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Middle East, Bahrain

Bahrain or Bahrein, officially Kingdom of Bahrain (Mamlakah al-Bahrain in Arabic), independent country in western Asia, comprising 33 islands on the western side of the Persian Gulf. The main island, also called Bahrain, lies 24 km (15 mi) east of Saudi Arabia and 29 km (18 mi) west of Qatar. The capital and largest city of Bahrain is Manama.

Bahrain entered recorded history about 5,000 years ago as a commercial trading center. Long under the influence of more powerful neighbors, it came under the domination of Iran in the 17th century. The al-Khalifa family, originating from the central Arabian Peninsula, established themselves as Bahrain's rulers in 1783 and has ruled ever since. A series of treaties in the 19th century gave Britain control over Bahrain's defense and foreign affairs. Dominant British influence lasted until Bahrain became independent in 1971.

More than 60 percent of Bahrain's population is native-born, in contrast to the populations of the other Persian Gulf states of Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, where foreign-born inhabitants outnumber the native population. Bahrain also contrasts with its neighbors in that Shias (the major sectarian movement of Islam) outnumber Sunnis (who form the vast majority of Muslims worldwide). In the 1930s Bahrain became the first Arab state in the Persian Gulf region to develop an oil-based economy, but its modest petroleum reserves have caused it to diversify into various manufacturing and service areas.

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