For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 727 sq. km. (274 sq. mi.); approximately four times the size of Washington, DC. 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.
Cities: Capital--Manama, pop. (2002 est.) 148,000. Other cities--Al Muharraq.
Terrain: Low desert plain (highest elevation point--122 m).
Climate: Hot and humid from May-September, with average highs ranging from 30o-40o C (86o-104o F). Maximum temperatures average 20o-30o C (68o-86o F) the remainder of the year.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bahraini(s).
Population (January 2008 est.): 1,046,814, including about 517,368 non-nationals.
Annual population growth rate (2008 est.): 3.6%.
Ethnic groups: Bahraini 63%, Asian 19%, other Arab 10%, Iranian 8%.
Religions: 98% Muslim (approximately Shi'a 70%, Sunni 30%), with small Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, 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.
Type: Constitutional hereditary monarchy.
Independence: August 15, 1971 (from the United Kingdom).
Constitution: Approved and promulgated May 26, 1973; suspended on August 26, 1975; the National Action Charter was approved by a national popular referendum on February 14-15, 2001, and a new constitution was issued on February 14, 2002.
Branches: Executive--King (chief of state); Prime Minister (head of government); Council of Ministers (cabinet) is appointed by the King and headed by the Prime Minister. Legislative--The bicameral parliament (al-Majlis al-Watani) consists of a 40-member elected Council of Representatives and a 40-member Shura (Consultative) Council appointed by the King. Members of both chambers serve 4-year terms. Judicial--High Civil Appeals Court. The judiciary is independent with right of judicial review.
Administrative subdivisions: 12 municipalities (manatiq): Al Hidd, Al Manamah, Al Mintaqah al Gharbiyah, Al Mintaqah al Wusta, Al Mintaqah ash Shamaliyah, Al Muharraq, Ar Rifa' wa al Mintaqah al Janubiyah, Jidd Hafs, Madinat Hamad, Madinat 'Isa, Juzur Hawar, Sitrah.
Suffrage: Universal at age 18.
GDP (2009 est.): $19.36 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2009 est.): 2.9%.
Per capita GDP (2009 est.): $38,400.
Natural resources: Oil, aluminum, textiles, natural gas, fish, pearls.
Agriculture (less than 1% of GDP): Products--fruit, vegetables, poultry, dairy products, shrimp, fish.
Industry: Types--oil and gas (13.1% of GDP), manufacturing (12.4% of GDP), aluminum.
Services: Finance (24.2% of GDP), transport and communications (8.9% of GDP), real estate (9.2% of GDP); government services (14.8% of GDP).
Trade (2009 est.): Exports--$12.5 billion: oil and other mineral products, aluminum, textiles. Major markets--Saudi Arabia (3.4%), U.S. (3%), India (2.7%), Japan (2.3%). Imports--$10.37 billion: crude oil, machinery and appliances, transport equipment, foodstuffs. Major suppliers--Saudi Arabia (26.7%), Japan (8.9%), U.S. (7.8%), China (6.2%), Germany (4.8%), South Korea (4.7%), U.A.E. (4.2%).
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 49% 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.
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 family 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 Khalifas 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 2 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 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 below for details).
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa acceded to the throne in March 1999, after the death of his father Shaikh Isa bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Bahrain's ruler since 1961. He championed a program of democratic reform shortly after his accession. In November 2000, Shaikh Hamad established a committee to create a blueprint to transform Bahrain from a hereditary emirate to a constitutional monarchy within 2 years. The resulting "National Action Charter" was presented to the Bahraini public in a referendum in February 2001. In the first comprehensive public vote in Bahrain since the 1970s, 94.8% of voters overwhelmingly endorsed the charter. That same month, Shaikh Hamad pardoned all political prisoners and detainees, including those who had been imprisoned, exiled or detained on security charges. He also abolished the State Security Law and the State Security Court, which had permitted the government to detain individuals without trial for up to 3 years.
On February 14, 2002, 1 year after the referendum endorsing his National Action Charter, Shaikh Hamad pronounced Bahrain a constitutional monarchy and changed his status from Amir to King. He simultaneously announced that the first municipal elections since 1957 would be held in May 2002, and that a bicameral parliament, with a representative lower house, would be reconstituted with parliamentary elections in October 2002. As part of these constitutional reforms, the government created an independent financial watchdog empowered to investigate cases of embezzlement and violations of state expenditure in July 2002.
