Throughout its history Bahrain, in ancient times known as Dilmun and Tylos, has been considered as a focal point where different cultures and people can meet, and where business and social exchanges can occur in a peaceful and mutually convenient setting. This long-standing role has been further developed in the modern State of Bahrain which hosts a vibrant international business community while promoting economic stability and peaceful international relations.
Bahrain's socio-economic success and political growth are the result of prudent government policies aimed at providing a secure, peaceful and rewarding atmosphere for its people. Wise use of its limited oil resources has enabled it to develop a modern infrastructure which has attracted a large number of international financial institutions, a growing list of trading and manufacturing enterprises as well as an expanding tourism industry.
For the third year in succession the 1998 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report (HDR) places Bahrain in first position among Arabian countries on its Human Development Index, thus acknowledging the comprehensive strides that Bahrain has made in its nurturing of a modern caring society. As a result of regional and international recognition for its achievements, Bahrain has been chosen to join the UN Security Council as non-permanent member for the 1998/199 session.
Development of human resources has yielded tangible gains particularly in diversifying national income revenues and maximum individual contributions towards the country's success. Bahrain is a member of the GCC, the Arab League, the UN, IMF, WTO, the World Bank, the Arab Fund, the OIC, the Islamic Development Bank and many other international organisations.


The present Amir of Bahrain HH Sheikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, has been its Head of State since December 16, 1961, and is architect of its modern socio-economic development. He has played a vital role in the country's renaissance, providing wise judgment and decisive leadership. The preset governmental infrastructure was defined by two royal decrees, issued on August 14, 1971, Bahrain's Independence Day, when Bahrain reaffirmed its status as a fully independent sovereign state. The first tackled the new political system, declaring the official title of the country as The State of Bahrain with the Amir as the Head of State. The second decree dealt with the system of government, restructuring its cabinet under the chairmanship of HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa. The constitution comprises 108 articles within five main sections chapters dealing with: (a) the nature of the State and system of government; (b) the basic constituents of Bahraini society such as the family, social security, scientific research etc. (c) the rights, duties, personal liberties, and freedom of thought etc. of the individual; (d) separation of powers; (e) general rules and a conclusion.
According to the constitution Bahrain is an Arab-Islamic independent sovereign state, its people are part of the Arab nation and its territory is part of the Arab world as a whole. The Head of State is chosen by hereditary accession and the system of government is a democratic one in which sovereignty is practiced by the people of Bahrain who are the source of all powers. Islam is the religion of the State and Sharia laws are a main source of legislation while Arabic is the official language. There is separation of powers into legislative authority, executive authority and judicial authority.
Amiri decree No. 10/1992, established a Consultative Coucil or Shura which has been strongly supported by HH Sheikh Isa since it embodies the principles stated in the preamble of the constitution regarding its forward looking nature. The Consultative Council itself is composed of 40 members and the speaker is elected by council members. It held its first session on January 16 1993 and serves for a four year term renewable by Amiri decree commencing from the date of its first convening. The council session commences, upon convocation by HH the Amir of the first Tuesday of the first week of October and continues until the end of May in the following year. It can also convene an emergency session upon the request of the Amir.

The Country

Bahrain is an archipelago situated in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Salwa in the centre of the Arabian Gulf. Named Dilmun in earlier times, it is often associated with the legend of the Garden of Eden and sometimes referred to as 'The Pearl of the Gulf'. Its northern and western shores appear oasis-like in this generally desert region, their fertility relying on subterranean aquifers which draw water from huge underground aquifers. It has an approximate land area of 106,550 sq. kms and its capital Manama, is located on the largest of its islands which occupies 85 percent of the country's total area and is linked with Saudi Arabia via the King Fahd Causeway which was opened in November 1986.
Most of Bahrain's islands are low surfaced, rising less than 60 meters above sea level, with Jebel ad-Dukhan as the main exception and forming the highest point in the country with an altitude of 122 meters above sea level. A five to six kilometer wide fertile plain, extends along the northwest and northern coast into the heart of Manama. Most of these arable lands comprise date groves and vegetable farms. Since time immemorial Bahrain has been known as the 'The Land of Eternal Youth' and according to the Sumerian legend, recounted in the Epic of Gilgamesh, was blessed with an unusual abundance f the two essential elements of life, water and food. Bahrain has been particularly famous for its pearls, agricultural produce (especially dates) and fisheries, as well as being a buoyant centre of communications and trade since the dawn of history.
Its climate is moderate by its island nature, with the surrounding sea helping to keep it a little cooler than mainland areas during summer and somewhat warmer during winter. Rainfall is low and somewhat irregular with most falling during winter months. Summers are hot and dry with humidity. January is the coldest and June the hottest month.


