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Bahrain (Arabic: البحرين, al-Baḥrayn), officially the Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: مملكة البحرين, Mamlakat al-Baḥrayn), is a small island state near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family. The population in 2010 stood at 1,214,705, including 235,108 non-nationals. Formerly an emirate, Bahrain was declared a kingdom in 2002.
Bahrain is an archipelago of 33 islands, the largest being Bahrain Island, at 55 km (34 mi) long by 18 km (11 mi) wide. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway. Qatar is to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain. The planned Qatar Bahrain Causeway will link Bahrain and Qatar and become the world's longest marine causeway.
Known for its oil and pearls, Bahrain is also home to many large structures, including the Bahrain World Trade Center and the Bahrain Financial Harbour, with a proposal in place to build the 1,022 m (3,353 ft) high Murjan Tower. The Qal’at al-Bahrain (the harbour and capital of the ancient land of Dilmun) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix takes place at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf. It is the best natural port between the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and Oman, a source of copper in ancient times. Bahrain may have been associated with Dilmun, an important Bronze age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. It has been ruled by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and then Arabs, under whom the island became first Christian and then Islamic.
From the 6th to 3rd century BC, Bahrain was added to the Persian Empire by the Achaemenian dynasty. By about 250 BC, the Parthians brought the Persian Gulf under its control and extended its influence as far as Oman. During the classical era, the island was known as Tylos in Europe. In order to control trade routes, the Parthians established garrisons along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. In the 3rd century, Ardashir I, the first ruler of the Sassanid dynasty, marched on Oman and Bahrain, where he defeated Sanatruq II. At this time, Bahrain comprised the southern Sassanid province along with the Persian Gulf's southern shore.
The Sassanid Empire divided their southern province into the three districts of Haggar (now al-Hafuf province in Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir (now al-Qatif province in Saudi Arabia) and Mishmahig (which in Middle-Persian/Pahlavi means "ewe-fish"). Early Islamic sources describe the country as inhabited by members of the Abdul Qais, Tamim, and Bakr tribes who worshipped the idol Awal, from which the Arabs named the island of Bahrain Awal for many centuries. However, Bahrayn was also a center of Nestorian Christianity, including two of its bishoprics.
Islamic conversion and Portuguese control
Traditional Islamic accounts state that Al-ʿAlāʾ Al-Haḍrami was sent as an envoy to the Bahrain region by the prophet Muhammad in AD 628 and that Munzir ibn-Sawa al-Tamimi, the local ruler, responded to his mission and converted the entire area.
In 899 AD, the Qarmatians, a millenarian Ismaili Muslim sect seized Bahrain, seeking to create a utopian society based on reason and redistribution of property among initiates. Thereafter, the Qarmatians demanded tribute from the caliph in Baghdad, and in 930 AD sacked Mecca and Medina, bringing the sacred Black Stone back to their base in Ahsa, in medieval Bahrain, for ransom. According to historian Al-Juwayni, the stone was returned 22 years later in 951 under mysterious circumstances. Wrapped in a sack, it was thrown into the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq, accompanied by a note saying "By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back." The theft and removal of the Black Stone caused it to break into seven pieces.
Following a 976 AD defeat by the Abbasids, the Quarmations were overthrown by the Arab Uyunid dynasty of al-Hasa, who took over the entire Bahrain region in 1076. The Uyunids controlled Bahrain until 1235, when the archipelago was briefly occupied by the Iranian ruler of Fars. In 1253, the Bedouin Usfurids brought down the Uyunid dynasty, thereby gaining control over eastern Arabia, including the islands of Bahrain. In 1330, the archipelago became a tributary state of the rulers of Hormuz, though locally the islands were controlled by the Shi'ite Jarwanid dynasty of Qatif.
