- Full name: Kingdom of Bahrain
- Population: 754,000 (UN, 2005)
- Capital: Manama Area: 717 sq km (277 sq miles)
- Major language: Arabic
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Bahraini dinar = 1,000 fils
- Main exports: Petroleum and petroleum products, aluminium
- GNI per capita: U.S. $14,370 (World Bank, 2006)
- Internet domain: .bh
- International dialling code: +973
- King: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifah
- Crown prince, commander-in-chief of Bahrain Defence Force: Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifah
- Prime minister: Sheikh Khalifah bin Salman al-Khalifah
- Foreign minister: Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifah
- Finance minister: Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed al-Khalifah
Bahrain is a borderless island country in the Persian Gulf and is the smallest Arab nation. Saudi Arabia lies to the west and is connected to Bahrain by the King Fahd Causeway (officially opened on November 25, 1986), and Qatar is to the south across the Gulf of Bahrain. The Qatar–Bahrain Friendship Bridge currently being planned will link Bahrain to Qatar as the longest fixed link in the world.
The most pleasant time of year in Bahrain is during spring or autumn when sunshine is virtually guaranteed, along with warm temperatures tempered by soft breezes. Summers can be very hot and humid, though the humidity is modified at the end of the season when a dry northwesterly wind blows, known locally as the 'Al Barah'. Winter is cooler and influenced by low-pressure systems, which bring rainfall. Average rainfall is low, but most of it falls in winter.
In the past, the Kingdom of Bahrain, whose name means “two seas” in Arabic, was viewed by the ancient Sumerians as an island paradise to which the wise and the brave were taken to enjoy eternal life.
It was among the first states in the Gulf to discover oil and to build a refinery; as such, it benefited from oil wealth before most of its neighbours.
Despite all that it has never reached the levels of production enjoyed by Kuwait or Saudi Arabia and has been forced to diversify its economy.
Bahrain has been headed since 1783 by the al-Khalifah family, members of the Bani Utbah tribe, who expelled the Persians. From 1861, when a treaty was signed with Britain, until independence in 1971, Bahrain was virtually a British protectorate.
The king is the supreme authority and members of the Sunni Muslim ruling family hold the main political and military posts.
Bahrainis strongly backed proposals put by the emir - now the king - in 2001 to turn the country into a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary.
Elections were duly held in 2002 for a 40-member parliament, the Council of Deputies. It was the first such poll in nearly 30 years. The new body included a dozen Shia MPs.
The country has enjoyed increasing freedom of expression, and monitors say the human rights situation has improved. However, opposition groups and campaigners continue to press for political reforms, including greater powers for the elected assembly.
Bahrain - a chain of around 30 islands - is a haven for tourists from the region, who take advantage of its relaxed social environment. A close ally of the U.S., it is home to the American navy's Fifth Fleet.
Mainly because of its small population and small size, Bahrain has only a minor importance in international economy. Its economy is heavily dependent on oil, which was discovered in 1931, but the government is looking for new sources of income.
The relatively high living standard of Bahrain is based upon oil revenues. In the 1980's, however, revenues started to decline. Some sources believe that oil resources may be depleted as early as 2010.
Currently, bold efforts are applied toward making the emirate a commercial centre, in which the location of the islands is central.
Attention is being paid to their central location within the Persian Gulf, in between Western and Eastern airline destinations — as well as the proximity to Saudi Arabia with the King Fahd Causeway, which made Bahrain a centre for leisure and pleasure for Saudis.
First and foremost of the industries of Bahrain is the large oil refinery at the island of Sitra which processes local oil as well as oil from Saudi Arabia transported through pipelines. Income from this refinery is already more important than the country's own oil production.
The country also has a large aluminium smelter, exploiting natural gas for electricity.
Other industries are small scale, but a dry dock for super tankers brings in important revenues. Bahrain also has become a major regional banking and communications centre, as well as a centre for insurance and financing.
Agriculture is fairly small, but springs in the northern parts of the main island provide good conditions for food production. A large portion of the consumed foodstuffs are produced in Bahrain. The production of dates is at the level of 35 kg/inhabitant. Fishing brings in 11 kg/inhabitant.
The people of Bahrain enjoy high living standards, even if there are considerable differences between social groups. Housing and transportation is subsidized by the state. The level of telephones is 1 to every 4 inhabitants, 2 radios to every 5 inhabitants, 1 TV-set to every 3 inhabitants.
