The former emirate is an archipelago of 36 islands in the Gulf, lying close to the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia and the western coast of Qatar, with a land area of about 717 sq km.
References to Bahrain's history began with the arrival of Alexander the Great to the Gulf in the fourth century BCE.
Though Bahrain was ruled by various Arab tribes, it was known by its Greek name, Tylos, until the seventh century, when many of its inhabitants converted to Islam.
Modern political history
Al Khalifa family, a branch of the Bani Utbah tribe, has ruled Bahrain since the 18th century.
In the 1830s the Al Khalifa signed a treaty establishing Bahrain as a British protectorate. The agreement prohibited Bahrain from disposing of territory and forging relationships with any foreign government without British consent in exchange for British protection against the threat of military attack from Ottoman Turkey.
In 1968, the British government decided to terminate its treaties with Gulf shaikhdoms.
Bahrain initially joined Qatar and the seven shaikhdoms, now the United Arab Emirates, to form a union of Arab emirates. The nine shaikhdoms failed to agree on terms of union by 1971 and Bahrain declared itself independent on 15 August 1971.
In November 2000, Bahraini Amir Shaikh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa formed a committee charged with transforming Bahrain from a hereditary emirate to a constitutional monarchy within two years. The plan was put to a public referendum in February 2001 that was endorsed by 94.8% of voters.
On 14 February 2002, Shaikh Hamad pronounced Bahrain a monarchy and changed his constitutional status from amir to king.
Official name: Kingdom of Bahrain
Form of government: Constitutional hereditary monarchy
Gained independence: 15 August 1971
Bahrain was the first Gulf state to discover oil. Its revenues from oil and natural gas currently account for 16.5% of GDP and provide about 60% of government income.
Currency: Bahraini dinar (BHD) - 1 USD = (app) 0.37 BHD
Type of economy: Petroleum related industries
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, fish, pearls
Major industries: Oil products and refining, aluminium-smelting, offshore banking, ship repair.
GDP: $9.8bn (2002 est)
GDP annual growth rate: 3.5% (2002 est)
Per capita GDP: $14,000 (2002 est)
Imports: 65% of GDP (2002 est)
Exports: 81.1% of GDP (2002 est)
The Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) has a total personnel of 9000 and consists of an army, navy, air force, air defence, and royal guard units. The public security forces and the coast guard are detached from the BDF and report to the Interior Ministry.
Military budget: $215m (2001 est)
Army size: 10,700 active troops
Despite the fact the capital looks flashy and modern, the basic rhythms of life remain traditional and conservative.
Population: 724,000 (2003 est)
Languages: Arabic (official), English, Farsi, Urdu
Religions: Islam (Shia 70%, Sunni 30%)
Ethnic diversity: Arab 73%, Asian 19%, Iranian 8%
Literacy rate: 89.1%
Important media: Akhbar al-Khaleej (independent Arabic newspaper), Bahrain Tribune (independent English Newspaper), Gulf Daily News (independent English newspaper), Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation (State-run)
Sources: World Bank, countryreports.org, MSN Encarta, politinfo.com, The Almanac