Bahrain – which name means “two seas” – was one of the first states in the Gulf to discover oil and to build a refinery. It never reached the levels of production enjoyed by Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, however, and has been forced to diversify its economy.
The Muslim country is ruled by a Sunni king, whose family holds the main political and military posts. The divide between the Shia majority and the Sunni population has led to long-running tension in the kingdom, which has sporadically boiled over into civil disobedience.
The government called in the Saudi military to crush protests by demonstrators demanding a greater say in government in early 2011. The Shias claim there is systematic discrimination against them in jobs and services.
Over the years, however, the country enjoyed increasing freedom of expression, and monitors said the human rights situation had improved.
- Kingdom of Bahrain
- Capital: Manama
- Population 1.4 million
- Area 717 sq km (277 sq miles)
- Major language Arabic
- Major religion Islam
- Life expectancy 75 years (men), 76 years (women)
- Currency Bahraini dinar