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4 governorates (muhafazat, singular - muhafazah); Asimah (Capital), Janubiyah (Southern), Muharraq, Shamaliyah (Northern)
note: each governorate administered by an appointed governor
15 August 1971 (from the UK)
National Day, 16 December (1971); note - 15 August 1971 was the date of independence from the UK, 16 December 1971 was the date of independence from British protection
history: adopted 14 February 2002
amendments: proposed by the king or by at least 15 members of either chamber of the National Assembly followed by submission to an Assembly committee for review and, if approved, submitted to the government for restatement as drafts; passage requires a two-thirds majority vote by the membership of both chambers and validation by the king; constitutional articles on the state religion (Islam), state language (Arabic), and the monarchy and “inherited rule” cannot be amended; amended 2012, 2017 (2017)
mixed legal system of Islamic law, English common law, Egyptian civil, criminal, and commercial codes; customary law
International law organization participation:
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt
citizenship by birth: no
citizenship by descent only: the father must be a citizen of Bahrain
dual citizenship recognized: no
residency requirement for naturalization: 25 years; 15 years for Arab nationals
20 years of age; universal; note - Bahraini Cabinet in May 2011 endorsed a draft law lowering eligibility to 18 years
chief of state: King HAMAD bin Isa Al-Khalifa (since 6 March 1999); Crown Prince SALMAN bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (son of the monarch, born 21 October 1969)
head of government: Prime Minister KHALIFA bin Salman Al-Khalifa (since 1971); First Deputy Prime Minister SALMAN bin Hamad Al Khalifa (since 11 March 2013); Deputy Prime Ministers MUHAMMAD bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa (since September 2005), Jawad bin Salim al-ARAIDH, ALI bin Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa (since 11 December 2006), KHALID bin Abdallah Al Khalifa (since November 2010)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the monarch
elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; prime minister appointed by the monarch
description: bicameral National Assembly consists of:
elections: Consultative Council or Majlis al Shura (40 seats; members appointed by the king)
Council of Representatives or Majlis al Nuwab (40 seats; members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by absolute majority vote in 2 rounds if needed; members serve 4-year renewable terms)
note: Council of Representatives - last held in two rounds on 23 and 29 November 2014 (next to be held in late 2018)
election results: Council of Representatives - percent of vote by society - NA; seats by society - Islamic Al-Asalah (Sunni Salafi) 2, National Islamic Minbar (Sunni Muslim Brotherhood) 1, independent 37; note - Bahrain has societies rather than parties
highest court(s): Court of Cassation or Supreme Court of Appeal (consists of the chairman and 3 judges); Constitutional Court (consists of the president and 6 members); High Sharia Court of Appeal (court sittings include the president and at least one judge); appeals beyond the High Sharia Court of Appeal are heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal
note: the judiciary of Bahrain is divided into civil law courts and sharia law courts; sharia courts(involving personal status and family law) are further divided into Sunni Muslim and Shia Muslim
judge selection and term of office: Court of Cassation judges appointed by royal decree and serve for a specified tenure; Constitutional Court president and members appointed by the Higher Judicial Council, a body chaired by the monarch and includes judges from the Court of Cassation, sharia law courts, and Civil High Courts of Appeal; members serve 9-year terms; High Sharia Court of Appeal member appointment and tenure NA
subordinate courts: Civil High Courts of Appeal; middle and lower civil courts; High Sharia Court of Appeal; Senior Sharia Court; Administrative Courts of Appeal; military courts
Political parties and leaders:
note: political parties are prohibited, but political societies were legalized under a July 2005 law
Arab Islamic Center Society [Mohd SANAD]
Constitutional Gathering Society [Khalid AL-KALBAN]
Islamic Asalah (al-Asalah) [Abd al-Halim MURAD]
Islamic Saff Society [Abdullah Khalil BU GHAMAR]
Islamic Shura Society
Movement of National Justice Society [Muhi al-Din KHAN]
National Action Charter Society [Muhammad AL-BUAYNAYN]
National Democratic Assembly [Hasan AL-ALI]
National Dialogue Society [Hamad Rashid Al NUAIMI]
National Islamic Minbar [Ali AHMAD]
National Progressive Tribune [Khalil YOUSIF]
National Unity Gathering [Abdullatif AL-MAHMOOD]
Unitary National Democratic Assemblage [Hasan AL-MARZOOQ]
Bahrain’s island location has made it unique among Persian Gulf states. With greater access to ocean travel and broader exposure to outside influences, Bahrain traditionally has been home to a more ethnically and religiously diverse and cosmopolitan population than have other, more insular gulf states. This openness is reflected in Bahrain’s social customs, which—although still conservative—are much more moderate and relaxed than those of its neighbours, particularly conservative Saudi Arabia. Thus, although Bahrain is still at heart an Arab-Islamic country, it has been more accepting of modernization and Westernization than many of its neighbours.
