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History of Bahrain

It is unclear how long the island of Bahrain has been settled, however its first mention comes in the 500s BC when it was a part of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid rulers. It then fell under Greek influence and Alexander the Great in the 300s BC. From that point until the 600s the island nation has little known history; the desert landscape wasn't inviting for many settlers as it generally fell under the rule of the Persians.

During much of Bahrain's early history the island's success was based on trade, most particularly the pearl trade, which they found in their nearby waters.

In the 600s the nearby Arab arrived with the religion of Islam the people living here, known as the Bani Abd al-Qais quickly adopted Islam in 629 AD and the Prophet Mohammed actually ruled the land during his life via his representatives. Bahrain soon continued its pearl diving economy, but also became a center of learning under Muslim influence.

In the 900s Aby Sa'id al-Hasan al-Janaby led a revolution that eventually overcame Bahrain and centered himself on the island. These people, the Qarmatians established what they hoped to be a utopian society, in which everyone was equal and most items were shared. Unfortunately, in order for people to buy in to their approach they resorted to violence and takeover. They led sieges on Bagdad and Mecca, taking the latter in 930. They destroyed some holy sites and brought the Black Stone to Bahrain.

The Qarmatians ruled over most of the Middle East as even Baghdad and Cairo submitted to them. However this group, who claimed to be Muslim, ruled with a heavy fist and used numerous slaves to accomplish their economic goals. By 976 they had been beaten abroad as their empire began to decline. Then in 1058 an internal revolt ended their rule on Bahrain as the Uyunid dynasty took over.

The Uyunids ruled for about 150 years, after which time instability ensued. A number of rulers came to govern the people, beginning with people from eastern Arabia, then from Hormuz, along with the interruption of Persian rulers. Then in the 1400s the Jarbids took control and encouraged Sunni Muslim.

In the 1400s and 1500s the Europeans were desperately trying to secure Indian Ocean trading routes and this led to the Europeans arrival to Bahrain in 1485. This first group, the Portuguese latter made a strong impact as their naval forced arrived in 1521 to take over the pearl industry. The Portuguese killed the king and made the island a stronghold. They remained here, controlling the pearl industry during the time until the early 1600s.

In the early 1600s, as Portuguese power was being weakened, the people revolted and overthrew the Portuguese. However this only led to Persian takeover as it fell under the umbrella of the Safavid Empire in 1602. Under Safavid rule Shia Islam was encouraged and the island again became a center for learning. However this also slowly destroyed Safavid power since the educated clerics sought greater independence and the Safavid state wasn't as religiously driven as many of this young cleric sought.

As the Safavid power declined in the 1700s the Omanis entered Bahrain. The Omanis took little time and effort overseeing their new lands though as it became chaotic, encouraging the Omanis to sell the land back to the Persians just 19 years later in 1736. This rule was again short lived though as a group of Arabs retook the land in 1753. The end of this century moved the island from ruler to ruler until the Al Khalifa rulers finally took power in 1797, but then the Omanis took it back in 1802.

In 1820 the Sunni Al Khalifa rulers turned to the United Kingdom to get their lands back. The British obliged and soon the Al Khalifa had regained power with British support. With British protection, Bahrain expanded its economy and welcomed foreigners in to work in this industry, most notably Indians and Persians.

This growth continued into the 1900s as Bahrain welcomed numerous schools, improved healthcare, and underwent a number of other institutions suggested by the British. As people protested these changes and the liberalization of the country many people were pushed into exile; if a ruler protested, the British simply replaced him with his son.

In 1932 oil was discovered in Bahrain. This led to consequences in World War II as the Italians tried to bomb the oil fields, while the British staunchly defended them.

In the 1950s the working class from the oil industry began to protest their rights, protections, benefits, and pay. They began regular protests and fought British occupation. Despite arresting these leaders, the protests continued into the 1960s.

In 1968 the British decided to step down from power in the Persian Gulf, giving Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial States (modern day United Arab Emirates) independence. These regions joined to form a single county, however after three years the emirates had not concluded a union so Bahrain became formally independent in 1971.

Since independence Bahrain has successfully exploited every opportunity. They welcomed the United States in establishing a military base, they took control of numerous banking industries when Lebanon struggled in the 1970s, they gained greater oil prices during the various Middle Eastern wars and have filled their employment with temporary workers, only giving out as many visas as is needed to guarantee the local citizens still have jobs.

In the 1970s the government also created a constitution, but it was turned down. The constitution was in part turned down due to conservative power growth. A conservative Islamic movement had spread across the region in the 1970s and in 1979 the Persian government was overthrown in favor of a theocracy. This led to attempts to overthrow Bahrain's government as well, but these attempts failed as Bahrain clung to their neighbors for protection.

The 1990s began with Iraq's invasion of nearby Kuwait and further regional tensions, but again the country survived the scare. That decade, along with the 2000s has been marred by continued political battles as the majority Shia population disagrees with numerous policies of the ruling Sunni Al Khalifa family.

In 2011 and 2012 a number of protests arose against the government and the ruling family, partially led by the overthrow of Libya's and Egypt's rulers. These protests have, at times been met with violence by the military and even deaths. This has escalated the protests and in March, 2012 nearly a quarter of the country's population marched in protest. This situation is still unresolved, but most violence from the government has subsided.

This page was last updated: March, 2013