192-PART GUIDE TO THE WORLD: PART 13: BAHRAIN

OFFICIAL NAME

State of Bahrain

POPULATION

549,000

SIZE

The State of Bahrain is a tiny island off the coast of Saudi Arabia, 255 square miles in size (a 50th of the size of Belgium).

BEST MONUMENT

Like a miniature version of the Gateway to India in Bombay, the Bab al- Bahrain was built as a formal entrance to the city of Manama. It now houses the tourist office. The Ad-Diraz and Barbar temples are also popular attractions and date from the 2nd and 3rd millennia BC.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

Given the paucity of international movie stars from Bahrain, the honour may fall to Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, Bahrain's last ruler, who died in March this year after a reign of 38 years. He flirted briefly with democracy in 1975, but was put off the whole affair by troublesome unions. His popularity in the West stems from his staunch support of the Allied Forces during the Gulf War.

NATIONAL DISH

A whole barbecued kid served on a huge platter of rice fragrant with almonds and raisins.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

In 1932, Bahrain was one of the first countries in the Gulf to discover oil. This ensured its future wealth and an improved standard of living for its inhabitants. Life in Bahrain has also been helped along by its (comparatively) liberal attitudes towards the education of women and towards different religions, while its more relaxed attitude to nightlife and alcohol attracts a constant flow of tourists from Saudi Arabia.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

During the later years of the reign of Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, Bahrain's Shiite minority rose up in protest at alleged repressive practices against them. The riots, when some people were killed, were sparked off by the arrest of the imam of the Manama Shiite mosque in 1994.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

A long Arab headscarf to protect you from the sun and to help you blend in with everybody else.

HOW NOT TO BEHAVE

Don't take photographs of local women whose husbands, fathers or brothers look like they might be the sensitive type. And if you're a Saudi Arabian on an R&R break, don't overdo it with the alcohol.

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