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Bahrain, officially the Kingdom of Bahrain (Arabic: مملكة البحرين Mamlakat al-Baḥrayn), is a borderless island country in the Persian Gulf and is the smallest Arab nation. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway (officially opened on November 25, 1986), and Qatar is to the south across the Persian Gulf. The Qatar–Bahrain Friendship Bridge currently being planned will link Bahrain to Qatar as the longest fixed link in the world.
Map of Bahrain
Bahrain has been inhabited by humans since ancient times and has even been proposed as the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden.
Its strategic location in the Persian Gulf has brought rule and influence from the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, and finally the Arabs, under whom the island became Muslim. Bahrain was in the ancient times known as Dilmun, later under its Greek name Tylos, as Awal as well as under the Persian name Mishmahig when it came under the imperial rule of the Persian Empire.
The islands of Bahrain, positioned in the middle south of the Persian Gulf, have attracted the attention of many invaders throughout history, such as the Al-Khalifas. Bahrain is an Arabic word meaning "Two Seas", and is thought to either refer to the fact that the islands contain two sources of water, sweet water springs and salty water in the surrounding seas, or to the south and north waters of the Persian Gulf, separating it from the Arabian coast and Iran, respectively. But this is thought to be an inaccurate folk etymology for the much older, non-Semitic term, Bahran; according to some scholars Bahran originates from Varahrdn, the later form of the old Avestan Verethragna - a Zoroastrian divinity that is the hypostasis of victory.
A strategic position between East and West, fertile lands, fresh water, and pearl diving made Bahrain long a center of urban settlement. Pearl diving was the main economy until cultured pearls were invented in early twentieth century and more when oil was discovered in 1930s. About 2300 BC, Bahrain became a centre of one of the ancient empires trading between Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and the Indus Valley (now in Pakistan and India). This was the civilization of Dilmun (sometimes transliterated Telmun) that was linked to the Sumerian Civilization in the third millennium BC. Bahrain became part of the Babylonian empire about 600 BC. Historical records referred to Bahrain with names such as the "Life of Eternity", "Paradise", and Eden. Bahrain was also called the "Pearl of the Persian Gulf".
Until Bahrain embraced Islam in 629 AD, it was a centre for Nestorian Christainity. In 899, a millenarian Ismaili sect, the Qarmatians, seized hold of the country and sought to create a utopian society based on reason and the distribution of all property evenly among the initiates. The Qarmatians caused widespread disruption throughout the Islamic world: they collected tribute from the caliph in Baghdad; and in 930 sacked Mecca and Medina, bringing the sacred Black Stone back to Bahrain where it was held to ransom. They were defeated in 976 by the Abbasids.
Until 1521, when the Portuguese conquered the Awal Islands, "Bahrain" referred to the larger historical region of Bahrain that included Ahsa, Qatif (both now constitute the eastern province of Saudi Arabia) and the Awal (now the Bahrain) Islands. The region stretched from Basrah to the Strait of Hormuz in Oman. This was Iqlīm al-Bahrayn "Bahrayn Province" and the Arab inhabitants of the province, descendants of the Arab tribe Banī 'Abdu l-Qays, were called Bahārna after it. Since the Portuguese conquest, "Bahrain" has referred to the area that is now the modern state of Bahrain.
From the sixteenth century to 1743, control of Bahrain drifted between the Portuguese and the Persians. Ultimately, the Persian Afsharid king, Nadir Shah, invaded and took control of Bahrain and for reasons of political control supported the Shī'a majority.
In the late eighteenth century, the al-Khalifa family invaded and captured the islands from their base in neighbouring Qatar. In order to secure Bahrain from returning to Persian control, the Emirate entered into a treaty relationship with the United Kingdom and became a British protectorate.
Oil was discovered in 1932 and brought rapid modernization and improvements to Bahrain. Bahrain was actually the first place to find oil in the whole region. It also made relations with the United Kingdom closer, evidenced by the British moving more bases to the island nation. British influence would continue to grow as the country developed, culminating with the appointment of Charles Belgrave as an advisor; Belgrave established modern education systems in Bahrain.
Bahrain from space, June 1996
After World War II, increasing anti-British sentiment spread throughout the Arab world and led to riots in Bahrain. In 1960, the United Kingdom put Bahrain's future to international arbitration and requested that the United Nations Secretary-General take on this responsibility. In 1970, Iran simultaneously laid claim to both Bahrain and the other Persian Gulf islands. However in an agreement with the United Kingdom it agreed to "not pursue" its irredentist claims on Bahrain if its other claims were realised. The following plebiscite saw Bahrainis confirm their independence from Britain and their Arab identity. Bahrain to this day remains a member of the Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council.
