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Bahrain Modern History

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.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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.

Contemporary History of BahrainEconomic crisis

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.

Criticism persists

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 lower house.

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 Minister posts.

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 States.

New protests

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 posts.

Arabic spring

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 Muslims.
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.

Political dialogue

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 the dialogue.

 
 

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