U.S. Recognition of Bahraini Independence, 1971 .
The United States recognized the State of Bahrain on August 15, 1971, when the Department of State issued a press release to that effect.
Establishment of Diplomatic Relationsand the American Embassy in Bahrain, 1971 .
Embassy Manama was opened on September 21, 1971, with John N. Gatch, Jr. as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim . Ambassador William A. Soltzfus, Jr. presented credentials to the government of Bahrain on February 17, 1972 and was resident at Kuwait for the duration of his posting.
Installation of American Ambassador at Manama, 1974 .
Ambassador Joseph W. Twinam presented credentials to the government of Bahrain on June 10, 1974, and became the first American ambassador resident at Embassy Manama .
An ancient land rich in culture and history, the Kingdom of Bahrain is also characterized by a cosmopolitan outlook and modernization. An archipelago of 33 islands, Bahrain lies in the Arabian Gulf with Saudi Arabia to its west and Qatar to the south east. Bahrain, with a causeway connecting it to Saudi Arabia holds a strategic location in the Middle East and provides convenient access to all areas of the world.
The landscape of modern skyscraper buildings and highways is mixed with mosques old and new, and lively traditional markets, or souqs.
Bahrain is a hereditary constitutional monarchy led by the King His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Prime Minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and the Crown Prince, Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, as well as a Cabinet of Ministers.
Bahrain literally means “two seas” in Arabic and refers to the existence of dual sources of water, naturally occurring sweet water springs and the surrounding Gulf of Bahrain. From the latter, Bahrain gained much of its economic power until the early 1930s when the production of oil replaced the pearl industry and maritime commerce. The revenues have financed wide modernization projects, most importantly in health and education. Education in Bahrain is compulsory, and all school age children attend either public or private schools. Bahrain provides free education for all Bahraini and non-Bahraini students through the public school system.
Often labeled as the “Gateway to the Gulf”, this can be seen in a diverse and tolerance among population. Arabic is the official language, but English is widely used in business and is compulsory in schools. Due to the high number of expatriates living in Bahrain, other languages such as Persian and Urdu are spoken and understood in both traditional and contemporary market places. While Islam is the official religion of the Kingdom of Bahrain, followers of other religions enjoy freedom of worship.
Since 1999, the Kingdom of Bahrain has undertaken a major reform programme, focusing on political and economic development, and the protection and promotion of human rights, which are protected by its Constitution.
Around 5000 years ago Bahrain was home to the Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, which lasted some two millenia. Dilmun was an important trade and commerce center, connecting business between Arabia and India, a tradition Bahrain still holds as a financial hub of the Middle East.