The British withdrew from Bahrain on August 15, 1971, making Bahrain an independent emirate. The oil boom of the 1980s greatly benefited Bahrain, but its downturn was felt badly. However, the country had already begun to diversify its economy, and had benefited from the Lebanese civil war that began in the 1970s; Bahrain replaced Beirut as the Middle East's financial hub as Lebanon's large banking sector was driven out of the country by the war.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Bahraini Shī'a fundamentalists in 1981 orchestrated a failed coup attempt under the auspices of a front organisation, 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. The Kingdom was badly affected by sporadic violence during the mid-1990s in which over forty people were killed in violence between the government and Islamists.
In March 1999, Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifah succeeded his father as 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." The country was declared a kingdom in 2002. It formerly was considered an emirate and officially called a "state."
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy headed by the King, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa; the head of government is the Prime Minister, Shaykh Khalīfa bin Salman al Khalifa, who presides over a cabinet of twenty-three members . Bahrain has a bicameral legislature with a lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, elected by universal suffrage and the upper house, the Shura Council, appointed by the King. Both houses have forty members. The inaugural elections were held in 2002, with parliamentarians serving four year terms; the first round of voting in the 2006 parliamentary election took place on 25 November 2006, and second round run-offs were decided on 2 December 2006.
The opening up of politics has seen big gains for both Shīa and Sunnī Islamists in elections, which has given them a parliamentary platform to pursue their policies. This has meant that what are termed "morality issues" have moved further up the political agenda with parties launching campaigns to impose bans on female mannequins displaying lingerie in shop windows, sorcery and the hanging of underwear on washing lines. Analysts of democratisation in the Middle East cite the Islamists' references to respect for human rights in their justification for these programmes as evidence that these groups can serve as a progressive force in the region.
Islamist parties have been particularly critical of the government's readiness to sign international treaties such as the United Nation's International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. At a parliamentary session in June 2006 to discuss ratification of the Convention, Sheikh Adel Mouwda, the former leader of salafist party, Asalah, explained the party's objections: "The convention has been tailored by our enemies, God kill them all, to serve their needs and protect their interests rather than ours. This why we have eyes from the American Embassy watching us during our sessions, to ensure things are swinging their way" .
Both Sunnī and Shī'a Islamists suffered a setback in March 2006 when twenty municipal councillors, most of whom represented religious parties, went missing in Bangkok on an unscheduled stopover when returning from a conference in Malaysia . After the missing councillors eventually arrived in Bahrain they defended their stay at the Radisson Hotel in Bangkok, telling journalists it was a "fact-finding mission", and explaining: "We benefited a lot from the trip to Thailand because we saw how they managed their transport, landscaping and roads." 
Bahraini liberals have responded to the growing power of religious parties by organising themselves to campaign through civil society in order to defend basic personal freedoms from being legislated away. In November 2005, al Muntada, a grouping of liberal academics, launched "We Have A Right", a campaign to explain to the public why personal freedoms matter and why they need to be defended.
Women's political rights in Bahrain saw an important step forward when women were granted the right to vote and stand in national elections for the first time in 2002's election. However, no women were elected to office in that year’s polls and instead Shī'a and Sunnī Islamists dominated the election, collectively winning a majority of seats. In response to the failure of women candidates, six were appointed to the Shura Council, which also includes representatives of the Kingdom’s indigenous Jewish and Christian communities. The country's first female cabinet minister was appointed in 2004 when Dr. Nada Haffadh became Minister of Health, while the quasi-governmental women's group, the Supreme Council for Women has been training female candidates to take part in 2006's general election. When Bahrain was elected to head the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 it appointed lawyer and women's rights activist Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa as the President of the United Nations General Assembly, only the third woman in history to head the world body.
The King recently created the Supreme Judicial Council to regulate the country's courts and institutionalize the separation of the administrative and judicial branches of government.
On 11–12 November 2005, Bahrain hosted the Forum for the Future bringing together leaders from the Middle East and G8 countries to discuss political and economic reform in the region.
Manama, Bahrain's wealthy capital
In a region currently experiencing an unprecedented oil boom, Bahrain has the fastest growing economy in the Arab world, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia found in January 2006. Bahrain also has the freest economy in the Middle East according to the 2006 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal, and is twenty-fifth freest overall in the world.
In Bahrain, petroleum production and processing account for about 60% of export receipts, 60% of government revenues, and 30% of GDP. Economic conditions have fluctuated with the changing fortunes of oil since 1985, for example, during and following the Persian Gulf crisis of 1990-91. With its highly developed communication and transport facilities, Bahrain is home to numerous multinational firms with business in the Persian Gulf. A large share of exports consists of petroleum products made from imported crude. Construction proceeds on several major industrial projects. Unemployment, especially among the young, and the depletion of both oil and underground water resources are major long-term economic problems.
In 2004, Bahrain signed the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement, which will reduce certain barriers to trade between the two nations.
Bahrain is a generally flat and arid archipelago, comprising of a low desert plain rising gently to a low central escarpment, in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia. The highest point is the 122 m Jabal ad Dukhan.
Considered to be one of the fifteen states that comprise the "Cradle of Humanity" in the Middle East, Bahrain has a total area of 688 km² (266 mi²), which is slightly larger than the Isle of Man, though it is smaller than the nearby King Fahd Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia (780 km² or 301 mi²). As an archipelago of thirty-three islands, Bahrain does not share a land boundary with another country but does have a 161-kilometre (100 mi) coastline and claims a further twelve nautical miles (22 km) of territorial sea and a twenty-four nautical mile (44 km) contiguous zone. Bahrain enjoys mild winters and endures very hot, humid summers.
Bahrain's natural resources include large quantities of oil and associated and nonassociated natural gas as well as fish stocks, which is perhaps fortunate as arable land constitutes only 2.82% . Desert constitutes 92% of Bahrain and periodic droughts and dust storms are the main natural hazards for Bahrainis.
Environmental issues facing Bahrain include desertification resulting from the degradation of limited arable land and coastal degradation (damage to coastlines, coral reefs, and sea vegetation) resulting from oil spills and other discharges from large tankers, oil refineries, and distribution stations. The agricultural and domestic sectors' over-utilization of the Dammam aquifer, the principle aquifer in Bahrain, has led to its salinization by adjacent brackish and saline water bodies.
The official religion of Bahrain is Islam, which the majority of the population practices. However, due to an influx of immigrants and guest workers from non-Muslim countries, such as the India,Philippines and Sri Lanka, the overall percentage of Muslims in the country has declined in recent years. According to the 2001 census, 80% of Bahrain's population was Muslim, 10% were Christian, and 10% practiced other Asian or Middle Eastern religions.
There are no official figures for the proportion of Shia and Sunni among the Muslims of Bahrain, however unofficial sources, such as the Library of Congress Country Studies, BBC, and the New York Times, estimate it to be approximately 30 percent Shia and 70 per cent Sunni. The last official census which included sectarian identification was taken in 1941, which reported 53 percent as Shia.
Recently, Bahrain has transformed into a cosmopolitan society with mixed communities: two thirds of Bahrain's population consists of Arabs, while the rest are immigrants and guest workers largely from Iran, South Asia and Southeast Asia. A Financial Times published on 31 May 1983 found that "Bahrain is a polyglot state, both religiously and racially. Leaving aside the temporary immigrants of the past ten years, there are at least eight or nine communities on the island."
The present communities may be classified as: tribals, Arab tribes allied to Al-Khalifa including the Utoob tribes, Dawasir, etc; Bahranis, indigienous Shia Arabs; the Howilla, mainly Sunni Persians with some claims of Arab ancestry; Ajam ethnic Persian Shia; Najdis, non-tribal urban Sunni Arabs from Najd in central Arabia; Indians who traded with Bahrain and settled before the age of oil (formerly known as the Hunood or Banyan, Arabic: البونيان); a tiny Jewish community; and a miscellaneous grouping.
Bahrain is sometimes described as the "Middle East lite": a country that mixes thoroughly modern infrastructure with a definite Persian Gulf identity, but unlike other countries in the region its prosperity is not solely a reflection of the size of its oil wealth, but also related to the creation of an indigenous middle class. This unique socioeconomic development in the Persian Gulf has meant that Bahrain is generally more liberal than its neighbours. While Islam is the main religion, Bahrainis have been known for their tolerance, and alongside mosques can be found churches, a Hindu temple, a Sikh Gurudwara and a Jewish synagogue. The country is home to several communities that have faced persecution elsewhere.
It is too early to say whether political liberalisation 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 in a much stronger position to pursue programmes that often seek to directly confront this pluralism, yet at the same time political reforms have encouraged an opposite trend for society to become more self critical with a greater willingness in general to examine previous social taboos. It is now common to find public seminars on once unheard of subjects such as marital problems and sex and child abuse. 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 average for the entire Arab world is seven books published per one million people in 2005, according to the United Nations Development Programme. 