Turnout for the May 2002 municipal elections was 51%, with female voters making up 52% of voters. Turnout for the 2002 parliamentary elections--the first in almost 3 decades--was 53% in the first round and 43% in the second round, despite the fact that four political societies, including the largest Shi'a society, organized a boycott to protest constitutional provisions enacted by the King that gave the appointed upper chamber of parliament voting rights equal to the elected lower chamber. The new parliament held its first joint sitting in December 2002. Bahrain held its second set of parliamentary and municipal elections in November and December 2006. All registered political societies participated in the elections and a Shi'a society, Al Wifaq, represented the largest single bloc inside the Council of Representatives. Thirty-two of the Council's 40 members represented Sunni and Shi'a Islamist societies. One woman, Lateefah Al-Qauod, ran uncontested and became the first woman elected to parliament in Bahrain. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held again in 2010.
Bahrain has a complex system of courts, based on diverse legal sources, including Sunni and Shi'a Sharia (religious law), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulations created with the help of British advisers in the early 20th century. In 2001, Shaikh Hamad created the Supreme Judicial Council to regulate these courts and separate the administrative and judicial branches of government.
Principal Government Officials
King--Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Crown Prince and Commander in Chief of the Bahrain Defense Force--Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa
Prime Minister--Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa
Deputy Premier--Jawad bin Salem Al Arrayed
Deputy Premier--Mohammad bin Mubarak Al Khalifa
Deputy Premier--Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa
Foreign Minister--Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa
Ambassador to the United States--Houda Nonoo
Ambassador to the United Nations--Tawfeeq Al-Ahmed Al-Mansoor
Bahrain maintains an embassy in the United States at 3502 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel:  (202) 342-1111; fax:  (202) 362-2192. The Bahraini Mission to the UN is located at 866 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017; tel:  (212)223-6200; fax  (212) 319-0687.
The first Gulf state to discover oil, Bahrain's reserves are expected to run out in 10-15 years. Accordingly, Bahrain has worked to diversify its economy over the past decade and has stabilized its oil production at about 40,000 barrels per day (b/d). Revenues from oil and natural gas currently account for approximately 10% of GDP yet currently provide about 75% of government income. The state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company refinery built in 1935, the first in the Gulf, has a capacity of about 260,000 b/d. Saudi Arabia provides most of the crude for refinery operation via pipeline. Through an agreement with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain also receives half of the net output and revenues from Saudi Arabia's Abu Saafa offshore oilfield.
The Bahrain National Gas Company operates a gas liquefaction plant that utilizes gas piped directly from Bahrain's oilfields. Gas reserves should last about 50 years at present rates of consumption. However, rising domestic demand spurred by a recent development boom has highlighted the need to increase gas supplies. The Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company is a joint venture of the petrochemical industries of Kuwait, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, and the Government of Bahrain. The plant, completed in 1985, produces ammonia and methanol for export. Growth in the hydrocarbons sector will be contingent upon new discoveries--Bahrain awarded exploration rights to Malaysia's Petronas and the U.S.'s Chevron Texaco after the resolution of Bahrain's long-standing territorial dispute with Qatar, but no meaningful finds have been announced to date. Bahrain's other industries include the majority state-owned Aluminum Bahrain (Alba)--which operates the largest aluminum smelter in the world outside Eastern Europe with an annual production of about 843,000 metric tons (mt) in 2005 after the completion of an expansion program--and related factories, such as the Aluminum Extrusion Company and the Gulf Aluminum Rolling Mill. Other plants include the Arab Iron and Steel Company's iron ore pelletizing plant (4 million tons annually) and a shipbuilding and repair yard.
Bahrain's development as a major financial center has been the most widely heralded aspect of its diversification effort. Bahrain is a regional financial and business center; international financial institutions operate in Bahrain, both offshore and onshore, without impediments, and the financial sector is currently the largest contributor to GDP at 30%. Over 370 offshore banking units and representative offices are located in Bahrain, as well as 65 American firms. Bahrain has also made a concerted effort to become the leading Islamic finance center in the Arab world, standardizing regulations of the Islamic banking industry. It currently has 32 Islamic commercial, investment and leasing banks as well as Islamic insurance (takaful) companies--the largest concentration of Islamic financial institutions in the Middle East.