At the height of Bahrain's Dilmun era which which lasted from around 2250 to 1800 BC, the major city of Qal'at al Bahrain had at least 7000 people in residence. A total of 150,000 burial mounds were built on the island over a 500 year period and Dilmun's strong links with Qatif and Dharhan in present day Saudi Arabia, Failaka in present day Kuwait, and Umm an Nar in present day UAE, are clearly evidenced by archaeological finds of stone seals, pottery and other artefacts. The Sumerians referred to the island of Bahrain as Dilmun and a text dated 2300 BC ("...made the Meluhha ships, the Makkan ships, the Dilmun ships tie up alongside the quayside of Agade") reminds us of the trading links that were already established by this time within the Gulf region. Later the Greeks referred to this land as "Tylos" and one of Alexander the Great's fleet of vessels visited Bahrain in 324 BC. Pliny, writing in approximately 100 AD, refers to Tylos (Bahrain) in connection with its fine pearls and the map of Ptolemy, made around 200 AD shows Tylos in the location of Bahrain.
The first Arab settlements on Bahrain seem to have occurred around the period 300 BC and from that time on their presence consolidated and grew. Bahrain eventually became known to them as "Oraal", a name apparently derived from a popular idol worshipped during this period by the Rabyah tribe who controlled the island. Islam was officially embraced by the islanders in 630 AD and they maintained their loyalty during the successive Islamic caliphates. A period of unrest around the beginning of the second millennium led, in 1058 AD, to Abu-l-Bahul's declaration as local prince and a subsequent period of upheaval.
Bahrain's strategic location encouraged the Portuguese to establish a presence on the islands in 1521 and to reinforce their hegemony until 1602 when they were evicted by a combined force of Bahraini people supported by Persian forces under Shah Abbas the Great. This led to a period of Persian influence which continued in an irregular manner until 1718 when Omani forces caused a Persian retreat from Bahrain and a temporary annexation of it under Oman. A year later the Persians returned and negotiated a re-establishment of their control, but this time under the authority of a local inhabitant rather than an imposed foreigner. In 1783, Zubara, which was then occupied by the Al Khalifa tribe, led by Ahmed Al Khalifa, was invaded by the Persians. Assisted by Ahmed cousins, the Al Saba from Kuwait, the Al Khalifa defeated the Persians at Zubara and then attacked the occupying forces on the main island of Bahrain where they were equally successful, restoring national sovereignty. Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa subsequently became known as Ahmed Al Fatih (Ahmed the Conqueror) and his rule over Bahrain is considered as the dawn of a new era characterised by stability and prosperity.
The Al Khalifa dynasty's rule over Bahrain, which thus began in 1783 has continued unbroken to the present period. Following the death of Ahmed Al Fatih in 1796, he was succeeded by Sulman bin Ahmed Al Khalifa who for a time moved back to Zubara. Returning to Bahrain in 1820 he signed, together with his brother Abdullah, the General Treaty with the East India Company on behalf of Bahrain. Sheikh Sulman died in 1825 and was succeeded by his son Sheikh Khalifa were Muhammed bin Khalifa bin Sulman; his brother Sheikh Ali bin Khalifa bin Sulman; his cousin Sheikh Muhammed bin Abdullah, and then Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa who ruled Bahrain for more than 60 years.
During Sheikh Isa's reign Bahrain witnessed the establishment of municipalities, law enforcement authorities, customs, education, a judiciary and other aspects of social order. In 1932 he was succeeded by his son Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa who ruled until 1942. This period witnessed the discovery of oil in Bahrain, the first place in Arabia where it was discovered, and eventual exploitation of this resource helped Bahrain to enter a new era of development with introduction of health, electricity, water, and education in addition to a construction industry which, included, among its various achievements, completion of Sheikh Hamad's causeway connecting Al Muharraq with Manama city.
Following Sheikh Hamad's death in 1942, Sheikh Sulman bin Hamad Al Khalifa became ruler and continued the process of development until his death in 1961 when he was succeeded, on December 16, 1961, by his son HH Sheikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, the present Amir of Bahrain. Sheikh Isa's leadership has seen Bahrain's modern development truly take hold. There have been dramatic improvements in all fields of socio-economic development as described elsewhere in this chapter.

