An archipelago made up of some 30 islands, Bahrain was once viewed by the ancient Sumerians as an island paradise to which the wise and the brave were taken to enjoy eternal life. With the current harsh Gulf climate, however, it is mostly desert. It still plays a traditional role as an important trading centre.
Bahrain – whose name means “two seas” – was one of the first states in the Gulf to discover oil and build a refinery. As such it saw the benefits of the new oil wealth before most of its neighbours. But it never reached the levels of production enjoyed by Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and has recently been forced to diversify its economy.
The country has been headed since 1783 by the Al Khalifa family, members of the Sunni Bani Utbah tribe, who succeeded in expelling the Persians. From 1861, when a treaty was signed with Britain, until independence in 1971, Bahrain was virtually a British protectorate.
The King is the supreme authority and the ruling family holds all important political and military posts. Since the National Assembly was dissolved in 1975, there have been outbreaks of civil unrest involving the Shi’i majority.
In 2001 Bahrainis gave overwhelming support to proposals put by the Emir – now the King – to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary by 2004. The country has also been enjoying increasing freedom of expression, although the prosecution of an outspoken journalist in December 2001 has cast a shadow over this.
The island state has for the past few years been a centre for tourists from the region taking advantage of its relaxed social environment.
It is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
His Majesty the King Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
Born on 28 January, 1950, Shaikh Hamad was educated at public school in Cambridge, England, and went on to study at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England, and at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, USA.
In 1968, he founded and became Commander-in-Chief of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). He also served as Minister of Defence from 1971 to 1988.
He had been Crown Prince since 1964, when, on the death of his father, Shaikh Isa, in March 1999, he became Emir of Bahrain and Supreme Commander of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF).
His title was changed to king when the country officially changed its status from an emirate to a monarchy on 14th February 2002.
Radio and television stations are owned by the government. Self-censorship among the privately-owned newspapers means that they avoid criticizing the government or covering human rights issues.
Despite an official ban, an estimated 6% of Bahrain’s 230,000 homes were said to have access to satellite TV in 1999.
Radio & Television
Provided by Bahrain Telecommunications Company (Batelco) who are currently the only PTT on the island, Bahrain had some 140,000 online subscribers by the end of 2001, representing about 21% of the population.