Background Notes: Bahrain

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Nov 28, 199111/28/91 Category: Country Data Region: MidEast/North Africa Country: Bahrain Subject: Military Affairs, Cultural Exchange, Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] Official Name: State of Bahrain


Area: 693 sq. km. (268 sq. mi.); about four times the size of Washington, DC. Bahrain is an archipelago consisting of 33 islands, only 5 of them inhabited. Cities: Capital--Manama (pop. 122,000-- 1985 est.). Other city--Al Muharraq. Terrain: Low interior plateau and hill on main island. Climate: Hot and humid from April-October, temperate from November-March.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bahraini(s). Population (1989 est.): 500,000 (66% indigenous). Ethnic groups: Arab 73%, Iranian 9%, Pakistani, Indian. Religions: Shi'a and Sunni Muslim. Languages: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, Urdu. Education: Attendance--73%. Literacy--about 74%. Work force (1987 est.): 197,000 (about 44% indigenous, 56% expatriate). Agriculture--4%. Industry and commerce--74%. Services--19%. Government--3%.
Type: Traditional emirate (cabinet-executive system). Independence: August 15, 1971. Constitution: May 26, 1973. Branches: Executive--amir (chief of state), prime minister (head of government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Judicial--independent judiciary with right of judicial review. Subdivisions: 6 towns and cities. Political parties: None. Suffrage: None. Central government budget (1986-87): $2.6 billion. Defense (1986): $134 million, or 9% of the published budget. Flag: Three-fourths red field with serrated line separating white field on staff side.
GDP (1989 est.): $3.4 billion. Real growth rate (est.): 3%. Per capita income (1989 est.): $7,300. Avg. inflation rate (1988 est.): 2%. Natural resources: Oil, associated and non-associated natural gas, fish. Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--eggs, vegetables, dates, fish. Industry (36% of GDP): Types--manufacturing (19% of GDP), oil (16%), aluminum, ship repair, natural gas, fish. Services (62% of GDP): Banking, real estate, insurance. Trade (1989 est.): Exports--$2.7 billion: oil, aluminum, fish. Major markets--Saudi Arabia, US, Japan. Imports--$3 billion: machinery, industrial equipment, motor vehicles, foodstuffs, clothing. Major suppliers--US, UK, Japan. Official exchange rate: 0.38 Bahraini dinar=US $1 (fixed rate set in 1971). Economic aid received: Significant budgetary support and project grants from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.
International Affiliations
UN and most of its specialized agencies, Arab League, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).


Most of the population of Bahrain is concentrated in the two principal cities, Manama and Al Muharraq. The indigenous people-- 66% of the population--are from the Arabian Peninsula and Persia. The most numerous minorities are South and East Asians, and Europeans. Islam is the dominant religion. Though Shia Muslims make up more than two-thirds of the population, Sunni Islam is the prevailing belief held by those in the government, military, and corporate sectors. Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as a tiny indigenous Jewish community, also exist in Bahrain. Bahrain has traditionally boasted an advanced educational system. Schooling and related costs are entirely paid for by the government and primary and secondary attendance rates are high. Bahrain also encourages institutions of higher learning, drawing on expatriate talent and the increasing pool of Bahrainis returning from abroad with advanced degrees. As a result, Bahrain University has been created for standard undergraduate and graduate study and the College of Health Sciences, operating under the direction of the Ministry of Health, trains physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and paramedics.


Bahrain was once part of the ancient civilization of Dilmun and served as an important link in trade routes between Sumeria and the Indus Valley as much as 5000 years ago. Since the late 18th century, Bahrain has been governed by the Al-Khalifa family, which created close ties to Britain by signing the General Treaty of Peace in 1820. A binding treaty of protection, known as the Perpetual Truce of Peace and Friendship, was concluded in 1861 and further revised in 1892 and 1951. This treaty was similar to those entered into by the British Government with the other Persian Gulf principalities. It specified that the ruler could not dispose of any of his territory except to the United Kingdom and could not enter into relationships with any foreign government other than the United Kingdom without British consent. The British promised to protect Bahrain from all aggression by sea and to lend support in case of land attack. After World War II, Bahrain became the center for British administration of treaty obligations in the lower Persian Gulf. In 1968, when the British Government announced its decision (reaffirmed in March 1971) to end the treaty relationships with the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, Bahrain joined the other eight states (Qatar and the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms, which are now called the United Arab Emirates) under British protection in an effort to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, however, the nine sheikhdoms still had not agreed on terms of union. Accordingly, Bahrain sought independence as a separate entity and became fully independent on August 15, 1971, as the State of Bahrain.