Heritage and Culture

Bahrain's long history is closely interwoven with the sea and it is therefore not surprising that its traditions have a distinctly maritime flavour, ranging as they do from songs and dances associated with pearling and fishing to the skills of boat building and sailing. Bahrain is also part of the regional tribal culture involving crafts, stories, poetry, song and dance. Today many of the latter are still practiced on special occasions while practical art forms such as cloth weaving, pottery, and basketry are kept alive, often with various forms of government support. Traditional carpentry is often used to adorn modern buildings while embroidery is highly valued in dress making and for home decorations. Bahrain's rich heritage is nurtured and protected by the Bahrain government, which tackles programmes through a number of organisations.
The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and Information has relied upon a practical strategy in tackling cultural issues, that views culture as a basic and fundamental dimension in the process of achieving comprehensive development at all socio-economic and political levels. Culture is also in the front-line of defence aimed at confronting any malicious intentions or actions that seek to jeopardise the country's national achievements. In addition to that it is considered to be an impetus which will give momentum to human development.
In order to effectively achieve its priorities the Ministry formulated a programme which includes the following objectives: (a) to maintain and preserve heritage and to give due respect to preservation of archaeological sites since they reflect the history and civilisation of the country; (b) to encourage the artistic and intellectual movement by caring for and helping artists to publish and circulate their works and to protect their intellectual property rights; (c) to encourage and support Bahraini journalists and media staff and provide them the opportunity to participate in training and qualifying courses; and (d) to develop and modernise the mass media and its tools in order to cope with the overwhelming progress taking place in this field.
The government has also made a commitment to place special emphasis on reflecting Bahrain's positive image at all levels. This includes promotion of Bahrain as a tourist destination and as a centre for exhibitions and conferences.
Bahrain is considered to be a  pioneer country in press and printing. The first newspape published in Bahrain was launched in 1939 and was called Bahrain News. The Bahrain Daily News appeared a few years later together with some weekly magazines. The Ministry of Information Printing House was launched in 1978 to meet printing needs of the other ministries and government institutions and particularly to print the Official Gazette and Bahrain Cultural Magazine and This is Bahrain magazine.
Radio Bahrain is the oldest of its kind in the Gulf region, having been originally launched in 1941 during the Second World War. It was closed in 1945 but relaunched in July 1955, initially with four hours broadcasting a day. In the 1960s it extended its programming and in 1981 moved into new premises. In the early 1990s Radio Bahrain commenced 24 hour broadcasting and introduced two short-wave transmission channels.
Bahrain Television started operating in 1973, initially with five hours of programming each day. In October 1996 Bahrain Satellite Broadcasting was introduced.
In January 1993 Bahrain Radio and Bahrain Television merged to form a single corporate entity. The new broadcasting authority, established under an Emiri decree, aims at achieving the highest standards of transmission utilising the latest information technology, within the guidelines of state policy.
Apart from the state policy towards encouraging the Bahraini cultural movement at all levels, the government established the National Council for Culture and Arts. Simultaneously, a high council for tourism was established in order to formulate plans and programmes to attract tourists. This council is responsible also for developing and improving tourism infrastructures and its activities, in addition to promoting Bahraini heritage and preserving the folkloric sites.
In 1997 Bahrain was placed in second in a list of the most attractive tourist locations in the Middle East and first as the most promising destination at the Hong Kong tourism exhibition.