Until the late Middle Ages, "Bahrain" referred to the larger historical region of Bahrain that included Al-Ahsa, Al-Qatif (both now within the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia) and the Awal Islands (now the Bahrain Islands). The region stretched from Basra in Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz in Oman. This was Iqlīm al-Bahrayn's "Bahrayn Province". The exact date at which the term "Bahrain" began to refer solely to the Awal archipelago is unknown. In the mid-15th century, the archipelago came under the rule of the Jabrids, a Bedouin dynasty also based in Al-Ahsa that ruled most of eastern Arabia.
In 1521, the Portuguese allied with Hormuz and seized Bahrain from the Jabrid ruler Migrin ibn Zamil, who was killed during the takeover. Portuguese rule lasted for around 80 years, during which time they depended mainly on Sunni Persian governors. The Portuguese were expelled from the islands in 1602 by Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty of Iran, who declared Shia Islam the official religion of Bahrain. For the next two centuries, Iranian rulers retained control of the archipelago, interrupted by the 1717 and 1738 invasions of the Ibadhis of Oman. During most of this period, they resorted to governing Bahrain indirectly, either through the city of Bushehr or through immigrant Sunni Arab clans. The latter were tribes returning to the Arabian side of the Persian Gulf from Persian territories in the north who were known as Huwala (literally: those that have changed or moved). In 1753, the Huwala clan of Al Madhkur invaded Bahrain on behalf of the Iranians and restored direct Iranian rule.
Rise of the Bani Utbah
In 1783, Nasr Al-Madhkur, ruler of Bahrain and Bushire, lost the islands of Bahrain following his defeat by the Bani Utbah tribe at the 1782 Battle of Zubarah. Bahrain was not new territory to the Bani Utbah; they had been a presence there since the 17th century. During that time, they started purchasing date palm gardens in Bahrain. A document belonging to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi, one of the shaikhs of the Al Bin Ali tribe (an offshoot of the Bani Utbah), states that Mariam Bint Ahmed Al Sindi, a Shia woman, sold a palm garden on the island of Sitra to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi in the year 1699–1111 Hijri calendar, preceding the arrival of the Al-Khalifa to Bahrain by more than 90 years.
The Al Bin Ali were the dominant group controlling the town of Zubarah on the Qatar peninsula, originally the center of power of the Bani Utbah. After the Bani Utbah gained control of Bahrain, the Al Bin Ali had a practically independent status there as a self-governing tribe. They used a flag with four red and three white stripes, called the Al-Sulami flag in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the Eastern province of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was raised on their ships during wartime, in the pearl season and on special occasions such as weddings and during Eid ul-Fitr as well as in the "Ardha of war". The Al Bin Ali were known for their courage, persistence, and abundant wealth.
Later, different Arab family clans and tribes, mostly from Qatar, moved to Bahrain to settle after the fall of the Zand Dynasty of Persia. These families and tribes included the Al Khalifa, Al-Ma'awdah, Al-Fadhil, Al-Mannai, Al-Noaimi, Al-Sulaiti, Al-Sadah, Al-Thawadi, and other families and tribes.
Most of these tribes settled in Muharraq, the capital of Bahrain and center of power at that time since the Al Bin Ali lived there. The oldest and largest neighborhood in Muharraq city is called Al Bin Ali. Members of this tribe lived in this area for more than three centuries.
Al Khalifa ascendancy to Bahrain and their treaties with the British
In 1797, fourteen years later after gaining the power of the Bani Utbah, the Al Khalifa family moved to Bahrain and settled in Jaww, later moving to Riffa. They were originally from Kuwait having left in 1766. Al-Sabah family traditions relates that the ancestors of their tribe and those of the Al-Khalifa tribe came to Kuwait after their expulsion from Umm Qasr upon Khor Zubair by the Turks, an earlier base from which they preyed on the caravans of Basra and pirated ships in the Shatt Al Arab waterway.
In the early 19th century, Bahrain was invaded by both the Omanis and the Al Sauds. In 1802 it was governed by a twelve year old child, when the Omani ruler Sayyid Sultan installed his son, Salim, as Governor in the Arad Fort.
