U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Bahrain, October 1996
Bureau of Public Affairs
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
six of them inhabited.
Cities: Capital--Manama (pop. 145,000--1993 est.). Other city--Al
Muharraq (81,000--1993 est.).
Terrain: Low interior plateau and hill on main island.
Climate: Hot and humid from May-September, temperate from October-April.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Bahraini(s).
Population (1996 est.): 586,000; 66% indigenous.
Ethnic groups: Bahraini 63%, Asian 19%, other Arab 10%, Iranian 8%.
Religions: Shi'a and Sunni Muslim.
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, Urdu.
Education: Attendance--73%. Literacy (1990 est.)--77% (male 82%, female
Work force (1987 est.): 197,000 (about 44% indigenous, 56% expatriate).
Industry and commerce--74%. Services--19%. Agriculture--4%. Government--
Type: Traditional emirate (cabinet--executive system).
Independence: August 15, 1971.
Constitution: May 26, 1973; suspended August 26, 1975.
Branches: Executive--Amir (chief of state), prime minister (head of
government), Council of Ministers (cabinet). Judicial--independent
judiciary with right of judicial review. Appointed Consultative Council
(40 members) may review and propose legislation.
Subdivisions: Six towns and cities.
Administrative divisions: 12 districts.
Political parties: None.
GDP (1995): $5 billion.
Growth rate (1995): 4%.
Per capita GDP (1995): $8,262.
Natural resources: Oil, associated and non-associated natural gas, fish.
Agriculture (1% of GDP): Products--eggs, vegetables, dates, fish.
Industry (39% of GDP): Types--manufacturing (21% of GDP), oil (16%),
aluminum, ship repair, natural gas, fish.
Services (42% of GDP): Banking, real estate, insurance.
Public administration (18% of GDP).
Trade (1995): Exports--$4 billion: petroleum and petroleum products
(80%), aluminum (7%), fish. Major markets--Saudi Arabia, U.S., Japan.
Imports--$3.6 billion: machinery, industrial equipment, motor vehicles,
foodstuffs, clothing. Major suppliers--U.S., U.K., Japan.
Official exchange rate: 0.377 Bahraini dinar=U.S. $1 (fixed rate set in
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 Europeans and South and East Asians.
Islam is the dominant religion. Though Shi'a 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. Bahrain University has been established 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 long as 5,000 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
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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Bahrain is a hereditary 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. The government faces few judicial checks on
its actions. Despite their minority status, the Sunnis predominate
because the ruling family is Sunni and is supported by the armed forces,
the security service, and powerful Sunni and Shi'a merchant families.
In 1973, the Amir enacted a new constitution, setting up an experimental
parliamentary system and protecting individual liberties. But just two
years later, in August 1975, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly.
No date has been announced for the reintroduction of representative
institutions, though a petition and other forms of protest have called
for their return. In January 1993, the Amir appointed a 30-member
Consultative Council to contribute "advice and opinion" on legislation
proposed by the cabinet and, in certain cases, suggest new laws on its
own. Political unrest broke out in December 1994 and included sporadic
mass protests, skirmishes with local law enforcement, arson, and
property attacks. In June 1995, the first Bahraini cabinet change in 20
years took place, producing mixed public response. In 1996, the Amir
increased the membership of the Consultative Council to 40 and expanded
its powers. The first session of the new Council began October 1, 1996.
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
Prime Minister--Sheikh Khalifa bin Sulman Al Khalifa
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Sheikh Mohammad bin Mubarak Al Khalifa
Ambassador to the United States--Mohammed Abdul Ghaffar
Ambassador to the United Nations--Abdul Aziz Buallay
Bahrain maintains an embassy in the United States at 3502 International
Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008; tel: (202) 342-0741; fax: (202) 362-
2192). The Bahraini UN Mission is located at 747 3rd Avenue, New York,
NY 10017; tel: (212) 751-8805.
When Bahrain became independent, the traditionally excellent U.S.-
Bahrain relationship was formalized with the establishment of diplomatic
relations. The U.S. 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 Al
Khalifa made a state visit to Washington, after which he visited other
parts of the U.S. as well.
In 1977, the agreement establishing Bahrain as the home port for the
United States Navy's Middle East Force (MIDEASTFOR) was terminated.
MIDEASTFOR was subsumed into NAVCENT, a part of U.S. Central Command in
Tampa, Florida. Bahrain now is host to the Navy's Fifth Fleet.
