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Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy. The King, His Majesty Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, is head of state; and The Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, and the Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, presides over the cabinet as the head of government. The legislature consists of an elected lower house, the Chamber of Deputies; and an appointed upper house, the Majlis As Shura or Consultative Council.
The land is made up of 33 islands, the largest of which is Bahrain Island. Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken and understood. Islam is the main religion in the country, although there are minority Christian and Jewish populations. Religious freedom is guaranteed by law in Bahrain, and in fact there are Jewish and Christian Members of Parliament.
Bahrain is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the regional compact that includes clauses for mutual self-defense, economic integration, and diplomatic coordination. The GCC countries are Bahrain’s most important allies, and there is a long history of commerce and relationships within the countries of the region.
Although Bahrain derives a significant part of its national income from oil, it is actually the least oil-dependent country in the region. It benefits from a competitive tax regime and a sophisticated financial sector that facilitates the free flow of capital and foreign investment. In recent years, Bahrain has joined Malaysia in leading the Islamic world in Shari’a-compliant finance. The government has modernized its regulatory framework in order to encourage foreign direct investment and diversifying its manufacturing base. Bahrain also benefits from a thriving tourist industry with over 8 million visitors a year, most coming from neighboring states to enjoy the relaxed environment.
Bahrain can attribute its rapid economic growth – among the highest growth rates in the Arab world – to several factors: the recent boom in oil prices, the interest by Asian and Western financial houses in Shari’a finance, and the economic freedom encouraged by the government. The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal rank Bahrain’s economy the number 10 most free in the world, just behind the United States. Bahrain has trade agreements with 30 countries and maintains a Free Trade Zone with the 5 other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. It is the first Gulf State to have a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, formalized in August 2006. Since the FTA was signed, Bahraini exports to the United States have increased by over 45%.
More information about Bahrain may be obtained from these resources.