not members of the Khalifa family usually have been sons of the established wealthy merchant families and have received specialized training in Western universities. Bahrain's largest industrial concerns also are managed by this group of royal family members and influential civil servants.

Independent Bahrain: 1973 to Present

Political parties, like trade unions, were prohibited by the 1973 constitution. The constitution did, however, provide for an elected National Assembly, the first elections for which were held in December 1973. College-educated professionals, shopkeepers, middle-income merchants, and the country's intelligentsia were the strongest supporters of the electoral system. The commercial elite remained largely noncommittal and did not participate in the elections, either as candidates or as voters. Radical groups, most notably the local branch of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf, tried to convince voters to boycott the proceedings and advocated more comprehensive freedoms of press and assembly, while agitating for the release of political prisoners and the adoption of laws permitting the formation of trade unions. Younger, comparatively radical delegates nevertheless emerged victorious from the balloting, although the government manipulated technicalities in the election law to block several newly elected delegates from taking their seats.

Although only empowered by the constitution to give advice and consent regarding laws initiated by the cabinet, the National Assembly began to debate three volatile issues during 1974. The first concerned a general labor law that would have authorized the formation of trade unions and reduced the number of expatriate workers in the country. The second was the renewal of the informal arrangement whereby the United States maintained a small naval facility at the port at al-Jufayr. The third was the continuation of the strict Public Security Law, which had been promulgated to suppress radical organizations during the early 1960s. By mid-1975, the two largest informal groupings of deputies, the People's Bloc and the Religious Bloc, could find no common ground on which to cooperate in overturning this statute. Consequently, the assembly became deadlocked and, in August 1975, the prime minister submitted the cabinet's resignation to the amir, who dissolved the assembly but reinstated the government, giving the cabinet "full legislative powers."

After the dissolution of the National Assembly, organized opposition to the regime came primarily from Bahrain's heterogeneous Islamist movement. Advocates of moderate reform could be found in the Sunni Social Reform Society and Supporters of the Call, as well as in the Shiʿite Party of the Islamic Call. Proponents of more profound social transformation belonged to the Islamic Action Organization (IAO) and the Islamic Guidance Society, both predominantly Shiʿite; demonstrations organized by these two associations erupted periodically during late 1979 and early 1980, culminating in a series of large marches in support of the new Islamic Republic of Iran during April and May of 1980. State security forces broke up these demonstrations by force, killing a number of marchers. In the wake of these events, underground groups, such as the IAO, changed tactics, abandoning mass popular demonstrations and turning instead to isolated acts of sabotage carried out by small groups of committed cadres. This shift was buttressed by the formation of the Islamic Front for the Liberation of

Bahrain (IFLB) in Tehran, Iran, at the end of 1979; the clandestine operations envisaged by the leaders of this organization were epitomized by the alleged December 1981 plot to overthrow the Al Khalifa and set up an Islamic republic on the islands. Sizable caches of small arms belonging to clandestine groups of radical Shiʿa continued to be uncovered in rural districts as late as the fall and winter of 1983-84.

Concerted efforts on the part of the authorities to expose and destroy militant Shiʿite cells disrupted the IAO and IFLB during the late 1980s. Some one hundred people were charged in December 1987 with conspiring to assassinate the ruler and seize the country's main oil facilities, the radio and television studios, the international airport, and the U.S.

embassy; this group may have been affiliated with the IFLB, but Bahraini officials refused to implicate Iran in the plot. Nevertheless, the government imposed strict curfews on Shiʿite residential districts and prohibited Bahraini Shiʿa from taking jobs in the armed forces. Police made further arrests in the days following the death of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.

In late 1994, simmering popular discontent erupted into a series of mass demonstrations calling for the reinstatement of the National Assembly and the constitution. The government responded by ordering the police and security service to break up the protests, prompting a wave of violence and sabotage that crested in 1996 and 1997. When Hamad bin Isa became amir after the death of his father in 1999, the uprising had already subsided. The new ruler introduced a series of reforms in an attempt to restore the regime's legitimacy. In a 2001 referendum, voters approved the transformation of the emirate into a "constitutional, hereditary monarchy." The draconian penal code and state security court were subsequently terminated, and in October 2002 elections took place for a reconstituted advisory council.

see also al khalifa family; iranian revolution (1979); khomeini, ruhollah; manama; shiʿism; sunni islam.