The U.S. 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 has expressed a willingness for cooperation with plans for joint
exercises, increased U.S. naval presence in the Gulf and cooperation on
U.S.-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
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--George Staples
Economic/Commercial Officer--Donald A. Roberts
Political Officer--Denise Valois
Consular Officer--Morris William Roberts
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--John Moran
Agricultural Trade Officer--Edwin Porter (resident in Dubai, UAE)
Administrative Officer--William Blaine
The U.S. embassy in Bahrain is located off Sheikh Isa Highway, Building
979, Road 3119 (next to the Al-Ahli Sports club), Block 331, Zinj,
Manama, Bahrain. The mailing address is PO Box 26431, Manama, Bahrain;
tel: (973) 273300, after hours 275126; fax: (973) 272594. The embassy's
hours are 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Saturdays-Wednesdays.
Under the Ministry of Defense, the Bahrain Defense Force (BDF) numbers
about 9,000 personnel and consists of army, navy, air force, air
defense, 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 Gulf Cooperation Council
(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, and subsequent sales of 54 M60A3
tanks, 12 F-16C/D aircraft, and 14 Cobra helicopters. Joint air and
ground exercises have also been planned and executed to increase
readiness throughout the Gulf. Bahrain and the United States signed an
agreement in October 1991 granting U.S. forces access to Bahraini
facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future
Bahrain has a mixed economy, with government control of many basic
industries, including the important oil and aluminum industries. Between
1981 and 1993, Bahrain Government expenditures increased by 64%. During
that same time, government revenues continued to be largely dependent on
the oil industry and increased by only 4%. The country has run a deficit
in nine out of the last 10 years. Bahrain has received significant
budgetary support and project grants from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the
United Arab Emirates.
Bahrain's small economy is basically strong, despite the budget
deficits. It is so small that it suffers from virtually any change in
the region or world. Privatization, which could help reduce Bahrain's
deficit, is moving ahead. Utilities, banks, financial services,
telecommunications, and other areas will shortly come under the control
of the private sector.
The government has used its modest oil revenues to build an advanced
infrastructure in transportation and telecommunications. Bahrain is a
regional financial and business center. Regional tourism is also a
significant source of income. Bahrain benefited from the region's
economic boom in the late 1970s and 1980s. During that time, the
government emphasized infrastructure 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 the first Persian Gulf state to discover oil. 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 U.S. company, now owns 40%. Saudi Arabia provides most of the
crude for refinery operation via pipeline. Bahrain also receives a large
portion of the net output and revenues from Saudi Arabia's Abu Saafa
The Bahrain National Gas Company operates a gas liquefaction 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--the largest in the world with an annual production of
about 525,000 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, as well as 65 American
firms. Bahrain's international airport is one of busiest in the Gulf,
serving 22 carriers. A modern, busy port offers direct and frequent
cargo shipping connections to the U.S., Europe, and the Far East.
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 on May 26, 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. However, Bahrain and fellow GCC member, Qatar, continue to
argue over claims to the Hawar Islands.
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 most of its neighbors and with the world community. In
December 1994, it concurred with the GCC decision to drop secondary and
tertiary boycotts against Israel. In many instances, it has established
special bilateral trade agreements.
Bahrain-Iran relations have been strained since the Iranian revolution
and the 1981 discovery of a planned Iran-sponsored coup in Bahrain.
However, with the decline of Iraq as a regional power broker, Bahrain
has begun taking steps to improve relations with Iran and increase
regional harmony. These efforts have included encouraging Bahrain-Iran
trade, although Bahraini suspicions of Iranian involvement in local
unrest appear to have slowed these steps toward improved relations.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and
security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in
the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate
information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-
term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by
calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-
on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information
Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page:
http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB).
To access CABB, dial the modem number: 301-946-4400 (it will accommodate
up to 33,600 bps); set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no
parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit), and terminal emulation to VT100. The login
is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The
CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas
Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic
Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which
contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip
abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S.
Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954;
telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-
Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-
day-a-week automated system ($0.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m.
to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-
225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate
of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648).
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water
safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health Information
for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is
available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC
20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas
are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country
(see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication).
This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network (DOSFAN). Available on the
Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign
policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes;
Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov; this site has a
link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research Collection, which also is accessible
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O.
Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or
fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.
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