Bahrain is an archipelago consisting of 33 islands, five of which are inhabited. It is located in the Gulf of Oman, off the east coast of Saudi Arabia, northwest of Qatar and southwest of Iran. Bahrain was a protectorate of Great Britain from 1861 until it declared independence on August 15, 1971.
According to the 2010 census, the total number of persons residing in Bahrain is 1,234,571. Of these, 568,399 are Bahraini citizens (46%) and 666,172 are expatriates (54%). Of the total population of Bahrain, 70% are Muslim, while the remaining 30% are Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or other.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is ruled by the Sunni Muslim Khalifa family, which has ruled Bahrain since taking control from the Persians in 1783. However, Bahrain is majority Shia Muslims. Although there are no official numbers and the issue is disputed, current unofficial estimates put the Shia population at between 60-70% and the Sunni population at 30-40%.
The Shia population has long complained of sectarian discrimination in the social, political and economic spheres. They have accused the government of biased naturalization policies designed to shift Bahraini demographics in favor of Sunni Muslims, and the continued hiring of Sunni foreigners, particularly from Pakistan and Yemen, to serve in the military and security apparatus while forbidding indigenous Shia from holding such positions.
In January 2011, in part inspired by the Arab Spring, government opposition / pro-democracy activists began to organize and called for a large demonstration on February 14.
The security force responsible for violently repressing the Bahraini pro-democracy movement is largely recruited from Pakistan, Syria and Yemen, allowing soldiers to act with greater disregard for the population they are repressing and helping to ensure there will be no internal military uprising against the government.
Visit the websites for organizations promoting human rights in Bahrain found in the right-hand column.
- Download: Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry Report (pdf)
- Foreign Policy: Obama administration using loophole to quietly sell arms package to Bahrain, January 27, 2012
- Salon: Congress Protests Obama on Bahrain Arms Sales, Feb. 03, 2012
- Washington Post Editorial: US must bring pressure to bear on Bahrain, February 7, 2012