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About & History

About

Bahrain, or officially, the Kingdom of Bahrain, is a monarchy under the Al Khalifa royal family and is home to over 1.3 million residents. The country covers over 765 square kilometres of land and sits comfortably on an island in the Persian Gulf.

Considered to have a high income economy by the World Bank as well as a high human development index (ranked 48th in the world), Bahrain has recently invested into its banking and tourism sectors as well as exporting large amounts of oil. 



 Stone Age History

Discovered only recently in Uruk, Iraq, Sumerian Cuneiform clay tablets mention the Ancient Dilmun civilization basing itself centrally in Bahrain, these have been dated to the end of the 4th Millennium BC. However, it’s also believed that the Phoenicians may have had small societies in the region from 3200 BC to 1200 BC and many historical sources such as the Green historian Herodotus and the Greek geographer Strabo claim that the Phoenicians actually originated from Bahrain.

Bronze Age History

Mentioned later on in a duo of letters written around 1370 BC, Bahrain is again mentioned as the central site for the Ancient Dilmun civilization and cites that during this time that Dilmun was renowned for trading valuable metals such as lapis lazuli and gold alongside other luxuries such as pearls, glazed stone beads, ivory and precious woods.  Following 1250 Dilmun is mentioned in many Assyrian inscriptions to have been conquered and under rule of the Assyrian king. It’s also believed that Dilmun came under control of the Kassite dynasty later on.

Iron Age History

Around 700 BC, it’s believed that Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked and captured Bahrain again. A short while later, Babylon began to control the region and this has been cited via Neo-Babylonian administrative records dated to 567 BC. However, it was only a short while later in the late 6th Century BC that the nearby Achaemenian dynasty of the Persian Empire drew its eyes to Bahrain and conquered it too. Following this, the Parthian dynasty conquered the entire Persian Gulf region in 130 BC and would continue to rule the region until the early 3rd Century AD.

1st Century – 15th Century History

Succeeding the Parthian dynasty, from around 200 AD onwards the Sassanid dynasty ruled over Bahrain after defeating the Parthians at the time in the region. They continued to rule the region until around 600 AD when the rise of Islam signalled a change in the country’s leadership and envoys from Mohammed spread across the region, with Bahrain converting as one of the first fully Islamic countries. Al-Ala’a Al-Hadhrami began to rule the country under the Prophet Mohammed, allowing the Islamic faith full control of the region from 629 AD onwards.

Eventually, Al-Hadhrami was forced out of the country by revolutionaries upon the death of Mohammed three years later in 632 AD, however, Abu Bakr, the new Caliph or leader of the sect, sent Al-Hadhrami back into Bahrain with a large army to reconquer the country. Although he did take back over the country, he was replaced when Umar, the new Caliph, replaced him with Uthman bin Abi Al Aas Thaqafi.

In the start of the 10th Century AD, the Qarmatians had begun terrorizing the Bahrainic government forces and had massacred pilgrims travelling to and from Mecca, one of the holy Islamic cities. Shortly after, Abu Said Al Hasan Al Janaby led the messianic Ismaili sect to begin the Revolution of Al-Qaramita and after taking over the city of Hajr, Bahrain’s capital, as well as Al-Hasa, he formed a republic. The sect began attacking Muslim holy sites, sacking Mecca in 930 and desecrating the Well of Zamzam with corpses of Hajj pilgrims, and taking the Black Stone, of the single most sacred Islamic relics, from Mecca to Al-Hasa. Mysteriously however, the stone was returned in 951 AD, tossed into the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq in sack, attached to it was a note stating “By command we took it, and by command we have brought it back.” This treatment of the stone caused it to break into seven pieces. The Qarmatians rapidly became the most powerful force in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.

A combination of a defeat by the Abbasids in 976 AD and a revolt in Bahrain in 1058 AD by members of the Abd Al-Qays tribe, caused the Qarmatian society to collapse and subsequently become ruled over by the Uyunids in 1076 AD.

For almost two hundred years, the Uyunids ruled over the country until the Usfurid dynasty rose to power in 1253 AD. As a variety of Persian-based Arab Kingdoms waned and grew around the Persian Gulf and Middle East regions, the power shifted rapidly between groups until the rulers of Hormuz obtained Bahrain and the other nearby islands as tributaries.

In the middle of the 15th Century AD,the Banu Uqayl dynasty took control of Bahrain and founded the Bedouin Jabrid dynasty. This dynasty in turn rapidly took control of most of eastern Arabia as well. Later on that century in 1489, the Arab navigator Ahmad Bin Majid assisted Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama find routes from Africa to India and his maps of Bahrain and the local waters were likely seen by the Portuguese. The first Portuguese ships entered the Gulf region in 1485 AD.