In 1820, the Al Khalifa tribe regained power in Bahrain and entered a treaty relationship with Great Britain, by then the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. This treaty granted the Al Khalifa the title of Rulers ("Al-Hakim" in Arabic) of Bahrain.
After Egyptian ruler Mohammad Ali Pasha took the Arabian Peninsula from the Wahhabis on behalf of the Ottoman Empire in 1830, Sheikh Abdul Al Khalifa declared allegiance to the Iranian Government to avoid the Egyptians taking control of Bahrain.
In 1860, the Government of Al Khalifa used the same tactic when the British tried to overpower Bahrain. Sheikh Mohammad bin Khalifa Al Khalifa wrote a letter to Nasseredin Shah of Iran declaring himself, his brother and all of members of Al Khalifa and the people of Bahrain Iranian subjects. In another letter to the Iranian Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammad demanded that the Government of Iran provide direct guidance and protection from British pressure.
Later on, under pressure from Colonel Sir Lewis Pelly, Sheikh Mohammad requested military assistance from Iran, but the Government of Iran at that time had no ability to protect Bahrain from British aggression. As a result the Government of British India eventually overpowered Bahrain. Colonel Pelly signed an agreement with Sheikh Mohammad in May 1861 and later with his brother Sheikh Ali that placed Bahrain under British rule and protection. In 1868, British representatives signed another agreement with the rulers of Al KhalifaTemplate:Clarification needed The Ruler of Bahrain? making Bahrain part of the British protectorate territories in the Persian Gulf. 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 without British consent. In return the British promised to protect Bahrain from all aggression by sea and to lend support in case of land attack. More importantly the British promised to support the rule of the Al Khalifa in Bahrain, securing its unstable position as rulers of the country. Other agreements in 1880 and 1892 sealed the protectorate status of Bahrain to the British.
According to School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) academic, Nelida Fuccaro:
Unrest amongst the people of Bahrain began when Britain officially established complete dominance over the territory in 1892. The first revolt and widespread uprising took place in March 1895 against Sheikh Issa bin Ali, then Ruler of Bahrain. Sheikh Issa was the first of the Al Khalifa to rule without Iranian relations. Sir Arnold Wilson, Britain's representaive in the Persian Gulf and author of The Persian Gulf, arrived in Bahrain from Mascat at this time. The uprising developed further with some protesters killed by British forces.
Peace and trade brought a new prosperity to Bahrain. With the country no longer dependent upon pearling, by the mid-19th century it became the pre-eminent trading centre in the Persian Gulf, overtaking rivals Basra, Kuwait, and finally, in the 1870s, Muscat. At the same time, Bahrain's socio-economic development began to diverge from the rest of the Persian Gulf undergoing transformation from a tribal trading centre to a modern state. This process was spurred by the arrival of large numbers of Persian, Huwala, and Indian merchant families who set up businesses on the island, making it the hub of a web of trade routes across the Persian Gulf, Persia and the Indian sub-continent. A contemporary account of Manama in 1862 found:
Palgrave's description of Manama's coffee houses in the mid-19th century portrays them as cosmopolitan venues in contrast to what he describes as the ‘closely knit and bigoted universe of central Arabia’. Palgrave describes a people with an open – even urbane – outlook: "Of religious controversy I have never heard one word. In short, instead of Zelators and fanatics, camel-drivers and Bedouins, we have at Bahrain [Manama] something like 'men of the world, who know the world like men' a great relief to the mind; certainly it was so to mine."
The great trading families that emerged during this period have been compared to the Borgias and Medicis and their great wealth – long before the oil wealth the region would later be renowned for – gave them extensive power, and among the most prominent were the Persian Al Safar family, who held the position of Native Agents of Britain in 19th century. The Al Safar enjoyed an 'exceptionally close' relationship with the Al Khalifa clan from 1869, although the Al-Khalifa never intermarried with them – it has been speculated that this was to limit the Al-Safars' influence on the ruling family or because the Al-Safars were Shia Muslims.
