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Bahrain - King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa

Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifah (born January 28, 1950 in Manama, Bahrain) is the current King of Bahrain (from 2002), having previously been its Emir (since 1999). His Majesty the King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is the oldest son of the late Amir of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa. H.M. the King was born in Riffa on the January 28, 1950, corresponding to Rabe'a Al Awal 7, 1369, on the Hijra calendar. At the age of six, he began his primary education in Bahrain in addition to reciting the Holy Quran and studying the principles of Islam and the Arabic language at the hands of professionals in the field of Islamic studies. This education had a positive impact on his mastering of Arabic and his appreciation of Arabic poetry, especially Nabati poetry and Bedouin poetry.

In 1964, following the completion of primary education with honors, H.M. the king was proclaimed Crown Prince on June 27, 1964. He completed his secondary schooling from Leys public school in Cambridge, England, returning to Bahrain in the summer of 1967. He joined the Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot in England graduating on September 14, 1968. He also studied at Sandhurst Academy. On his return, H.M. the king played an active role in preparing the outline of the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) which was bolstered by an Amiri Charter issued in August 1968 that created the BDF.

H.M. was appointed head of the Defense Directorate and became a member of the State Council which was established on January 19, 1970. He became Minister of Defense on August 15, 1971, when the Cabinet was formed and continued holding the post until the formation of the current Cabinet.

On June 21, 1972, H.M. the king joined the US Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the United States of America. He attained the National Diploma in military administration on May 31, 1972, from the Industrial College for the Military Forces in Washington. On June 9, 1973, he graduated with honors from Fort Leavenworth with a degree in leadership. He was awarded the military honor certificate from the United States of America for his achievements in military affairs since 1968 and his name was enlisted in the college's lieutenant honors list. After his return from the US, H.M. the king took active part in the country's development and expansion process in general and the BDF in particular.

H.M. interest in sports and youth was enhanced by his appointment as President of the Supreme Council of Youth and Sports in 1975 with Amiri decree No 2. H.M. the King has always shown interest in sports, especially horse riding. His keen interest in Arabian horses caused him to establish the Amiri stables in June 1977 which was registered in the World Arabian Horses Organization in September 1978.

Since his teenage years, H.M. the king had shown great interest in aviation and, in October 1977, he began his theoretical and practical training in flying helicopters. On January 14, 1978, H.M. the King graduated as a helicopter pilot and from that moment worked relentlessly to establish the Bahrain Amiri Air Force. H.M. the king was enlisted as an honorary permanent member in the Helicopters Club, United Kingdom, on January 30, 1979, for his extensive contribution to aviation in the Middle East since 1977.

H.M. the King has great interest in preserving heritage and continues to indulge in a number of sports activities and hobbies including falconry, golf, fishing, tennis and football, but H.M. primary interest has always been the continuous development and advancement of the Bahrain Defense Force to which he has allocated a great deal of time and effort.

King Hamad has seven sons and five daughters by his four wives. H.M. the King Hamad married his cousin on October 9, 1968, a union which bore him four children: H.R.H. Shaikh Salman on October 21, 1969, H.R.H. Shaikh Abdullah on June 30, 1975, H.R.H. Shaikh Khalifa on June 4, 1977, and H.R.H. Shaikha Najla on May 20, 1981. Crown Prince Salman received his high school education at the DOD school in Bahrain and earned a BA from American University in 1985. He is very Western in his approach and is closely identified with the reformist camp within the ruling family - particularly with respect to economic and labor reforms designed to combat corruption and modernize Bahrain's economic base.

Following the death of his father, Emir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa in 1999, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa inherited a country torn by sectarian violence and accustomed to dealing with the Shia majority underclass as a policing problem. He quickly embarked on a program of reform and reconciliation with Bahrain's Shia: he allowed exiles to return home, abolished the State Security Courts, and restored the parliament suspended since 1975. King Hamad understands that political stability is also tied to economic prosperity, and has undertaken far-reaching economic reforms intended to increase Bahrain's competitiveness, productivity and living standards. The result is that the Bahrain of today is a far cry from the Bahrain of the 1990s. Political parties operate freely and are preparing for a third parliamentary election cycle in 2010. Street protests are significantly fewer and less violent. Perhaps most tellingly, the leader of the mainstream Shia Wifaq party has said unequivocally that Wifaq will continue to engage in parliamentary politics because he believes there is more to gain in the long run by participating than by boycotting.

A graduate of the Mons Officer Cadet School and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, King Hamad takes a leading role in directing Bahrain's security policy, and carries the title of Supreme Commander. During his three decades as Crown Prince, he personally built the Bahrain Defense Force from the ground up, relying heavily on U.S. equipment and training. King Hamad believes that the peace and prosperity of the Gulf is a result of U.S. protection and friendship. The U.S. Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and two U.S. Patriot batteries are also stationed here. Bahrain's leaders are thus strong and outspoken proponents of a close and enduring security relationship between the United States and the region.

Bahrain was designated a Major Non-NATO Ally in 2002, and King Hamad believes it is important that Bahrain do its part in support of regional security. In March 2008, Bahrain became the first Arab country to take command of CTF-152, one of the coalition's naval task forces in the Persian Gulf. They have also deployed as part of the CTF-151 anti-piracy mission in the Arabian Sea. On 16 December 2009, King Hamad personally sAW off a company of Bahraini Special Security Forces, who were departing to serve as part of coalition operations in Afghanistan. This activism marked Bahrain as a leader among GCC states and has encouraged others such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia to become more involved.

King Hamad views an activist foreign policy as essential for a small state like Bahrain that wants its interests to be considered in the region. He chose the forward-leaning Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa as his foreign minister. In June 2009, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa penned a Washington Post op-ed in which he called on Arab leaders to engage with the Israeli people in support of the Arab Peace Initiative. Shortly thereafter, Bahraini officials traveled to Tel Aviv to bring back several Bahrainis who had been aboard a relief ship that was taken into Israeli custody when it tried to enter Gaza. Even modest steps in the direction of Israel set off criticism from local media and from members of parliament decrying "normalization." Recently, MPs in the elected (and Islamist-dominated) lower house voted to criminalize any contact with Israel or Israeli citizens even though most recognized that the (appointed) upper house will ensure the bill never becomes law.

King Hamad understands that Bahrain cannot prosper if he rules by repression. Bahrain's civil society is active and is engaged with Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) programming. There is more religious freedom in Bahrain than in most neighboring countries; Sunni and Shia mosques stand alongside Christian churches and Hindu temples. The National Charter (e.g., constitution) won approval in a 2000 referendum and restored the parliament that had been suspended in 1975. Two election cycles have seen the integration of the Shia opposition into the political process. While a Shia rejectionist fringe continues to boycott the process, their influence remains limited as the mainstream Wifaq party has shown an ability to work with the government to achieve results for its constituents. Discrimination against Shia persists, however, and the government has sought to deflect criticism by engaging with Wifaq and focusing more public spending on housing and social welfare projects. So long as Wifaq remains convinced of the benefits of political participation, the long-term outlook for Bahrain's stability is good.

King Hamad is personable and engaging. He rules as something of a "corporate king," giving direction and letting his top people manage the government. He has overseen the development of strong institutions with the restoration of parliament, the formation of a legal political opposition, and a dynamic press. He is gradually shifting power from his uncle, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who remains the head of the government, to his son, the Crown Prince.

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