Herb, Michael. All in the Family: Absolutism, Revolution, and Democracy in the Middle Eastern Monarchies. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Khalaf, Abd al-Hadi. Unfinished Business: Contentious Politics and State-Building in Bahrain. Lund, Sweden: University of Lund, 2000.

Khuri, Fuad I. Tribe and State in Bahrain: The Transformation of Social and Political Authority in an Arab State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Lawson, Fred H. Bahrain: The Modernization of Autocracy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989.

Fred H. Lawson

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Bahrain or Bahrein (both: bärān´, bə–), officially Kingdom of Bahrain, constitutional monarchy and archipelago (2005 est. pop. 688,300), 266 sq mi (689 sq km), in the Persian Gulf. The two main islands are Bahrain and Al Muharraq, connected by a causeway. The capital and chief port is Al Manamah, on Bahrain.

Land and People

The islands are flat and sandy, with a few low hills. The climate is hot and humid during the summer, mild and pleasant in the winter. The largely urban population is about 60% Bahraini; the balance of the inhabitants consist of nonnationals who are mainly other Arabs, Iranians, and South Asians. Islam (75% Shiite and 25% Sunni) is the religion of most of the population, and there are Christian and other minorities. Modern Bahrain has been marked by recurring tension between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minortiy, who include the ruling family and have dominated the government. Languages spoken other than Arabic (the official language) include English, Farsi, and Urdu.


Bahrain was once a chief center of pearling, but the industry declined in the 20th cent. Oil was found in 1931, and oil revenues have financed extensive modernization projects, particularly in health and education. Oil and petroleum products account for about 60% of Bahrain's export earnings. However, Bahrain is expected to be the first Persian Gulf nation to run dry of oil, and steps have been taken to diversify the nonagricultural sector of the economy. Aluminum-smelting, banking and financial-services, ship-repair, textile-manufacturing, and tourism industries have been established, as have oil refineries that largely process Saudi crude. Bahrain is home to numerous multinational firms, and the government actively encourages foreign investment. The U.S. navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, is based in Bahrain. There is some fishing, and dates, fruits, and vegetables are grown, but the majority of Bahrain's food is imported. Machinery and chemicals are also imported. Saudi Arabia is the main trading partner.


Bahrain is governed under the constitution of 2002. The king is the head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the king. The bicameral legislature consists of the 40-seat Consultative Council, whose members are appointed by the king, and the 40-member Council of Representatives, whose members are popularly elected to four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into five governorates.


During the 3d millennium BC, Bahrain (known in Sumerian as Dilmun) was already an important trade center, functioning as a transshipment point between Arabia and India. In the ancient world it was also famous for the pearling conducted in the waters surrounding the islands. The Greeks knew the island as Tylos. The term Bahrain was used to describe the entire Persian Gulf coast of Arabia in the early Islamic era; the island was also known as Awal or Aval. Bahrain was ruled in the 16th cent. by Portugal and intermittently from 1602 to 1783 by Persia. The Persians were expelled by an Arabian family that established the present ruling dynasty, the al-Khalifas. In 1861, Bahrain became a British protectorate.

Nearly a century later, demonstrations and strikes in the 1950s and 60s demanded greater popular participation in government. Iran claimed the islands in 1970 after the United Nations reported that the inhabitants desired independence. In 1971, after Britain withdrew from the Persian Gulf area, Bahrain became independent. In 1973 a constitution that limited the sheikh's powers was adopted and an elected national assembly established, but in 1975 the sheikh suspended the constitution and dissolved the national assembly. Bahrain was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981, along with neighboring Persian Gulf countries, and it is also a member of the Arab League.