Bahrain's trade with India saw the cultural influence of the subcontinent grow dramatically, with styles of dress, cuisine, and education all showing a marked Indian influence. According to Exeter University's James Onley "In these and countless other ways, eastern Arabia's ports and people were as much a part of the Indian Ocean world as they were a part of the Arab world."
In 1911, a group of Bahraini merchants demanded restrictions on the British influence in the country. The group's leaders were subsequently arrested and exiled to India. In 1923, the British deposed Sheikh Issa bin Ali whom they accused of opposing Britain and set up a permanent representative in Bahrain. This coincided with renewal of Iran's claim over the ownership of Bahrain, a development that Sheikh Issa had been accused of welcoming. The preference shown by the people of Bahrain towards the renewal of Iran ownership's claim also caused concern for Britain. To remedy these problems, in 1926, Britain dispatched Sir Charles Belgrave, one of her most experienced colonial officers, as an advisor to the Ruler of Bahrain. His harsh measures intensified the increasing aversion of people towards him and led to his eventual expulsion from Bahrain in 1957. Belgrave's colonial undertakings were not limited to violent deeds against Bahrainis but also included a series of initiatives that included removal of Iranian influence on Bahrain and the Persian Gulf. In 1937, Belgrave proposed changing the name of the Persian Gulf to the "Gulf of Arabia", a move that did not take place.
In 1927, Rezā Shāh demanded the return of Bahrain in a letter to the Allied Nations Community. Britain believed that weakened domination over Bahrain would cause her to lose control all over the Persian Gulf, and decided to bring uprisings amongst the people of Bahrain under control at any cost. To achieve this they encouraged conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Bahrain.
Bahrain underwent a period of major social reform between 1926 and 1957, under the de facto rule of Charles Belgrave, the British advisor to Shaikh Hamad ibn Isa Al-Khalifa (1872-1942). The country's first modern school, the Al-Hiddaya Boys School, was established in 1919, whilst the Arab Persian Gulf's first girls' school opened in 1928. The American Mission Hospital, established by the Dutch Reform Church, began work in 1903. Other reforms included the abolition of slavery. At the same time, the pearl diving industry developed at a rapid pace.
These reforms were often vigorously opposed by powerful groups within Bahrain including sections within the ruling family, tribal forces, the religious authorities and merchants. In order to counter conservatives, the British removed the Ruler, Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa in 1923 and replaced him with his son. Some Sunni tribes such as the al Dossari left Bahrain to mainland Arabia, whilst clerical opponents of social reforms were exiled to Saudi Arabia and Iran. The heads of some merchant and notable families were likewise exiled. Britain's interest in Bahrain's development was motivated by concerns over the ambitions of the Saudi-Wahabi and the Iranians.
Discovery of petroleum
The discovery of oil in 1932 brought rapid modernization to Bahrain. Relations with the United Kingdom became closer, as evidenced by the British Royal Navy moving its entire Middle Eastern command from Bushehr in Iran to Bahrain in 1935. British influence continued to grow as the country developed, culminating with the appointment of Charles Belgrave as advisor. He went on to establish a modern education system in Bahrain. After World War II, increasing anti-British sentiment spread throughout the Arab World and led to riots in Bahrain. The riots focused on the Jewish community, which included distinguished writers, singers, accountants, engineers and middle managers working for the oil company, textile merchants with business all over the peninsula, and free professionals.
In 1948, following rising hostilities and looting, most members of Bahrain's Jewish community abandoned their properties and evacuated to Bombay, later settling in Israel (Pardes Hanna-Karkur) and the United Kingdom. As of 2008, 37 Jews remained in the country. The issue of compensation was never settled. In 1960, the United Kingdom put forward Bahrain's future for international arbitration and requested that the United Nations Secretary-General take on this responsibility.
