Once at the vanguard of developing Gulf city-states, Bahrain has now lost that position to sheikdoms like Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, as well as neighboring Qatar. Although Bahrain’s capital, Manama, has some of the glitz of other Gulf capitals, its early lead in development — achieved during the 1970s with the creation of a dry dock, an aluminum smelter, and offshore banking infrastructure — is no more. Similarly, political reforms appear stalled, with little or no progress made since the bicameral legislature was introduced in 2002. The 2006 elections were manipulated, if not rigged, to ensure that Shiite legislators did not win a majority. And members of the royal family still hold the majority of cabinet positions.
Perhaps most worrisome for Washington, the regime no longer seems to be exercising the canny balancing of political tensions that other Gulf rulers employ to ensure stability. Instead, Sunni-Shiite friction is being played out on the streets — never a good way of attracting foreign investors.
The Washington Institute – Small Island, Big Issues: Bahrain’s King Visits Washington