In the 1980s and 1990s relations with Qatar were strained by a dispute over the Hawar Islands and the large natural-gas resources of the Dome field (in the shallow sea between both countries). In the late 1980s a causeway was built connecting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. After the end of the Iran-Iraq War (1988), attempts were made to improve relations with Iran; persistent irritants to Iran were the poverty among Bahrain's Shiite majority and the small Shiite representation in Bahrain's cabinet. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, coalition forces were allowed extensive use of Bahraini territory. In 1993 a consultative council (Shura) was appointed to replace the long-dissolved national assembly. In the mid and late 1990s unrest among Bahrain's Shiites has led to opposition protests and violence; the restoration of an elected parliament was one of the main demands. In 1996 more than 50 people were arrested for involvement in what was said to be an Iranian-backed coup attempt.

Sheikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who had ruled since 1961, died in 1999; he was succeeded by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The new ruler moved gradually toward increased democracy for Bahrain. In 2000 he called for the establishment of a national committee to write a new national charter. The charter, which established a constitutional monarchy, was approved in Feb., 2001; the same month a general amnesty for political prisoners and exiles was declared.

Bahrain was proclaimed a kingdom in 2002, and the Shura was dissolved prior to the assembly elections. Because King Hamad had established an appointed upper house in the national parliament, which had not been part of the charter approved in 2001, a number of groups (including the largest Shiite association) called for an electoral boycott; turnout in the October elections was 53%. The elected deputies were largely moderate Sunnites and independents. The election marked the first time that women in a Arab Persian Gulf monarchy could vote or run for national office. Shiite-Sunni tensions in Bahrain increased again after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In Sept., 2006, a former government adviser of Sunni Sudanese descent accused a number of government officials (but not the king or prime minister) of conspiring to manipulate elections and use other means to maintain Sunni control of Bahrain's government and society. The detailed report was denounced by the head of Bahrain intelligence service, who was accused of being central to the conspiracy, and the adviser was deported and then accused of attempting to overthrow the government and other crimes. An investigation into the evidence and charges was sought by Shiite opposition groups. In the Nov.–Dec., 2006, parliamentary elections themselves, the Shiite opposition secured 18 seats while Sunnis won 22; conservatives and Islamists were dominant in both groups.

In 2009 tensions between the government and Shiite opposition activists led to arrests of activist leaders and recurring protests against the government; the protests continued into 2010, with an increased security crackdown in the second half of the year. The results of the Oct., 2010, parliamentary elections were largely similar to those in 2006 except that Sunni Islamists won fewer seats; the opposition again failed to secure a majority.

In Feb.–Mar., 2011, there were massive antigovernment protests in the capital, paralleling the protests in other Arab nations; opposition Shiite legislators resigned after protesters were killed in February (and the main Shiite party boycotted the by-elections held in September). In March, Saudi and Emirati forces entered Bahrain at the request of the government, and Bahrain, which painted the initially relatively nonsectarian protests as an Iranian-inspired Shiite attempt at revolution, quickly and violently quashed the protests and arrested hundreds. A number of opposition leaders and others were convicted and harshly sentenced.

In the aftermath of the protests, sectarian tensions in Bahrain increased, aggravated by anti-Shiite repression that was economic and social as well as political. An indepdendent government report (Nov., 2011) on the events of February and March said that security forces had used excessive force and engaged in torture; the report also said it could not find a clear link between the demonstrators and Iran. Some constitutional reforms were adopted in the first half of 2012, but the opposition criticized them as inadequate. The situation remained tense and unsettled into subsequent years. The government continued to take repressive measures against the Shiite-dominated opposition, which mounted recurring demonstrations against the government. In the Nov., 2014, elections progovernment candidates won a majority of the seats; the main Shiite party boycotted the election, but 13 independent Shiite candidates won seats.


See F. Adamīyat, Bahrein Islands (1955); J. B. Nugent and T. Thomas, ed., Bahrain and the Gulf (1985); T. T. Farah, Protection and Politics in Bahrain (1986); F. Lawson, Bahrain: The Modernization of Autocracy (1988).

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Official name: State of Bahrain

Area: 620 square kilometers (239 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Ad-Dukhān Hill (134 meters /440 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 3 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Archipelago extends 19 kilometers (12 miles) from east to west; 48 kilometers (30 miles) from north to south.

