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(both: bärān`, bə–), officially Kingdom of Bahrain, constitutional monarchy and archipelago (2005 est. pop. 688,300), 266 sq mi (689 sq km), in the Persian Gulf. The two main islands are Bahrain and Al Muharraq, connected by a causeway. The capital and chief port is Al ManamahManamah, Al
, town (1991 pop. 127,578), capital, commercial center, and largest city of Bahrain, on the Persian Gulf. It has oil refineries and light industries and is a free port. The National Museum and a Qur'an museum are in the town, and the command of the U.S.
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, on Bahrain.

Land and People

The islands are flat and sandy, with a few low hills. The climate is hot and humid during the summer, mild and pleasant in the winter. The largely urban population is about 60% Bahraini; the balance of the inhabitants consist of nonnationals who are mainly other Arabs, Iranians, and South Asians. Islam (75% Shiite and 25% Sunni) is the religion of most of the population, and there are Christian and other minorities. Modern Bahrain has been marked by recurring tension between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minortiy, who include the ruling family and have dominated the government. Languages spoken other than Arabic (the official language) include English, Farsi, and Urdu.


Bahrain was once a chief center of pearling, but the industry declined in the 20th cent. Oil was found in 1931, and oil revenues have financed extensive modernization projects, particularly in health and education. Oil and petroleum products account for about 60% of Bahrain's export earnings. However, Bahrain is expected to be the first Persian Gulf nation to run dry of oil, and steps have been taken to diversify the nonagricultural sector of the economy. Aluminum-smelting, banking and financial-services, ship-repair, textile-manufacturing, and tourism industries have been established, as have oil refineries that largely process Saudi crude. Bahrain is home to numerous multinational firms, and the government actively encourages foreign investment. The U.S. navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf, is based in Bahrain. There is some fishing, and dates, fruits, and vegetables are grown, but the majority of Bahrain's food is imported. Machinery and chemicals are also imported. Saudi Arabia is the main trading partner.


Bahrain is governed under the constitution of 2002. The king is the head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the king. The bicameral legislature consists of the 40-seat Consultative Council, whose members are appointed by the king, and the 40-member Council of Representatives, whose members are popularly elected to four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into five governorates.


During the 3d millennium B.C., Bahrain (known in Sumerian as Dilmun) was already an important trade center, functioning as a transshipment point between Arabia and India. In the ancient world it was also famous for the pearling conducted in the waters surrounding the islands. The Greeks knew the island as Tylos. The term Bahrain was used to describe the entire Persian Gulf coast of Arabia in the early Islamic era; the island was also known as Awal or Aval. Bahrain was ruled in the 16th cent. by Portugal and intermittently from 1602 to 1783 by Persia. The Persians were expelled by an Arabian family that established the present ruling dynasty, the al-Khalifas. In 1861, Bahrain became a British protectorate.

Nearly a century later, demonstrations and strikes in the 1950s and 60s demanded greater popular participation in government. Iran claimed the islands in 1970 after the United Nations reported that the inhabitants desired independence. In 1971, after Britain withdrew from the Persian Gulf area, Bahrain became independent. In 1973 a constitution that limited the sheikh's powers was adopted and an elected national assembly established, but in 1975 the sheikh suspended the constitution and dissolved the national assembly. Bahrain was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981, along with neighboring Persian Gulf countries, and it is also a member of the Arab League.

In the 1980s and 1990s relations with Qatar were strained by a dispute over the Hawar Islands and the large natural-gas resources of the Dome field (in the shallow sea between both countries). In the late 1980s a causeway was built connecting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. After the end of the Iran-Iraq WarIran-Iraq War,
1980–88, protracted military conflict between Iran and Iraq. It officially began on Sept. 22, 1980, with an Iraqi land and air invasion of western Iran, although Iraqi spokespersons maintained that Iran had been engaging in artillery attacks on Iraqi towns
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 (1988), attempts were made to improve relations with Iran; persistent irritants to Iran were the poverty among Bahrain's Shiite majority and the small Shiite representation in Bahrain's cabinet. During the 1991 Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.