Bahrain is working to develop other service industries such as information technology, healthcare and education. The government has used its oil revenues to build an advanced infrastructure in transportation and telecommunications. The state monopoly--Batelco--was broken in April 2003 following the establishment of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). Since that time, the TRA has granted some 63 licenses in the interest of promoting healthy industry competition.
Bahrain plans to expand its airport, one of the busiest in the Gulf. More than 4.8 million passengers transited Bahrain International Airport in 2005. A modern, busy port offers direct and frequent cargo shipping connections to the U.S., Europe, and the Far East. To boost its competitiveness as a regional center, Bahrain is building a new port and has privatized port operations.
The government of Bahrain moved toward privatizing the production of electricity and water by licensing Al Ezzal to construct an independent power plant at a cost of $500 million. The company commenced operations in May 2006. In January 2006, the government announced the sale of the Al Hidd Power Plant for $738 million to Hidd Power Company, a consortium of British, Japanese, and Belgian companies.
Regional tourism is also a significant source of income. The government continues to favor large-scale tourism projects. It opened the only Formula One race track in the Middle East in 2004, and has awarded tenders for several tourist complexes. New hotel and spa projects are progressing within the context of broader real estate development, much of which is geared toward attracting increased tourism.
Government revenues continue to be largely dependent on the oil industry. Bahrain has received significant budgetary support and project grants from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. Buoyed by rising oil revenues, the 2007-2008 budget approved by the parliament in July 2006 provided for sizable increases in urban development, education, and social spending. Ministry of Defense spending was expected to account for 13% of current spending in 2007 and 2008 based on the new budget. The Ministry of Education and Ministry of the Interior also received substantial budget allocations. Significant capital outlays were allocated to improving housing and infrastructure in line with government efforts to raise the standard of living of the Shi'a population and to attract foreign investment.
The government has also started to extend protections to workers. Private sector employees won permission to form unions in late 2002; King Hamad has given his tentative approval for the formation of unions in government departments. In June 2006, Bahrain passed laws legalizing the existence of multiple trade federations and codifying several protections for workers engaged in union activity. As part of the government's labor reform program, it has formed a Labor Market Regulatory Authority and established a fund to support the training of Bahraini workers
In 2006, bilateral trade exceeded $1 billion for the first time, representing almost 50% growth over 2005. The U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement took effect on August 1, 2006 and is generating increased U.S. commercial interest in Bahrain.
The Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) numbers about 12,000 personnel and consists of army, navy, air force, air defense, and royal guard units. The public security forces and the coast guard are separate from the BDF and report to the Ministry of the Interior. Bahrain also has a national guard that consists of about 1,200 personnel. Bahrain's defense spending since 1999 has been steady. The government spends around $630 million annually on the military, about 20% of current expenditures. The parliamentary process has produced spirited debate over government spending, particularly defense spending, but no actual reductions.
With the help of the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Bahrain has made significant efforts to upgrade its defense systems and modernize its armed forces over the last 20 years. In 1982, the GCC gave Bahrain $1.7 billion for this purpose. Since the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. has provided military and defense technical assistance and training to Bahrain from Foreign Military Sales (FMS), commercial sources, excess defense article sales (EDA) and under the International Military and Education Training (IMET) program. The U.S. Office of Military Cooperation in Bahrain is attached to the U.S. Embassy and manages the security assistance mission. U.S. military sales to Bahrain since 2000 total $1.4 billion. Principal U.S. military systems acquired by the BDF include eight Apache helicopters, 54 M60A3 tanks, 22 F-16C/D aircraft, 51 Cobra helicopters, 9 MLRS Launchers (with ATACMS), 20 M109A5 Howitzers, 1 Avenger AD system, and the TPS-59 radar system. Bahrain has received $195 million in FMF and $410 million in U.S. EDA acquisition value delivered since the U.S.-Bahraini program began in 1993. The Bahrain Defense Force also placed orders for 9 UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters and 2 Mk-V Fast Patrol Boats. Delivery of both systems was planned for 2009.
