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Country Brief: Bahrain
November 18, 2004


The Kingdom of Bahrain is an archipelago of 36 islands located in the Middle East off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.[1]  Because of its size and location,[2] Bahrain has had to tread lightly in foreign affairs.  The country has established itself as the undisputed financial center of the Persian Gulf region.[3] 

 

Bahrain is a constitutional hereditary monarchy[4] that achieved its independence from Britain in 1971.[5]  Arabic is Bahrain’s official language, but English, Farsi, and Urdu are also widely spoken.[6]  Although education is not compulsory, it is offered to nationals and non-nationals of Bahrain at no cost.[7]  Non-nationals consist of a little over 1/3 of the population and approximately half of the workforce in Bahrain.[8] Non-nationals come from a variety of regions, including South Asia and the Philippines, among others.

Bahrain enjoys a prosperous economy, and is home to numerous multinational firms, especially firms with business in the Gulf.[9]  Bahrain enjoyed a 4.9% growth rate in 2003, but consistently suffers from high unemployment rates among the Bahraini population.[10]  The country imports most of its food, crude oil, machinery, and chemicals from Saudi Arabia, the US, Japan, UK, and Germany.[11]  Bahrain mainly exports petroleum and petroleum products, aluminum, and textiles to its major markets: the United States, India, and Saudi Arabia.[12]  Petroleum production and refining account for about 60% of export receipts, 60% of government revenues, and 30% of GDP.[13]

Bahrain has highly developed transportation and telecommunications facilities.  In 2003, the country had 185,800 main telephone lines in use, and 443,100 mobile phones.[14]  In 2000, only 730 km of the 3261 km of highways were unpaved.[15]  The country has three ports and harbors, and four airports.[16]  Bahrain is a member of the UN, the Gulf Cooperation Counsel,[17] and the Arab League.[18]  In September 2004, Bahrain and the US signed a Free Trade Agreement that will serve to increase trade between the countries. The agreement had not been approved for final implementation as of November 2004, but it is expected to be.

Factors that weigh in favor of doing business in Bahrain include:

  • Bahrain’s highly developed telecommunication and transportation systems,
  • the country’s liberal economic and social environments,[19]
  • the absence of income tax for foreign investors,[20]

Factors that weigh against doing business in Bahrain include:

  • possible long-term economic problems due to the depletion of oil and underground water resources, and the country’s dependency on Saudi Arabia for oil granted aid,[21]
  • Bahrain’s high unemployment rate, especially among the younger generation, and
  • possible terrorists attacks targeting Westerners due to Bahrain’s location.[22]


[1]Bahrain,” CIA: The World Fact Book, < http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ba.html>.

[2] It is centrally located among Persian Gulf countries, and is 274 sq. miles.

[3] “Why Bahrain,” Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB),

[4] A system of government in which a monarch is guided by a constitution whereby his/her rights, duties, and responsibilities are spelled out in written law or by custom.

[5] “Background Note: Bahrain,” Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, US Dept. of State, << />http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/26414.htm>

[6] Dept. of State.

[7] Id. This benefit resulted in an 89% literacy level in 2003.

[8] Id. Bahrain’s work force is approximately 350,000.

[9] Id. Foreign direct investment in 2002 was $218.3 million.

[10] Fact Book.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. Approximately 2/3 of the population has his or her own mobile phone.

[15] Id.

[16] Ports and harbors: Manama, Mina' Salman, Sitrah.  3 out of the 4 airports are paved.

[17] Other countries included in organization are: Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar.

[18] Bahrain is also involved in ABEDA, AFESD, AMF, ESCWA, FAO, G-77, GCC, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDB, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, ISO, ITU, LAS, NAM, OAPEC, OIC, OPCW, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, and WtrO.

[19] Bahrain has consistently ranked as the freest economy in the Middle East and the Arab world by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom.

[20] EDB.

[21] Fact Book.

[22] “Police in Bahrain Arrest Seven Terrorist Suspects,” World CNN.com,

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