Due to its convenient location, Bahrain has been an important trading centre for centuries – it was certainly known to early Greek and Roman explorers. During the 7th century the territory was first occupied by Arabs and subsequently became famous for its pearl fishing.
In 1521 the Portuguese occupied the area and established a base. They remained in control until overthrown by the Persians (Iranians) in 1602 with British help. The area subsequently became part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. In 1872 the Arab Al-Khalifah family became rulers and have remained so ever since.
Bahrain signed its first treaty with Britain in 1816. This was followed-up by another in 1861 which formally made Bahrain a British protectorate. The area soon became an important commerce and shipping centre. A treaty agreed in 1913 between Britain and Turkey recognised Bahrain as an independent state. Bahrain became the first country in the Arabian Gulf to strike oil in 1932. Today some 70% of the national income comes from oil, which is all processed locally.
A naval base was established by the British in 1934. During the 1960s there was a phased reduction in the size of the British forces presence in the Gulf region, reaching full withdrawal in 1968. In 1970 a Council of State was set up to take over the running of the country. On 15 August 1971 full independence was granted, and a short while later Bahrain was admitted into the United Nations.
In 1973 a partly elected National Assembly was created, but this was dissolved in 1975 following a period of political agitation. In 1978 the oil industry was partly nationalised. After the Iranian Revolution on the opposite side of the Gulf, the five Arab Gulf states including Bahrain established the Gulf Cooperation Council in March 1981. Bahrain served as a major base for British military forces in the wake of the Iraq invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Air operations were conducted from Muharraq throughout ‘Desert Shield’ and ‘Desert Storm’.
Between 1994 and 1996, a campaign of civil unrest led by Shi’ite dissidents finally brought a crackdown from the Sunni-led government, which accused Iran of backing a plot to depose the head of state. A simmering dispute between Bahrain and Qatar over the Hawar Islands, which belong to Bahrain, was resolved in June 1998.
Following a favourable referendum in February 2001, the country became a constitutional monarchy on 14 February 2002, under which the Amir became the King of Bahrain.