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Society of Bahrain

In the summer of 2006, shortly after Google Earth became publicly accessible, the Ministry of Information blocked the site, but, until then, the people of Bahrain could, for the first time – with just a few mouse-clicks – see the sharp contrast between the vast green palace grounds and coastal areas accessible only to members of the ruling family and the densely populated, dusty, predominantly Shiite villages. The inequality that they knew existed was now visible.

The censorship only generated more interest, and screenshots of the banned pictures circulated widely. Private landholding in Bahrain has long been a sensitive issue. Well into the 20th century the Baharna, the indigenous Shiite landowners, suffered the arbitrary confiscation of their properties by the ruling family and its allies. According to opposition sources, 95 percent of the nation’s land area is now privately owned, 80 percent by the royal family itself. Since the emergence of the oil economy in the 1950s, when industrial and real-estate development became far more profitable than agriculture – especially date farming – former agricultural land has been rapidly cleared for the construction of luxurious residential areas, office blocks, and golf courses. The former agricultural labourers and pearl fishers have flocked to the cities, where most live in the poor, crowded, working-class neighbourhoods of Manama and Muharraq.

al-Qudaibiya palace in Manama, the Prime Minister’s working palace, Source: Google Maps.
al-Rawda palace in Riffa, residence of King Hamad Al Khalifa
al-Rawda palace in Riffa
Sheikh Isa palace
al-Sakhir palace
al-Rawda palace in Riffa

Further Reading

Bahraini society remains deeply patriarchal. Until recently Bahrain had been a pacesetter among the Arab Gulf states in women’s education and employment
Bahrain’s formal school system is the oldest in the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Education is compulsory and free for all children from age 6 to 15
Bahrain’s private employers prefer foreign workers over indigenous, partly because the latter often lack the necessary skills
Bahrain was the first Gulf State to offer its citizens free health care. Bahrain scores well on the major health indicators
Bahrain has a low crime rate. While the penalties for drugs use are severe, the law does not specifically prohibit human trafficking

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