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Ethnically Arab and mainly Shiʿite descendants of the original inhabitants of Bahrain Island; also refers to the Shiʿa in al-Hasa and al-Qatif, Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain is the only Arab country on the Persian (Arabian) Gulf to have a population with a Shiʿite majority. While official census figures do not provide religious affiliation, estimates for the Shiʿite population range from 60 to 70 percent. In addition to its Baharina component, the Shiʿite population has been augmented by immigrants arriving from Iran. Because political power has been monopolized by the Sunni Khalifa family and its associates for more than two centuries, the Shiʿite population has suffered discrimination in employment, political rights, and social benefits. These and other grievances have been cited by Shiʿite and other opposition leaders as grounds for political protest and demands for reform. During the 1990s the Shiʿite opposition intensified, involving both peaceful and violent expressions of dissent. Prior to 2000, the government attempted to crush opposition with harsh enforcement measures, including torture, exile, and mass imprisonments. These actions were criticized by international human rights organizations, which continue to monitor the situation of the Baharina.

see also bahrain.


Bengio, Ofra, and Ben-Dor, Gabriel, eds. Minorities and the State in the Arab World. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1999.

Scoville, Sheila A., ed. Gazetteer of Arabia: A Geographical and Tribal History of the Arabian Peninsula, Vol. 1. Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck, 1979.

Emile A. Nakhleh

Updated by Anthony B. Toth