Bahrain, which means two seas in Arabic, once referred to a broad area encompassing parts of the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula
Today, it comprises the archipelago dominated by Bahrain Island, formerly known as Awal. The official number of islands is disputed due to recent land reclamation projects.
Following the end of the British protectorate, Bahrain became an independent state before declaring itself a kingdom in 2002. Shortly before independence in 1971, the United Nations ruled against an Iranian claim to the islands as a 14th province, resolving a long-running argument between Great Britain and Iran over their status. Another border dispute with Qatar over the Hawar Islands was finally settled in 2001 and they were retained by Bahrain. The kingdom is a member of the GCC.
The kingdom is divided into five governorates, each of which has an appointed governor
After a period of unrest in the 1990s, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa became emir in 1999, instituting a range of political reforms, including parliamentary elections, votes for women and the release of political prisoners. The National Action Charter, adopted in 2002, made Sheikh Hamad king and head of a nominally constitutional monarchy.
King Hamad holds broad executive powers, which include the appointment of ministers and the upper half of parliament, as well as the authority to dissolve the elected lower house of the assembly. He is also chair of the Supreme Judicial Council, which was set up in 2000 to regulate the countrys courts and separate the administrative and judicial branches of government. The king and his son, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, who was recently appointed deputy prime minister, have both served as commanders-in-chief of the Bahrain Defence Forces.
Al-Khalifa family members dominate the government, which is headed by Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the kings uncle. Sheikh Khalifa has occupied the position since 1971, making him the longest-serving premier in the world.
Bahrain held its first parliamentary elections in 1973. The parliament was subsequently dissolved by the late emir when it rejected the State Security Law, emergency legislation that was finally abolished in 2001. Since then, elections have been held in 2002, 2006 and 2010. The opposition Al-Wefaq party gained the majority of seats in the last two votes after boycotting the first. A national dialogue was instituted in February 2013 to resolve tensions stirred up by the Arab uprisings.
The National Assembly consists of an appointed Majlis al-Shura (Shura Council) and an elected Majlis al-Nuwab (Council of Representatives), both of which have 40 seats. The speaker of the assembly is from the upper chamber. Members of the lower house are elected by an absolute majority vote in single-member constituencies to serve four-year terms. The Majlis al-Nuwab has the ability to draft legislation that is passed to the Majlis al-Shura for approval. Approved acts are then sent to the king, who has six months to ratify them or return them to the National Assembly, in which case the support of two-thirds of both houses is needed to pass them into law.
The kingdom is divided into five governorates for administrative purposes, each of which has an appointed governor and an elected municipal council.
The judiciary has two branches. The civil law courts have jurisdiction over commercial, civil and criminal cases ,while the sharia courts tend to deal with family and personal matters relating to Muslims. Judges of the lower and middle courts are named by the Justice Ministry, while the Supreme Judicial Council appoints members of the Constitutional Court. Foreign judges, mostly from other parts of the Arab world such as Egypt, can be appointed to sit for two-year renewable terms.
The Economic Development Board, chaired by Crown Prince Salman, was set up in 2000 as a semi-autonomous public agency with the aim of encouraging investment from abroad. It focuses on projects in areas of the economy deemed a priority by the government, such as financial services, professional services, manufacturing, information and communications technology, logistics and transport. An eGovernment Authority has also been established to improve the provision of public services to businesses and private individuals.
Bahrain signed a free trade agreement with the US that came into force in 2006. The kingdom is currently home to the Fifth Fleet of the US Navy.
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