Feb 17, 2011


Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Wednesday, 16 February 2011Map of Bahrain
Bahrain - which name means "two seas" - was once viewed by the ancient Sumerians as an island paradise to which the wise and the brave were taken to enjoy eternal life.
It was one of the first states in the Gulf to discover oil and to build a refinery; as such, it benefited from oil wealth before most of its neighbours.
Bahrain never reached the levels of production enjoyed by Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and has been forced to diversify its economy.
The country has been headed since 1783 by the Khalifah family, members of the Bani Utbah tribe, who expelled the Persians. From 1861, when a treaty was signed with Britain, until independence in 1971, Bahrain was virtually a British protectorate.
The king is the supreme authority and members of the Sunni Muslim ruling family hold the main political and military posts. There are long-running tensions between Bahrain's Sunnis and the Shi'ite Muslim majority. On occasion, these have spilled over into civil unrest.
In 2001 Bahrainis strongly backed proposals put by the emir - now the king - to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary.
Elections were duly held in 2002 for a 40-member parliament, the Council of Deputies. It was the first such poll in nearly 30 years. The new body included a dozen Shi'ite MPs.
The country has enjoyed increasing freedom of expression, and monitors say the human rights situation has improved. However, opposition groups and campaigners continue to press for political reforms, including greater powers for the elected assembly.
Bahrain - a chain of around 30 islands - is a haven for tourists from the region, who take advantage of its relaxed social environment. A close ally of the US, it is home to the American navy's Fifth Fleet.
Full name: Kingdom of Bahrain Population: 807,000 (UN, 2010) Capital: Manama Area: 717 sq km (277 sq miles) Major language: Arabic Major religion: Islam Life expectancy: 75 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN) Monetary unit: 1 Bahraini dinar = 1,000 fils Main exports: Petroleum and petroleum products, aluminium GNI per capita: US $25,420 (World Bank, 2009) Internet domain: .bh International dialling code: +973
King: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah
Sheikh Hamad's title changed to king when Bahrain switched from being an emirate to a monarchy in February 2002.
Sheikh Hamad Sheikh Hamad succeeded his father in 1999
He had been crown prince since 1964, when, on the death of his father Sheikh Isa in March 1999, he became emir.
Born in 1950, he was educated at a public school in Cambridge, England, and went on to study at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England, and at the US Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
In 1968, he founded and became commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). He served as minister of defence from 1971 to 1988.
The government has over the years faced protests from the Shia majority, with demonstrators saying the ruling Sunni minority shuts them out of housing, healthcare and government jobs.
In February 2011 thousands of demonstrators gathered for several days in the centre of Manama, inspired by the popular uprisings which toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt.
There is a lively private press, but most Bahraini radio and TV stations are state-run. A 2008 study found that nearly 99% of households had a satellite receiver.
A press law guarantees the right of journalists to operate independently, but they are liable to jail terms for offences which include insulting the king, and self-censorship is practised.
BBC World Service is available on FM in Manama (101 MHz in English; 103.8 in Arabic).
By June 2010, Bahrain had 649,300 internet users (InternetWorldStats.com).
Rigorous filtering targets political, human rights, religious material and content deemed obscene. "Many websites run by national or international non-government organisations are inaccessible," Reporters Without Borders notes.
The press
Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation (BRTC) - state-run; operates five terrestrial TV networks RadioBahrain Radio and Television Corporation (BRTC) - state-run; operates General Programme in Arabic, Second Programme featuring cultural and local programmes, Holy Koran Programme, Sports Service, English-language Radio Bahrain Voice FM - private, for Indian listeners
News agency

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