The Kingdom of Bahrain is a cluster of 33 small islands (an archipelago) in the Gulf of Bahrain. Saudi Arabia is located to the west of Bahrain, and Qatar is just to the east, with a stretch of water separating the countries. The Gulf of Bahrain is connected to the larger Persian Gulf. Since 1986, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been connected by the 25 kilometer King Fahd Causeway. Construction plans for the 45 kilometer Qatar Bahrain Causeway, also referred to as the Qatar Bahrain Friendship Bridge, was announced in 2008, but the project has been postponed indefinitely for numerous reasons, principally financial. The capital of Bahrain is Manama and has a population of roughly 150,000 people. Bahrain has an estimated population of 1.7 million people as of 2020, according to the World Bank.

In Arabic, the word Bahrain means “two seas”, although the two seas of which the name signifies is not entirely clear. . Today, Bahrain’s two seas are generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island, or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. The latter possibility refers to the sweet, fresh water produced from springs, along with the salty water from the sea. In some places, it is possible to dive beneath the layer of saltwater and reach the fresh spring waters underneath. Until the late Middle Ages, Bahrain referred to the region of Eastern Arabia that included Southern Iraq, Kuwait, Al-Hasa, Qatif, and Bahrain. Regardless of the name’s intended meaning, it is evident from these possibilities just how strong a role water plays in the Bahraini national identity.

Despite being surrounded by water, Bahrain has an arid climate, resulting in occasional droughts. Its terrain is mostly a low desert plain and it is not uncommon for sandstorms to occur. To some extent, Bahrain makes up for its size and environmental challenges by its strategic location in the Persian Gulf. Petroleum is Bahrain’s largest export at 60%, and the country’s banking and financial sectors have benefited from its larger and more resource-rich neighbors. In April 2018, Bahrain announced the discovery of an oilfield off the west coast named the “Khaleej al-Bahrain field.” 

Currently, Bahrain suffers from desertification and degradation of its limited arable land. Being a desert island surrounded by saltwater with no streams, lakes, or rivers for freshwater, Bahrain has an over-reliance on groundwater. Petroleum production has caused coastal degradation from oil spills and other discharges from large tankers and oil refineries. To address some of the environmental issues, Bahrain joined the UN’s Clean Seas program in 2018. A year later, Bahrain introduced a program to phase out and ban plastic bags. This decision to ban non-biodegradable bags made Bahrain the second country in West Asia to do so, following the Sultanate of Oman.

Geography Resources


The small country of Bahrain was once the link between trade coming from India and China to Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. For 3,000 years, trade was the primary source of income for the people of what would become the Kingdom of Bahrain; when trade with India began to decline, Bahrain suffered. The area has been ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabs, Persians, and Portuguese. For much of this time, it was known by its Greek name, Tylos. The designation “Bahrain” was introduced officially during the 7th century when the country was taken over by Islamic rulers.

In 1783, Bahrain freed itself from the Persian Empire. The al-Khalifa family overthrew the Persians and set up a monarchy that is still in place today. In 1863, it entered into a treaty with the United Kingdom, becoming a protectorate, in order to guarantee its security. Bahrain did not become fully independent until 1971. In 1973 Bahrain had its first parliamentary, or National Assembly,  elections. However, only two years later, Emir Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa suspended and dissolved the National Assembly after they rejected the State Security Law. This law gave the police immense powers and allowed for people to be held in prison without trial. Then starting in 1975, Sheikh Isa Bin-Salman Al Khalifah dissolved the government and ruled by decree claiming that the National Assembly impeded the work of the government.

After independence, tensions mounted between the majority Shi’i population and the Sunni leaders of Bahrain. Economic and social grievances such as a fall in production, cutbacks in public spending, and discrimination against the Shi’a, fueled the tensions. The unrest culminated in an alleged Iranian-backed coup attempt in 1981. The same year Bahrain, along with five other countries, created the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC).  The GCC created a freer trade network and closer economic and defense ties. 

In 1994, demonstrations began after the arrest of Shia cleric Sheikh Ali Salman, who wanted the restoration of the National Assembly. The demonstrations turned into an uprising when leftists, liberals, and Islamists joined forces. Sheikh Hamad ibn ?Isa Al Khalifah assumed power after the death of his father in 1999. He released several Shi’a dissidents from prison and instituted political reform in an attempt to relieve tension. Emir Hamad’s political reform included elections for the first  National Assembly elections since 1975 , women’s suffrage, and a referendum on political reform. 

In 2001, the political referendum was overwhelmingly backed by Bahraini citizens (98%) and established a constitutional monarchy with an elected lower chamber of National Assembly and an independent judiciary. However, the upper house of the National Assembly continued to be royal appointees. The same year Emir Hamad overturned the State Security Law from 1974. A year later, the reforms took place with Hamad declaring himself King, and local elections occurred with women as candidates for the first time. National Assembly elections occurred later in 2002 despite calls by Islamists to boycott the election.  The call to boycott the election emerged from King Hamad’s reneged promise to keep the upper house of the National Assembly as an advisory council only. Instead, he gave them legislative powers as well.

Even though some political reforms were implemented in 2001, four years later, protests erupted demanding a fully-elected Parliament. Even though the demands of the protestors were not met in the 2006 and 2010 elections, there were no boycotts and the elections resulted in a win for the Shi’a political party Al Wifaq. 

Bahrain experienced large-scale, organized demonstrations during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. The protests in Bahrain were at first peaceful and non-sectarian. They began on February 14th when people took to a central landmark, the Pearl Roundabout, in pursuit of reforms primarily related to obtaining greater political freedom for the majority Shia population.

On February 17th, in the early hours of the morning, Bahraini security forces attempted to clear the encampment of 1,500-3,000 people. Clashes soon erupted between the opposition groups gathered there and security forces; four protesters died, and 300 were injured that day. The demonstrators began calling for the end of the monarchy, in addition to their original demands for reforms. Consequently, King Hamid bin Isa al-Khalifa declared a state of emergency in the country, allowing for the implementation of greater security measures throughout the country. The government requested further troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and installed martial law, in attempts to restore calm and order. These measures were taken because of government concern that Iranian influence would further incite Shia and opposition, protesters.

Bahrain‘s opposition groups continued to organize rallies and demonstrations. The Bahraini security forces often met with aggressive, armed resistance by the protesters. The demonstrations and government response received international attention; the UN, along with several countries, was troubled by reports of the use of excessive force towards protesters, emergency responders, and the media.  The Gulf Cooperation Council’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs expressed their solidarity with the government of Bahrain and its actions.

In the wake of the protests, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) on June 29, 2011. The Commission functioned independently of the government and was tasked with investigating and reporting on the events that took place from February 2011 onward. The investigation resulted in the submission to the king of the Report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry which is available in its entirety for view by the public. The report documented 46 deaths, 559 allegations of torture, and more than 4,000 cases of employees dismissed for participating in protests. It also stated that the violence in Bahrain “was the result of an escalating process in which both the Government and the opposition have their share of responsibility in allowing events to unfold as they did.” King Hamad has implemented key economic and political reforms recommended by the BICI.

The unrest of 2011 has largely subsided, but divisions remain between and within the Sunni and Shia populations and the government. In the era of radical Sunni movements like the Islamic State, Bahrain has also experienced a growth in the number of extremists opposed to the government’s concessions to the Shia majority. The situation in Bahrain is much more complicated than the media portrayal of an oppressive Sunni monarchy denying rights to its Shia majority. We recommend you review the articles below (Bahrain: A Very Complicated Little Island and Bahrain Revisited) in the Resources Section to gain a more balanced understanding of the reality on the ground in Bahrain.



Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy ruled by the Sunni Muslim al-Khalifa family that came to power in 1783. The 2001 reformations mentioned in the section above largely formed the current government. The reforms created a directly elected legislature and independent judiciary. The Emir has broad powers as the executive including the ability to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, ministers, judges, civil and military officials, and ambassadors, to ratify constitutional amendments, propose legislation, and veto laws. The monarchy also appoints the prime minister and cabinet positions.

The parliament is called the National Assembly and is composed of two chambers, the Consultative Council and the Chamber of Deputies. The Consultative Council holds 40 members, who are all appointed by the King. The Chamber of Deputies has 40 members who are directly elected. The National Assembly can create and vote on legislation, constitutional amendments, and royal decrees. It can also express its concern over public issues, hold hearings for cabinet members, and vote out cabinet members through “no confidence” votes, which removes the member if a simple majority is reached.

Its judicial system, headed by a High Civil Appeals Court, has its foundation in Shari’a and English Law. The other important court, the Constitutional Court, is appointed by the Emir, based on the advice of the Higher Judicial Council. The Higher Judicial Court is chaired by the Emir and is meant to ensure the functioning of the courts and the Public Prosecution Office. It recommends judge nominations to the Emir, who in turn makes the nominations. Criminal courts and civil courts deal with crimes and other smaller offenses. 

Government Sources


Bahrain-Iran Relations

Due to Bahrain’s history of being part of the Persian Empire, Iran has long laid claims to the islands. Historically, the ruling Al Khalifa family of Bahrain has been relatively friendly toward Iran and shown them loyalty in issues with Britain. For instance, towards the end of the 19th century, the Iranian flag was raised on official buildings in Bahrain as a protest against the British colonialists. In a show of good faith, Iran reserved two seats for Bahrain in its national parliament, from 1906 to 1971, dubbing Bahrain its “14th province”. When the British withdrew from “east of Suez” in 1971, the last shah of Iran raised the issue of Bahrain’s governance with the British, hoping it would fall under Iranian control. Shah Pahlavi agreed to a limited UN-sponsored opinion poll of the Bahraini people to decide the future of the nation. Although the poll could not be called a referendum due to its limited scope, (it was mainly the political elite who were asked) it did grant Bahrain its independence. Iran has accepted Bahrain’s independence, but there are still some in Iran who view Bahrain as territory rightfully belonging to Iran.

Despite the historical cooperation between Iran and Bahrain, recent history has proven to be significantly more tumultuous. In 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution, a Shiite front group called the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, organized and carried out a coup against the Sunni government. This coup was quickly defeated, and Bahrain accused the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of training and financing the group, a claim which Iran denied. Regardless of Iran’s alleged involvement with the group, Bahrain cracked down on the rights of its Shiite citizens. The government jailed thousands of Shiite citizens, leading to tense relations between Bahrain and Iran. Bahrain’s normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel has also increased tensions between Iran and Bahrain. It is also important to note that Bahrain stands in the middle of a power struggle between the Saudi-led GCC and Iran. After a 2016 Iranian attack on Saudi missions within Iran, Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Iran. The future of Bahrain-Iran relations will likely follow the GCC-Iran relations, with even more tension in Bahrain due to Bahrain’s Shiite population.

Bahrain has opened up its land, air space, and sea space to the U.S. military. For many years now, the Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy has been based at NSA (Naval Support Activity) Bahrain in Manama. Most recently, the U.S. military has used Bahrain as a staging ground during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Bahrain is a formally designated non-NATO ally of the United States. The presence of U.S. military forces has drawn the ire of the Iranian government and has led to even more tensions. The base provides the United States a strategic position in the region, as Bahrain is close to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran.

Bahrain-Qatar Relations

Bahrain and Qatar have had many territorial disputes. Since 1936, the nations have been involved in disputes over the Hawar Islands, Fasht Al Azm, Fasht Dibal, al-Jaradah, and Zubarah. Tensions have risen on several occasions, particularly over Fasht Dibal. The countries have come close to military action against one another. After Qatar accused Bahrain of building on Fasht Dibal, Qatari troops arrived on the island in 1986 via helicopter and declared it a ‘restricted zone’. They seized several Bahraini officials and 29 construction workers. On May 12th, 1986, following mediation by several GCC member states, Bahrain and Qatar reached a settlement, and the foreign workers were released. In 1991, the dispute flared up again after Qatar instituted proceedings to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague decide whether it had jurisdiction. The two countries laid out their claims to the islands and exchanged complaints about the other’s incursion on their vessels and territories. The disputes were resolved by the International Court of Justice on 16 March 2001, awarding both sides equal amounts of land. The ICJ granted Bahrain control of the Hawar Islands (excluding the Janan Island), al-Jaradah, and Fasht Al Azm, with Qatar receiving Zubarah, Fasht Dibal, and the Janan Island.

In 2014, tensions grew as Qatar offered prominent Sunni families in Bahrain Qatari citizenship in exchange for dropping their own Bahraini citizenship. Bahrain’s concerns stemmed from a national security perspective, as the ruling Al Khalifa family is Sunni and the majority of Bahrain is Shiite. At a GCC meeting in Jeddah, Qatar pledged to stop this action, yet had already naturalized hundreds of Bahraini citizens. In 2017, Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar over the ongoing feud between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the GCC as a whole. Bahrain can be expected to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia in many GCC and regional issues, due to the two countries’ proximity to one another and their shared, common security threats


Bahrain-Saudi Arabia Relations

Due to the tensions between the Shi’a majority and the Sunni ruling family, the Al-Khalifas sought to secure support from its Sunni neighbor Saudi Arabia. The Al-Khalifas forged bilateral bonds through diplomatic marriages to ensure strong Saudi support. In 1954, plans between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to build a bridge between the two countries began. To prepare for the bridge, Bahrain switched driving to the right in 1967. A year later, both countries approached the World Bank for assistance in implementing the project. However, the project did not begin construction until 1982 when King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz and Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa unveiled the curtain on the Memorial Plaque. Five years later, the project was finished and renamed the King Fahd Causeway. The bridge project strengthened bilateral relations and regional defense while also helping both countries economically and politically. 

Saudi Arabia has provided both military and economic aid to Bahrain. During the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia sent troops to help suppress protesters and secure the ruling family. Then when the Qatar Crisis erupted in 2017, Bahrain followed the lead of its neighbor and blockaded Qatar. Saudi Arabia has led the GCC to provide billions of dollars of aid to Bahrain to help calm growing socioeconomic tensions in the country. 

The relationship between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is not simply one-sided. While Bahrain needs Saudi Arabia for political and diplomatic support, Saudi Arabia wants its neighbor to remain in Sunni hands. Bahraini stability also helps bolster Saudi stability due to the two countries’ close proximity to one another.  In Bahrain, Saudi citizens can enjoy freedoms such as alcohol, nightclubs, and they enjoy looser social rules (women do not have to wear the niqab). These freedoms cause a large number of Saudis to drive to Bahrain on the weekends and for vacations. This social freedom allows Saudis to enjoy looser social norms and helps alleviate social pressures and desires. 



On February 24th, 2020, the Ministry of Health announced Bahrain’s first COVID-19 case from a Bahraini citizen returning from Iran. As of October 2021, Bahrain has had 276,685 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,393 deaths. Click here for up-to-date information on COVID in Bahrain.

Bahrain approved the Sinopharm vaccine on December 13th, 2020. The Sinopharm vaccine is a Chinese-made vaccine and was used to vaccinate King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa four days after the approval of Sinopharm. They are also offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but have fewer doses available. As of October 26th, 2021, there have been 2,750,639 total vaccine doses administered.