Since then, Bahrain has been occupied alternately by Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, and Turks, among others. The Greeks knew the island as Tylos and in the early Islamic era, the island was known as Awal. Qal’at al Bahrain (Bahrain Fort), an ancient harbor and capital of Dilmun, is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Numerous other sites such as A’ali Tumuli Mound field, Barbar Temple, Saar Heritage Park, Arad Fort and Hawar Islands reserve are also being considered for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
In 1861, Bahrain became a British protectorate from which it gained independence on August 15, 1971. A period of nation building and consolidation followed independence. Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa , who had ruled Bahrain since 1961, passed away in 1999. He was succeeded by his son, His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The new ruler adopted a reform agenda and established a national committee to draft a new national charter. In February 2001, Bahraini voters overwhelmingly voted in a referendum on the National Action Charter, which was a framework for democratic transformation. In 2002, an amended constitution was issued by HM the King. The new Constitution assures individual rights and freedoms including the participation and rights of women in elections and voting.
The National Action Charter also outlines an independent judiciary and the creation of a bicameral national legislature. This is comprised of the elected house (Chamber of Deputies, Nuwab) and the appointed house (Consultative, or Shura, Council) of 40 members who each serve a four-year term.
In 1932 oil was found in Bahrain, the first discovery of oil on the Arab side of the Gulf. The reserve, however, is relatively small and Bahrain is expected to be the first Gulf country to run out of oil. Accordingly, the country is taking some steps to diversify its economy and further develop international business relationships.
According to the Bahrain Economic Vision 2030, the country is facing a shortage of both quality employment and appropriate skills. Over the next ten years, the size of Bahrain’s workforce is expected to double. Presently, about 4,000 Bahrainis a year enter the job market with at least a college degree. If this continues, there will not be enough jobs to meet this demand. The private sector does not currently accommodate these numbers and Bahrain has addressed these issues by redistributing oil revenues and offering citizens jobs in the public sector. This oversized public sector, however, cannot be sustained in the future, considering the gradual decline of oil reserves. The most sustainable way of raising youth employment is a planned transformation to an economy that is driven by a strong private sector that will also offer attractive career opportunities to suitably skilled Bahrainis.
Adequate national capacities for effective trade policy administration will need to be enhanced through strengthening institutional and technical capacities in order to improve the efficiency of the economic governance system.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has made noticeable strides towards gender equality, yet there remain some areas to be addressed., which included ensuring women the same training opportunities as men at work, that women's needs are taken into consideration when evaluating the budget of organisations within the private and public sector, and that women are fairly represented in senior and decision-making roles. Gender-based statistics are required in the organizational structures of ministries and institutions, in budget allocation and in planning.
Supportive policies will continue for the integration of more women into the workforce. Women must receive the same training opportunities as men so that they may have an equal chance of progressing in their careers. This will enable them to acquire the skills needed for contributing to national development competitively. Diversifying and enriching the economic, social, educational and training options for women will give them the opportunity to advance their performance, upgrade the quality of their life and engage in life-long learning.
Efforts are to be sustained to produce wider national impact, making sure women's needs are integrated into the strategies of the country in different ways, from the laws that are introduced to the policies that are implemented.
In May 2009, Bahrain adopted its first personal status law which regulates family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. This law, however, is only applicable to one of the two main Islamic sects of the population. Work and discussions within the parliament to draft the second part of the law is still ongoing.
Bahrain has been a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 2002, but has placed reservations on certain provisions mainly on the grounds that they may contravene Islamic Sharia precepts or violate Bahrain's national sovereignty. Efforts, led by the Supreme Council for Women, are ongoing to remove or redraft the reservations of the Kingdom.
Reliable and disaggregated statistics are a key part of development and national policymakers and the international development community have become increasingly aware of the need to strengthen statistical capacity to support the design, monitoring and evaluation of national development plans and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Bahrain will need to devote considerable effort to ensure that development data is available, including monitoring and reporting of global indicators.
Further improvement in the productivity and service delivery of civil service employees is required. The changes introduced in 2002 and more recently in 2012 have vested the Chamber of Deputies, the lower Parliament’s chamber that is elected directly by the people, with more powers and additional support must be provided to the MPs, as well as the Secretariat, to exercise their roles and responsibilities. Staff development needs are to be identified and efficient processes developed to allow the body to achieve maximum impact. Strengthening the institution of parliament and fostering citizen participation will be further areas of work. Technical assistance will be provided to Bahrainis as they review legislations, with particular attention to adopting human rights based approach to development and the democratic process that incorporates all members of society, including the most vulnerable.
The Kingdom of Bahrain's development as a major financial center is a main result of its diversification effort. High levels of trade and investment supported by a competitive and efficient regulatory environment and developed communication and transport facilities make Bahrain home to numerous multinational firms with business in the Gulf. Bahrain implemented a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US in August 2006, becoming the first Gulf state to sign such a bilateral trade agreement with the United States.
According to the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, Bahrain’s economic freedom score is 75.5, making its economy the 12th freest in the world. Bahrain is ranked 1st out of 15 countries in the Middle East/North Africa region, which points to its efforts in creating an economic climate that supports development efforts.
The Kingdom of Bahrain's economy is competitive in several respects, including low taxation, openness to global trade, and financial market development. The government has continued to implement measures to realize the country’s Economic Vision 2030 a long-term economic development plan designed to improve living standards by building a competitive, diversified economy. Focused has been on diversification in non-oil sectors, and the country is currently leading trade negotiations in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to increase levels of freedom in business, monetary and financial areas.
Bahrain has held parliamentary and municipal elections in 2010 that attracted a 67 percent voter turnout. A total of 127 candidates, including seven women, ran for the Parliament’s 40 available seats, and 171 contested the 39 available municipal council seats. Political leaders continue to review and adapt legislation according to the Constitution as well as international conventions to which Bahrain is committed, aiming to create an inclusive society where all citizens contribute towards it development.
Bahrain has made remarkable progress in implementing equal rights for women. The constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain affirms the equality of men and women and guarantees access to job opportunities for all citizens and enjoyment of the right to participate in public affairs. Principles of justice and equal opportunity are realised through the adoption of laws and regulations and mainstreamed into national strategies.
The Supreme Council for Women was established in 2001 as the authorized official body responsible for all women’s affairs and has developed the National Strategy for the Advancement of the Bahraini Women which aims to close the gender gap. Executive steps have been taken to transform the Strategic Plan to Implementing the National Strategy for the Advancement of the Bahraini Women (2013-2022).
Since 2010 when a national model for equal opportunities was put in place, 18 government ministries have opened equal opportunity units which aim to ensure the integration of women’s needs in development as part of the National Plan for the Advancement of Bahraini Women. Women currently occupy 47.8 per cent of the total workforce in ministries and government institutions.
Bahraini women occupy posts in the three legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. They also hold leading positions as ministers, ambassadors, university chancellor, and directors. Women have been active in the labour market and have entered new sectors and positions previously monopolized by men. The State has taken care to promote gender equality in all laws promulgated on the economy and labour market.
The prime minister is the executive head of government as well as the leader of the council of ministers.
The king is hereditary. The prime minister is appointed directly by the king. The Shura Council has 40 members who are appointed by the monarch.
Prime Minister: There has only been one since the country declared independence
The civil law courts deal with all commercial, civil, and criminal cases in addition to disputes related to the personal status of "non-Muslims." Shari'a law courts have jurisdiction over all issues related to the personal status of Muslims.
Civil and shari'a law court judges are either members of the royal family or non-Bahrainis.
The national assembly passes legislation which must be passed by a majority in both houses of the national assembly, and must be ratified by the king.
The council of representatives has 40 members who are elected by absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies.
Middle Ages in Bahrain
In 899 AD, Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim faction conquered Bahrain in an attempt to establish a utopian community founded on reason and re-distribution of property among the people. The Qarmatians, later on, started demanding tribute from the Baghdad Caliph, and in 930 AD sacked Medina and Mecca, and brought the sacred Black Stone to Ahsa, their base in Bahrain for Ransom.