Nearly five-sevenths of the population is Arab, and most are native-born Bahrainis, but some are Palestinians, Omanis, or Saudis.
Foreign-born inhabitants, comprising more than one-third of the population, are mostly from Iran, India, Pakistan, Philippines, Britain, and the United States. About three-fifths of the largely Asian labour force is foreign.
The population is more than four-fifths Muslim and includes both the Sunni and Shia sects, with the latter in the majority. Arabic is the official language of Bahrain, but English is widely used. Persian is also common, although it is mostly spoken in the home.
In spite of its rapid economic development, Bahrain remains, in many respects, essentially Arab in its culture. Football (soccer) is the most popular modern sport, while traditional pastimes such as falconry, horse riding, and gazelle and hare hunting are still practiced by wealthier Bahrainis. Horse and camel racing are popular public entertainments.
Traditional handicraft industries enjoy state and popular support. The Bahrain National Museum in Manama contains local artifacts dating from antiquity, such as ivory figurines, pottery, copper articles, and gold rings.
Sheikh Hamad's title changed to king when Bahrain switched from being an emirate to a monarchy in February 2002.
He had been crown prince since 1964, when, on the death of his father Sheikh Isa in March 1999, he became emir.
Born in 1950, he was educated at a public school in Cambridge, England, and went on to study at Mons Officer Cadet School in Aldershot, England, and at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
In 1968, he founded and became commander-in-chief of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF). He served as minister of defence from 1971 to 1988.
There is no corporate taxation on banking profits earned and booked in Bahrain for any type of Banking institution. This combined with the absence of personal taxation on salaries plays a significant part in attracting banks and other financial institutions to Bahrain.
In the absence of taxation in Bahrain, the taxability of corporate profits of subsidiaries or branches of foreign banks operating in Bahrain would depend on whether there are bilateral treaties for the avoidance of double taxation with the country in which the branch's head office state is incorporated.
A municipal tax is applicable: 10% of the rent payable on all unfurnished apartments and 7.5% of rent payable on furnished apartments, for both residential and commercial purposes.
Bahraini officials recognize the need to continue making progress on labour rights, and the legislature is currently considering additional labour law amendments, including the introduction of an unemployment insurance system.
The Bahrain Ministry of Labour has increased the number of inspectors and upgraded their standards and training.
Efforts are also underway to better educate workers, including expatriates, about their rights in the workplace. The Ministry has also created a more responsive system to complaints, including a 24-hour hotline that workers can call for advice.
The FTA establishes a labour cooperation mechanism to promote respect for the core labour standards embodied in the ILO Declaration and compliance with ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.
The labour ministry, together with other appropriate agencies, agree to establish priorities and develop specific cooperative activities, including discussions of legislation and practice related to the core elements of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work; development of social safety net programs; discussion of treatment of non-national workers; and improving systems for the administration and enforcement of labour laws.
Areas for potential assistance in the near future include improved industrial relations practices, including collective bargaining procedures and mediation and conciliation services, the development of social safety nets, such as an unemployment insurance system, and changes in foreign worker visa programs.
The large expatriate community in Bahrain's proves that Bahrain offers a very attractive and truly cosmopolitan lifestyle comparable to any of the capitals in the world.
The strong and stable currency, the peaceful, crime-free environment and the liberal government are the chief factors attracting foreign nationals to Bahrain.
For gourmets, Bahrain offers a gastronomic tour of the world's cuisines including Arabic delights, American, Chinese, Filipino, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Mexican, Mongolian, Thai and many more.
Quality serviced apartments, stand-alone villas, and compound villas are available for rent in Bahrain, within a wide range of prices. An average fully-furnished, three-bedroom villa with all amenities (including shared swimming pool and tennis courts) will cost around USD 2,000 per month.
Temporary visitors to Bahrain can choose from a large number of hotel accommodations for a variety of budgets.
To drive in Bahrain, foreign nationals need a national and an international driving license. Other ways of getting around are limousine rentals or taxis.
Foreign nationals may enter Bahrain with a tourist visa (for individuals or groups), 72-hour visa, 7-day visa, visit visa, business visa, family visa, dependent visa, or an employment visa.
Generally all types of visas (except certain categories of tourist visas which can be obtained from Consulates abroad) are to be applied for by local sponsors in Bahrain.