An archipelago of small islands in the Gulf Stream, Bahrain’s history is of a series of truces, agreements and negotiations with its large neighbouring states, as well as of a divided state.
In 1820, Bahrain was seized by the Al-Khalifa family, a tribe originating from Kuwait, who made a series of agreements with Britain, in which Britain recognised the Al-Khalifa family as rulers of Bahrain. In later years, Bahrain became a British protectorate, but experienced much unrest and violence against the regime, protesting the interference and rule of Britain. The Iranians also laid claim to the archipelago, but did not have the military manpower to expel the British from Bahrain. Iran and Britain continued to dispute the ownership of Bahrain, until a United Nations’ Security Council vote in 1970 determined that the territory would be recognised as a sovereign and independent nation.
The country currently has a population of 1.21 million, of which a sixth are foreign migrant workers.
A constitutional monarchy, Bahrain is headed by a king from the Al-Khalifa family, and the government is led by a popularly elected Prime Minister. Since the instalment of the Al-Khalifa family as the monarchy, the government has faced widespread social unrest and discontent. The Royal Family are Sunni Muslims, while 70% of the population are Shiites, who complain of the government’s discrimination against them in the employment sector, as well as politically. Popular uprisings and protests in several Shiite neighbourhoods in early 2011 saw the resignation of several government ministers and the scheduling of parliamentary elections with a greater representation of Shiite Muslims. Some 50 people were killed in the protests, and Saudi forces were brought in to help maintain public order.
Bahrain was one of the first of the Gulf States to develop its commercial trade. Initial trading of pearls helped establish the necessary infrastructure for international business in the country, and the discovery of petroleum in the 1930s brought in much foreign investment, modernisation and wealth to the nation.
Despite being the business and commerce hub of the Middle East since a civil war bankrupted Lebanon, and therefore the base of numerous international corporations trading in the Gulf, Bahrain continues to depend heavily on its oil reserves for much of its income: an estimated 70%. Other sources of income include the production of aluminium and banking.
Unemployment currently stands at 15%.
Bahrain faces frequent clashes between its Sunni and Shiite Muslim populations.
Women were granted full political rights in 2002, although there is still limited representation of them in government.
Following the widespread protests of 2011, Bahrain has been under close scrutiny by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, for alleged human rights abuses in the form of torture and interfering in the trials of human rights protestors. Amnesty International expressed concerns over the harsh treatment of 43 medical workers in detention following hospital strikes in June 2011. They are charged with felony and misdemeanours for their involvement in the protests for a new government and socio-political reforms.
Freedom of expression is granted by the constitution. The Ministry of Information, nevertheless, often censors and restricts broadcasts and publications. Bahrain currently has 420,000 internet users but internet usage is closely monitored, and the government has reportedly tried to block access to websites criticising the nation or Islam.
A 20 year old female student was charged with inciting hatred of the regime in June 2011 for reading a poem criticising the monarchy at a pro-reform rally in the city of Manama. Amnesty International estimates a prison sentence of at least ten years if she is convicted.
For a Gulf State, Bahrain is considered to have a great diversity of religions, owing partly to the large migrant population. 80% of the country is Muslim, 10% Christian and the remainder is a mixture of Hindus, Sikhs and other various South-East Asian religions. Bahrain is 48th on Open Doors’ Worldwide Christian Persecution Watch List.
Bahrain is considered one of the most tolerant Gulf States towards Christianity and other religions. Although the majority of Christians are foreigners, there is a growing number of local believers, and these are represented in the parliament. There are an estimated 80 different churches and fellowships in Bahrain today, as well as a number of Christian bookshops and registered charities. Local believers admit to facing great opposition from family and society, and occasional discrimination when seeking employment and academic opportunities.
- Pray for greater social acceptance of Bahraini believers, so that they will continue to be strong in their faith and not have to hide.
- Pray for an end to the civil unrest between the government and the people, and that a compromise will be reached soon that benefits all.
- Pray for the economic stability of Bahrain in light of decreasing oil prices in recent years.
- Praise God for the presence of Christian bookshops and the numerous fellowships who can offer the Christians in Bahrain spiritual support.
 Middle East Concern
 CIA World Factbook
 UNDP Middle East Report
 CIA World Factbook
 Amnesty International, June 2011
 Middle East Concern