Welcome to MEED’s Guide to Doing Business in Bahrain, the newest addition to MEED’s Business Guide series. I am delighted that our latest guide covers the Kingdom of Bahrain, which is one of the most important markets in the region due to its close links with Saudi Arabia, and because of its long history of pioneering the region’s economic development. 

In the 1930s, Bahrain became the first country in the Arab world to discover oil. Then, in the early 1970s, with its oil fields beginning to age and production declining, it became a pioneer of economic diversification as it sought to develop a manufacturing economy around the Alba aluminium smelter. Towards the end of the decade, with civil war engulfing Lebanon, it superceded Beirut as the region’s banking capital and, today, remains one of the Middle East’s most important financial hubs.

Bahrain’s economic sophistication means it is a technologically advanced place to live and work and it leads the way in initiatives such as its national identity card system, where residents’ IDs are much more than just a form of identification. Bahrain’s economic dynamism combines with a social liberalism that contrasts with many of its Gulf neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia, which makes the island kingdom an attractive place for many expatriates to live when doing business with its neighbour across the King Fahd Causeway.

Bahrain is also unique in the Arab world because, despite being a Sunni Muslim country with a Sunni ruling family, the majority of its native population follow Shia Islam. Historically, this distinction has been largely an irrelevance, but it has become a fault line in Bahraini society since 2011 and the political uprisings that have spread across the Arab world. The disruption caused by the protests has knocked Bahrain’s economy over the past three years and growth has fallen behind its neighbours. But Bahrain is turning a corner and, supported by Riyadh, is recovering strongly. As the dust settles from the recent unrest, projects are poised to get under way again, while rents and other living expenses are still affordable. This means now is a prime time to do business in Bahrain.