First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
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, coalition forces were allowed extensive use of Bahraini territory. In 1993 a consultative council (Shura) was appointed to replace the long-dissolved national assembly. In the mid and late 1990s unrest among Bahrain's Shiites has led to opposition protests and violence; the restoration of an elected parliament was one of the main demands. In 1996 more than 50 people were arrested for involvement in what was said to be an Iranian-backed coup attempt.

Sheikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who had ruled since 1961, died in 1999; he was succeeded by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The new ruler moved gradually toward increased democracy for Bahrain. In 2000 he called for the establishment of a national committee to write a new national charter. The charter, which established a constitutional monarchy, was approved in Feb., 2001; the same month a general amnesty for political prisoners and exiles was declared.

Bahrain was proclaimed a kingdom in 2002, and the Shura was dissolved prior to the assembly elections. Because King Hamad had established an appointed upper house in the national parliament, which had not been part of the charter approved in 2001, a number of groups (including the largest Shiite association) called for an electoral boycott; turnout in the October elections was 53%. The elected deputies were largely moderate Sunnites and independents. The election marked the first time that women in a Arab Persian Gulf monarchy could vote or run for national office. Shiite-Sunni tensions in Bahrain increased again after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In Sept., 2006, a former government adviser of Sunni Sudanese descent accused a number of government officials (but not the king or prime minister) of conspiring to manipulate elections and use other means to maintain Sunni control of Bahrain's government and society. The detailed report was denounced by the head of Bahrain intelligence service, who was accused of being central to the conspiracy, and the adviser was deported and then accused of attempting to overthrow the government and other crimes. An investigation into the evidence and charges was sought by Shiite opposition groups. In the Nov.–Dec., 2006, parliamentary elections themselves, the Shiite opposition secured 18 seats while Sunnis won 22; conservatives and Islamists were dominant in both groups.

In 2009 tensions between the government and Shiite opposition activists led to arrests of activist leaders and recurring protests against the government; the protests continued into 2010, with an increased security crackdown in the second half of the year. The results of the Oct., 2010, parliamentary elections were largely similar to those in 2006 except that Sunni Islamists won fewer seats; the opposition again failed to secure a majority.

In Feb.–Mar., 2011, there were massive antigovernment protests in the capital, paralleling the protests in other Arab nations; opposition Shiite legislators resigned after protesters were killed in February (and the main Shiite party boycotted the by-elections held in September). In March, Saudi and Emirati forces entered Bahrain at the request of the government, and Bahrain, which painted the initially relatively nonsectarian protests as an Iranian-inspired Shiite attempt at revolution, quickly and violently quashed the protests and arrested hundreds. A number of opposition leaders and others were convicted and harshly sentenced.

In the aftermath of the protests, sectarian tensions in Bahrain increased, aggravated by anti-Shiite repression that was economic and social as well as political. An indepdendent government report (Nov., 2011) on the events of February and March said that security forces had used excessive force and engaged in torture; the report also said it could not find a clear link between the demonstrators and Iran. Some constitutional reforms were adopted in the first half of 2012, but the opposition criticized them as inadequate. The situation remained tense and unsettled into subsequent years. The government continued to take repressive measures against the Shiite-dominated opposition, which mounted recurring demonstrations against the government. In the Nov., 2014, elections progovernment candidates won a majority of the seats; the main Shiite party boycotted the election, but 13 independent Shiite candidates won seats.


See F. Adamīyat, Bahrein Islands (1955); J. B. Nugent and T. Thomas, ed., Bahrain and the Gulf (1985); T. T. Farah, Protection and Politics in Bahrain (1986); F. Lawson, Bahrain: The Modernization of Autocracy (1988).



