With no land boundaries, the Kingdom of Bahrain consists of 36 small islands located in the Persian Gulf. The country is linked to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through a 25 km causeway. Among themselves, the islands of Bahrain are connected via bridges. The geographic characteristics and social structure of Bahrain distinguish the country, in several aspects, from other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The importance of Bahrain as a trade centre goes back to 3,000 B.C. when it was known by the name ‘Dilmun’. One of the important periods in Bahrain’s history, which contributed to initiating a diversified culture, is the Persian ruling during the 4th and 17th centuries A.D. Yet, the most remarkable era which is prevailing until today – except for interruption by Portuguese, British and other invaders – is the decree of Arabs. However, the fully independent Kingdom of Bahrain was announced on 16 December 1971. Since then, the government and people celebrate this day every year as the national day.
|Area||760 sq. km|
|Major Language (s)||Arabic|
|Major Religion (s)||Islam|
|Life Expectancy||Male: 75.9 years ; Female: 77.5 years|
|Literacy rate||Youth 99.76%, Adults 95.70%|
|GDP Per Capita||USD 18,128.01|
Culture and traditions
Bahraini people share the same traditions of the citizens in other GCC countries who naturally welcome and take care of visitors. Loyalty to the family or tribe is the basis of social structure and individual identity and it comes before other social relationships, even business. Working in a family-owned business is common in Bahrain since Bahrainis prefer to work with people they know and trust. However, this enclosed nature of the social life has some negative effects in accepting people with different views or backgrounds. For example, the dispute between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims has been going for many years, but the government is managing the tension effectively. Bahrain is also a home for Christian and Jewish people whose ancestors settled in the country long time ago.
Although there might not be strong relationships between these groups, they live together peacefully and respectfully.
The official language in Bahrain is Arabic. English is widely spoken by people who learn it at school as a compulsory second language. Several other languages are spoken in the country such as Farsi, Urdu, and Hindi. This is because of the large number of expatriates representing almost 20 per cent of the population who come from Iran, Pakistan and India. Another special attribute of Bahrain’s social structure is the status of women in the society. Bahraini women are more involved in public activities than those in many Arab countries, especially the GCC members. They are welleducated, employed by various government, private and civil society organisation as well as have the right to vote.
As part of the tribal Arabs, the national dress in Bahrain is a local variation on the traditional clothes worn in many countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Males normally wear the thawb or thobe which is a long white cotton gown. In winter, the thobe is usually of a darker colour, blue or grey, and of heavier material. The headscarf (ghutra) is generally white in Bahrain. On formal occasions and in winter a gold-embroidered gown, made of silk or wool and usually brown or black, might be worn over the thobe. Likewise, Bahraini women often wear the abaya, a loose black coat, over their Westernstyled clothes. Abayas are also seen with various lace works and other trims decorating the edges. The head-scarf (hijab) covers all of the women’s hair and can be black or colourful. For special events, women wear brightly coloured dresses called jalabiyas which has intricate embroidery.
Economy and investment
The economic freedom score of Bahrain is 73.4 and it makes the country’s economy the 18th freest in the world. Although this score has reduced by 1.7 from last year, Bahrain continues to be the freest economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and its economic freedom score is well above the region and world averages which are 61.6 and 60.4 respectively. Bahrain was the first GCC country to discover and refine oil which is still considered one of the main drivers of its economy, even though oil reserves are relatively low compared to other countries in the region. It was also the first Gulf country to establish and develop a financial centre. Currently more than 400 banks and financial institutes operate in Bahrain contributing over a quarter of GDP and offering foreign and domestic investors access to a wide range of financial services.
The diversification of Bahrain’s economy was decided by the king after independence in 1971 to avoid total reliance on oil which may result in undesired effects of the changes in its price and production. This guaranteed steady growth and prosperity of the economy even during the times when other countries in the area experienced economic difficulties. Looking to the future, the Economic Vision 2030 is a roadmap for making Bahrain a more sustainable, competitive and fair economy with the aim of doubling household income. While deciding on the strategies to undertake, priority has been given to financial services, professional & industrial services, logistics, education and training, manufacturing (aluminium, food and beverage, chemicals and plastics) and ICT.
The government has created several programmes and action plans to ensure a smooth achievement of this vision. For example, the National Development Strategy is a regularly updated action-plan that sets specific milestones in the public and private sectors including education, training, healthcare and society organisations. Tamkeen is the national labour fund which invests in improving Bahrainis’ skills through training programmes to further enhance both competitiveness and the prosperity of local people. In spite of the existence of several challenges related to internal and external factors affecting the economy, the government of Bahrain has been able to handle them successfully through fair institutionalisation and enforcement of law. For example, the Economic Development Board (EDB), a body established in 2006 and chaired by the Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, has taken the view that addressing economic grievances, particularly around employment, would take much of the sting out of Bahrain’s political disputes.
Tourism and attraction
Naturally, the Kingdom of Bahrain is well-prepared to attract travellers who would like to visit new places with distinct and diversified sceneries. The country’s historical sites, cultural heritage and rich wildlife, in addition to its position in the Persian Gulf, are the basis on which the government has been developing its strategies to boost the tourism sector. According to the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC), between the years 2000 and 2010, the number of tourists visiting Bahrain increased by 209 per cent (from 3,869,000 to 11,952,000). In 2011, the protests and unstable political situation resulted in global concerns and therefore fewer tourists visited the country (6,732,000). The number of tourists, however, started to increase again starting from 2012. Most of the tourist arrivals were from among the OIC countries. For example, in 2013 out of 9,163,000 arrivals more than 75 per cent (6,917,000) were from OIC countries.
The forts in Bahrain are part of the archaeological places which entice the visitors. The most exciting of them is Qal’at Al Bahrain which registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort is located atop a 17.5 hectare artificial hill that has been built while enduring over 4,000 years of continuous occupation. Since 2008, over 500 artifacts have been showcased in a museum consisting of five exhibition halls. The Arad is another fort, which was once the site of fierce battles and underwent different construction phases. It is nicely illuminated at night and hosts seasonal festivals throughout the year. A third fort is Shiekh Salman Bin Ahmed Al Fateh Fort, commonly known as Riffa Fort. It stands witness to one of the most important junctures in Bahrain’s history including memories of the ruling family, the Al Khalifas. The Ministry of Culture organises a series of programmes to keep these memories alive. Bu Maher Fort was built during the Portuguese occupation of Bahrain. A dedicated visitor centre was established next to the fort to introduce the public to the architectural character that went hand in hand with the traditional pearling trade, as well as highlighting its surrounding environment both within Bahrain and beyond.