International & Regional Issues Resources


Bahrain is considered the freest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region. Refined petroleum remains Bahrain’s top export, representing 48% of its total exports, but the country has actively diversified its economy in order to prosper in this energy-rich area. As mentioned earlier, in 2018, Bahrain discovered the Khaleej al-Bahrain oilfield. This is the first and largest oilfield discovered since 1932 and has the potential to double the amount of oil produced by Bahrain. Additionally, Bahrain will be the second country in the world, after the US, to extract light oil by using very high technologies. The Bahraini government expects to produce oil from the Khaleej al-Bahrain field in the next five years. Bahrain also has the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf and is now renowned for its banking, finance, and tourism sectors which, have been active since the late 20th century. 64% of the population works in the service industry, 35% are employed in industrial services, and 1% work in the agricultural sector. Because very little of Bahrain’s land is arable (roughly 1 percent), the Kingdom has to rely on food imports, which makes the country vulnerable to food insecurity. Many jobs are held by foreign temporary workers, who account for over 79% percent of the labor force according to the World Bank. Expatriates work in every field from manual labor to investment banking.

Imports and exports are roughly equal in value for Bahrain. Their main export partners are India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates, while they import from Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.

A high birth rate has led to dramatic population growth, resulting in a deficit of jobs for the large and highly qualified young population. Currently, unemployment stands at 5.3% for those under 25, a contributing factor to the unrest in Bahrain during the Arab Spring of 2011. Further complicating the country’s economic outlook, Bahrain’s labor force is up to 60% non-native. The rapid depletion of its oil reserves and underground water resources has been offset by Bahrain’s economic diversification efforts in banking and finance but the government will need to make ongoing economic, developmental, and infrastructural adjustments to accommodate the next generations of Bahrainis.

The low oil prices starting in 2014 hit the Bahraini government particularly hard as production slowed and hydrocarbons accounted for almost 75% of government revenues. Additionally, out of all the GCC countries, Bahrain has the highest public debt to GDP ratio at almost 89%. To make fiscal matters worse in 2018, there were fears that Bahrain would not be able to redeem a $750 million Islamic bond, set to mature in November of 2018. The looming debt crisis led Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates to give Bahrain a $10 billion aid package to help Bahrain cope with fiscal reform and a pending credit crunch. The future holds a somewhat more positive outlook for Bahrain. Surging oil prices, heavy investment in infrastructure, and an emerging 5G industry has led to economic growth. Economists project that Bahrain’s GDP will increase 3.2%, and will steadily continue to grow as the new Khaleej al-Bahrain oilfield ramps up production. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, public debt grew greatly in 2020, potentially leading to future credit problems.


Bahrain has a relatively small population, consisting of 1,641,172 people as of 2019. Nearly 90% of the population lives in either one of the two urban areas, Manama and Al Muharraq. According to U.N. estimates, up to 55% of the population consists of foreigners working in the kingdom. Most of Bahrain’s foreign workers live in the capital. Those Bahrainis who do not live in the two cities are mainly found in the few villages and towns. These localities survive mostly by cultivating palm groves, which have several practical uses including medicine.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2021 Bahraini men lived to be about 77 years old, and the female life expectancy was 82 years old. The UNDP’s Human Development Index ranks Bahrain 42nd on its index for all nations in the world. The HDI measures life expectancy, education, and per capita income. The placement is consistent with its neighboring GCC states.

The obesity rate in Bahrain is 40% among those older than 20, and 24% for the youth population, higher than the average for the region. The population is young, with only 9% over the age of 65. In contrast, 18.5% are under 15 years old. The per capita expenditure on healthcare is much higher than the region’s average, skilled professionals attend 100% of births. Over the past 15 years, the under-5 mortality rate has gone down to 6.9 out of 1000.

Government expenditure for education in Bahrain was at 7.7% of the overall GDP in 2020. In Bahrain, the majority of men and women can read and write. Around 2.5% of the population is illiterate, and there is a gender gap in the literacy rate for women. This suggests that more boys are enrolled in primary and secondary school than girls; however, the girls who do go to school are more likely to continue their education than boys. In tertiary education, the women outnumber the men with a female enrollment at 73.9% of the total number of eligible women, whereas the male enrollment is at 41% out of the total. There is, however, a gender gap when it comes to the labor force and representation. In 2020 15% of the seats in Bahrain’s national parliament were held by women

Bahrain Population

Average Life Expectancy


Islam is by far the predominant religion of Bahrain. An estimated 99.8% of the Bahraini population is Muslim, with the figure shrinking to 73.7% if non-nationals are included. The government does not publish statistics regarding sectarian breakdowns, but NGOs estimate that 55-60% of Muslims in Bahrain are Shi’a, while the remaining are Sunni. 9.3% are Christian, 0.1% Jewish, and 16.9% are “other” compromising Hindus, Baha’is, Sikhs, and Buddhists. It is one of the more open and religiously tolerant societies with small populations of Christians, Hindus, and others – mainly due to the large population of foreign workers. Bahrain is the only Arab Persian Gulf state with a synagogue; a very small but influential Jewish minority has been involved in Bahraini business and politics.

The constitution of Bahrain states that Islam is the official religion and that Sharia (Islamic law) is a principal source for legislation. There are continuous tensions between the ruling minority of Sunni Muslims and the Shia majority of the population. As mentioned above in the History section. In February 2011, the tensions between the Sunni ruling minority and the Shia majority spilled over into street protests that were suppressed by authorities and followed by an independent commission inquiry.



Staple foods in Bahrain include bread, hummus, and tabbouleh (salad with parsley, bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon). The latter two dishes were brought to Bahrain from other Arab cultures when Bahrain became an important trade post. During this time, Bahraini cuisine became influenced by Europeans as well, and rice was introduced to the islands. Most prevalent in the historic diet of Bahrain is seafood, due to its geographic location. Bahrainis have traditionally enjoyed mackerel, nagroor, shrimp, crab, and lobster among other seafood. Dates are also highly popular.


Women dress in the abaya, a long and loose-fitting black gown. It is worn along with a hijab, also black. Red is Bahrain’s national color, and on important days or national holidays, women will often accessorize with these colors. Men’s traditional dress is the thobe, or dishdasha. It is a loose, long-sleeved, ankle-length garment that is white and made from cotton in summer and black made out of wool in winter. The male headwear includes the keffiyeh, ghutra, and agal. The ghutra is a square scarf that is folded in a triangle and worn over the keffiyeh. In Bahrain, it is usually red and white checked or all white. There is no significance placed on which kind of ghutra a man wears in Bahrain, although the selection does matter in some other Gulf countries. The keffiyeh is a white knitted skull cap worn under the ghutra, and the agal is a thick, black cord that is worn on the top of the ghutra to hold it in place. The keffiyeh skullcap used in the Arabian Gulf must be differentiated from the black and white keffiyeh scarf (also known as ghutra and shemagh across the Middle East) worn in Palestine.


Sawt, literally “voice” in Arabic, is the most popular type of music in Bahrain. Heavily influenced by African, Indian, and Persian music, sawt music is played using the Oud, a traditional Arab stringed instrument that is an antecedent of the lute, and Rebaba, a stringed instrument that looks similar to a guitar. Other musical traditions in Bahrain include Khaleeji, a style of Persian Gulf-area folk music, and Fidgeri, songs performed by the male-only pearl diving community.

There is a growing popularity of hard rock and heavy metal music among the younger generations.  Music groups are writing original content as well as covering songs that have been done by European and American bands. Osiris is the most popular rock band in Bahrain currently.

Click the link below to listen to Al Ekhwa band which translates to “the brothers”. Al Ekhwa is a Bahraini musical band that was formed by the widely-known Bahraini performer, Ali Bahar, in 1986.

Culture Resources


Bahrain, like many other Middle Eastern countries, has a rich artistic heritage. Works from the times of the various ruling empires, including the Ottoman Empire, can be found on display. Bahrain is known for its use of glass and metal in the arts, particularly with jewelry. Manuscripts and calligraphy are also carefully preserved and accessible to the public. Much of the ancient art contains phrases in Arabic or specific phrases for the Qur’an using the art of calligraphy. Pottery and weaving are also popular. The younger generations are producing an extremely diverse assortment of artwork. Much of it is very modern and colorful and makes statements about politics, religious issues, or social problems.

Art Resources


Small in size, Bahrain still has a variety of places of historical, religious, and cultural prominence. Included among them are an ancient fortress and a top regional museum. The Bahrain National Museum covers 4,000 years of the country’s history and heritage and is located in Manama near the King Faisal Highway.

The Al-Fatih Mosque is the largest building in Bahrain and tours are given to non-Muslims that highlight the structure’s unique architecture details featuring marble from Italy, glass from Austria, and teak wood from India. Guides will share the fundamental tenets of Islam with visitors.

To date, the Bahrain Fort (Qal’at Al Bahrain) is the country’s sole World Heritage Site. The fort is of Portuguese architecture and sits on top of a tell, an artificial mound that has been created by several layers of human occupation. About 25% of the site has been excavated, and it is clear that the area has been occupied continuously since about 2300 BCE. The structures found to range from residential homes and public and commercial buildings, to religious and military ones. The site used to be the capital of Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. The Bahrain Fort sits right on an old trading port on the northern coast of Bahrain, about 5.5 km west of Manama.

Bahrain also hosts the densest concentrations of burial mounds found anywhere in the world from any period. The sites display the burial practices of the Dilmun and Tylos eras that were prominent periods of trade between Mesopotamia, South Arabia, and the Indian subcontinent. Although the sites have been subject to several archaeological digs over the past decades, there is still a lot that has not been uncovered. The grounds have not yet been made into World Heritage sites due to disputes between UNESCO and Bahrain. The government has not done enough to preserve the sites, according to UNESCO, and many burial mounds have been destroyed in the process of urbanization. Much of what has been preserved, such as vases, glasses, weapons, and bones, is stored in the National Museum.

Tree of Life, Photo by: Harold Laudeus – Flickr

One of the most famous sites in Bahrain is the Tree of Life. The tree is a 400-year old mesquite tree. It stands alone in the desert, surrounded by miles of sand. The area is supposedly free of any water supply, which is why the tree has been given its dramatic name. The Tree of Life is located in the desert about two kilometers from Jebel Dukhan.

Sites Resources


In the sporting world, Bahrain is best known as the host of Formula 1 auto racing in the Middle East.  It is the home of the 2010 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening race of the season.

In the sporting world, Bahrain is best known as the host of Formula 1 auto racing in the Middle East. It is the home of the 2010 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix, the opening race of the season. The 2004 Grand Prix of Bahrain marked the first-ever time the FIA Formula One World Championship was held in the Middle East. Bahrain is still the Middle East’s premier venue for Formula One racing. 

Bahrain has attended the Summer Olympics since 1984 but has never appeared in the Winter Olympics. In London 2012 Bahrain won its first Olympic medal when Maryam Yusuf Jamal took bronze in the 1500 meter run. By doing so, Jamal also became the first female athlete from any Persian Gulf nation to win an Olympic medal. Bahrain’s first Olympic gold was won by Ruth Jebet, who won the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. In the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Kalkidan Gezahegne won one silver medal for Bahrain in the women’s 10,000-meter race

Sports Resources


Scholarly essays, commentary and forums on Bahrain

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News about Bahrain, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

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Access commentary and analysis on Bahrain

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Al Bab Bahrain Country Briefing

Provides resources on history and culture.

Congressional Research Service

Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy

Kenneth Katzman, February 5, 2019