Land boundaries: No international boundaries

Coastline: 126 kilometers (78 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Bahrain is a Middle Eastern (southwestern Asia and northern Africa) country consisting of thirty-three islands, six of which are inhabited. The country's position in an inlet of the Persian Gulf has given it a regional importance as a trade and transportation center. With an area of 620 square kilometers (239 square miles), Bahrain is more than three times as large as Washington, D.C.


Bahrain claims no territories or dependencies.


Summers are very hot and humid with southwest winds raising dust storms and drought conditions. Winters are mild, cool, and pleasant. Prevailing southwest winds contribute to dust storms and occasional drought. Rainfall averages less than 10 centimeters (4 inches) annually and occurs primarily from December to March.

Season Months Average temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit)
Summer May to September 29 to 37°C (84 to 99° F)
Winter December to March 14 to 20°C (57 to 68°F)


Low rolling hills, rocky cliffs, and wadis (dry river or stream beds) comprise the majority of this barren land, although a narrow strip of land along the north coast of the island of Bahrain is irrigated by natural springs and artesian wells (water that flows to the surface without pumping). As of 2002, increasing demands on the natural water resources had begun to deplete them, and some of the lush date palms and other vegetation had begun to decline.

Most of the lesser islands are flat and sandy, although date groves cover the island of Nabih Salih. Bahrain also encompasses the Hawār Islands, off the coast of Qatar.


Bahrain is located in the Persian Gulf, which is connected to the Arabian Sea by the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

Oil spills and other environmental hazards have damaged Bahrain's coastline and beaches.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Within the Persian Gulf, Bahrain occupies an inlet called the Gulf of Bahrain.

Islands and Archipelagos

The six major islands in the archipelago are Bahrain (the largest); Al Muharraq; Sitrah; Umm an-Na'sān; Nabih Salih; and Jidda. At low tide, extensive mud flats along the east coast of Al Muhurraq attract wading birds.

In 2001, the International Court of Justice awarded the Hawār Islands, long disputed with Qatar, to Bahrain. The remaining islands are little more than exposed rock and sandbar.

Coastal Features

Damage to coral reefs and sea vegetation from oil spills and other petroleum-related discharges has adversely affected Bahrain's coastline and beaches.


Bahrain has no notable lakes.


Comprised of mostly barren land, Bahrain has little fresh water, and no rivers. There are 10 square kilometers (about 6.2 square miles) of land on the main island of Bahrain that are irrigated by natural springs and artesian wells.


Bahrain is primarily desert. Only desert vegetation can survive on the sand-covered limestone rock that makes up most of the country's terrain.


On the main island of Bahrain, the land gradually rises from the shoreline to the center, where rocky cliffs surround a basin. Near the center of this basin is the country's highest elevation, Ad-Dukhān Hill, which rises only 134 meters (440 feet) above sea level.


Bahrain has no mountains or volcanoes.


Bahrain has no canyons or caves.


Bahrain has no plateaus.


Several bridges connect the island of Bahrain to the other major islands in the archipelago; the King Fahd Causeway links the island to Saudi Arabia. In 2002, plans were underway to construct a 45-kilometer (28-mile) bridge connecting Qatar to Bahrain.



Crawford, Harriet E. W. Dilmun and Its Gulf Neighbors. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Jenner, Michael. Bahrain, Gulf Heritage in Transition. New York: Longman, 1984.

Vine, Peter. Pearls in Arabian Waters: The Heritage of Bahrain. London: Immel Publications, 1986.

Web Sites

Bahrain government home page. (accessed July 19, 2003).

Bahrain Tourism website. (accessed July 19, 2003).