16th Century – 19th Century History

Following Vasco da Gama’s voyages around the Persian Gulf and the Portuguese’s battles against the Ottoman Empire, the Portuguese sought control of Bahrain and seized the opportunity presented to them when the Kingdom of Hormuz fell in 1507 and the princes of Al-Hasa took control of the country. A combined effort by the Portuguese-Hormuz forces lead by Antonio Correia was able to conquer Bahrain in 1521 but lost it subsequently to the Al-Hasa princes again in the same year. More Portuguese forces were deployed and managed to completely subdue the region and they managed to take control of the region for over eighty years, but were driven out by a Bahraini uprising in 1602 led by Rukn Ed-Din. Following the uprising there was a power vacuum and this saw the Persian ruler, Shah Abbas I, take control of the region for the Safavid Empire.

For over a hundred years until 1717, the Persian Safavid Empire ruled Bahrain through the use of ideology and the manipulation of local rivalries rather than brute force. This saw mass intellectual flowering especially among the Shia theological elite and through the use of the clergy the Safavids were able to secure excellent trade routes and wealth. However, this strategy was almost too successful and the clergy quickly gained widespread support and highly intellectual capability, as the Safavid Empire was challenged, the clergy gained more support if the Safavids oppressed them and trade routes would fuel the clergy further.

This instability between the Safavid Empire and the clergy opened up opportune moments for many other civilizations and eventually Afghani forces invaded, resulting in the near-collapse of the Safavids, shortly after; Omani forces invaded and took over the country. The Persian Safavid Empire tried to take it back by force but saw much of the country destroyed, eventually culminating in the agreement of the sale of the country from the Omani governing force back to the Safavids. However, this also showed weaknesses of the Safavid Empire, and Huwala tribes in the region rapidly seized subsequent control. Upon the ruler of Bahrain, Sheikh Jubayr, travelling for the Hajj pilgrimage, the Shah of Persia Nadir Shah decided to seize control of the country again via assistant from the British and the Dutch, recapturing Bahrain again in 1736. However, the Persian Empire’s power on the region weakened and in 1753, Bahrain was taken by the Nasr Al-Madkhur dynasty.

Around thirty years later in 1782, further war broke out between the two factions and the Bani Utbah dynasty over control of Zubarah, a wealthy and desirable town in modern-day Qatar. The three factions warred over the town and when the Persian forces were defeated, the Bani Utbah switched course and headed to Bahrain, taking over the main fort in the region in 1783 and securing rule of both Bahrain and Zubarah in Qatar until 1797. Further struggles with Omani forces are known to happen until the beginning of the 19th Century.

By 1820, the Al Khalifa tribe of Bahrain had gained notable power and entered a treaty with Great Britain which, at the time, had become the dominant power in the Gulf region. A further treaty strengthened bonds between the country and Great Britain in 1861. For the next hundred years until the 20th Century, Bahrain was the focus of a plethora of political processes as a variety of parties ruled the peninsula and Bahrain repeatedly made and broke alliances with various countries until two more treaties were finalized between Bahrain and Great Britain in 1880 and 1892 making it an official British protectorate. By the end of the 19th Century, Bahrain had become one of the most populous and prosperous trading centres of the Gulf region and had weaned dependency away from pearling.

However, Britain’s absolute dominance had become increasingly apparent and in 1892 following the signing of a treaty prohibiting Bahrain from selling land to other nations, a revolt and uprising shook the nation as the ruler of Bahrain, Sheikh Issa bin Ali called for help from the British forces, whom in turn assisted with quelling the uprising but killing protesters in the process.

20th Century History

In the early to mid-20th Century, Charles Belgrave, the British advisor to the current Sheikh, Hamad ibn Issa, essentially had a de facto rule over the country and through his efforts saw the country’s first modern schools open in 1919 and 1928, the country’s first modern hospital beginning work in 1903, the development of the pearl diving industry and the abolition of slavery. However, in order to counter opposition groups managed by the Sheikh, the British deposed him and replaced him with his son as well as exiling the heads of many opposing merchant and noble families.

Upon oil being discovered in 1932 by the Bahrain Petroleum Company, the country began to become rapidly modernized and relations with the United Kingdom grew stronger with the latter moving their entire Middle Eastern Naval force to protect the region in 1935. Upon the start of the Second World War, Bahrain joined the Allies in 1939 and saw Italian bombs dropped on its oilfields and although causing minimal damage, forced the Allies to strengthen their defences in Bahrain as a valuable fuel source, further stretching their forces internationally.

Following the end of World War II, anti-British riots spread throughout Bahrain, motivated by the National Union Committee (NUC), a leftist nationalist movement. Formed in 1954, the movement was designed to voice the opinions for the labour unions and it called for the British to pull out of Bahrain and for political reforms. The British quickly declared the NUC illegal and arrested, imprisoned and exiled many of its members. However, underground cells of the NUC continued to persist and provoked riots and strikes into the 1960s.