(Bahrain Islands), a sheikhdom (a state since Aug. 15, 1971) in Asia consisting of the Bahrain Islands in the Persian Gulf. Area, 598 sq km. Population (est. 1969), 207,000, consisting mainly of Arabs, but including persons of Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani origin. Most of the population is Muslim. The language is a dialect of Arabic. The population is 74 percent urban. The capital is Manama.

Natural features. Bahrain consists of a group of more than 20 continental and coral islands, the most important of which are Bahrain, Muharraq, Umm Nasan, Sitra, and Hawar. The islands are low-lying, the highest point being 135 m, and consist mainly of limestone. The climate varies from tropical to subtropical. The average temperature for January is 16° C and for July-August, 37° C. The annual precipitation is about 90 mm. The prevailing landscape is tropical desert.

Historical survey. The first mention of Bahrain occurs in the third millennium B.C. In the first centuries A.D. it was an Arab principality. From the fourth to the sixth century it formed part of the Sassanid state, and later of the Arabian Caliphate. At the end of the ninth century Bahrain was seized by the Karmathians, and in the tenth and 11th centuries it formed the center of their state. In the middle of the 13th century it became independent, but soon after was joined to the emirate of Hormuz. At the beginning of the 16th century it was captured by the Portuguese and formed part of the Safawid Persian state after the Portuguese were driven out in the first quarter of the 17th century. In the 1780’s, Arabian sheikhs of the al-Khalifa family proclaimed Bahrain’s independence. From the beginning of the 19th century Great Britain began to penetrate into Bahrain. After concluding a number of treaties with the sheikhs in 1820, 1847, and 1861, Great Britain established a protectorate over Bahrain in 1871, an act which was confirmed by treaties in 1880 and 1892. Bahrain was in effect transformed into a colony. During World War I (1914–18) an important military base was set up there. The Iranian government regarded Bahrain as illegally seized Iranian territory. Toward the end of the 1920’s, American oil monopolies began penetrating into Bahrain. The American Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO) secured from the British government rights that authorized the company to sign an agreement with the sheikh of Bahrain in 1930, under which it obtained a concession to prospect for and extract oil for a period of 69 years. (Extraction began in 1932.) During World War II (1939–45) the British government sent large numbers of troops to Bahrain. Since 1946 the town of Manama has been the residence of the head of the British administration in the Persian Gulf area.

The national liberation movement which had been developing in Bahrain from 1918 acquired particular momentum after World War II. The main demonstrations took place in 1951, 1954, and 1956. From the end of the 1950’s the movement was headed by the National Liberation Front of Bahrain (established in 1956); under its direction, further demonstrations occurred in 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, and soon.

In 1968, together with Qatar and Trucial Oman, Bahrain announced the formation of a so-called Federation of Arab Principalities of the Persian Gulf. At the request of Great Britain and Iran, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, sent a special mission in the spring of 1970 to ascertain the wishes of the people of Bahrain on the question of the future status of the country. The overwhelming majority of the population expressed the wish that Bahrain should be granted independence. On May 11, 1970, the Security Council endorsed the mission’s report.

Economy. Bahrain is an economically backward country, dependent on foreign capital. Its chief source of wealth is oil, the main deposits of which lie in the central part of Bahrain Island (the Jabal Dukhan area) and are exploited by the American Bahrain Petroleum Company. Part of the income from these deposits is paid to the sheikh. The oil extracted (3.8 million tons in 1969) and part of the oil piped from Saudi Arabia goes to an oil refinery capable of processing about 11 million tons a year, which is situated on the eastern side of Bahrain Island. Much of the refined product is exported through the port of Sitra. Asphalt, gypsum, and lime are produced. There is a small-craft shipbuilding industry. The main industrial and handicraft centers are Manama, Muhar-raq, and Hidd.

Most of the peasants are landless and work as sharecroppers. Cultivated land is in the oases and represents only 5 percent of the total area. The main forms of agriculture are fruit growing and vegetable growing, the main fruit being dates, while vegetables include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants. Maize, wheat, and barley are also grown. Livestock raising—cattle, camels and donkeys—is of less importance, but there is a considerable fishing industry and a pearl industry.

