Bahrain is dominated by its constitutional monarch but tensions are rising
The state of Bahrain consists of around 30 islands in the Persian Gulf. Bahrain island itself, which has more than 85% of the territory, is mostly arid. Wells and springs in the north are used to irrigate fruit and vegetables, but the water table is sinking, so future agricultural prospects are poor.
The native population of Bahrain is largely Arab and divided between the majority Shia and minority Sunni sects. Bahrainis enjoy high standards of health and education but, unlike the citizens of most other Gulf oil states, many are not well off, and 15% were unemployed in 2005—with a higher rate among the Sunnis. Even so, Bahrainis employ immigrants, who are 60% of the workforce, primarily from the Indian sub-continent, to do most of the less popular work.
Bahrain's economy is based on oil, but its reserves are small—125 million barrels in 2008. It processes this in its own refineries, along with oil from Saudi Arabia. Since it has less oil than other Gulf countries, Bahrain has had to develop a more diverse economy. Thus, it uses gas reserves to fuel one of the world's largest aluminium smelters and it also has a range of industries that include ship repairing, as well as light engineering and manufacturing.
Bahrain is also a financial, trading, and distribution hub for the other Gulf countries; it is linked by a 25- kilometre causeway to Saudi Arabia. Two-thirds of the workforce are employed in these and other services.
Until 2002, Bahrain was an absolute monarchy run by the al-Khalifa family in cooperation with the Sunni business élite. However, the emir had long faced opposition, both from within the country from the minority Shia, and from the London-based Bharaini Freedom Movement.
In 1999, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa became emir and started a wave of reforms—transforming Bahrain into a constitutional monarchy with a parliament of two chambers: one elected, one appointed. On a day-to-day basis, however, the country is run by his uncle, the prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa.
In 2002 Sheikh Hamad declared himself king but he also amended the constitution to give the appointed chamber powers equal to those of the elected chamber—effectively entrenching his own position. The main opposition is a Shia group, the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, which in 2006 gained 17 of the 40 seats in the lower house.
www.mofa.gov.bh/MOFA/intro.html Ministry of Foreign Affairs
www.gulf-daily-news.com/ Gulf Daily News - Main newspaper
Land area: 1,000 sq. km.
Population: 0.8 million—urban 89%
Capital city: Manama, 153,000
People: Bahraini 63%, Asian 13%, other Arab 10%, Iranian 8%, other 6%
Language: Arabic, English, Farsi, Urdu
Religion: Muslim 81%, other 19%
Government: Absolute monarchy
Life expectancy: 76 years
GDP per capita: $PPP 29,723
Currency: Bahraini dinar
Major exports: Oil products, aluminium, chemicals