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In 1783, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. Facing declining oil reserves, Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center. Bahrain’s small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. In addition, the Sunni-led government has struggled to manage relations with its large Shia-majority population. During the mid-to-late 1990s, Shia activists mounted a low-intensity uprising to demand that the Sunni-led government stop systemic economic, social, and political discrimination against Shia Bahrainis. King HAMAD bin Isa Al-Khalifa, after succeeding his late father in 1999, pushed economic and political reforms in part to improve relations with the Shia community. After boycotting the country’s first round of national elections under the newly-promulgated constitution in 2002, Shia political societies participated in the 2006 and 2010 legislative and municipal elections. Wifaq, the most prominent Shia political party, won the largest bloc of seats in the elected lower house of the legislature both times. Beginning in February 2011, Bahrain’s opposition sought to ride out a rising tide of popular Arab protests to petition for the redress of popular grievances. In mid-March 2011, the Bahraini Government took action to halt the momentum of the growing protest movement by declaring a state of emergency that put an end to the mass public gatherings and increasingly disruptive civil disobedience. Manama also welcomed a contingent of Gulf Cooperation Council forces under the Peninsula Shield umbrella intended to protect critical infrastructure as Bahraini security forces deployed to the protest areas. The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), formed in June 2011 to investigate abuses during the unrest and state of emergency, released its final report in November 2011. The King fully endorsed the report, and since then Manama has begun to implement a number of the BICI’s recommendations, including improving policing procedures, reinstating dismissed workers, rebuilding some religious sites, and establishing a compensation fund for those affected by the unrest and crackdown. The opposition continues to express concern about the recommendations that have not been implemented. The summer 2011 National Dialogue between the government and political societies did not ultimately address core opposition grievances, and protests continued. Street protests have grown increasingly violent. A new round of National Dialogue was launched in February 2013 with participation by the government, both opposition and more pro-government political societies, and legislators.
location – Middle East, archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia