Emirate in the Persian Gulf, off the coast of Saudi Arabia, consisting of a group of island s, the most important of which are Bahrain and Muharraq. The island s are sand y and flat, and the climate is hot and humid. Bahrain, the ancient Tyros, has long been inhabited and was mentioned by Persian, Greek, and Roman geographers and historians. It was probably the Dilmun that formed a link between ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus River civilization.
The island s were controlled by the Portuguese from 1521 to 1602 and from then to 1783 mostly by Persia. At that time the Arabian family of Al-Khalifah displaced the Persians and established a dynasty of sheikhs. Bahrain became a British protectorate in 1861. There were demonstrations favoring independence in the 1950s and 1960s, and Great Britain withdrew in 1971. The present emir, a member of the Al-Khalifah family, is sole ruler. The main source of wealth was pearls and salt and there was some agriculture. However, oil, discovered in 1931, is the main source of national wealth and has made possible improvements in health and education and the nation’s development as an international financial center. Bahrain was a founding member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981.
In the 1980s and 1990s relations with Qatar were strained by a dispute over the Hawar Island s and the large natural-gas resources of the Dome field in the shallow sea separating the countries. In the late 1980s a causeway was built connecting Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. During the 1991 Gulf War, coalition forces used Bahrain as an administrative and staging area. In 1993, a consultative council was appointed to replace the long-dissolved national assembly. In the 1990s, there were protests and violence from Bahrain’s Shiite minority. In 1996 more than 50 people were arrested for involvement in what was said to be an Iranian-backed Shiite coup attempt. Sheikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. The new Sheikh has promoted democratic reforms. In 2001, a new charter established Bahrain as a constitutional monarchy. Bahrain was proclaimed a kingdom in 2002, and elections for the parliament marked the first time that women in an Arab Persian Gulf monarchy could vote or run for national office. Manama on Bahrain Island is the capital.