In 1965 these clashes culminated in the March Intifada, a violent uprising against the British forces sparked off by the laying off of hundreds of Bahraini workers from the Bahrain Petroleum Company. Three years later in 1968, Britain announced its decision to pull out of Bahrain and end the treaty with the Gulf region. Bahrain made an attempt to form a union with the other Arab states in the region including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates but ultimately failed when the sheikhdoms could not agree on the terms of the union well over three years later.

Eventually, Bahrain became a separate entity as the State of Bahrain in 1971 and due to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the 1975 Lebanese Civil War, the country’s economy shot through the roof as demand for oil skyrocketed and the banking sector was offered new locations in Bahrain by the Bahraini government.

For the next twenty years from 1980 onwards into the 90s, Bahrain was repeatedly criticised for the lack of democratic reforms to its government and this in turn saw both rioting and fatalities, only ending when Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa became the Emir in 1999. For the first time ever, non-Muslims and four women were appointed to the Consultative Council in 2000.
 
21st Century History

In 2001, Emir Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa proposed that Bahrain should become a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament and an independent judiciary, not dissimilar to the United Kingdom and with the support of the Bahraini national population, the Emir became King. Following his coronation, the King gave women the right to vote as well as releasing all political prisoners. Finally, as part of the change, the State of Bahrain was renamed as the Kingdom of Bahrain. It also participated in military action against the Taliban via the deployment of a frigate into the Arabian Sea for rescue and humanitarian operations and it was subsequently deemed as a major non-NATO ally. Finally, Bahrain and Qatar improved relations following the settlement of the dispute over the Hawar Islands by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

For the first time ever, women were allowed to stand as candidates in the 2002 local elections, despite failing to win a single seat. Later on that same year, the first parliamentary elections in well over thirty years were held for a 40-seat parliament and these included a dozen Shia Muslims, overall it’s estimated around 50% of the country took part in the voting.

In 2003, thousands of victims alleging torture demanded that the King cancel a law that prevented them from suing their aggressors. Bahrain also opposed the invasion of Iraq and offered Saddam Hussein asylum a few days prior to the invasion.

2004 saw the first woman to head a government ministry, Nada Haffadh, become health minister. Following this, fighting broke out in the Iraqi holy cities of Karbala and Najaf and, as a response, protests broke out, forcing the King to sack his interior minister after police tried to prevent the protest. The country also negotiated a free trade agreement with the US but was strongly criticized by Saudi Arabia for the move due to it causing a supposed hindrance in the integration of the regional economies.

In 2005, a fully-elected parliament was demanded from thousands of protesters.

With Shia Muslims winning 40% of the seats in the 2006 elections, Shia Muslim Jawad Al-Arrayedh was voted in as deputy prime minister.

2008 saw Houda Nonoo become appointed as the first Jewish Bahraini ambassador to the USA as well as the Arab world’s first Jewish ambassador. Later on the same year, many were arrested who were alleged to detonate home-made bombs during Bahrain’s national celebrations. Bahrain and Qatar also proposed the construction of the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway (aka the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge) which would join the nations and be completed shortly before the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

In 2009, over 170 prisoners who had been charged with endangering national security were pardoned by the King, including 35 Shia Muslims who had been tried on charges of attempting to overthrow the state.

Twenty Shia opposition leaders were arrested on charges of plotting an overthrow of the monarchy via promoting violence and sabotage in 2010 and upon the election date, only the biggest Shia opposition group, Al Wefaq, was able to make the smallest of gains.

Starting in 2011, Bahraini residents began to protest in hopes of reforms for greater political freedom and human rights, although originally intended to be peaceful, and, able to stay that way for a few days, eventually the scene turned bloody as police opened fire on protesters, killing five. However, after the government ordered troops and police to withdraw, peaceful protests reconvened at even greater numbers than ever before, peaking at over 150,000. Requested by the government, Saudi-lead GCC forces entered the country and the opposition declared it a state of occupation. The next day, the King declared a state of emergency and ordered the military to retake control over the country, in the process of the following riots and police suppression, three policemen and three protesters were killed.

Eventually the state of emergency was lifted and peaceful protests reconvened, being staged mainly by opposition parties, but smaller-scale clashes occurred outside of the capital almost daily. The police response became brutal; beating protesters other unarmed civilians at checkpoints, denying medical care and carrying out midnight house raids in Shia neighbourhoods. During this time around three-thousand people were arrested and five were killed during torture by police. Eventually the torture and arrests ceased, but it’s known that over 120 people have died since the beginning of the uprising and that the Bahraini government has refused entry to several international human rights groups and delayed a visit by a UN inspector.