The island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf) is well known to international airline crews as a stopover port on air routes between Europe and Australia.
The island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf (also known as the Arabian Gulf) is well known to international airline crews as a stopover port on air routes between Europe and Australia. International flights have been using it for more than forty years, few passengers take the opportunity of venturing beyond the airport building. They miss out on some historic and exotic sightseeing.
For centuries Bahrain has been a trading centre, and the vast majority of business is carried on in Manama, the State's largest town and capital. Manama has a population of about one-hundred thousand, and its importance as a financial centre for the Middle East is shown by the fact that fourteen Arab, American, and British banks are represented there.
Bahrain's wealth comes mainly from oil, though the State produces only seventy-thousand barrels a day - a modest total by Persian Gulf standards. But its oil refinery is one of the largest in the Middle East, and is sixty per cent Government owned. Apart from processing Bahrain's own oil, the refinery also takes more than one hundred-and-seventy-thousand barrels of Saudi-Arabian crude oil a day. The State receives royalties on the imported oil, and shares in the profits from producing and refining its own oil.
Though Bahrain's increasing prosperity is visibly apparent in the many new buildings in Manama building in western architectural styles, older Arabic-style buildings still predominate. The contrast between ancient and modern on the island, are symbolised by the New Palace - used for State receptions - and the Old Palace, which is now a teachers training college.
Most of the population is Muslim, but there are also five Christian churches on the island, including Roman Catholic, Anglican and Syrian Orthodox. The number of Bahrain women who wear the "aba" or black cloak, is declining, but those who do usually wear European-style clothes underneath.
Nevertheless, traditional values still predominate. The personal decorations women wear are mainly made of gold. They are valued, not just for the metal's decorative effect, but also as a way of storing wealth. In Manama's bazaar trinkets and jewellery are priced according to weight - not workmanship.
Although important and wealthy visitors are vital to Bahrain - several modern hotels having been built in recent years and even a Hilton Hotel is under construction on the seafront - the State is aiming to develop a accomprehensive welfare system. The older and poorer sections of the capital are being re-developed, and mass communications are being expanded.
Bahrain became independent from Britain in 1971, and the constitution which was established two year later defined it as an Arab-Muslim independent State. Most old customs were nevertheless retained and the Head of State, His Highness Shaikh Isa Sulman al Khalifa, is still available four days a week is the Rifaa Palace, or at the Government buildings to receive petitions on greetings from his subjects. His family has ruled Bahrain for nearly two centuries.
The Shaikh's official title is Amir, and as the non-elected Prime Minister, he presides over an eleven-man Cabinet, and a largely elected National Assembly. But every Bahrain national still has the right to have direct access to the Amir.
For the mass of Bahrain's population living standards are rising, and better housing is being provided. It was the Amir who gave the land for the State's biggest housing project - Isa Town, outside Manama. It will eventually house 35 thousand people, but at present only about 12 thousand live there - eight in a house.
Growing in importance for the State's economy is Bahrain's aluminium smelting plant - the largest of its type in the Middle East. The factory covers one-hundred-and-thirty-five acres and employs 2,400 people. The raw material is imported from Western Australia, and the factory handles about one-hundred-and-twenty-thousand years. Though run by an international consortium, the Bahrain Government is the largest shareholder.
With its large income from oil and the refinery, as well as the revenue from aluminium and associated re-export industries, Bahrain's future prosperity seems assured.