In 1973, the Amir enacted a new constitution, setting up an experimental parliamentary system and protecting individual liberties. In August 1975, however, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly. No date has been announced for the reintroduction of representative institutions. Bahrain is a constitutional emirate under the rule of the Al- Khalifa family. The Amir, Sheikh Isa bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, and his brother, Prime minister Khalifa bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, govern Bahrain in consultation with a council of ministers. Bahrain's six towns and cities are administered by one central municipal council, the members of which are appointed by the Amir. A complex system of courts, based on diverse legal sources including Sunni and Shi'a Sharia (religious law), tribal law, and other civil codes and regulation, was created with the help of British advisers in the early 20th century. This judiciary administers the legal code and reviews laws to ensure their constitutionality.
Principal Government Officials
Amir--Sheikh Isa bin Sulman Al-Khalifa Crown Prince and Commander in Chief of Bahrain Defense Force-- Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa Minister of Foreign Affairs--Sheikh Mohammad bin Mubarak Al- Khalifa Ambassador to the United Nations--Hussein Al-Sabbagh Ambassador to the United States--Sheikh Mohammad bin Faris Al- Khalifa Bahrain maintains an Embassy in the United States at 3502 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-342-0741). The Bahraini UN Mission is located at 747 3rd Avenue, New York, NY 10017, (tel. 212-751-8805).


Under the Ministry of Defense, the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) numbers about 9,000 personnel, and consists of army, navy, air force, and amiri guard units. Separate from the BDF, the public security forces and the coast guard report to the Ministry of the Interior. Bahrain, in conjunction with its GCC partners (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), has moved to upgrade its defenses over the last 10 years in response to the threat posed by the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars. Defense spending has increased by as much as 30% each year since 1980. In 1982, the GCC gave Bahrain $1.7 billion to help improve its defenses. In the wake of the Gulf war, Bahrain has received additional military support from the United States, including the sale of eight Apache helicopters in the summer of 1991. Joint air and ground exercises have also been planned to increase readiness throughout the Gulf. Bahrain and the United States signed an agreement in October 1991 granting US forces access to Bahraini facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future crises.


Bahrain benefited from the region's economic boom in the late 1970s and 1980s. During that time, the government emphasized infrastructural development and other projects to improve the standard of living; health, education, housing, electricity, water, and roads all received attention. Petroleum and natural gas, the only significant natural resources in Bahrain, dominate the economy and provide about 60% of budget revenues. Bahrain was one of the first Persian Gulf states to discover oil and was the first with a refinery. Because of limited reserves, Bahrain has worked to diversify its economy over the past decade. Bahrain has stabilized its oil production at about 40,000 barrels per day (b/d), and reserves are expected to last 10- 15 years. The Bahrain Oil Company refinery was built in 1935, has a capacity of about 250,000 b/d, and was the first in the Gulf. After selling 60% of the refinery to the state-owned Bahrain National Oil Company in 1980, Caltex, a US company, now owns 40%. Saudi Arabia provides most of the crude for refinery operation via pipeline. Bahrain also receives one-half of the net output and revenues from Saudi Arabia's Abu Saafa offshore oilfield. The Bahrain National Gas Company operates a gas liquefication plant that utilizes gas piped directly from Bahrain's oilfields. Gas reserves should last about 50 years at present rates of consumption. The Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company is a joint venture of the petrochemical industries of Kuwait, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, and the Government of Bahrain. The plant, completed in 1985, produces ammonia and methanol for export. Bahrain's other industries include Aluminum Bahrain, which operates an aluminum smelter with an annual production of about 176,000 metric tons (mt), and related factories, such as the Aluminum Extrusion Company and the Gulf Aluminum Rolling Mill. Other plants include the Arab Iron and Steel Company's iron ore pelletizing plant (4 million tons annually) and a shipbuilding and repair yard. Bahrain's development as a major financial center has been the most widely heralded aspect of its diversification effort. In 1973, the Bahraini Monetary Agency was formed to provide oversight for the banking and financial sector. Since 1983, the regional economic climate in which these institutions operate has become less favorable because of the region's economic downturn. Banks, including some from the United States, have reacted by scaling back their operations or leaving the area. This decrease in business confidence was exacerbated by the Gulf war. Nevertheless, more than 100 offshore banking units and representative offices are located in Bahrain.