In 976 AD, the Qarmatians were defeated by the Abbasids and overthrown by the Arab Uyunid dynasty of al-Hasa. The dynasty controlled the whole of Bahrain from 1076 until 1235 when the region was temporarily inhabited by the Persian ruler of Fars. The Uyunid dynasty was brought down in 1253 by the Bedouin Usfurids who gained control over eastern Arabia, as well as the islands of Bahrain. The archipelago was turned into a tributary nation of the rulers of Hormuz in 1330, but the islands were locally governed by the Shi'ite Jarwanid dynasty of Qatif. The Jabrids, a Bedouin dynasty also located in Al-Ahsa took control of the archipelago and most of eastern Arabia in the mid-15th century.
History of Bahrain
Fort Bahrain, modern capital Manama on the horizon, Photo Shutterstock.
About 5.000 years ago (2800 BC – 323 BC), Bahrain was the home of the Dilmun civilization from the Bronze Age, which lasted for about two thousand years. The Kingdom of Dilmun was an important commercial hub and it made connections with civilized centers in the Indus Valley, Persia, the eastern coast of Africa, and Mesopotamia. This kingdom was also a commercial hub between the Arabian Peninsula and India a center that Bahrain still maintains until now. Nevertheless, some of Bahrain’s people work in agricultural and fishing activities. The name of Bahrain – which means two seas in Arabic – refers to its dual sources of freshwater.
Bahrain was alternately occupied by Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, Turks, and others. The Greeks gave the island the name “Tylos” (323 BC – 200 AD). In the early stage of the Islamic era, Bahrain was given the name of “Awal” which is derived from the name of the Arab tribe “Wael” that moved to the island from the Arabian Peninsula.
According to the United Nations Development Program, the Kingdom of Bahrain is classified as an ancient land that is rich in culture and history. Bahrain Castle, which was the capital of Dilmun, is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Many other sites such as the “A’ali Burial Mounds” field, the Barber Temple, Saar Heritage Park, Arad Fort, and Hawar Islands reserve are being considered for inclusion on the World Heritage List. In 2019, Dilmun Burial Mounds were added to the World Heritage List.
Middle Ages and Islam
Bahrain was one of the first provinces to convert to Islam in the 7th century and its people participated in the “Islamic conquests”. During the Umayyad era (661 – 750), Bahrain was considered as part of the Emirate of Basra in Iraq. In this era, commerce flourished due to the reform of roads, the revitalization of maritime traffic, and the recovery of transit trade across the Arab / Persian Gulf. After that, the Abbasid dynasty ruled Bahrain until it came under the rule of the Kings of Hormuz in 1230. The Kings of Hormuz ruled Bahrain three times. The fourth time was when they took Bahrain from the Juburids in the middle of 1521. Their rule continued for about 80 years when the Safavids [a dynasty of Persia’s descendants] took control of Bahrain in 1602. In 1529, the Hormuz king Turan Shah Muhammad Shah, the son of Muzaffar al-Din Mahar Turan Shah, appointed Jalaluddin Murad Mahmoud Shah as ruler of Bahrain. Jalaluddin ruled Bahrain until he died in 1577 CE.
Jalaluddin established a ruling family in Bahrain under the name of the “Barangar” family. His first son Kamal Al Din “Jamal” Mahmoud Masoud Shah succeeded him until his death in 1602. After that, the second son of Jalaluddin (Amir Yusuf Shah) ascended the throne until his death in a battle that was considered as the last attempt of the Portuguese to restore Bahrain in 1605.
From the Ottomans to the British Protectorate
The Ottomans annexed Al-Ahsa to their empire in 1550. In June 1559, Mustafa Pasha, the Wali of Al-Ahsa, arrived with an Ottoman army in Bahrain. In 1861, Bahrain became a British protectorate. A treaty to recognize the independence of Bahrain was signed in 1913 between Britain and the Ottoman Empire. The treaty gave Britain the right to keep Bahrain under its administration.
