Country Listing

Bahrain Table of Contents



Armed Forces: In 1993 personnel strength 7,150: army, 6,000; navy, 500; and air force, 650. Service voluntary. Army in 1991 had 81 M-60A3 main battle tanks and armored cars. Navy had two corvettes and four missile craft. Air force had McDonnell Douglas F-5 Tigers, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons, and Agusta/Bell-212 armed helicopters.

Paramilitary: In 1993 coast guard about 400 personnel; police about 9,000.


IN 1993 BAHRAIN CONTINUED to be ruled by the Al Khalifa family. The amir, Shaykh Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa (b. 1933), was the eleventh ruler of the Al Khalifa dynasty, which has ruled the country since 1783. Originally, the Al Khalifa were a prominent family among the Bani Utub beduin tribes from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula who had settled on the Persian Gulf coast during the eighteenth century. The Al Khalifa initially established a successful commercial port at Az Zubarah on the western coast of the Qatar Peninsula, but this was attacked several times by rulers of Bahrain, at that time part of the Iranian Empire, which intermittently controlled Bahrain from 1602 to 1782. Eventually, with the assistance of a tribal coalition that included the Al Sabah--another Bani Utub family--of Kuwait, the Al Khalifa captured Bahrain from Iran. The first Al Khalifa ruler, Ahmad ibn Muhammad (r. 1783-96), adopted policies that enabled Bahrain's ports to develop into prosperous trade and pearling centers.

During the reign of subsequent Al Khalifa rulers, dynastic feuding among heirs, as well as wars with Oman, adversely affected Bahrain's economy and the security of regional trade. The family rivalries prompted Britain, then the paramount power in the area, to impose a series of treaties that made Bahrain a British protectorate by 1868. An important consequence of Britain's intervention was the regulation of the Al Khalifa succession on the basis of primogeniture. After the death of Shaykh Ali ibn Khalifa Al Khalifa (r. 1868-69) in a dynastic war instigated by his brother and nephew, Britain refused to accept the legitimacy of the victor's rule and forced all factions to acknowledge Ali's son, Shaykh Isa ibn Ali Al Khalifa (r. 1869- 1923), as the rightful heir. Since that time, each Al Khalifa ruler has been succeeded by his eldest son. This practice was unlike succession in most other Arab dynasties, which chose the heir apparent from among several able males within the royal family. The principle of primogeniture was codified in the 1973 constitution.

In early 1993, Isa ibn Salman had ruled Bahrain for thirtytwo years, having succeeded to the throne in 1961 on the death of his father, Shaykh Salman ibn Hamad Al Khalifa (r. 1942-61). At the time of Isa ibn Salman's accession, Bahrain was still a British protectorate. Isa ibn Salman negotiated the termination of the country's dependent status after Britain announced in 1968 that it would withdraw all its defense forces from the Persian Gulf region. When Bahrain achieved complete independence in 1971, Isa ibn Salman assumed the title of amir.

The Al Khalifa continued to dominate Bahrain's government and society after independence. The amir's brothers, sons, nephews, and cousins controlled the major decision-making positions. For example, Isa ibn Salman's brother, Shaykh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, was prime minister and head of government in late 1992; the amir's eldest son, Shaykh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, was deputy prime minister and heir apparent; and six other members of the ruling family served in the cabinet, including Major General Khalifa ibn Ahmad Al Khalifa, who was minister of defense.

In 1993 Bahrain's economy continued to experience relative prosperity. Before the discovery of oil in 1932, the country's economy had been based on trade and pearling. Fortuitously, oil was discovered in commercial quantities just as the development of the cultured pearl by the Japanese caused the collapse of the Persian Gulf pearling industry. By 1935 oil wells and a small refinery were in operation, thus enabling Bahrain to claim distinction as the first Arab state in the region to benefit from the presence of oil resources. Both Shaykh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa (r. 1923-42) and his son, Shaykh Salman ibn Hamad, used revenues obtained from oil concessions and production royalties to institute education and health care programs and various public services.

Although oil revenues accounted for more than one-half the government budget until the 1980s, the ruling family recognized that Bahrain's oil wells had a limited productive capacity and that oil reserves probably would be exhausted by the end of the twentieth century. Consequently, the government decided to base the country's long-term economic well-being on commercial and industrial diversification. Official efforts to encourage jointventure projects resulted in the construction of several enterprises, including an aluminum plant (opened in 1972), a ship repair yard (1977), an iron foundry (1984), a chemical factory (1985), and a pharmaceutical facility (scheduled to open in 1993). In addition, Bahrain's efficient communications system and relatively liberal financial policies enabled the island state to emerge in the 1980s as a principal center for regional banking, insurance, and business operations.

The transformation of Bahrain's economy created new occupational groups, in particular an industrial working class and a highly educated professional class. Bahrain's indigenous labor force was unique in the immediate area because foreign workers constituted virtually the entire labor force in the neighboring countries of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Although trade unions and other labor associations were illegal in Bahrain, workers organized their first strike as early as 1943. Labor unrest erupted periodically during the next thirty years but declined after 1974, when the percentage of foreign workers in the industrial labor force began to increase significantly. The growth of an indigenous class of professionals tended to shift societal interest away from working conditions and wages in the oil industry and toward the issue of political participation. Bahrain's professionals were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the brief experiment with an elected legislature in the early 1970s; since the dissolution of the National Assembly in 1975, professionals have been consistent advocates of a return to democratic political institutions.

Two generations of economic and social changes failed to lessen sectarian tensions in Bahrain. The Al Khalifa and their historical political allies are Sunni (see Glossary) Muslims. However, at least two-thirds of Bahrain's population identify themselves as Shia (see Glossary) Muslims. Shia were the original inhabitants of the archipelago when the Al Khalifa seized it from Iranian control in the 1780s. Although the Al Khalifa have not persecuted the Shia, they have habitually excluded them from political power. Shia generally resent their subordinate political status; periodically this resentment flares up as incidents of religious strife. The Iranian Revolution of 1979-- which resulted in Shia clergy controlling that country's government--tended to exacerbate Shia-Sunni tensions in Bahrain because events in Iran inspired Shia activists in Bahrain to demand more equitable political representation for their community.

The Iranian Revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) demonstrated how much Bahrain's political stability and economic prosperity depended on overall regional security. The government sought to contain the spillover effects of these crises by joining with Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. As a result of its membership, Bahrain obtained GCC intelligence assistance in monitoring the activities of local dissident groups suspected of receiving support from Iran and profited from inclusion in regional economic development plans. In addition, it received GCC approval for a program of enhancing its military capability through the purchase of advanced United States weapons. During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Bahrain participated in the GCC coalition that sent troops to Saudi Arabia to fight against Iraq and permitted the United States Navy to use its port facilities.

Data as of January 1993

Country Listing

Bahrain Table of Contents