As a result, the kingdom retains a comparatively cosmopolitan and socially relaxed atmosphere it is one of the few Gulf states to permit licensed restaurants to operate outside hotels, for example although conservative factions in parliament have urged a tightening of controls on alcohol and entertainment in recent years. Visitors from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are a significant revenue stream for the tourism and service industries.
The majority of the population is Shia Muslim, but many branches of government and the security services are dominated by the ruling Sunni elite. Distribution of wealth is uneven, although the government has made strides in improving employment opportunities for poorer sections of the population. It is not uncommon to see native Bahrainis stacking supermarket shelves or driving taxis, jobs that in many other Gulf states would be filled by expatriate workers from the Indian subcontinent or Southeast Asia.
Public sector companies typically work a Sunday to Thursday week, with many private businesses, particularly those working with firms in the nearby Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, also operating on Saturdays. The Islamic holy day is Friday. Business hours are curtailed during Ramadan, when many officials may be unavailable.
Bahrain is less strict than many other Gulf states in its enforcement of Islamic codes of conduct, but both men and women should dress and behave modestly when in public, particularly during Ramadan, when eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours are prohibited.
As in many other Arab states, personal relations can be important to securing local business and it may take several meetings to broach and conclude a transaction. Some flexibility may also be required with regard to the timing of appointments, but most Bahraini businessmen and women are familiar with Western business practices. English is widely spoken in government and business circles. The country is ranked 46th out of 189 economies for ease of doing business by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank.