The country has long pursued a policy of economic diversification
As the Arabic word for “two seas”, Bahrain’s name refersto the sweet-water springs that fill the Kingdom’saquifers and the salty seas that surround the island.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is home to one of the region’s oldest civilisations, the Dilmun civilisation,which dates back nearly 6000 years. Throughout his-tory, Bahrain attracted the attention of empires andnations due to its strategic position in the Gulf. Conse-quently, the country was influenced by a number of pow-ers including the Persians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Arabs,Babylonians, Portuguese and the British. Bahrain wasimportant to ancient Mesopotamia because it con-nected the lands of the present day Middle East andestablished sea lanes. Thus, the country thrived as acommercial centre where merchants founded settle-ments that formed the backbone of the economy.
Bahrain declared independence fromthe British in 1971. Between 1961 and 1999, Bahrainwas ruled as an emirate by the late Sheikh Isa bin HamadAl Khalifa. On his death in 1999, Sheikh Hamad bin IsaAl Khalifa, his son, became the island’s ruler and set inmotion a reform programme.In 2001, the National Action Charter was published,setting out key principles for the government of Bahrain,including the establishment of a constitutional monar-chy, parliamentary elections, and universal suffrage formen and women. The charter was ratified by a nation-al referendum with 98.4% of voters in favour of trans-forming the hereditary emirate into a constitutionalmonarchy, thereby establishing the current Kingdomof Bahrain ruled by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.The executive government is headed by the primeminister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who hasbeen in place since 1971, making him the world’slongest-serving prime minister. Executive authority isvested with the King and the Council of Ministers (thecabinet), which is appointed by the King. Crown PrinceSalman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is the deputy supreme com-mander of the Bahrain Defence Force as well as thechairman of the Bahrain Economic Development Board(EDB), a state body tasked with formulating the coun-try’s long-term development strategy.The National Action Charter modernised the legisla-tive side of government, and the parliament that wassuspended in 1975 was reconstituted. The Bahrainiparliament, known as the National Assembly, is madeup of a lower house, the Council of Representatives,which is elected by universal suffrage, and an upperhouse, the Shura (consultative) Council, which is appoint-ed by the King. The National Assembly consists of 80seats; 40 elected members sit on the Council of Rep-resentatives and 40 appointed members sit on theShura Council. The upper parliament has the power toblock legislation from the lower parliament. Electedmembers of the lower parliament serve four-year terms.The most recent elections were held in October 2010.Special elections were held in September and October2011 to fill the 18 seats vacated by members of the AlWefaq party, resulting in the largest number of womenever to be elected to the Council of Representatives,with four women now part of the 40 members. Al Wefaqdid not participate in the elections. The Kingdom alsoannounced in May 2012 it would join Saudi Arabia ina closer political union, with the two states collaborat-ing on foreign, security and economic policy.
Protests flared up throughout the Kingdomin February and March of 2011, and demonstrationscontinued for the remainder of the year and into 2012.In response to the earlier political unrest, a NationalDialogue was held on July 1, 2011 to engage the dif-ferent factions of Bahraini society and to discuss fur-ther political, economic, social and legislative reforms.This concluded with a number of recommendationsfor restructuring, including recognising the importanceof further diversification; encouraging the role of theprivate sector; evaluating options for redirecting sub-sidies; placing new levies for indirect and corporatetaxes; resolving the issue of the high increase of guestworkers; and supporting innovation programmes. Oneoutcome of the dialogue was a set of constitutional
An island of commerce
Leveraging natural strengths and strategic advantages