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History of Bahrain

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Owing to its strategic location in the Gulf and its natural springs, Bahrain has been the object of invaders’ and traders’ attention for thousands of years. The Romans, Greeks, Portuguese, British, and others ventured to the area to conquer the main island or trade with its inhabitants. For many years, people in the Gulf region buried their dead on the islands, and there are some 175,000 burial mounds still visible. Many mounds have been excavated and some are about three thousand years old. The Portuguese captured Bahrain in 1521 and ruled until 1602. After the Portuguese were forced from the region, the islands were controlled by different Arab and Persian groups until the Arab Utub tribe expelled the Persians (ancestors of present-day Iranians) in 1783. At that time, the current ruling al-Khalifa family (part of the Utub tribe) took control of Bahrain.

British influence and military domination in Bahrain began in the early 1800s, when Britain used force to establish a trading outpost that remained until 1971. At that time, Bahrain became a fully independent state headed by Emir Shaikh Issabin Salman al-Khalifa. The emir had been the Bahraini monarch since 1961, but he became the sovereign leader at full independence.

Parliament was dissolved shortly thereafter, in 1975. In1993, a Shura Council was formed by the emir and the prime minister, who appointed its citizen members in response to demands for greater democracy. However, many people insisted that parliament be reinstated. Protests against the Sunni-led government in 1994 ended in violence, while more unrest in 1995 was answered with a crackdown on militant Shi‘i Muslim clerics and activists. The bombings, civil unrest, and other forms of protest grew less frequent.

Shaikh Issa ruled Bahrain for 37 years until his death in March 1999. He is remembered for having led his country through independence, economic prosperity, and regional and local instability. Shaikh Issa was succeeded by his eldest son, Shaikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, who pledged to continue his father’s pro-Western policies. In 2002, he introduced reforms that allowed Bahrain to become a constitutional monarchy with elected representatives in parliament. For the first time in nearly 30 years, parliamentary elections took place in October 2002. Voter turnout was more than 50 percent despite a call for a boycott from some Shi‘i political leaders, who objected to the decision that the elected Chamber of Deputies must share power with the appointed Shura Council. In the next parliamentary elections in 2006, Shi‘i parties participated but failed to win a majority, securing 18 of the 40 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.


Kingdom of Bahrain.” CultureGrams World Edition. 2008.

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