Contradictions between Sunnis and Shiites
have characterized Bahrain's modern history. The Shiite
majority has often protested that it has less influence
than the leading, Sunni regime. In 2002, the country
gained a new, more democratic constitution and the first
general elections were held. The power has nevertheless
remained in the hands of the royal house.
In the late 1960s, the British decided to withdraw
from the Persian Gulf countries. The intention was that
Bahrain would then be part of the United Arab Emirates,
but the country chose to stand outside. Iran, in
connection with the British withdrawal claim on Bahrain
but bowed to the results of a UN report which showed
that the people wanted to be independent. In August
1971, Bahrain became an independent state.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Bahrain. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
A year later, the new nation was shaken by riots when
opposition groups demanded democratic reform. The Emir
considered it more or less compelled to introduce a
constitution which included a partially elected
parliament. In the parliament elected in 1973, left-wing
sympathizers gained the majority. But in 1975 the emir
dissolved the parliament.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 set the stage
for all parliamentary efforts in Bahrain. Then the
tension between the Sunni and the Shia intensified as
part of the political everyday life in the country.
Shi'a Muslims protested that they were being treated
less favorably in society, while the Sunnis were trying
to curb the influence of powerful Shi'ite Iran. In the
autumn of 1981, some 60 Shi'ites - most of them native
Bahrainis - were arrested for suspecting an
Iran-inspired coup against the Emir. Another attempt at
a coup d'état was disrupted in 1985.
Economic developments were slowed down by the Kuwait
War of 1990-1991. Growing unemployment caused the
popular dissatisfaction to increase. During the 1990s,
Bahrain was repeatedly shaken by riots and riots that
stemmed from the dissatisfaction of the Shi'ite Muslim
opposition. In 1994, the Shia Muslims launched a call to
re-establish parliament. In 1996–1997 several explosions
and assassinations took place. Between 1994 and 1997,
more than 30 people were killed, most of the foreign
migrant workers who were blamed for unemployment. The
regime blamed the unrest on Iranian propaganda, but Iran
rejected all allegations.
The opposition instead claimed that Bahrain's
security service was behind the death. The ruling family
Al Khalifa was helped by Saudi Arabia to quell the
unrest and thousands of people were imprisoned.
In March 1999, the ruler of Bahrain died since 1961,
the emir Isa. He was succeeded by his son Hamad bin Isa
Al Khalifa. The change of power meant a change in
domestic politics. The new emir promised increased
democracy, likely to dampen opposition within the
country and criticism from the outside world.
Parliament is formed
Hamad announced that a parliament with legislative
powers would be re-established. At the same time,
existing security laws were abolished and political
prisoners were released. Following a referendum, a new
constitution came into force in 2002. Thus, Bahrain
became a constitutional monarchy with a legislative
parliament (see Political system). The emir changed
title to king.
In the spring of 2002, the first general elections
were held in 30 years when the Bahrainis were allowed to
vote in local elections. In the autumn elections were
held for the new parliament's lower house, but the
election was boycotted by the opposition, which
considered that the constitution would be controlled by
the royal family through the constitution.
Eight women ran for parliament, but won no seat. Most
who came in were moderate Islamists or secular
politicians. After the election, six women took their
seats in Parliament's royal upper house.
In the government that the king appointed a month
later, there were several Shia Muslims, including the
Minister of Social Affairs and the Minister of Justice.
On other heavy items, the old Sunni Ministers remained.
At a government reform in 2004, the king appointed a
woman for the first time as minister.
Most political groups that boycotted the previous
parliamentary elections decided to take part in the 2006
elections. The largest Shia group, al-Wifaq, cooperated
with the liberal left-wing al-Waad and some independent
candidates. Together they received 18 of the 40 seats.
The Sunni Muslim groups and independent candidates who
supported them received a majority with 22 seats. For
the first time, a woman was elected to Parliament's
After the election, the king appointed a government
with the same people as before on the key posts.
However, a supporter of al-Wifaq became Deputy Foreign
Minister and for the first time, a government-friendly
Shia Muslim was named one of the three Deputy Prime
Despite the political changes, criticism of the royal
house and the government continued to grow in both Sunni
and Shiite circles. One reason was dissatisfaction with
high unemployment, another was resistance to Bahrain's
support for the United States in the war on terrorism
after 2001. On several occasions violent demonstrations
took place against both the regime and the United
Prior to the October 2010 elections, several attacks
were made against Shia Muslims. Regime-critical blogs
were closed, the opposition's newsletter was withdrawn,
a Shi'ite Ayatollah was deprived of its citizenship and
25 Shi'am Muslims were accused of being part of a
terrorist movement with plans to overthrow the king.
Among them were several leaders of the opposition, such
as human rights activist Abdeljalil al-Sinqais,
representative of the Shia Muslim political movement al-Haqq.
Many analysts felt that the regime's tough blow was
due to the takeover of conservative groups within the
royal family. Another explanation was that the rulers
feared and wanted to quell any influence from Iran.
In the elections, according to the Election
Commission, al-Wifaq was the largest, with 18 of the 40
seats in the parliament's lower house. Both al-Wifaq and
the secular al-Waad claimed that the regime prevented
thousands of voters from voting on the grounds that
there were errors in their registration. Prime Minister
Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who has held his post for
40 years, after the election presented a government with
the same people as before on the heaviest ministerial
In February 2011, the wave of protests from other
parts of the Arab world also reached Bahrain. Several
thousand protesters filled the Pearl Square in Manama to
demand regime change. The protests continued despite
being banned by the government and riot police hit with
tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.
According to the authorities, the majority of
protesters were Shi'ite Muslims who, with the support of
Iran, were behind the unrest and attacks on Sunni
As the regime became increasingly difficult to control
the situation, the royal family sought help from the
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In mid-March, forces
began arriving mainly from Saudi Arabia but also from
the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In total, several
thousand foreign soldiers and military came to the
country. At the same time, the king introduced a state
of emergency in the country for three months. The
protesters were shortly thereafter driven away from
Pärltorget, including by means of tanks.
All the MPs who belonged to al-Wifaq left their seats
in protest of the violence.
The next time mass arrests were carried out by regime
critics. Also, hundreds of doctors and other health care
professionals were arrested for providing care to
protesters, according to human rights organizations.
About 20 of those arrested were sentenced to 15 years in
prison for conspiring against the royal house and
spreading false messages, but half of them were later
acquitted or the sentence reduced.
According to a report compiled by an independent
commission appointed by the king, 40 people were killed
in connection with the protests and 1,600 were arrested.
The report testified about the torture and violence
perpetrated by the security forces and failed to prove a
link between Iran and the protests, as government
officials previously claimed. Shortly thereafter, the
head of the security service was replaced. Several
police officers were charged with murder and assault
against protesters. Relatives of 17 of the protesters
killed were promised damages.
When the state of emergency was lifted on June 1, the
King called for a national political dialogue on the
country's future after the crisis. All groups would be
welcome to participate in the talks which would start on
July 1st. At the last moment, Shiite al-Wifaq agreed to
participate. A spokesman for the organization said that
its most important demands were partly that the
country's prime minister in the future represents the
largest grouping in parliament, and that all those
arrested in connection with the regime's strike against
the opposition should be released. After only a couple
of weeks, however, the Shia Muslims decided to interrupt