There are 200 km of automobile roads. Bahrain Island is joined by dikes to the islands of Muharraq and Sitra. The main seaports are Manama, Sitra, and Sulman. The airport, which is of international importance, is situated on Muharraq Island. Oil products, as well as pearls and dates, are exported by US monopoly companies. Bahrain is an important transit center for British and American goods destined for eastern Arabia. Imports from Great Britain, the United States, India, Japan, and the Federal Republic of Germany include foodstuffs (more than 30 percent of the total), consumer goods, automobiles, and cement. The monetary unit is the Bahrain dinar (since October 1965); 1.14286 dinars are equal to one pound sterling (1969).

Education. Until 1919 there were no state schools providing general education. Children learned the rudiments of arithmetic and reading and writing in Arabic in the mosques. The first state secular school was opened in 1919 on Muharraq Island. Education advanced somewhat as foreign companies began to exploit the oil deposits because the companies needed literate workers. However, the overwhelming majority of the population remains illiterate. School education (free since 1957) is conducted separately for boys and girls, adheres to the British education programs, and uses English textbooks. The present educational system provides for six years of elementary school. The two years of intermediate and three years of secondary school are divided into general educational and vocational training sections. Religion holds an important place in the curriculum, and there are primary and secondary religious schools. After graduating from primary school, students may take four-year courses in vocational schools or in pedagogical schools that train primary school teachers. Secondary school graduates are trained as intermediate or secondary school teachers in two-year pedagogical schools. In 1967–68 more than 35,000 children attended primary schools; 5,300, intermediate schools; 3,800, secondary schools; 400, vocational schools; and 300, pedagogical schools. There were no higher educational institutions.


Bodianskii, V. L. Bakhrein. Moscow, 1962.
Bodianskii, V. L. “Bakhrein.” In Strany Aravii. Moscow, 1964.
Bodianskii, V. L., and M. S. Lazarev. “Iuzhnaia i vostochnaia Aravia.” In Noveishaia istoriia arabskikh stran. Moscow, 1968. Bodianskii, V., O. Gerasimov, and L. Medvedko. Kniazhestva Persidskogo zaliva. Moscow, 1970.
Faroughy, A. The Bahrein Islands. New York, 1951.
Wilson, A. The Persian Gulf. London, [1954].
Adamiyat, F. Bahrein Islands. New York, 1955.
Abu Hakima, A. History of Eastern Arabia, 1750–1800. Beirut, [1965].
Albaharna, H. The Legal Status of the Arabian Gulf States. Manchester (USA), 1968.


Official name: Kingdom of Bahrain

Capital city: Manama

Internet country code: .bh

Flag description: Red, the traditional color for flags of Persian Gulf states, with a white serrated band (five white points) on the hoist side; the five points represent the five pillars of Islam

National anthem: “Bahrainona, Maleekuna” (first line; English translation: Our Bahrain, our King)

Geographical description: Middle East, archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia

Total area: 274 sq. mi. (727 sq. km.)

Climate: Arid; mild, pleasant winters; very hot, humid summers

Nationality: noun: Bahraini(s); adjective: Bahraini

Population: 708,573, which includes 235,108m non-nation­als (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: Bahraini 63%, Asian 19%, other Arab 10%, Iranian 8%

Languages spoken: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, Urdu

Religions: Citizen population is 98% Muslim (about 70% Shi’a and 30% Sunni), other religious groups among non-national population include Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Sikhs

Legal Holidays:

Labor DayMay 1
National DayDec 16
New Year's DayJan 1


, Bahrein
an independent sheikhdom on the Persian Gulf, consisting of several islands: under British protection until the declaration of independence in 1971. It has large oil reserves. Language: Arabic. Religion: Muslim. Currency: dinar. Capital: Manama. Pop.: 739 000 (2004 est.). Area: 678 sq. km (262 sq. miles)