In 1783, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. Facing declining oil reserves, Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center. Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. In addition, the Sunni-led government has struggled to manage relations with its approximately 70% Shia-majority population. During the mid-to-late 1990s, Shia activists mounted a low-intensity uprising to demand that the Sunni-led government stop systemic economic, social, and political discrimination against Shia Bahrainis. King HAMAD bin Isa Al-Khalifa, after succeeding his late father in 1999, pushed economic and political reforms in part to improve relations with the Shia community. After boycotting the country's first round of democratic elections under the newly-promulgated constitution in 2002, Shia political societies participated in 2006 and 2010 in legislative and municipal elections and Wifaq, the largest Shia political society, won the largest bloc of seats in the elected lower-house of the legislature both times. Nevertheless, Shia discontent persisted, often manifesting itself in street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence.
In early 2011, Bahrain's fractious opposition sought to ride a rising tide of popular Arab protests to petition for the redress of popular grievances. In mid-February, a vanguard of hardline activists - who reject the legitimacy of the Al Khalifa regime and have sometimes instigated low-level violence - organized demonstrations in Shia neighborhoods demanding a new constitution, release of hundreds of Shia prisoners, and an end to discriminations in all sectors of society. Cycles of protestor deaths, funerals, and clashes with security forces ensued, escalating domestic tensions. The government's offers of modest political and economic concessions went nowhere as did the king's "national dialogue" with the opposition. In mid-March 2011, with the backing of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) capitals - especially Riyadh and Abu Dhabi - King HAMAD put an end to the mass public gatherings and increasingly disruptive demonstrations by declaring a state of emergency and authorizing the military to take all measures to "protect the safety of the country and its citizens." Manama also welcomed a contingent of mostly Saudi and Emirati forces as part of a GCC deployment intended to help Bahraini security forces maintain order. By mid-April security forces had largely relegated demonstrations to outlying Shia neighborhoods and villages, and negotiations between the government and opposition reached a stalemate. Manama exacted retribution against opposition groups and their supporters through mass firings, arrests, and sectarian incitement. In March, the Gulf Cooperation Council pledged $20 billion in financial aid to Bahrain and Oman over a 10-year period to assist the two nations in their struggle with Arab protests. In June, in an effort to salvage Bahrain's image and economy, King HAMAD lifted the state of emergency, offered to renew talks with opposition leaders, and formed an independent commission of experts from the legal community to investigate abuses during the February and March protests. The government held a byelection in September 2011 to fill 18 seats that were vacated earlier in the year when Wifaq withdrew from the National Assembly.
desertification resulting from the degradation of limited arable land, periods of drought, and dust storms; coastal degradation (damage to coastlines, coral reefs, and sea vegetation) resulting from oil spills and other discharges from large tankers, oil refineries, and distribution stations; lack of freshwater resources (groundwater and seawater are the only sources for all water needs)
bicameral legislature consists of the Consultative Council (40 members appointed by the King) and the Council of Representatives or Chamber of Deputies (40 seats; members directly elected to serve four-year terms)
Council of Representatives - last held in two rounds on 23 and 30 October 2010 (next election to be held in 2014)
Council of Representatives - percent of vote by society - NA; seats by society - Wifaq (Shia) 18, Asala (Sunni Salafi) 3, Minbar (Sunni Muslim Brotherhood) 2, independents 17
Bahrain is one of the most diversified economies in the Persian Gulf. Highly developed communication and transport facilities make Bahrain home to numerous multinational firms with business in the Gulf. As part of its diversification plans, Bahrain implemented a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the US in August 2006, the first FTA between the US and a Gulf state. Bahrain's economy, however, continues to depend heavily on oil. Petroleum production and refining account for more than 60% of Bahrain's export receipts, 70% of government revenues, and 11% of GDP (exclusive of allied industries). Other major economic activities are production of aluminum - Bahrain's second biggest export after oil - finance, and construction. Bahrain competes with Malaysia as a worldwide center for Islamic banking and continues to seek new natural gas supplies as feedstock to support its expanding petrochemical and aluminum industries. Unemployment, especially among the young, is a long-term economic problem Bahrain struggles to address. In 2009, to help lower unemployment among Bahraini nationals, Bahrain reduced sponsorship for expatriate workers, increasing the costs of employing foreign labor. The global financial crisis caused funding for many non-oil projects to dry up and resulted in slower economic growth for Bahrain. Other challenges facing Bahrain include the slow growth of government debt as a result of a large subsidy program, the financing of large government projects, and debt restructuring, such as the bailout of state-owned Gulf Air.
modern fiber-optic integrated services; digital network with rapidly growing use of mobile-cellular telephones
country code - 973; landing point for the Fiber-Optic Link Around the Globe (FLAG) submarine cable network that provides links to Asia, Middle East, Europe, and US; tropospheric scatter to Qatar and UAE; microwave radio relay to Saudi Arabia; satellite earth station - 1 (2007)
state-run broadcast media; Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation (BRTC) operates 5 terrestrial TV networks; satellite TV systems provide access to international broadcasts; state-run BRTC broadcasts over several radio stations; 1 private FM station directs broadcasts to Indian listeners; radio and TV broadcasts from countries in the region are available (2007)