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Bahrain; the Cradle of the Lost Garden of Eden

Bahrain monarchy was the first state in the Persian Gulf to discover oil and build a refinery.  The tiny country is ruled by a Sunni monarchy with a Shia majority population. The island, once known as heaven still faces the impacts of the pearl revolution.

Bahrain also known as the pearl on the Persian Gulf is situated between Qatar peninsula and the northeast coast of Saudi Arabia. The sovereign state of Bahrain is an island comprised of an archipelago of 33 natural islands and an additional 51 artificial islands.

Nearly 92% of Bahrain is desert with low lying rocky and sandy plans. The country is surrounded by sweet water springs and salty seawater, which reflects the meaning of the name Bahrain, the two-seas.

Manama, the capital of Bahrain is a stunning city, with tourist attractions. In 2020 the population of the country, amounts 1.4 million and 55% of the population are expatriates. The people of Bahrain are mostly conservative in their ordinary lives. According to the constitution “family is the cornerstone of society. Its strength resides in religion, morals, and patriotism.”

Bahrain is often referred to an ancient island state of Dilmun by archaeologists. The ancient Mesopotamian mythology describes Dilmun as a pure and holy place. According to the famous Sumerian epic of the second millennium BCE, King Gilgamesh of Uruk has identified the “flower of eternal Youth” in Dilmun. The sweet water springs and the lush vegetation is described as heaven on earth where mortals could spend their time happily without disease and death. 

The miracle “tree of life” which survives alone in the middle of the desert amidst the arid conditions, has fueled the scriptural speculation of Bahrain/Dilmun as the Garden of Eden. However modern scholars dismiss these speculations.

The Bahrain culture resembles a mixture of Persian, Arabian, Sumerian and a Greek-style after Hellenization. Following the conquering of Hormuz by Portuguese in 1515, Bahrain was conquered too (1521), which they ruled indirectly using Hormuz governors.

Very little is known of the Islamic history of Bahrain. The Islamic background of the country is believed to have come from the Arab Dynasty of Umayyad rule in Damascus (661-750) AD. Scholars state that Umayyads had indirect control over the country which was known as Iqlim al-Bahrayn (Province of the Two Seas).

Bahrain Monarchy is classified as an ancient land rich in culture and history by the United Nations Development Program. The Bahrain Castle is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Moreover, “A ali Burial Mounds field, the Barber Temple, Saar Heritage Park, Arad fort and Hawar Island reserve are being considered for inclusion on the World Heritage List. In 2019 the Dilmun Burial Mounds was added as a World Heritage site. 

Economy

Due to the strategic location of the country and sweet water springs, the country functioned as the commercial centre. Archaeologist referred it as the great Dilmun trading empire. By then Bahrain has established itself as a regional centre for timber, dates and pearls.

The Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), a subsidiary of the Standard Oil Company of California, discovered oil at Jabal-al-Dukhan making Bahrain the first and oldest oil producer in the Gulf region. The first oil well was built in 1932 and the refinery was established in 1936. Not being able to reach the production level of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, led the country to diversify its economy. The country exports most of its oil as refined petroleum products rather than crude oil. By 1945 the country refined not only domestically produced oil but large quantities of crude oil produced by Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. These exports make 60% of Bahrain’s exports and almost 85% of government’s revenue. 

As the oil industry began to provide a steadier income, the industries of pearl fishing and palm cultivation began to collapse. The industrialization and urbanization have led to an increase in salinity of the surrounding water bodies resulting in the decline of Bahrain’s agriculture contribution to the national GDP.

The country is also a medium-sized natural gas producer and it is sufficient for the country’s energy demands. Bahrain’s Natural Gas Company was established in 1976 to capture natural gas at the Awali oil field. Most of the gas reserves are associated with the oil fields.

The island kingdom discovered a new massive hydrocarbon deposit in 2018. The deposit is estimated to be 80 billion barrels of tight oil and between 10 and 20 trillion cubic feet of deep natural gas. The discovery is expected to improve the economy and fiscal strength drastically. However, the full economic picture remains unknown.

After oil and natural gas, the second largest exporting sector in Bahrain is Aluminum Production. The country keeps on searching for natural gas supplies to support the expanding petrochemical and Aluminium industries.

Though the tourist industry had a major collapse following the pearl revolution, the recent growth of the Banking and Finance, trade and communications sectors of the country has been significant.

However, the recent outbreak of Covid-19, global demand and slumping of oil prices are having a major hit on the economy of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Governance and Politics

Throughout history, Bahrain has been alternatively ruled by Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, Turks, and others. In 1971, Bahrain was declared as an Independent land and signed a new treaty of friendship with Britain. Sheikh Esa became the Emir and the council of the state became a cabinet.

The island joined the gulf cooperation in May 1981. Bahrain is the smallest country of the gulf cooperation in terms of land area. Other countries included Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The 1990s were marked by disputes between Shi’a majority which is 70% of the citizens and ruling Sunni authority which consists of 15% of the citizens. The dispute resulted in the ministerial amendments of the inclusion of five Shi’a members in 1995. Despite the amendments, the disputes continued.

Following the death of Emir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa succeeded his father in March 1999. The end of the millennium was marked by a series of measures and reforms at the political level as follows.

  • Changing the small emirate into a constitutional Kingdom
  • Appointing a Christian, a Jew and four women in the Shura Council
  • Granting women the right to vote and stand for political office
  • Appointing the first women in a ministerial position
  • Appointing a Jewish woman as an ambassador
  • Holding the first local and parliamentary elections after 30 years in 2002

Sheikh Hamad, who has led the country since 1999, changed his title from emir to king when Bahrain became a kingdom in February 2002. The Khalifa family has ruled Bahrain since 1783 despite the claims made by Shia majority saying that Sunni minority shuts them out of housing, health care and government jobs. Bahrain is now a constitutional monarchy with an elected legislative assembly.

Bahrain’s monarchy shows similarities in the political form of the dynastic monarchies of other Gulf Cooperation Council states. The monarchy rule is accompanied by King’s relatives who occupy the most sovereign ministerial posts such as Defense, Interior and Foreign affairs.

The three key leaders of Bahrain are the king, his son the crown prince and his uncle, the prime minister. The prime minister is known as the longest-serving prime minister in the world. Having held his post since independence from Britain in 1971. The limited parliament consists of an appointed upper house and elected lower house. The constitution monarchy’s prime minister has the most influence on the daily management of the government.

Inspired by the popular revolts that toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, anti-government protests started from 2011-2014 aimed at achieving greater political freedom and equality for the majority Shia population. The protesters gathered in the capital Manama and camped for days at the pearl roundabout which was the centre of the protests. The protests were a series of demonstration which was non-violent at the beginning and later on turned violent with the involvement of the Bahrain government to suppress the protests. 

The government requested troops and police aid from the Gulf cooperation council. Reports say that 1000 troops from Saudi Arabia and 500 troops from the United Arab Emirates were brought to suppress the uprising. International media describe the act of the police as brutal for crushing unarmed protesters. The pearl revolution ended with a three-month state of emergency. 

Since then, a series of demonstration has been taking place in Bahrain calling for their rights meanwhile the government is continuously accused of violating Human rights. 

By Jumana Jabeer.

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