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The Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: مملكة البحرين Mamlakat al-Barayn) is an island nation in the Persian Gulf. The capital of Bahrain is Manama.
Bahrain is an archipelago of 36 islands located off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. The four main islands are joined by causeways, and make up about 95% of the total land area.
Bahrain is one of the most densely populated countries in the world; about 89% of the population lives in the two principal cities of Manama and Al Muharraq. Approximately 66% of the indigenous population is originally from the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. Bahrain currently has a sizeable foreign labor force (about 34% of the total population). The government's policies on naturalization remain controversial. In June 2002, the King issued a decree allowing citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to take up dual Bahraini nationality. Opposition political groups charge that the government is granting citizenship to foreign nationals who have served in the Bahraini armed forces and security services to alter the demographic balance of the country, which is primarily Shi'a. According to passport officials, about 40,000 individuals have been naturalized over the past 50 years (about 10% of the total population).
The indigenous population is 98% Muslim. Although some two-thirds of the indigenous population is Shi'a Muslim, the ruling family and the majority of government, military, and corporate leaders are Sunni Muslims. The small indigenous Christian and Jewish communities make up the remaining 2% of the population. Roughly half of foreign resident community are non-Muslim, and include Christians, Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists and Sikhs.
Bahrain has invested its oil revenues in developing an advanced educational system. The first public schools for girls and boys were opened in the 1920s. The government continues to pay for all schooling costs. Although school attendance is not compulsory, primary and secondary attendance rates are high, and literacy rates are currently among the highest in the region. Higher education is available for secondary school graduates at the Bahrain University, Arabian Gulf University and specialized institutes including the College of Health Sciences--operating under the direction of the Ministry of Health--which trains physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and paramedics. The government has identified providing educational services to the Gulf Cooperation Council as a potential economic growth area, and is actively working to establish Bahrain as a regional center for higher education.
- Population (July 2007 est.): 708,535, including about 235,108 non-nationals.
- Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 1.39%.
- Ethnic groups: Bahraini 63%, Asian 19%, other Arab 10%, Iranian 8%.
- Religions: 98% Muslim (approximately Shi'a 70%, Sunni 30%), with small Christian, Jewish and Hindu communities.
- Languages: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, and Urdu are also widely spoken.
- Education: Education is not compulsory, but is provided free to Bahrainis and non-nationals at all levels, including higher education. Estimated net primary school attendance (1991-2001)--84%. Adult literacy, age 15 and over (2003 est.)--89.1% for the overall population (male 91.9%, female 85%).
- Health: Infant mortality rate (2007 est.)--16.18 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--72 yrs. males, 77 yrs. females.
- Work force (2006 est.): 352,000 of which 44% are foreigners.
The site of the ancient Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, Bahrain was an important center linking trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley as early as 5,000 years ago. The Dilmun civilization began to decline about 2,000 B.C. as trade from India was cut off. From 750 B.C. on, Assyrian kings repeatedly claimed sovereignty over the islands. Shortly after 600 B.C., Dilmun was formally incorporated into the new Babylonian empire. There are no historical references to Bahrain until Alexander the Great's arrival in the Gulf in the 4th century B.C. Although Bahrain was ruled variously by the Arab tribes of Bani Wa'el and Persian governors, Bahrain continued to be known by its Greek name Tylos until the 7th century, when many of its inhabitants converted to Islam. A regional pearling and trade center, Bahrain came under the control of the Ummayad Caliphs of Syria, the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad, Persian, Omani and Portuguese forces at various times from the 7th century until the Al Khalifa family, a branch of the Bani Utbah tribe that have ruled Bahrain since the 18th century, succeeded in capturing Bahrain from a Persian garrison controlling the islands in 1783.
In the 1830s the Al Khalifa signed the first of many treaties establishing Bahrain as a British Protectorate. Similar to the binding treaties of protection entered into by other Persian Gulf principalities, the agreements entered into by the Al Khalifa prohibited them from disposing of territory and entering into relationships with any foreign government without British consent in exchange for British protection against the threat of military attack from Ottoman Turkey. The main British naval base in the region was moved to Bahrain in 1935 shortly after the start of large-scale oil production.
In 1968, when the British Government announced its decision (reaffirmed in March 1971) to end the treaty relationships with the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, Bahrain initially joined the other eight states (Qatar and the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms now the United Arab Emirates) under British protection in an effort to form a union of Arab emirates. The nine sheikhdoms still had not agreed on terms of union by 1971, however, prompting Bahrain to declare itself fully independent on August 15, 1971.
Bahrain promulgated a constitution and elected its first parliament in 1973, but just two years later, in August 1975, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly after it attempted to legislate the end of Al-Khalifa rule and the expulsion of the U.S. Navy from Bahrain. In the 1990s, Bahrain suffered from repeated incidents of political violence stemming from the disaffection of the Shi'a majority. In response, the Amir instituted the first Bahraini cabinet change in 20 years in 1995 and also and increased the membership of the Consultative Council, which he had created in 1993 to provide advice and opinion on legislation proposed by the cabinet and, in certain cases, suggest new laws on its own, from 30 to 40 the following year. These steps led to an initial decline in violent incidents, but in early 1996 a number of hotels and restaurants were bombed, resulting in several fatalities. Over 1,000 people were arrested and held in detention without trial in connection with these disturbances. The government has since released these individuals (see Government and Political Conditions Section above for details).
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