Military exercises are conducted on a regular basis to increase the BDF's readiness and improve coordination with the U.S. and other GCC forces. The BDF also sends personnel to the United States for military training. This training includes courses from graduate level professional military education down to entry level technical training.
Since achieving independence in 1971, Bahrain has pursued a policy of close consultation with neighboring states. Bahrain became a member of the United Nations and the Arab League in 1971. In 1981 it joined its five neighbors--Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, the U.A.E. and Qatar--to form the strategic Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Bahrain has complied with GCC efforts steps to coordinate economic development and defense and security planning. In December 1994, for example, Bahrain concurred with the GCC decision to drop secondary and tertiary boycotts against Israel. Bahrain also responded positively to Kuwait's request to deploy the GCC collective defense force, "Peninsula Shield," during the buildup and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003.
In addition to maintaining strong relations with its largest financial backers, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the U.A.E., Bahrain has worked to improve its relations with Qatar and has proper, but not warm, relations with Iran. Bahrain-Iran relations have been strained since the discovery in 1981 of an Iran-sponsored coup plot in Bahrain. Bahraini suspicions of the Iranian role in local unrest in the mid-1990s remain. On March 16, 2001, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced its judgment on the long-standing maritime delimitation and territorial dispute between Bahrain and Qatar. The binding judgment awarded sovereignty over the Hawar Islands and Qit'at Jaradah to Bahrain and sovereignty over Zubarah (part of the Qatar Peninsula), Janan Island and Fasht ad Dibal to Qatar. The peaceful settlement of this dispute has allowed for renewed co-operation, including plans to construct a causeway between the two countries.
Bahrain's strategic partnership with the U.S. has intensified since 1991. Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, and the country was used as a base for military operations in the Gulf. Bahrain also provided logistical and basing support to international Maritime Interdiction efforts to enforce UN sanctions and prevent illegal smuggling of oil from Iraq in the 1990s. Bahrain also provided extensive basing and overflight clearances for a multitude of U.S. aircraft operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Bahrain also deployed forces in support of coalition operations during both OEF and OIF. Bahrain has delivered humanitarian support and technical training to support the reconstruction of the Iraqi banking sector, and has offered support for each stage of Iraq's political transformation. Bahrain has also cooperated effectively on criminal investigation issues in support of the campaign on terrorism; the Bahrain Monetary Agency (which became the Central Bank of Bahrain in September 2006) moved quickly to restrict terrorists' ability to transfer funds through Bahrain's financial system. In October 2006, Bahrain joined the U.S. and 23 other countries in a Proliferation Security Initiative interdiction exercise in the Persian Gulf.
The American Mission Hospital, affiliated with the National Evangelical Church, has operated continuously in Bahrain for more than a century. Bahrain has also been a base for U.S. naval activity in the Gulf since 1947. When Bahrain became independent, the U.S.-Bahrain relationship was formalized with the establishment of diplomatic relations. The U.S. embassy at Manama was opened September 21, 1971, and a resident ambassador was sent in 1974. The Bahraini embassy in Washington, DC, opened in 1977. In October 1991, Amir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa made a state visit to Washington. In 2001, Amir Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa made his first visit to the U.S. after succeeding his father in 1999. He returned to Washington on an official visit in January 2003. King Hamad made an official visit to Washington in November 2004 to meet with President George W. Bush and cabinet-level officials. In January 2008, President Bush made the first visit by a sitting President to Bahrain. King Hamad visited Washington in March 2008.
Bahrain and the United States signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in October 1991 granting U.S. forces access to Bahraini facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future crises. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. The U.S. designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally in October 2001. Bahrain and the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2004.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Stephanie Williams
Political/Economic Section Chief--Kari Paetzold
Economic/Commercial Officer--Benjamin Thomson
Consular Section Chief--Nausher Ali
Public Affairs Officer--Rachel Graaf
Management Officer--George Navadel
The U.S. Embassy in Bahrain is located off Sheikh Isa Highway, at Building 979, Road 3119, Block 321, Zinj, Manama, Bahrain. The mailing address is P.O. Box 26431, Manama, Bahrain; tel:  242-700; fax:  272-594. The embassy's hours of operation outside of Ramadan are 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays.