Bahrain is a small island state near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family. The population in 2010 stood at 1,234,571, including 666,172 non-nationals. Inhabited since ancient times, Bahrain occupies a strategic location in the Persian Gulf.

It is the best natural port between the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and Oman, a source of copper in ancient times. Bahrain may have been associated with Dilmun, an important Bronze Age trade centre linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. It has been ruled by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and then Arabs, under whom the island became first Christian and then Islamic.

It's an oasis of social liberalism or at least Western-friendly moderation among the Muslim countries of the region. It's popular with travellers for its authentic "Arabness" but without the strict application of Islamic law upon its non-Muslim minority. Case in point: alcohol is legal here.

Although it has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its more relaxed culture has also made it a social and shopping mecca (so to speak), which has helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class not found in neighboring countries with just a rich elite and subsistence-level masses.


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