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Bahrain Emirate archipelago in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, sw Asia; the capital is Manama. It comprises 34 small islands and the largest island of Bahrain. It is a hot, desert kingdom linked by a causeway to the Saudi Arabian mainland. From 1861 to 1971 Bahrain was a British protectorate. Oil was discovered in 1932, and the sheikhdom led the regional development of oil production. The Khalifa family has governed Bahrain since the late 18th century. The 1970s' drop in oil production led to economic diversification. Bahrain's aluminium-smelting plant is the Gulf's largest non-oil industrial complex. While other economic sectors have grown, oil still accounts for 80% of Bahrain's exports and 20% of its GDP. Bahrain is a predominantly Muslim nation. Tensions exist between the Sunni and majority Shi'ite population, the latter pressing for an Islamic republic. Bahrain supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88), prompting Iran to reiterate its territorial claims to the archipelago. Bahrain also has a long-standing dispute with Qatar over a cluster of oil-rich islands and reefs. In 2002, Bahrain held its first elections for 27 years. Area: 678sq km (262sq mi). Pop. (2000 est.) 683,000.

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Culture Name



Identification. In ancient times, Bahrain was part of an empire known as Dilmun. It was later called Tyros by the Greeks. The name "Bahrain" is derived from the Arabic word Bahr, meaning "sea."

Location and Geography. Bahrain is an archipelago made up of Bahrain Island and thirty smaller islands. It is located in the Persian Gulf near the Arabian Peninsula, 120 miles southwest of Iran, 14 miles to the east of Saudi Arabia, and 17 miles to the west of the Qatar Peninsula. The main island, which accounts for seven-eighths of the country's area, is thirty miles from north to south and ten miles from east to west. The total area of the country is 240 square miles (620 square kilometers).

The highest point is Ad-Dukhan Hill in the center of Bahrain Island. This area is surrounded by sandy plains and salt marshes. Along the north and northwest coast, there are some springs and aquifers that are used for irrigation. Only 1 percent of the land is arable.

The climate is humid for much of the year, but the country suffers from a scarcity of rainfall which averages three inches a year, falling almost entirely in the winter. Despite the dry climate, the country is home to about two hundred species of desert plants as well as gazelles, hares, desert rats, and mongoose.

Demography. According to the CIA World Factbook, the estimated population in 2000 was 634,137. The majority of these people are Arabs. There are many temporary immigrant workers, and one-third of the population is foreign-born. Nineteen percent of the population is Asian, 10 percent is non-Bahraini Arab, and 8 percent is Irani. There are significantly more men than women. The population is growing rapidly with a high birthrate and a low death rate. One-third of the people are less than fifteen years old.

Linguistic Affiliation. Arabic is the official language and the language of daily life. English is understood in many places and Farsi and Urdu also are spoken by the large numbers of Indian and Persian residents.

Symbolism. The national flag is red with a white serrated band of eight points along the left side.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Archaeological evidence dating back to the third millennium b.c.e. indicates that the main island probably was settled by Sumerians. Around 2000 b.c.e. it was known as Dilmun and served as a trading post on the route between Sumeri and the Indus Valley. In the fourth century c.e. Bahrain was annexed into the Sasanian Empire. In the seventh century, Muslims conquered the area and ruled until the sixteenth century. In 1521, Portugal took control, using Bahrain as a pearling post and military garrison. This situation lasted until 1602, when the Persians wrested the country from the Portuguese. The ruler Ahmad ibn Al Khalifah took control from the Persians in 1783; his descendants lead the country to this day.

In the 1830s, the British signed several treaties with Bahrain, offering protection from the Turks in exchange for access to the Persian Gulf. In 1869, Britain put its own emir in place. In 1935, it placed its main Middle Eastern naval base in Bahrain, and in 1946, it stationed the senior British officer in the region there.

Anti-British sentiment rose in the 1950s, but Britain did not decide to pull out until 1971. Bahrain officially declared its independence on 14 August of that year.

Although oil was discovered in 1902, drilling did not begin in earnest until the 1930s. The 1970s and 1980s saw a dramatic rise in the price of oil, which benefitted the economy significantly. In the late 1980s, when other countries in the area experienced economic difficulties, Bahrain maintained its prosperity thanks to earlier economic diversification.

In the 1990s, the country suffered from internal and external problems that began with a push for democratic reforms. When the emir turned this request down, widespread rioting broke out. The country's shaky relations with Iraq led it to cooperate with United Nations' efforts to monitor that nearby country. The United States military buildup in the area also created a tense relationship between Bahrainis and American troops.

