Bahrain or Kingdom of Bahrain is an island country of the Middle East formed by an archipelago of the Persian Gulf, off Saudi Arabia to which it is connected by a structure made of bridges and dykes, the Chaussee du Roi Fahd.
Bahrain at a glance
Administrative divisions: 5 governorates
Population: more than 1 million inhabitants
Main languages: Arabic and English
Main religion: Islam (state religion)
Current monarch: Hamed ben Issa al-Khalifa
Current Prime Minister: Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa
Currency: Bahraini dinar (1 Bahraini dinar = 1000 sons)
Conversion into euro: 100 dinars bahreïni = 236 euros
Tourism: The south of the country is a military zone prohibited to tourists. The rest of the country is relatively safe but one must respect their customs.
A territory conquered by the sea
Bahrain is an archipelago of thirty-three islands, the largest and most populous of which is the eponymous island. The capital of the kingdom, Manama, is located on this island, 55 km long and 18 km wide. If the archipelago was originally 665 km², it now exceeds 765 km² thanks to the land built on the sea. This expansion is still in progress creating a large number of artificial islands so that the number of islands of the archipelago has increased from 33 to over 90 if the natural and artificial islands are totalized.
Despite the construction of the King Fahd Road in 1986 and the project to build the Friendship Bridge between the island and Qatar, Bahrain has preserved its island character. The main islands of the archipelago are also connected by bridges.
The Island Umm an Nasan is the private property of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the current sovereign of Bahrain.
The islands have a relatively flat relief and the highest peak of the country, the Jabal ad Dukham culminates at only 134 meters above sea level.
Most of the islands are made up of deserts (92%), while fertile land accounts for less than 8% of the total area of the archipelago. A desertification phenomenon caused by sand storms and long periods of drought, as well as intensive coastal occupation (urban pollution, waste from the oil industry, etc.), are gradually eroding the last cultivable areas.
Bahrain enjoys a two-season arid climate, a hot summer from April to October, and a relatively mild winter with temperatures between 10 and 20 degrees from November to March.
In addition, the ambient air is charged with humidity (90%) due to a low sea level which causes the heating and evaporation of the water.
The country of Dilmun
The Bahrain archipelago has not always been desert and, a few thousand years ago, abundant vegetation covered the land irrigated by fresh waterways.
The country of Dilmun located in the Persian Gulf is mentioned in Mesopotamian texts from the 3rd millennium BC. The inhabitants of Dilmun, who were skilled in trades, furnished Mesopotamia with wood, copper, and precious stones, which they brought from the valley of the Indus and the present Sultanate of Oman. According to the remains discovered during the archaeological excavations, the civilization of Dilmun encompassed the present island of Bahrain as well as the island of Failaka in Kuwait. There are indications that they may be found on the coast and islands of the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula.
The importance of the country is particularly evidenced by the site dating from the Bronze Age of Qal'at al-Bahrain, presumably the capital of Dilmun. This city founded around 2.300 BC was occupied until the 17th century AD. It has been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 2005.
The Dilmun were polytheistic and several temples were discovered on the island, including the Barbar temples dedicated to Enki, the master of the underground fresh waters and wisdom, one of the most important Mesopotamian deities, and his wife Ninhursag, mother-goddess Sumerian.
Many remains from the 3rd millennium have been discovered in these temples and are currently exposed at the National Museum of Bahrain.
The Country of Tylos
The name of Tylos which replaces that of Dilmun is mentioned by the Greeks in the 4th century BC and Alexander the Great would have envisaged to appropriate the archipelago in order to take advantage of its situation on the trade routes. The navarque Nearque (commander of Alexander the Great's fleet) will take his boats to the Persian Gulf but he stops at Failaka and not in Bahrain. On the death of Alexander the Great, the Greeks renounced the project.
Tylos passed successively under the domination of the Seleucids and the Parthians before being conquered by the Sassanian Persians in the 4th century of our era.
The strategic position of the island in the Persian Gulf will again attract covetousness in the 16th century. The Ottomans settled at the gates of Basrah (Iraq) while the Portuguese controlled the island of Ormuz (Iran). The Ottoman fleet left their naval base of Suez in 1552 to seize the Portuguese island but weakened by the long crossing, the army is defeated by the Portuguese. Seven years later, an Ottoman governor chartered 73 ships and left the port of Qatif (Saudi Arabia) to conquer Bahrain. Supported by the Portuguese, the besieged Manama inhabitants succeeded in repelling their conquerors, who had to retreat, abandon their property and pay a fine as compensation to the Bahraini.
Persian domination, British protectorate and independence
The island remains under the domination of the Persians until 1782 which explains the culture strongly imbued with that of the Persians and the Shiite religion that still characterize the inhabitants of Bahrain.
In 1783, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family seized the archipelago and established an independent emirate there. An agreement with the United Kingdom is concluded providing for a right of British control over the foreign policy of the emirate in exchange for a protectorate in case of attack.
The British were completely and definitively freed from this agreement in 1971. After a brief integration into the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain gained independence in August of the same year.
The emirate of Bahrain became a kingdom in 2002 following various reforms in line with human rights. Since then, a bicameral parliament has been established and women have got both voting and eligibility rights.
However, such progress is far from sufficient, since torture, arbitrary imprisonment for convictions, prohibition of the opposition media or restriction of the right of assembly are still common in the country.
Bahrain is the regular theater of popular demonstrations, but these rebellions are subdued in violence sometimes with the help of Saudi Arabia.
An economy based on oil
The economy of the Kingdom of Bahrain is essentially based on its oil resources. The country produces daily 200,000 barrels of oil and also refines some of the crude oil of Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain is also a tax haven in the Islamic world thanks to its offshore banks established on the island since the war in Lebanon and the closure of banks in Beirut.
It is also one of the only Persian Gulf countries to accept tourists. The tourist visas are issued and the major cultural and sporting events are organized, notably the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The oil crises and resource depletion should prompt the country to diversify its long-term sources of income.
A multi-ethnic population
The total population of the Kingdom of Bahrain is around 1.4 million, but only 46% are Bahraini. The immigrants are mainly men from South Asia and Iran. This wave of immigration has placed Bahrain among the highest densities in the world (1,650 inhabitants per km²).
Islam is the state religion and more than 80% of the population is Muslim, 65% Shiite. The influx of non-Muslim immigrants explains this relatively low percentage.
Similarly, Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, but Persian, Indian languages or Urdu are frequently used by expatriates. Most Bahrainis also speak English.
The dress is less regulated in Bahrain than in most other Arab countries. The women wear a full black dress but the foreigners can circulate in modern dress as long as it remains "modest".
The men wear the white cotton or black wool thobe according to the season and wear their keffieh or ghutra, held by a black cord, the agal.
The Bahrainian cuisine is based on chicken, fish or lamb accompanied by rice and pita bread. There are traditional dishes from the Arab world like falafel, shawarma and oriental pastries. The coffee is very popular and shisha is offered to men in most establishments.
Due to scant local production, a large quantity of food is imported.
Music plays an important role in everyday life. It combines African, Indian and Persian influences and it is played on traditional instruments, oud and rebab.
Although Bahrain has initiated an opening to tourism, some precautions are needed. It is strongly recommended to stay away from any demonstration in Manama or on the island of Muharraq and to be able to produce an ID at all times to the police.
It is also recommended not to drink tap water and not to offend the religious beliefs or traditions of the inhabitants.
The tourists enjoy the beaches along the Al-Bender and Al-Jazair seaside resorts, the palm groves, visit to the oldest necropolis in the world at A'ali, the Manama souks and the contrast between the futuristic skyscrapers and the dwellings of the desert nomads.