The Kingdom of Bahrain is the only Arab island nation that includes 33 islands located in the western part of the Persian Gulf. It is the pearl of the Middle East. Bahrain is the smallest Arab state with a coastline of 161 kilometers. In this country, centuries-old traditions are combined with modern values. The purpose of the research paper is to learn the geographical position, historical background, and the political structure of Bahrain, as well as the influence of Arab Spring on the country.
General Notion of the Country
Bahrain is an island state in the north-western part of the Persian Gulf near the coast of Saudi Arabia. The author Carol Gillespie states that “The country is formed by an archipelago located midway along the western edge of the Persian Gulf”. The total area is 693.15 square kilometers. One large island and 32 small islands constitute the composition of the archipelago. The capital of the country is Manama. The population of Bahrain constitutes about one and a half million of people. The indigenous Bahrainis are more than 70 % of the population. The country has many natives from the European and South Asian countries. Arabic is the official language. English, Farsi, and Urdu are also used. Islam is the state religion of the country. About 85 % of the population professes the state religion. 75 % are Shia Islam and 25 % Sunni Islam.
Researchers affirm that people lived in Bahrain for an extremely long time. In the book Bahrain, the author states that “Its history goes back at least 50,000 years to the dawn of modern-day humans”. According to historians, the territory of modern Bahrain was one of the centers of the ancient Sumerian civilization about 5 thousand years ago. Its territory was a part of Assyria and Babylon. From the time of Alexander the Great, it was known by the Greek name of Tilos. Bahrain was a part of the Sasanian Empire, the Arab Caliphate, the state Carmathians, Portugal, and Iran. The fact that Persians, Omanis, and Portuguese ruled the country left a distinctive mark on its culture, which tends to the Arab region. At the same time, it has close ties with the Persian and Indian civilizations.
In 1783, the Persian garrison located on the islands of modern Bahrain was attacked by a detachment headed by representatives of the family of al-Khalifa. It originated from the desert Najd in the center of the Arabian Peninsula. Representatives of this family rule Bahrain to these days. In the XIX century, Bahrain sought to become part of Persia to counteract the influence of Great Britain in the region. Nevertheless, it soon became a protectorate of the United Kingdom. In 1935, two years after the start of large-scale oil production in Bahrain, the main British naval base was there. During World War II, the British government placed large troop contingents in Bahrain.
In the early 1970s, the ruling family of Bahrain, Qatar, and the seven principalities now known as the United Arab Emirates made an attempt to create a union state. However, its formation was delayed. It resulted in strengthening of the country’s attitudes for the proclamation of sovereignty. On August 15, 1971, Bahrain became an independent state.
The Political Structure
Bahrain is a unitary state. The first Constitution came into force in May 1973. However, already in 1975, Emir suspended it. In 2001, the population of Bahrain approved by referendum a National Charter on important constitutional issues. It provides the transformation of the emirate into a constitutional kingdom and creation of a bicameral parliament. In addition, for the first time in the history of the countries of Persian Gulf, women received equal political rights with men including the right to elect and to be elected to the parliament.
By the form of government, Bahrain is a hereditary constitutional monarchy. It is the only country in the Persian Gulf where there is a strict law of primogeniture in the inheritance of power. The House of Khalifa is in power since 1783. The head of state is the Emir. The current Emir Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Prior 2002, activities of political parties were banned. In 2001, the Emir canceled a state of emergency which was in force since 1975 and disbanded the state security court. Bahrain is a member country of the UN, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, the Arab League. Also, it is a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Challenges in the Country
Bahrain is a sufficiently prosperous oil-producing country. Oil brings 70 % of export revenues. Today, Bahraini enterprises possessing the most advanced equipment mainly specialize in refining the neighboring Arab countries. Aluminum production, maintenance of tankers, and traditional pearl production also bring considerable income to the country. In the country, there is free medical care and secondary education. Local residents have the right to housing and land from the state, as well as subsidies for food and gasoline. There are no taxes on income for individuals and legal entities.
However, despite this, the country also faces several social challenges. In the rural area, there is still illiteracy. Due to the influx of foreign workers, it is difficult to find a job for local youth. It especially refers to less socially successful representatives of the Shiite community.
In addition, the Bahraini political system is freer than in other Gulf countries. Nevertheless, in recent years, protest actions against the government have increased. A reason for protests is a traditional tension between Sunni and Shiite communities of the country. Despite the high quality of life and social security in the country, the Shiite community estimated at about two-thirds of the indigenous population of the island still inferior to Sunni in terms of income and education. In addition, Sunnis constitute a majority of civil servants, army, and police who are the support of the royal dynasty. This fact causes discontent of the Shiite community. The government of the country should expand democratic freedoms of people and ensure equality of all communities.
The Role of Saudi Arabia in the Region
Saudi Arabia has played a special role in the events of the Arab Spring. It is considered the center of the Arab-Muslim world. Being a significant ally of the USA and a strong regional power, it tries to take the most active part in the affairs of the Middle East region. Military assistance to Bahrain became a prime example of the Riyadh’s intervention in the socio-political process of the neighboring country. Mass protests in Bahrain began in February 2011. The protests were mainly aimed at achieving greater political freedom and respect for human rights. The author Miriam Joyce mentions that “Bahrainis joined the masses that called for democracy”. On February 28 – March 1, 2012, the Saud dynasty helped Bahrain to suppress the Shiite uprising. It gave the country 30 units of armored vehicles. The strategic objective was to help the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain controlling the Shiite majority of the country. Many experts affirm that without the external support of Saudi Arabia, the current government could not remain in Bahrain. The tank invasion in Bahrain was the first sign in a series of actions of the Saudi leadership taken during the Arab Spring.
Bahrain is an island state in the central part of the Persian Gulf. It consists of 33 islands. Bahrain was a part of many states. It left an imprint on the culture and traditions of the country. Nowadays, the country is a constitutional monarchy. Bahrain faces social and political challenges associated with disagreements between the government and the Shiite majority. They cause military uprisings. Saudi Arabia has a great influence on the country.