Arabs, Islam, and Oil: Bahrain

Bahrain is a small group of islands in the Persian Gulf. The country received its independence from Great Britain in 1971. Similar to other small monarchies in the region, Bahrain has lots of oil and a small population.

Bahrain is opening up to democratic reforms. In 1999, elections were approved for a parliament, all political prisoners were released, and women were allowed to vote. Officially, Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, but the royal family has enormous power over the government. The king appoints the members of the upper house in its two-house legislature. The first female was appointed to a cabinet position in 2004.

Most of Bahrain’s wealth is from natural resources. Huge natural gas reserves are located in Bahrain’s coastal waters, and oil makes up about 60 percent of the export profits. Bahrain has also expanded into the financial and banking sector in order to diversify the economy and reduce the dependency on oil.

Bahrain has supported a US military presence and is the permanent headquarters for the US Fifth Fleet naval operations.

Bahrain attracts millions of tourists yearly. It has invested heavily in modern shopping malls and international sports facilities to attract international events.

The citizens of Bahrain have to balance the shift toward modernization and globalization with the strong Arab heritage and Islamic beliefs that are the foundation of their culture. The term “Middle East Lite” has been applied to Bahrain because it is open to the outside world. The prosperous middle class is more tolerant and liberal than many of its Middle East neighbors.

The 2011 protests and demonstrations that swept across the Middle East also occurred in Bahrain. The king and the majority in government follow the Sunni branch of Islam; however, most of the population follows the Shia branch, and they feel discriminated against. The protests are more than just a conflict between Shia and Sunni. Many Sunni support democratic reforms.

Source: Arabs, Islam, and Oil: Bahrain
By Saylor Academy, CC-BY 3.0

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