Drop of Iranian claim
Iran's parliament passed a bill in November 1957 declaring Bahrain to be the 14th province of Iran, with two empty seats allocated for its representatives. This action caused numerous problems for Iran in its international relations, especially with some United Nations bodies, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and a number of Arab countries. It also provided a major opportunity for Iraqi extremists to extend their anti-Iran campaign in the region.
At this time, Britain set out to change the demographics of Bahrain. The policy of “deiranisation” consisted of importing a large number of different Arabs and others from British colonies as labourers.
Demonstrations in 1956 forced the Al Khalifa rulers to leave Manama (the capital) for the village of Refae Al Gharbi where only Sunni Arabs serving as their bodyguards were allowed to live.
In 1965 Britain began dialogue with Iran to determine their borders in the Persian Gulf. Before long extensive differences over borders and territory came to light, including the dispute over the dominion of Bahrain. The two were not able to determine the maritime borders between the northern and southern countries of the Persian Gulf. At the same time King Faisal of Saudi Arabia arrived in Iran on a visit which included the creation of Islamic Conference and the decision to determine the maritime borders of the two countries. In return, the Shah of Iran agreed to visit Saudi Arabia in 1967. A week before this visit, the Saudis received Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the that time Ruler of Bahrain as a head of state in the Saudi capital Riyadh. As a result the Shah's visit was cancelled, seriously damaging relations between the two countries. Following mediation by King Hassan II of Morocco the relationship was repaired.
Eventually Iran and Britain agreed to put the matter of Dominion of Bahrain to international judgment and requested the United Nations General Secretary take on this responsibility.
Iran pressed hard for a referendum in Bahrain in the face of strong opposition from both the British and the Bahraini leaders. Their opposition was based on Al Khalifa's view that such a move would negate 150 years of their clan's rule in the country. In the end, as an alternative to the referendum, Iran and Britain agreed to request the United Nations conduct an opinion poll in Bahrain that would determine the political future of the territory. In reply to letters from the British and Iranians, U Thant, then Secretary General of the United Nations, declared that an opinion poll would take place on March 30, 1970. Vittorio Winspeare-Giucciardi, Manager of the United Nations office in Geneva was put in charge of the project. Report no. 9772 was submitted to the UN General Secretary and on May 11, 1970, the United Nations Security Council endorsed Winspeare's conclusion that an overwhelming majority of the people wished recognition of Bahrain's identity as a fully independent and sovereign state free to decide its own relations with other states. Both Britain and Iran accepted the report and brought their dispute to a close.
The oil boom of the 1970s benefited Bahrain greatly, although the subsequent downturn hurt the economy. The country had already begun diversification of its economy and benefited further from the 1970s Lebanese Civil War, when Bahrain replaced Beirut as the Middle East's financial hub after Lebanon's large banking sector was driven out of the country by the war. Following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, in 1981 Bahraini Shī'a fundamentalists orchestrated a failed coup attempt under the auspices of a front organization, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. The coup would have installed a Shī'a cleric exiled in Iran, Hujjatu l-Islām Hādī al-Mudarrisī, as supreme leader heading a theocratic government. In 1994, a wave of rioting by disaffected Shīa Islamists was sparked by women's participation in a sporting event.
During the mid-1990s, Bahrain was badly affected by sporadic violence between the government and the cleric-led opposition in which over forty people were killed. In March 1999, Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah succeeded his father as Emir (head of state) and instituted elections for parliament, gave women the right to vote, and released all political prisoners. These moves were described by Amnesty International as representing an "historic period of human rights". As part of the adoption of the National Action Charter on February 14, 2002, Bahrain changed its formal name from the State (dawla) of Bahrain to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Bahrain is sometimes described as "Middle East lite" due to its combination of modern infrastructure with a Persian Gulf identity. While Islam is the main religion, Bahrainis are known for their tolerance towards the practice of other faiths.
It is too early to say whether political liberalization under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has augmented or undermined Bahrain's traditional pluralism. The new political space for Shia and Sunni Islamists has meant that they are now more able to pursue programs that often seek to directly confront this pluralism. At the same time, political reforms have encouraged an opposite trend whereby society becomes more self-critical and shows a greater willingness to examine previous social taboos.
