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Bahrain - History

The Kingdom of Bahrain is actually an archipelago of 33 islands in the Arabian Gulf that has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Around 5000 years ago Bahrain was home to the Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, which lasted some two millenia. Since then Bahrain has been occupied alternately by Babylonians, Sumerians, Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, and Turks, among others. The site of the ancient Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, Bahrain was an important center linking trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley as early as 5,000 years ago. The Dilmuns were powerful and influential people. Situated along popular trade routes between southern Iraq and India and Pakistan, Dilmun was a center of business, a tradition Bahrain still holds dear as a financial hub of the Middle East. The Dilmun civilization began to decline about 2,000 BC as trade from India was cut off. From 750 BC on, Assyrian kings repeatedly claimed sovereignty over the islands. Shortly after 600 BC, Dilmun was formally incorporated into the new Babylonian empire. There are no historical references to Bahrain until Alexander the Great's arrival in the Gulf in the 4th century BC. In the fourth century BC, Nearchus, a general in the army of Alexander the Great, explored Bahrain, when it was known by the Greek name Tylos. Greek writer Pliny commented on Tylos' beautiful pearls in his writing in the first century AD. In the 3rd or 4th centuries AD many people living in Bahrain adopted the Christian faith. Nestorian Church records show that Bahrain was an established seat of its religion prior to and during the early years of Islam. When Islam made its first forays into Arabia, Bahrain was one of the first parts to accept the new religion.

Although Bahrain was ruled variously by the Arab tribes of Bani Wa'el and Persian governors, Bahrain continued to be known by its Greek name Tylos until the 7th century, when many of its inhabitants converted to Islam. In 640 AD, the Prophet Mohammed wrote the ruler of Bahrain inviting him to adopt Islam. A peaceful adoption of Islam occurred and for two centuries Christians and Muslims lived together in Bahrain. Bahrain still has a small indigenous Christian community.

A regional pearling and trade center, Bahrain came under the control of the Ummayad Caliphs of Syria, the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad, Persian, Omani and Portuguese forces at various times from the 7th century.In 1487 the Omanis conquered Bahrain and erected a fort whose ruins still exist and Portuguese also entered the scene until 1602 when Bahrainis themselves drove them from their island and then invited Persians in for protection.

In 1783, the Al-Khalifa family arrived from Kuwait and drove out the Persians. The Al Khalifa family, a branch of the Bani Utbah tribe that have ruled Bahrain since the 18th century, succeeded in capturing Bahrain from a Persian garrison controlling the islands in 1783. In the 1830s the Al Khalifa family signed the first of many treaties establishing Bahrain as a British Protectorate. Similar to the binding treaties of protection entered into by other Persian Gulf principalities, the agreements entered into by the Al Khalifas prohibited them from disposing of territory and entering into relationships with any foreign government without British consent in exchange for British protection against the threat of military attack from Ottoman Turkey.

Bahrain witnessed and enjoyed the type of modern administration for the first time when the late ruler Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa became the ruler of the country on the 2nd of December 1869. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the modern government administration was established. Manama municipality was founded in 1919 and became the third Arab Municipality Council. Customs and Police Directorates were opened on the Friday of the 21st of September 1921 in addition to other Government directorates. Bahrain was regarded by several neighboring countries and Arab countries as a pioneer in development.

The 20th of July 1920 has been regarded as an important date in the modern history of Bahrain. On that day, the Municipality Law which was the first written law in Bahrain was issued. It included several rules concerning cleanliness, animal care, and traffic laws. Interestingly though, there were only six cars in Bahrain at that time.

Public participation in Bahrain's history and of the other Arab Gulf Emirates began early in 1924. Bahrain witnessed its first municipality elections which distinctively allowed the participation of women. Public participation in the municipality elections in Bahrain and the participation of women in the election were indeed a great leap and a progressive move in the history of Bahrain. At that time, many European and other countries in the world, Britain among them, did not give woman the right to vote.

In 1932 oil was found in Bahrain, the first discovery of oil on the Arab side of the Gulf. The reserve, however, is relatively small. Accordingly, Bahrain moved judiciously through the twentieth century, diversifying its economy and nurturing international business relationships.

The main British naval base in the region was moved to Bahrain in 1935 shortly after the start of large-scale oil production. By the discovery of oil, and oil exports abroad, Bahrain obtained large financial revenues that enabled the country to progress and develop. Bahrain paved its way in building bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, and medical centers. Due to the new and profitable source of income from the oil industry, the country was able to make a great jump forward and progressed in every aspect of human life. Several banks were opened, and high rise buildings were erected.

In 1968, when the British Government announced its decision (reaffirmed in March 1971) to end the treaty relationships with the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, Bahrain initially joined the other eight states (Qatar and the seven Trucial Sheikhdoms now the United Arab Emirates) under British protection in an effort to form a union of Arab emirates. The nine sheikhdoms still had not agreed on terms of union by 1971, however, prompting Bahrain to declare itself fully independent on August 15, 1971.

Bahrain promulgated a constitution and elected its first parliament in 1973, but just 2 years later, in August 1975, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly after it attempted to legislate the end of Al-Khalifa rule and the expulsion of the U.S. Navy from Bahrain. In the 1990s, Bahrain suffered from repeated incidents of political violence stemming from the disaffection of the Shi'a majority. In response, the Amir instituted the first Bahraini cabinet change in 20 years in 1995 and also increased the membership of the Consultative Council, which he had created in 1993 to provide advice and opinion on legislation proposed by the cabinet and, in certain cases, suggest new laws on its own, from 30 to 40 the following year. These steps led to an initial decline in violent incidents, but in early 1996 a number of hotels and restaurants were bombed, resulting in several fatalities. Over 1,000 people were arrested and held in detention without trial in connection with these disturbances. The government has since released these individuals.

Bahrain was a model of stability. In 2000, as promised, the Amir inaugurated a new era of democracy in Bahrain. October of that year witnessed substantial political reforms. Citizens voted in elections that established a bi-cameral parliament. In 2001, women voted for the first time. Bahrainis today enjoy a greater voice in the laws that govern them - an uncommon freedom in the Gulf.

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