The middle classes tend to have a very cosmopolitan outlook, and with mainstream hip hop music very popular among Bahrain's youth. Of DJing in Bahrain, DJ Whoo Kid said:
On October 20, 2005, it was revealed that Michael Jackson intended to leave the United States permanently in order to seek a new life in Bahrain. Jackson has reportedly told friends that he feels "increasingly Bahraini" after buying a former PM's mansion in Sanad, and is now seeking another property by the seashore. Jackson reportedly moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2006. Other celebrities associated with the Kingdom include singer Shakira and Grand Prix driver Jenson Button, who owns property there.
Arabic is the official language of Bahrain. The two main dialects are Baharna Arabic, spoken by the indigenous Baharna Shia, and Bahraini Arabic spoken by the indigenous Sunnis. Persian, Urdu/Hindi, English and Malayalam are also spoken by sections of the population.
Bahrain is the home of Formula One racing in the Middle East. It started hosting the Gulf Air Grand Prix on 4 April 2004, the first for an Arab country. The race was won by Michael Schumacher of Scuderia Ferrari. This was followed by the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2005. Bahrain has successfully hosted the opening Grand Prix of the 2006 season on 12 March. Both the above races were won by Fernando Alonso of Renault. Bahrain will be hosting the 2007 Gulf Air Grand Prix on April 13th, 14th and 15th.
Bahrain recently changed their 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. The change took effect from 1 September 2006.
Numerous international educational institutions and schools have established links to Bahrain. One prominent institution is DePaul University of the United States.
Quranic schools (Kuttab) were the only form of education in Bahrain at the beginning of the twentieth century. They were traditional schools aimed at teaching children and youth the reading of the Qur'an. Many people of Bahrain had felt that this type of education did not fulfil the academic efficiency that match with the spirit of age. After the First World War, things changed and Bahrain became widely open upon the modern western renaissance. Political and social changes have occurred in the country that caused the rise of social and cultural awareness among people.
Due to all these, a demand for modern educational institutions different from Kuttab has appeared in terms of system, curricula and objectives.
1919 marked the beginning of modern public school system in Bahrain. Al-Hidaya Al-Khalifia school for boys was opened in Muharraq. In 1926, the Education Committee had opened the second public school for boys in Manama.
In 1928 the first public school for girls was opened in Muharraq.
Currently, Bahrain boasts an advanced educational system. In 2004 King Hamad bin khalifa Al-Khalifa introduced a new project that uses information communication technology (ICT) to support K-12 education in Bahrain. This project is named King Hamad Schools of Future. The main objective of this project is to connect and link all schools within the kingdom with the internet and introduce the idea of education everywhere, every time.
In addition to various British intermediate schools, the island is served by the Bahrain School (BS). BS is a United States Department of Defense school that provides a K-12 curriculum including International Baccalaureate offerings.
There are many private schools as well that offer either the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, or the A levels.
Schooling and related costs are entirely paid for by the government, and, although not compulsory, 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. University of Bahrain 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. The national action charter, passed in 2001, paved the way for the formation of many private universities. The first private university was Ahlia University, situated in Manama. The University of London External has appointed MCG as the regional representative office in Bahrain for distance learning programs. MCG is one of the oldest private institute in the country.
Many Asian institutes have also been opened which guarantee good quality education to Asian students. The Pakistan Urdu School is one the best and highly recognized Asian schools in all of Bahrain and is the leading school in the Asian community. The Indian School Bahrain is also a highly recognized Indian institution and is one of the leading schools in sports and extracurricular activities in Bahrain. There are also some Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan schools in Bahrain which are also highly reputed.
Bahrain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East with over two million tourists a year. Most of the visitors are from the Arab, Persian Gulf states but there is an increasing number of tourists from outside the region thanks to a growing awareness of the Kingdom’s rich heritage and its higher profile with regards to the Bahrain Formula One Race Track.
The Lonely Planet describes Bahrain as "an excellent introduction to the Persian Gulf" because of its authentic Arab heritage and reputation as relatively liberal and modern. The Kingdom combines authentic Arab culture, contemporary Gulf glitz and the archaeological legacy of five thousand years of civilisation. The ancient civilisation of Dilmun, which dominated trade between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization, was centred in Bahrain. The inhabitants of Dilmun left behind settlements and temples and tens of thousands of burial mounds which dot the landscape.
Dilmun prospered because it had fresh water, and it is this resource which has meant that Bahrain has long fought over by regional powers in a predominantly arid region. As a result, the island is home to many castles including the impressive Qalat Al Bahrain which was recently listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The Bahrain National Museum has a wide-varied collection of artifacts from the Kingdom's history dating back to the island's first human inhabitation 9000 years ago.
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