The name of Bahrain derives from an Arabic word meaning “Two Seas”, and refers to two facts, one that the islands contain two sources of water, freshwater springs and salt water in the surrounding seas. During the ancient Bronze Age civilization of Dilmun, Bahrain was an important centre linking trade routes between Mesopotamia to the north and the Indus Valley to the east as early as 5,000 years ago. Dilmun’s capital was a major port whose remains are visible today at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun. One of the world’s oldest and most enduring pieces of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, about discovering the source of eternal youth, is thought to be referring to Bahrain.
The Kingdom of Bahrain
The inhabitants of Bahrain converted to Islam during the 7th century. A regional pearling and trade centre, Bahrain came under the control of the Ummayad Caliphs of Syria, the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad, Persian, Omani and Portuguese forces at various times from the 7th century until the establishment of the Al Khalifa family, a branch of the Bani Utbah tribe that have ruled Bahrain since the 18th century. The country was also a British protectorate from the 1830s up to independence in 1971.
The political system is today a constitutional monarchy headed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. The Government of Bahrain is led by the Prime Minister, Prince Khalīfa bin Salman Al Khalifa. Bahrain has a bicameral legislature with a National Assembly comprised of two chambers; the Parliament which is elected and the Shura Council which is appointed by the King. Both chambers have forty members. Islamic ideals and beliefs provide foundation of the country’s customs, laws, and practices.
The official language is Arabic. English is very widely spoken and is the principal language of commerce. As the first Gulf state to discover oil in 1932, but with limited reserves, Bahrain has worked to diversify its economy over the past decade. Revenue from oil and natural gas is well below those of banking, finance and business, which have been the most widely heralded aspect of its diversification effort. Bahrain is a regional financial and business centre with large international financial institutions operating and having their regional headquarters in Manama.