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Bahrain is a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf, named after its residents' feelings towards weather. It's so tiny that its native population is only some 600,000, although that number is more than doubled by indentured servants immigrant workers. In 1971 Bahrain became independent from Britain and declared itself a kingdom. The king rules as an absolute monarch with control over appointment of the Prime Minister (currently the King's uncle), his ministers, the judiciary, and the armed forces. Although Bahrain has some oil and natural gas reserves, these are tiny compared to other countries in the region, and since independence there has been a focus on turning Bahrain into a regional financial centre.

The desire to diversify away from reliance on hydrocarbons has also given rise to a rapidly expanding tourism sector. Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by the 25 km King Fahd Causeway and visitors from Saudi Arabia constitute a whopping 70% of all foreign arrivals.[1] Why would so many of the fine upstanding (male) Salafists from the other end of the bridge wish to visit this tiny lump of rock and sand? Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll baby! Bahrain has long had relaxed (by regional standards) laws on alcohol consumption with most 4 and 5 star hotels having fully licensed bars and, despite some recent crackdowns, there is an actual night life scene. Hardly surprising then that Thursday evenings are very busy indeed (in one direction) on the causeway. This has given rise to Bahrain being termed the brothel of the Gulf [2] and the 25 km connection to Saudi Arabia being nicknamed the Johnny Walker Bridge.[3]

Bahraini uprising of 2011[edit]

Bahraini protesters shot by security forces, February 2011

As part of the wave of civil disobedience in the wake of the Arab Spring, Bahrain saw serious protests, the remnants of which continue until this day. Citizens demonstrated (most of whom were of the Shi'a Muslim majority) with the aim of achieving greater political freedom and equality (there is almost none), constitutional changes, the release of arrested Shi'a men and boys, and finally they called for an end to the monarchy of Sunni Muslim King Hamad bin Isa Al KhalifaWikipedia's W.svg[4] (perhaps here they were overreaching just a bit). Protesters in the capital camped for days at the iconic Pearl Roundabout until the dictatorship sent for help from the Gulf Cooperation CouncilWikipedia's W.svg. On 14 March 2011, 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and the UAE arrived and together with local forces, brutally crushed the uprising. [5] Dear old King Hamad declared martial law and a 3-month state of emergency. The police carried out night raids in Shi'a neighborhoods and beatings at random checkpoints across the nation. There was widespread organised denial of medical care for the injured. [6]

Demonstrations have continued since then with some drawing as many as 100,000 participants (some 15% of the native population). More than 80 citizens have been killed, five of them due to torture in police custody, and nearly 3,000 have been officially arrested. [7] The UN-supported Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, commissioned by the King, confirmed the dictatorship's use of systematic torture as well as a whole slew of other human rights violations. The commission also rejected the Bahraini government's claims that the protests were instigated and funded by Shi'a majority Iran.[8]Although the commission report was lauded by some for its independence, there was also significant criticism of it going easy on members of the Royal Family and not specifically naming officials responsible for the documented abuses.[9]. The Bahraini government gave itself a target of implementing these recommendations by the end of February 2012.[10]

In 2015 Amnesty International issued a major report which was very critical of the government, stating that torture, detentions and excessive use of force against peaceful activists remained widespread in Bahrain. All of this despite the government insisting they had exceeded the provisions set out in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry.[11]

There was also sporting fallout from the 2012 uprising. Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa (yes, a member of the ruling family) became embroiled in controversy when he was appointed President of the Asian Football Confederation in 2013, and later announced his desire to lead the global governing body of football, FIFA. Human rights groups alleged that he was complicit in the imprisonment and torture of an estimated 150 Bahrain footballers and other sportsmen in the aftermath of 2011. Naturally, Sheikh Salman denies these claims.[12][13]

See also[edit]


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