National Identity. Bahrainis self-identify as part of the Arab world. There are tensions between the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, and religious affiliation is of primary importance in defining one's identity.

Ethnic Relations. Expatriates constitute 20 percent of the population. They come mainly from other Arab nations but also from India, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and America. While relations are not unfriendly, foreigners generally are not integrated into Bahraini society. The vast majority are temporary workers and thus constitute a transient population.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Four-fifths of the population lives in cities, the majority in Manama which is the capital and the largest urban center. That city stands on a seabed, parts of which were recently reclaimed from the water. Manama has modern buildings and wide, tree-lined roads as well as an older section with a traditional souk, or marketplace.

Muharraq is the oldest town, and used to be the capital. The city has been modernized, but in the old sections one can still see traditional architecture. The houses have tall gates and shuttered windows and are designed around a central enclosed garden or courtyard. Some have wind towers, an old-fashioned form of air-conditioning. These towers are open on four sides at the top to direct passing breezes into the house.

Most rural villages have electricity and running water and are connected to the towns by paved roads. Traditional houses, called barastis, were made from palm branches, but today most villagers build homes from modern materials.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The best-known dish, machbous, consists of fish or meat served with rice. A dessert called muhammar is made of brown rice and sugar or dates. Halwa is another traditional sweet, a green, sticky dessert filled with spices and nuts. Snacks known as sambousas are also popular; these are pastries filled with meat and cheese or sugar and nuts.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Muslim holidays are often the occasion for large family meals. The breaking of the fast month of Ramadan is celebrated with feasts of traditional food, and a variety of special sweets and pastries.

Basic Economy. Only 1 percent of the land is arable, and so the country is unable to produce enough food for its population and relies almost entirely on imports. The primary employers are industry, commerce, and services (79 percent of workers are in these fields) and government (20 percent); the remaining 1 percent of the people are farmers. A large number of jobs are held by foreigners, and employment is an ongoing problem, particularly among young people. Three-fifths of the workforce is foreign-born.

The economy is based largely on petroleum production and processing, which account for 60 percent of exports and 30 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Bahrain also has well-developed communications and transportation, which has allowed it to become a center for banking and finance, and is the headquarters for a number of multinational firms that do business in the Persian Gulf area.

Commercial Activities. The country produces fruits and vegetables, poultry, dairy products, shrimp, and fish that are sold in the souks, along with locally produced handicrafts. Tourism is a growing business, accounting for 9 percent of the GDP. A good deal of international banking is conducted in Bahrain.

Major Industries. The main industry is petroleum production, processing, and refining. Others industries are aluminum smelting, offshore banking, ship repairing, and tourism. The country also produces cement blocks, plastics, asphalt, paper products, and soft drinks.

Trade. Imports and exports are roughly equal in value. Petroleum accounts for 60 percent of exports, and aluminum for 7 percent. These are exports sent mainly to India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates. Forty-one percent of imports consist of crude oil, which the country processes. Imports, which also include machinery, transportation equipment, and food, come from Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.

Division of Labor. Seventy-nine percent of the workforce is in industry, commerce, and services; 20 percent is in the government; and 1 percent in agriculture. Many jobs are held by foreign temporary workers, who account for over 60 percent of the labor force. Expatriates work in every field from manual labor to investment banking.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Because Bahrain is one of the wealthiest Gulf states, there are a number of well-to-do people, who are almost all well educated and live in Manama or Muharraq. However, many jobs are staffed by foreigners, and there is an unemployment rate of 15 percent among Bahrainis.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Most men wear a traditional long robe called a thobe. Wealthier people tend to wear thobes tailored in a more Western style, with side and breast pockets and collars and French cuffs. Men also wrap their heads with a scarf called a gutra. Women cover their clothes with the traditional black cloak, which goes over the head, and wear a veil of thin black gauze over the face. Some younger women in the cities leave their faces or even their heads, uncovered, but this is rare.

Political Life

Government. Bahrain is a traditional monarchy in which the king is the chief of state. He appoints a prime minister, who serves as the head of government, and a cabinet. The cabinet has legislative powers with the assistance of an advisory (or Shura ) council, which was established in 1992, whose members are appointed by the monarch. There is no suffrage, as the monarchy is hereditary, passed down to the oldest son.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties are prohibited, but there are several small underground leftist and Islamic fundamentalist groups. The main opposition consists of Shi'a Muslim groups that have been active since 1994, protesting unemployment and the dissolution in 1975 of the National Assembly, an elected legislative body.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is based on a combination of Islamic law and English common law. Most potential laws are discussed by the Shura council before being put into in effect.

Military Activity. The military consists of a ground force, navy, air force, coast guard, and police force. Males are eligible for service at age fifteen. The country spends roughly 5.2 percent of its GDP on the military.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Bahrain is a welfare state. Medical care is free and comprehensive for both nationals and expatriates. There are programs that provide for the elderly and the disabled. There is an institute for the blind and one for the physically handicapped.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNESCO send workers to Bahrain. The country is also a member of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women are responsible for all domestic work, and few are employed outside the home (only 15 percent of the workforce is female). This is beginning to change as more girls gain access to an education, and foreign influence has modified traditional views of women's roles. There are no women represented in the government.

Relative Status of Women and Men. In the Islamic tradition, women have a lower status than men and are considered weaker and in need of protection. Bahrain has been more progressive than other Arab nations in its treatment of women. The first school for girls was opened in 1928, nine years after the first boys' school.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. While arranged marriage is still common, the bride and groom often have a chance to meet before they marry. While it was traditional for girls to be married at twelve or thirteen years of age, they now tend to wait until they have finished their education and have a job. Upon marriage, a sum of money is paid to the bride by the groom's family. Sometimes she keeps it for herself, but usually the couple uses it to set up a home. Weddings are huge, often with five or six hundred guests. A wedding involves large meals, a religious ceremony, and a henna party in which the bride's attendants decorate her with elaborate patterns. Sometimes celebrations are mixed, but usually they are divided along gender lines.

Domestic Unit. Traditionally, extended families lived together under one roof: parents, children, grandparents, and other relatives. A groom would bring his bride to live with his family. Today it is becoming more common for young couples to live apart from their parents.


Child Rearing and Education. Boys and girls are raised separately and according to different standards. From an early age girls have much more responsibility than their brothers, who have more freedom to play and amuse themselves. Education is free. Primary school lasts for six years, intermediate school for three years, and secondary school for another three years. The literacy rate is 85 percent: 89 percent among males and 79 percent among females.

Higher Education. There are two universities in the country: the University of Bahrain with nine thousand students and the Arabian Gulf University at Manama with seven hundred. The College of Health Sciences trains nurses and hospital technicians. Many families that can afford to do so send their children abroad for higher education.


Greetings are generally lengthy and involve asking about each other's health and family, although a man does not ask about another man's wife. Everyone stands when someone enters the room, and that person then makes the rounds, shaking hands. After shaking, one touches the hand to the heart in a gesture of affection. Women and men can shake hands, but only if it is initiated by the woman. It is traditional upon visiting someone to be served coffee or tea. This custom includes visits to shops or offices. Failure to make such an offer or to accept it is considered rude.


Religious Beliefs. Seventy percent of the population is Shi'a Muslim, 15 percent is Sunni Muslim, and the remaining 15 percent is Christian or Jewish or follows indigenous practices. Muslims believe in the equality of all people before Allah. There are several differences between the Sunni and Shi'a sects of Islam. While most Muslims in the world are Sunni, in Bahrain, the majority are Shi'ite. The two groups split in 661, when the Sunnis refused to acknowledge Ali, whom the Shi'ites recognized as their leader.

Religious Practitioners. There are no priests or clergy in Islam. There are men who study the Quran (the Muslim holy book) and lead prayers and readings from the text. The Quran, rather than religious leader, is considered the ultimate authority and holds the answer to any question or dilemma one might have. Muezzins give the call to prayer and are scholars of the Quran who spend their lives studying and interpreting the text. Sunnis elect their religious leaders, whereas in the Shi'a tradition these positions are hereditary.

Rituals and Holy Places. The most important observation in the Islamic calendar is Ramadan. This month of fasting is followed by the joyous feast of Eid al Fitr, during which families visit and exchange gifts. Eid al-Adha commemorates the end of Muhammed's Hajj. The mosque is the Muslim house of worship. Outside the door there are washing facilities, as cleanliness is a prerequisite to prayer, demonstrating humility before God. One must remove one's shoes before entering the mosque. According to Islamic tradition, women are not allowed inside. The interior has no altar; it is simply an open carpeted space. Because Muslims are supposed to pray facing Mecca, there is a small niche carved into the wall pointing out the direction in which that city lies.

Death and the Afterlife. Death is not acknowledged with great ceremony. People are buried under simple gravestones that face Mecca. When an important person dies, the house often is closed for a period of time.

Medicine and Health Care

The state of health care has improved significantly since independence. The nation has virtually eliminated tropical diseases and raised the life expectancy to seventy-one years for men and seventy-six years for women. There is a large modern hospital in the capital and many local health centers that focus on preventive care. There are facilities to train doctors and nurses, but many medical personnel are foreigners. Particularly in rural areas, some people still rely on traditional herbal cures made from palm tree flowers, pollen, and buds.

Secular Celebrations

National Day is celebrated on 16 December.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Manama has several galleries that show the works of both nationals and expatriates. Government programs preserve traditional arts and crafts and encourage poor women to take up these art forms to supplement their family income. The Bahrain Museum and the National Heritage Center showcase traditional works.

Literature. Bahrain has a strong literary tradition. Most of the work produced is in the classical Arabic style. Well-known contemporary poets that write in this style include Qasim Haddad, Ibrahim al'Urayyid, and Ahmad Muhammed Al Khalifah. Many younger poets are more influenced by Western literature and write free verse, often with personal and political content.

Graphic Arts. The village of Sanabis is known for elaborate embroidery, often with gold thread, which the women sew onto their traditional dresses and cloaks. Fabric weaving also is practiced, as is the weaving of mats from sea grasses. Another popular craft is the production of dhows, boats made of wood, according to a traditional design that does not use metal nails. Old-fashioned dhows have sails, and more modern ones use diesel engines.

Performance Arts. The music of Bahrain follows the traditional Arabic mode. It is elaborate and repetitive. It is played on the oud (an ancestor of the lute) and the rebaba (a one-stringed instrument). Bahrain also has a folk dance tradition. The ardha is a men's sword dance, which is accompanied by drumming and by a poet, who sings the lyrics.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Most scientific research focuses on the oil economy. Bahrain has developed advanced technology for petrochemical plants and oil refineries. While developed primarily for domestic use, Bahrain has also sold some of this technology to other countries.


Al Kalifa, Hammad bin Isa. First Light: Modern Bahrain and Its Heritage, 1994.

Al Muraikhi, Khalil M. Glimpses of Bahrain from Its Past, 1991.

Amnesty International. "Bahrain: Women and Children Subject to Increasing Abuse," July 1996.

"Bahrain," Aquastat, March 1997.

Bu Shahri, Ali Akbar. Dilmun Culture, 1992.

Byman, Daniel L. and Jerrold D. Green. "The Enigma of Political Stability in the Persian Gulf Monarchies." Middle East Review of International Affairs, September 1999.

Crawford, Harriet. Dilmun and its Gulf Neighbors, 1998.

Darwish, Adel. "Rebellion in Bahrain." Middle East Review of International Affairs, March 1999.

Hassall, S. and P. Hassall. Let's Visit Bahrain, 1985.

Littleton, Judith. Skeletons and Social Composition: Bahrain 300 BC AD 250, 1998.

Robison, Gordon, and Paul Greenway. Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, 2000.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. "Bahrain Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997," 30 January 1998.

Web Sites

Destination Bahrain, 2000,

U.S. Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook: Bahrain, 2000,

Eleanor Stanford

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The people of Bahrain are called Bahrainis. About two- thirds of the population consists of native Bahrainis. Iranians are estimated to be about 20 percent, with other Arabs making up the rest of the population. To learn more about Iranians, consult the chapter on Iran in Volume 4.

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