In common with the rest of the Muslim world, though Bahrain has take strong strides for women's rights, it does not recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.
Another facet of the new openness is Bahrain's status as the most prolific book publisher in the Arab world, with 132 books published in 2005 for a population of 700,000. In comparison, the 2005 average for the entire Arab world was seven books published per one million people, according to the United Nations Development Programme. Ali Bahar is the most famous singer in Bahrain. He performs his music with his Band Al-Ekhwa (The Brothers).
Language and religion
Arabic is the official language of Bahrain though English is widely used. Bahrani Arabic is the most widely spoken language. Bahrain's primary religion is Islam. Muslims belong to the Shi'a and Sunni branches of Islam. The Shi'a constitute over 70 percent of the Muslim population.
Formula One and other motorsports events
Bahrain has a Formula One race-track, which hosted the inaugural Gulf Air Grand Prix on 4 April 2004, the first in an Arab country. This was followed by the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2005. Bahrain hosted the opening Grand Prix of the 2006 season on 12 March of that year. Both the above races were won by Fernando Alonso of Renault. The 2007 event took place on April 13, 14th and 15th.
In 2006, Bahrain also hosted its inaugural Australian V8 Supercar event dubbed the "Desert 400". The V8s will return every November to the Sakhir circuit. The Bahrain International Circuit also features a full length drag strip where the Bahrain Drag Racing Club has organised invitational events featuring some of Europe's top drag racing teams to try to raise the profile of the sport in the Middle East.
On 1 September 2006, Bahrain changed its weekend from being Thursdays and Fridays to Fridays and Saturdays, in order to have a day of the weekend shared with the rest of the world. Other non-regular holidays are listed below:
Bahrain is a generally flat and arid archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia. It consists of a low desert plain rising gently to a low central escarpment with the highest point the 134 m (440 ft) Mountain of Smoke (Jabal ad Dukhan). Bahrain has a total area of 665 km (257 sq mi), which is slightly larger than the Isle of Man, though it is smaller than the nearby King Fahd International Airport near Dammam, Saudi Arabia (780 km (301 sq mi)).
As an archipelago of thirty-three islands, Bahrain does not share a land boundary with another country but does have a 161 km (100 mi) coastline. The country also claims a further 22 km (12 nmi) of territorial sea and a 44 km (24 nmi) contiguous zone. Bahrain's largest islands are Bahrain Island, Muharraq Island, Umm an Nasan, and Sitrah. Bahrain has mild winters and very hot, humid summers. The country's natural resources include large quantities of oil and natural gas as well as fish in the offshore waters. Arable land constitutes only 2.82% of the total area.
92% of Bahrain is desert with periodic droughts and dust storms the main natural hazards for Bahrainis. Environmental issues facing Bahrain include desertification resulting from the degradation of limited arable land, coastal degradation (damage to coastlines, coral reefs, and sea vegetation) resulting from oil spills and other discharges from large tankers, oil refineries, distribution stations, and illegal land reclamation at places such as Tubli Bay. The agricultural and domestic sectors' over-utilization of the Dammam Aquifer, the principal aquifer in Bahrain, has led to its salinization by adjacent brackish and saline water bodies.
The Zagros Mountains across the Persian Gulf in Iraq cause low level winds to be directed toward Bahrain. Dust storms from Iraq and Saudi Arabia transported by northwesterly winds cause reduced visibility in the months of June and July.
Due to the Persian Gulf area's low moisture, summers are very hot and dry. The seas around Bahrain are very shallow, heating up quickly in the summer to produce high humidity, especially at night. Summer temperatures may reach more than 40 °C (104 °F) under the right conditions. Rainfall in Bahrain is minimal and irregular. Rainfalls mostly occur in winter, with a recorded maximum of 71.8 mm (2.83 in).