Bahrain is a tiny island in the Persian Gulf that hosts the United States Naval Support Activity Bahrain, the home of the US Fifth Fleet; the US Department of Defense considers the location critical for its ability to counter Iranian military power in the region.
The Saudi Arabian government and other Gulf region governments strongly support the King of Bahrain. Although government officials and media often accuse the opposition of being influenced by Iran, a government-appointed commission found no evidence supporting the claim. Iran has historically claimed Bahrain as a province, but the claim was dropped after a UN 1970 survey found that most Bahraini people preferred independence over Iranian control.
Modern political history
Bahrainis have protested sporadically throughout the last decades demanding social, economic and political reforms.:162 In the 1950s, following sectarian clashes, the National Union Committee was formed by reformists; it demanded an elected popular assembly and carried out protests and general strikes. In 1965 a month-long uprising broke out after hundreds of workers at Bahrain Petroleum Company were laid off. Bahrain became independent from Britain in 1971 and the country had its first parliamentary election in 1973. Two years later, the government proposed a law called the "State Security Law" giving police wide arresting powers and allowing individuals to be held in prison without trial for up to three years. The assembly rejected the law, prompting the late Amir to dissolve it and suspend the constitution. It was not until 2002 that Bahrain held any parliamentary elections, after protests and violence between 1994 and 2001.
Despite its oil-rich Gulf neighbors, Bahrain's oil, discovered in 1932, has "virtually dried up" making it poorer than other countries in its region. In recent decades, Bahrain has moved towards banking and tourism making it one of the most important financial hubs in the region; it has since held some of the top international rankings in economic freedom and business-friendly countries, making it the freest economy in the Middle East. However, Bahrainis suffer from relative poverty. Semi-official studies found that the poverty threshold (the minimum level of income deemed adequate in a given country.) in the country in 1995 was .د.ب 308. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said that by 2007 it had increased to .د.ب 400 at least, putting half of Bahrainis under the poverty line. In 2008, the government rejected the UN's conclusion that 2% of Bahrainis lived in "slum-like conditions". Poor families receive monthly financial support. In 2007, CNN produced a documentary titled "Poverty in Bahrain", which was criticized by pro-government newspaper, Gulf Daily News. Al Jazeera produced a similar documentary in 2010.
The unemployment rate in Bahrain is among the highest in GCC countries. Sources close to the government estimated it between 3.7% and 5.4%, while other sources said it was as high as 15%. Unemployed was especially widespread among youth and the Shia community.:35 Bahrain also suffers from a "housing problem" with the number of housing applications reaching about 53,000 in 2010. These conditions prompted the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights to consider housing one of the most important problems in Bahrain.
Human rights in Bahrain improved after the government introduced reform plans in 1999–2002 but declined again in subsequent years. Between 2007 and 2011 Bahrain's international rankings fell 21 places from number 123 to 144 on the Democracy Index, as ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Freedom in the World index on political freedom classified Bahrain as "Not Free" in 2010–2011. A Freedom House "Freedom on the Net" survey classified "Net status" as "Not free" and noted that more than 1,000 websites were blocked in Bahrain.:1 The Press Freedom Index (by Reporters Without Borders) declined significantly: in 2002 Bahrain was ranked number 67 and by 2010 it had fallen to number 144. The Freedom of the Press report (by Freedom House) classified Bahrain in 2011 as "Not Free". Human Rights Watch has described Bahrain's record on human rights as "dismal", and having "deteriorated sharply in the latter half of 2010".
During the period between 1975 and 1999 known as the "State Security Law Era", the Bahraini government frequently used torture, which resulted in a number of deaths. After the Emir Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa succeeded his father Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa in 1999, reports of torture declined dramatically and conditions of detention
improved. However Royal Decree 56 of 2002 gave effective immunity to all those accused of torture during the uprising in the 1990s and before (including notorious figures such as Ian Henderson and Adel Flaifel.). Towards the end of 2007 the government began employing torture again and by 2010 its use had become common again.
The Shia majority ruled by the Sunni Al khalifa family since the eighteenth century have long complained of what they call systemic discrimination. They are blocked from serving in important political and military posts and the government has reportedly naturalized Sunnis originally from Pakistan and Syria in what Shia say is an attempt to increase the percentage of Sunnis in the population.
According to Khalil al-Marzooq of Al Wefaq, the number of those granted Bahraini nationality between 2001 and 2008 is 68 thousand. According to al-Marzooq, this number was calculated using official estimates by subtracting the population in 2001 (405,000) and natural increase (65,000) from the population in 2008 (537,000). In a rally against "political naturalization", Sunni opposition activist Ibrahim Sharif estimated that 100,000 were naturalized by 2010 and thus comprised 20% of Bahraini citizens. The government rejected accusations of undertaking any "sectarian naturalization policy". Shia grievances were exacerbated when in 2006 Salah Al Bandar, then an adviser to the Cabinet Affairs Ministry, revealed an alleged political conspiracy aiming to disenfranchise and marginalize Shias, who comprise about 60% of the population.
In August 2010, authorities launched a two-month-long crackdown, referred to as the Manama incident, arresting hundreds of opposition activists, most of whom were members of the Shia organizations Haq Movement and Al Wafa' Islamic party, in addition to human rights activists. The arrestees were accused of forming a "terrorist network" aiming to overthrow the government. However, a month later Al Wefaq opposition party, which was not targeted by the crackdown, won a plurality in the parliamentary election.