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10 Cool Facts about Bahrain
Bahrain is an independent kingdom, formerly under British protection, consisting of several islands in the Persian Gulf. It is situated about 13 miles (21 km) east of Saudi Arabia. Bahrain's location on the shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf has long made it strategically important.
1. Bahrain has an area of 231 square miles (598 sq km). Its main island, also called Bahrain, is 30 miles (50 km) long and 12 miles (19 km) wide. The kingdom contains, as well, the islands of Muharraq, Sitrah, Nabih Salih, Jida, and Umm Nassan; several uninhabited islands; and an extensive area of islets and shoals. The Hawar Islands, long disputed by Qatar, were awarded to Bahrain by the International Court of Justice in 2001.
2. Manamah (al-Manāmah), the capital and principal city, is at the northeast end of Bahrain Island. Made a free transit port in 1958, Manamah serves as the commercial center and headquarters for the fishing and pearling industries. There are deepwater anchorage and port facilities capable of accommodating conventional, container, and roll-on/roll-off ships. Bahrain Island is connected to Saudi Arabia and to Muharraq Island by causeways. Muharraq (al-Muḥarraq), the second most important city and port, is situated on Muharraq Island. Bahrain's international airport is there.
3. The name Bahrain, which is sometimes spelled Bahrein or al-Baḥrayn, is an Arabic word meaning "two seas." It once was applied to the mainland of eastern Arabia as well as to the island of the present kingdom.
4. Most Bahrainis are Arabs, of various origins. The kingdom has sizable Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, European, and American communities. Almost all of the people (84%) are Muslims, and Islam is the official state religion. Of the Muslims, about one-third, including the ruling Khalīfah family, belong to the Sunnī branch and the rest to the Shī‘ī branch. There are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Bahā'ī, and Parsi minorities. Freedom of religion is protected (with some limitations, including a ban on proselytizing).
5. The government provides extensive health, educational, and social services. Attendance is high both in primary and in secondary schools. The Arabian Gulf University, sponsored jointly by seven Gulf states, was founded in Manamah in 1980. The University of Bahrain was founded through the merger of existing institutions in 1986.
6. The petroleum industry, primarily the refining of imported oil, provides about 60% of state revenues. Oil was discovered in Bahrain in 1932 by the Standard Oil Company of California. In 1936 the ownership of Standard Oil's subsidiary, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (incorporated in Canada), was divided equally between Standard Oil and the Texas Company. Bahrain obtained a 60% controlling interest in the Bahrain Petroleum Company in 1974 and acquired the remainder in 1980. By the end of the 20th century, Bahrain's own oil reserves were essentially depleted and the government was encouraging economic diversification.
7. Other industries in the kingdom include the extraction of natural gas, shipbuilding, and the manufacture of aluminum, iron, steel, and chemicals. Offshore banking and financial services constitute a major source of revenue. The country's highly developed communication and transportation facilities have attracted numerous international corporations. Bahrain and the United States implemented a free-trade agreement in 2006.
8. Before the discovery of oil, pearling was the economic mainstay of Bahrain. The quality and the abundance of the pearls in Persian Gulf shoal waters are unsurpassed anywhere. The total annual production reached a value of $1 million or higher during the early 1920s but dropped to a quarter of that amount just before World War II. The pearl market declined partly because of the lack of an efficient marketing organization and partly because of a trend in buying habits away from genuine pearls.
9. Bahrain has virtually no water resources other than groundwater and seawater, and the limestone or sandy soil has never been suitable for farming. Rainfall is usually under 5 inches (130 mm) per year. The country suffers from ongoing desertification as well as coastal degradation owing to oil spills and other discharges.
10. Bahrain is ruled by a sheikh of the Khalīfah family. In February 2002 Sheikh Ḥamad ibn ‘Īsā Āl Khalīfah renounced the traditional title of emir and proclaimed himself king. A constitution, approved by referendum in 2001, established a bicameral National Assembly in 2002. The assembly includes an elected Chamber of Deputies and incorporates an appointed Consultative Council first formed in 1993. The two chambers have equal weight in legislation. A previous elected legislature existed from 1973 to 1975. The prime minister and government are responsible to the king, not to the National Assembly.