In 1931, Oil was discovered in Jabal Ad-Dukhan of Bahrain (Mountain of Smoke). Production began the following year. Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa took power in 1961. In January 1970, his brother Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa chaired the state’s administrative council. In the same year, Iran abandoned its claim in Bahrain after an UN report showed that Bahrainis wanted their state to remain Independent.
Independence and the constitutional kingdom
In August 1971, Bahrain declared independence and signed a new treaty of friendship with Britain. Sheikh Isa became the first Emir of the country. The State Council was turned into a Council of Ministers. After the official announcement of independence at the end of the same year, the new emirate signed an agreement allowing the United States to rent marine and military facilities.
At the end of 1972, the country’s first elections to the Constitutional Council were held. Voting was restricted to males over the age of 20.
Bahrain joined the Gulf Cooperation Council in May 1981, which also includes Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. At the end of 1981, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, led by Shi’a cleric Ayatollah Hadi Al-Modarresi, was accused of conspiring to topple the government on Bahrain’s national day, December 16.
In April 1986, Qatari forces occupied the island of Fasht Dibal and withdrew two months later with a Saudi mediation. In the same year, King Fahd Causway connecting Bahrain to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was opened.
In 1991, Bahrain participated in the “Desert Storm” coalition against Iraq during the Gulf War. The Bahraini forces were a part of the GCC’s Gulf Shield Forces. In July 1991, Qatar transferred its territorial claims about the Hawar Islands, Fasht Dibal, and Jaradat Qayyat to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. After three months, Bahrain signed a defense cooperation agreement with the United States stipulating the protection of port facilities and joint military exercises.
The 1990s were marked by a series of security concerns between the Shi’a majority and the ruling Sunni authority. These concerns continued despite the 1995 ministerial amendments that resulted in the inclusion of five Shi’a ministers.
At the end of the second millennium, Emir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa died. Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa succeeded his father in March 1999. The first decade of the new ruler witnessed a series of measures and reforms at the political level. These reforms included the following: changing the small emirate into a constitutional kingdom appointing a Christian, a Jew, and four women in the Shura Council granting women the right to vote and stand for political office appointing the first woman in a ministerial position appointing a Jewish woman as an ambassador and holding the first local and parliamentary elections in nearly 30 years in 2002.
The Constitution of Bahrain is the supreme law in the country. The kingdom has had two constitutions since independence from Britain. The first constitution in Bahrain was promulgated in 1973 following the independence in 1971 and provided for a unicameral parliament. The second and current constitution was adopted in 2002 and brought numerous reforms to the government including the change of the unicameral parliament to a bicameral parliament as well as the provision of voting rights for women.
Bahrain continues to face popular demands for increased democratization, which has manifested itself in protests and uprisings around the country. Due to the King’s reneging on his promise to keep the appointed Consultative Council in an advisory position, many Shi’a Muslims boycotted the first elections held under the Constitution in 2002. While they participated in the 2006 and 2010 elections, resulting in a win for the largest Shi’a political Society, Al Wifaq, the Shi’a population continues to demand increased powers for the elected Chamber of Deputies and more representation in the government. Bahrain was caught in the tide of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011 in which several countries in the Middle East and North Africa saw a rise in popular protests. That same year, Shi’a protestors in Bahrain began a popular movement demanding a new constitution, a release of political prisoners, and an end to discriminatory policies favouring Sunnis in education, health care, and the government, as well as the creation of a regulatory body that could investigate corruption. Some called for the end of the monarchy entirely, in favour of a completely elected government. The government responded in an effort to disband the protests, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. After government forces opened fire on a crowd of mourners at the funeral of a protestor, Al Wifaq withdrew from the National Assembly. Tensions further increased when protestors took control of the Pearl Roundabout in the capital, prompting government forces to send security forces to retake the area. The King eventually was forced to release some political prisoners and fire some government officials, but protests continued in dissatisfaction over this response. Despite a dialogue between the opposition and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, negotiations have stalled and the King called in troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council and declared a state of emergency.