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Bahrain Index
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Constitutional Background

Bahrain is a very small state with two main islands and some reefs and islets.  The country is host to the administrative headquarters of America's Fifth Fleet. Britain is still influential as the ex-colonial power and has an air force base in Bahrain. For Saudi Arabia, liberal Bahrain is a leisure site; it has no ban on alcohol.  Since the territory provides little oil, Bahrain relies on services such as offshore banking and tourism. Its 400.000 citizens are rich enough to have attracted 200.000 foreign workers.  Two-thirds of the Bahrainis are Shia Muslims (i.e., the Iran school), but the Sunni minority of the al-Khalifa family ruled the country for more than 200 years.

With the National Charter (2000), its adoption by referendum (2001) and the New Constitution (2002), Bahrain abolished its formerly authoritarian ways and turned to constitutionalization.  The State of Bahrain was renamed "Kingdom of Bahrain", Sheikh Hamad declared himself King Hamad and now calls his decrees Royal Orders.

History and News

  • 24 Oct 2002: Parliamentary elections.
  • 9 May 2002: First municipal elections (after much earlier votes for municipal councils under British protection during the 1920s) with 51% turnout and about 10% women candidates.
  • 14 Feb 2002: New Constitution; Bahrain becomes a kingdom.
  • 17 Feb 2001: Amir Sheikh Hamad declares Bahrain a constitutional monarchy.  Crown prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad is appointed head of the committee to implement the charter.
  • 14/15 Feb 2001: Referendum on National Action Charter (NAC) for European-style constitutional monarchy wins 98% approval with a 90%-turnout among the 217.000 registered voters.  All Bahrainis aged over 20 years are allowed to vote -- for the first time including women.
  • 5 Feb 2001: Hundreds of political prisoners are released.
  • March 1999: Sheikh Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa succeeds his father in the rulership as Amir.  He releases more than 800 political detainees and convicted prisoners in several stages from June 1999 through late 2000, noticeably declines the use of the state security courts, and offers citizenship to the stateless minority of Bidoons.
  • March 1997: State Security Court begins closed-door trial of 59 people who were arrested in June 1996 and paraded for public "confessions" of recruitment by Iran and training by Lebanese Hizbullah to overthrow the Bahraini regime.
  • Feb 1996: Security forces under their British chief ransacked mosques for subversive literature and arrested leading clerics.
  • 1995: 38 deaths during violent clashes with the police and about 15.000 arrests are burying the reform movement.
  • Dec 1994: 14 signatories of a public petition seek return to a liberal constitution, women's suffrage, and an elected assembly. The petition is later signed by 25,000 people and presented to the Amir.
  • 1993: Consultative Council (Shura) installed.
  • 1975: Parliament is dissolved after objecting to the fierce 1974 State Security Law; Constitution is suspended.
  • 1973: First Constitution adopted; parliamentary elections.
  • 15 Aug 1971: Independence from Britain starts a short-lived democracy.
  • 1861: British protectorate.
  • 1783: Conquest by the al-Khalifa family.
  • 1602: Persian rule.
  • 1521: Portuguese rule.

For methodology see: Comparing Constitutions and International Constitutional Law.
© 1994 - December 15th, 2010 / For corrections please contact A. Tschentscher.