New Internationalist

Bahrain

Issue 169

new internationalist
issue 169 - March 1987

COUNTRY PROFILE

Bahrain
[image, unknown] Offshore banking and Concorde have probably done more to put Bahrain on the world map than its historical role as a pearling centre, or the discovery of oil there in 1932. The pearl industry was knocked out by Japanese cultured pearls, and the oil flow is now just a trickle.

But Bahrain has always prospered by adapting to the needs of the dominant regional power of the age, whether Persian, Greek, Turkish or British, from whom it gained independence in 1971. The new King Fahd Causeway links it to Saudi Arabia - the economic hub of the region's common market, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The causeway is the key to Bahrain's prosperity now, as the lorries testify, thundering across the waters between the factories of Babrain and the industrial estates of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Bahrain's economy is entirely interwoven with that of its GCC neighbours. Its new Arab Gulf University provides high - level research to complement the existing universities in the region. And eight buses a day across the causeway carry its workers more cheaply than before, a mobile labour market being one of the principal aims of the Gulf common market.

In social terms the causeway will make little difference to Bahrain. Its bars and nightclubs are provided largely for the benefit of foreign executives, vital to Bahrain as a centre for banking, telecommunications and aviation. The majority of Bahrainis and Saudis are deeply committed muslims who do not drink and who have their strong cultural and social traditions.

Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni Muslim, while the majority of the population is Shi'ite, but this has not led to major political upheavals, In fact, there are Arab Shi'ite communities throughout the region 'Shi'ite' is not synonymous with Iranian, and not all Shi'ites are political fanatics. Iran's claims to sovereignty over Bahrain have to do with Persian imperial history, not the indigenous Bahraini Shi'ite population who did not respond to the late Shah's efforts at incitement, nor have they responded to the current regime in Tehran.

Bahrain is favoured by expatriates in the Gulf because it has deliberately provided the facilities to which international businessmen are accustomed, and because it was a centre for British administration of the region. But that does not mean that Bahrain's own domestic affairs should be analysed in Western terms. An experiment in parliamentary democracy in the mid 1970s, when the first flush of oil-wealth hit the Gulf, was short-lived, and there has been no revival of the idea. The priority for Bahrain has to be education and economic development. Then there will be a real opportunity for social and political development based on indigenous needs and demands, not on borrowed ideas.

Leader: Sheikh Issa bin Salman al-Khalifa (Emir)

Economy: GNP per capita $8,950 (1981) (US $14,110)
Monetary unit: Bahrain Dinar
Main exports: oil, petroleum products, aluminium, iron ore, financial services

People: 380,000

Health: Infant mortality: figure unknown.

Culture: Religion: Muslim. Strong indigenous Arab-Islamic culture beneath Westernised expatriot appearance.

Source: Middle East Review


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Slowly improving as Bahrainis replace expatriates.

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Heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

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Equal rights to education and work.

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Welfare state in free enterprise economy; non-aligned.

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People over 40 mainly not literate, those under are. Slowly improving.

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Some restraints but no fierce repression.

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N/A but thought to be around 60.
(US 74 years)

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