Environment and Wildlife

The main objective behind the establishment of the Environment Affairs Agency Department is to formulate policies and plans towards conserving the environment, achieving sustainable development and protecting and developing marine and terrestrial wildlife through effective natural resources management strategies. The Agency programme covers the following areas of activity: (a) regulation and environmental legislation; (b) environmental forecasting and planning; (c) environment evaluation; (d) contamination control; (e) mobilising efforts to study environmental issues and problems; (f) garbage management; (g) promoting environmental awareness; (h) developing international cooperation in this field.
In 1997 competent authorities conducted a survey covering environment issues raised in 1996 in a bid to address them. Also the survey was intended to highlight the environment problems facing citizens in order that these may be resolved as quickly as possible.
Whilst the lush northern region of Bahrain harbours a wealth of wildlife, interest lies mainly on Bahrain's nutrient rich eastern shores, hosts to thousands of migrating shorebirds; its scrub desert areas which support a number of specially adapted species of plants and animals; its offshore islands which are home to a number of rare and endangered species; and its shallow saline coastal waters which support a rich marine life including dugong, green turtle and sea-snakes.
Al Areen Wildlife Park, the brainchild of HH Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, is divided into two parts, one which is open to the public and the other which forms an off-limits reserve where access is only possible with special permission. Access to the park is by bus from the main entrance and follows a tar macadam road from which one can observe a variety of Arabian mammals such as Arabian oryx, and sand gazelle, together with other ungulates. Many wild birds are attracted to the park which plays a vital role in educating the public concerning conservation issues.

Economic Development

As part of its preparation for the Millennium, Bahrain's economy is undergoing a degree of adaptation in order to improve and develop its infrastructural base, and to improve public utilities and services both for citizens and foreign investors. The state also endeavours to provide a favourable investment climate in order to attract local, regional and global investors. It utilises well prepared feasibility studies as a means of stimulating investment in Bahrain and achieving sustainable annual growth areas. In addition to this the government is making efforts to create increased job opportunities and to raise living standards in order to secure for its people a good standard of life.
To realise these ambitions and aspirations in the face of the high levels of economic competition, and coinciding with the sudden growth of information technology, Bahrain is focusing on human development and preparing its people to shoulder the challenges of the high technology age. In so doing they also seek to strengthen the value of work both for its personal benefits, but also as a means towards betterment of the nation as a whole.
The government's economic strategy aims to bolster a free and liberal economy, with equal opportunities for all people, in which a favourable atmosphere exists to enable the private sector to take initiatives in economic development.
The Bahrain Monetary Agency administers the monetary policy and supervises the financial sector, regulating the banking industry and vitalising its role and contribution to economic development while enhancing the country's position as a unique international financial centre. There are presently 182 licensed banking institutions in Bahrain; i.e. 19 commercial banks; two specialised banks; 45 foreign offshore' banking units; 32 investment banks; 41 representative offices; 26 money exchanges; 7 brokerage houses; together with 10 investment and other financial consultants offices. In addition there are 285 investment funds administered in Bahrain under the management of 35 financial institutions.
The Islamic Banking sector has also received an impetus and is being actively encouraged to grow further. At present 11 Islamic banks and financial institutions are located in Bahrain.
Bahrain has joined the World Trade Organisation, WTO, and is reviewing laws and trade systems so as to conform with the prerequisites of full membership of this organisation.
The Bahrain Stock Market has shown steady growth with 530 million shares traded by October 31, 1997, having a total value of BD 139 million in 1483 contracts. Meanwhile the Index recorded a rise from 1533.30 to 3190.33.
The Bahrain Promotion Board is promoting opportunities for investment in Bahrain with particular emphasis on its efficient and advanced services sector. The campaign has succeeded in convincing a significant number of companies to move their regional headquarters into Bahrain. Incentives include full entitlement of foreign investors to 100 percent ownership of their projects; provision of a convertible national currency at a stable exchange rate to the US dollar; exemption from income taxes for companies; possibility of repatriation of invested capital; and finally low rates for using national utilities, energy, and telecommunications network including digital facilities.
Bahrain's dependence on oil has shifted dramatically from 36 percent of GNP 20 years ago to 20 percent in 1996. Meanwhile the services sector has paid dividends in terms of economic development.
Bahrain's oil industry has shown impressive growth with daily production capacity reaching 14,124 barrels by 1996. Given the importance of Bahrain's industrial base, the Ministry of Industry is concentrating on policies aimed at developing the industrial sector and giving priority to its needs in order to encourage it to develop further. It is also seeking to finalise legislation and regulations in connection with industrial establishments, renting of industrial land and the relationship between commercial property investors and operating companies.