Bahrain plays a modest, moderating role in regional politics and adheres to the views of the Arab League on Middle East peace and Palestinian rights. Bahrain is a member of the GCC, established in May 1981 with five other Gulf states. The country has fully complied with steps taken by the GCC to coordinate economic development and defense and security planning. Because of its small size and limited wealth, Bahrain has not taken a leading role in regional or international affairs. Rather, it generally pursues a policy of close consultation with neighboring states and works to narrow areas of disagreement. During the Gulf war, Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq, and the island was used as a base for military operations in the Gulf. Since achieving independence in 1971, Bahrain has maintained friendly relations with its neighbors and the world community. One notable exception is Bahrain's relations with Iran, which have been strained since the Iranian revolution and the 1981 discovery of a planned Iran-sponsored coup in Bahrain. However, with the removal of Iraq as a regional power broker, Bahrain has taken steps, such as encouraging Bahrain-Iran trade, to improve relations and increase regional harmony.


When Bahrain became independent, the traditionally excellent US-Bahrain relationship was formalized with the establishment of diplomatic relations. The US embassy at Manama was opened September 21, 1971, and a resident ambassador was sent in 1974. The Bahraini Embassy in Washington, DC, opened in 1977. In October 1991, Amir Isa bin Sulman made a state visit to Washington, after which he visited other parts of the US as well. In 1977, the agreement establishing Bahrain as the home port for the US Navy's Middle East Force (MIDEASTFOR) was terminated. Arrangements have been made that allow the MIDEASTFOR ships to call at Bahrain. The US Department of Defense-sponsored Bahrain School remains, along with a small, administrative support unit. After the Gulf war, close cooperation between the two nations helped to stabilize the region. Bahrain expressed a willingness for cooperation with proposed plans for joint exercises, increased US naval presence in the Gulf and future cooperation on security matters. US-Bahraini economic ties have grown steadily since 1932, when Americans began to help develop Bahrain's oil industry. Currently, many American banks and firms use Bahrain as a base for regional operations. In 1986, the United States displaced Japan to become the top exporter to Bahrain.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Charles W. Hostler Deputy Chief of Mission--David S. Robins Economic/Commercial Officer--Steven M. Brattain Political Officer--Thomas E. Williams, Jr. Consular Officer--Stephanie Kronenburg Public Affairs Officer--Rick Roberts Agricultural Trade Officer--Philip A. Letarte Administrative Officer--Lyle A. Dittmer The US Embassy in Bahrain is located off Sheikh Isa Highway, Building 979, Road 3119, Block 331, Zinj, Manama, Bahrain. The mailing address is PO Box 26431, Manama, Bahrain, or FPO New York 09526-6210, tel. (973) 273300, after hours 715126; telex 9398 USNATO BN; fax (973) 272594. The Embassy's hours are 8:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m., Saturdays-Wednesdays.
Travel Notes
Climate and clothing: Wear summer clothes from May to mid- October and spring and fall attire from mid-October through April. Always dress conservatively in public. Customs: A visa is required for entry. US citizens may purchase transit visas with 72-hour validity at Bahrain's international airport. A 7-day visa is also available. Single women traveling to Bahrain sometimes encounter difficulty obtaining airport visas; they are strongly advised to secure their visas before traveling. Travelers with Israeli visas and/or entry/exit stamps in their passports will be barred from entry. Health: No immunizations are required for entry, but malaria suppressants are recommended. Health requirements change; check latest information. Tapwater is potable but highly saline in most areas; persons with sodium restrictions should drink bottled water. No unusual precautions regarding food and drink are necessary. Modern health services are provided in several hospitals and health centers. Telecommunications: Telephone connections are excellent because international calls enter the satellite communications system from Bahrain. Bahrain is 8 hours ahead of eastern standard time. Cable and telex connections to leading hotels and businesses are good. Bahraini television features Arabic-and-English-language programs. Transportation: Many major airlines serve Bahrain's modern international airport. Taxis and rental cars are available in Manama. National Holidays: Businesses and shops may be closed on the following holidays. Actual dates depend on lunar calendar: Prophet's Birthday, November 3; Eid al-Fitr, May 29-30; Eid al-Adha, August 5-7; Islamic New Year, August 25; Ashura, September 3-6; National Day, December 16 (fixed date). Further information available from the Superintendent of Documents, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC --Series Editor: Peter Knecht--Department of State Publication Background Notes Series. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.(###)