Social Development

Bahrain's position, in first place among Arab countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, issued in September 1998, is an indication of the strong emphasis that has been given to the country's social development in all fields. A brief outline of the education sector vividly illustrate this.
Bahrain's first elementary school was opened in 1919, followed by the first girls' elementary school in 1928. The first industrial school was opened in 1936, while the first girls' secondary school opened in 1951. The religious school, established in 1943 to graduate Sharia law scholars, became known as the Religious Institute in 1960. The Teachers College was opened in 1966 and Khaliji Technology College was incorporated into Bahrain University in 1968. Private education began with Manama School in 1952 and the Private Education Act was passed in 1961. Meanwhile the Joint National Committee for Adult Education was formed in 1971. Bahrain University College for Science, Arts, and Education (Bahrain University) was inaugurated in 1979 while the Arabian Gulf University commenced its operations with a faculty of medicine.
129,748 students were registered in 1996, of whom 109,890 attended public sector government schools and 19,858 attended private schools. At  the time of writing there are 218 schools, 180 government run and 38 privately administrated. The total investment in this sector in 1998 was BD 82 million.
The health sector has also witnessed exponential growth, culminating in the 1997 opening, by Prime Minister HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman, of the expanded Al Sulmaniah Medical Complex which offers the most advanced diagnostic and medical facilities. Considered to be the most extensive utility of its kind in Bahrain, it occupies 45,000 sq.m.
On an international level Bahrain was elected from among 192 states, to chair the 51st General Session of the International Medical Society to be held in Geneva during May 1998. This prestigious appointment reaffirms Bahrain's status and its scientific contributions within the field of medical science. Meanwhile, Bahrain has adopted the World Health Organisation slogan: "Health for all by 2000" and has put the words to practice by succeeding in extending elementary medical services to provide 100 percent of coverage throughout the entire country.
In 1996 there were four government hospitals and three private hospitals in addition to the military hospital. Also there were 19 government medical centres and five maternity centres. The total investment in the health sector in 1998 was BD 58 million.
Promoting the interests of young people also falls within the remit of the Youth and Sports Authority which develops youth and sports programmes aimed at training young people to meet the challenges of adulthood. The Authority also includes under its wings, the Junior Science Clubs, which in turn surprise child and youth science centres, together with the Sulman Cultural Centre for children.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has identified the following objectives in relation to its work: (a) to contribute in achieving the socio-economic development; (b) to contribute in extending social security benefits; (c) to contribute in providing nationals with appropriate jobs and (d) to increase productivity. The Ministry has also been working to promote Bahrain as a regional centre for training and developing human resources. In this capacity it has updated and extended its centre to provide a capacity of 5500 trainees. The Higher Council for Vocational Training has also been involved in the training field, qualifying more than 10,528 Bahrain workers over the last 16 years. Meanwhile the Ministry itself stimulated a number of new local community development programmes through improving and vitalising the roles of the 17 social centres spread throughout Bahrain

Bahrain at a Glance

Location: Bahrain is situated in the shallow Gulf of Salwa, in the centre of the Arabian Gulf and is now connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahd Causeway.

Area: Approximately 706,550 sq.kms.

Climate: Bahrain's climate is tempered somewhat by its islands nature and the moderating effect of the surrounding sea. Winter temperatures are around 25o to 27o while summers enter the 40s. Humidity is lowest in summer months. Rainfall fluctuates dramatically from less than 20 mm to over 200 mm per year.

Population: Bahrain is one of the first countries in the Arab world to undertake, in 1941, a scientific census of its population. Latest census figures, from 1991, indicate a population of 508,037 with three per cent annual growth rate which is considered very high by international standards.

Independence Day: August 14.

National Day: December 16.

Religion: Islam.

Language: Arabic.

Capital: Manama.

Time: 3 hours ahead of GMT.

Currency: Bahraini Dinar.


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