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Country Reports

Bahrain Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

The wealthy kingdom of Bahrain, a small archipelago (population 1.3 million) in the Persian Gulf, is an uncommon destination for most Western travelers. Most trips to the country prior to the Arab Spring protests of 2011 occurred without issue due to satisfactory levels of comfort and security; however, travelers will have to consider the major risks Bahrain is currently facing.

REGIONS TO AVOID

Travelers are advised to avoid the western part of Manama (close to Sinabis, Sitrah, Diraz, Karzakan, and Bani Jamra), which is particularly sensitive to spontaneous demonstrations and protests. Access to the south of the island is forbidden due to the presence of an important military base.

TERRORISM

The terrorist threat faced by the Kingdom of Bahrain is to be taken seriously.

Security measures have been reinforced due to the turbulent regional context. Threats made by members of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) regarding Western interests in the Middle East are indicative of the high risk of terrorism in the country.

On October 21, 2015, 24 people suspected of belonging to an IS cell were accused of recruiting fighters and planning to carry out attacks in the kingdom - as well as in Iraq and Syria - and were sentenced by a Bahraini court. During the summer of 2015, a Shi'a group was responsible for two different bombings. In early January 2016, authorities dismantled a terrorist group believed to be affiliated with Hezbollah that was accused of planning attacks in the country. The same scenario was repeated in March 2017 when counterterror operations led to the dissolution of terrorist cells and the arrest of many presumed terrorists. In early 2017, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a warning reminding citizens that the security threat in Bahrain is serious. 

Three explosions were reported during the month of February 2017; although the attacks were claimed by a Shi'a group and targeted security forces rather than the general public, they were still considered terrorist acts.

POLITICS

The Kingdom of Bahrain is ruled by the Al-Khalifa royal family. The country is under high social and political tensions due to the hostility between the mostly Shi'a population and the Sunni regime, which is strongly supported by Saudi Arabia.

In November 2014, legislative elections unsurprisingly saw the strengthening of those already in power, as the opposition al-Wefaq party boycotted the election. The next legislative elections are scheduled for 2018.

The political climate was particularly tense in 2016 due to the numerous protests and executions that took place in the country. These often led to violent clashes with security forces, especially on Friday afternoons (day of prayer). The regime approved a controversial law in April 2017, allowing civilians to be tried in military courts.

Political tensions also came to a head with the execution of Shaikh Nimr al-Nimr on January 2. The announcement of his death by Saudi authorities angered Bahrain's Shi'a community, as al-Nimr was very respected, popular, and influential among Shi'a Muslims, especially in Iran and Kuwait. Since January 2, 2016, Shi'a opposition groups, including al-Wefaq, have staged numerous protests, particularly after Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Iran on January 5 following the looting and burning of the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Also on January 5, 2016, Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, suspended commercial flights to and from Iran.

On May 30, after the arrest of al-Wefaq leader Shaikh Ali Salman - who was accused of subversive acts and wanting to topple the government - and several other pro-democracy activists, many protests were reported in the kingdom. Additionally, on June 14, 2016, Bahraini authorities suspended all the activities of al-Wefaq, the main Shi'a opposition party, closed its offices, and froze its assets until further notice. The decision to suspend al-Wefaq's activities was taken a day after the arrest of Nabil Rajab, a prominent rights activist.

Another Shi'a preacher, Shaikh Isa Qassim, detained by Bahraini authorities since the summer of 2016, was accused of money laundering and colluding with foreign intelligence at the beginning of 2017. This accusation led to protests in Manama and violent (sometimes deadly) clashes with security forces. In May 2017, Qassim was condemned to one year in prison; the Shi'a population responded by planning a sit-in in Diraz, Qassim's hometown. Authorities responded violently to the sit-in and five activists were killed.

Demonstrations and protests are illegal in the kingdom, therefore government forces violently repress such actions. It is advised to monitor the situation and avoid demonstrations and protests of any kind; they are usually organized on Thursday and Friday afternoons. During this time, traffic may be disrupted.

SOCIAL RISK

In 2011, Bahrain's relatively calm social climate, which persisted despite violent clashes that broke out in 1994 and 1999, was disrupted by the shock waves of the Arab Spring. Regular protests and anti-government marches have since taken place. Incidents between hundreds of opposition sympathizers and security forces are regularly reported in downtown Manama (the capital) and in the outskirts of the city, as well as in many areas with majority Shi'a populations (e.g., Sanabis, Bani Jamra, Diraz, Karzakan, and Sitra). Since the beginning of this domestic crisis, more than 100 people have been killed in a vicious cycle of demonstrations and heavy-handed repression. Due to particularly severe counterterrorism laws, most demonstrations are strictly forbidden in the kingdom. Gatherings organized by Shi'a opposition movements are frequently forcefully dispersed by security forces. Hope of resolving the current crisis in the short-term is very low.

It is strongly advised to not take part in any protest or demonstration. During such events, traffic may be disrupted.

TRANSPORT

Located off the Dammam coast of Saudi Arabia, the island of Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by a 24 km (15 mi) bridge.

Bahrain's road network is well developed.

Vehicles are driven on the right side of roadways. Only Bahraini and international driving licenses are accepted. The country has strict drunk driving laws. With a "zero tolerance" policy, Bahraini authorities can arrest drivers or levy a fine of more than USD 1067 (EUR 1000) if caught drinking and driving.

Public transportation and taxis are usually safe and reliable. However, some sexual harassment cases have been reported. Uber ridesharing is also well established in the country.

The Bahrain international airport is located 7 km (4 mi) away from Manama and connects Bahrain to many countries. It is considered a hub for the airline company Gulf Air. In January 2016, Bahrain banned flights to and from Iran.

Foggy conditions and sandstorms commonly occur and can disrupt traffic. Bahrain also experiences heavy rains that can lead to flooding.

The government has imposed a curfew in its territorial waters from 18:00 until 04:00 (local time).

CRIMINALITY

Visits are usually trouble free and petty crimes are not frequent. Some cases of sexual harassment against women have been reported. Women should avoid traveling alone, especially at night, even by taxi.

HEALTH

All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.  

Diarrheal diseases are common in Bahrain. Avoid drinking tap water and eating raw food.

On April 10, 2016, the first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was reported in Bahrain. MERS is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (MERS‐CoV). Typical MERS symptoms include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is common, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported. Approximately 36 percent of reported patients with MERS have died.

An outbreak of measles occurred in May 2016, with seven reported cases in fewer than two weeks (from May 9 to May 19). All cases were reported among non-immunized individuals (four adults, three children). Measles is a contagious disease transmitted through saliva and mucus (emitted during coughs and sneezes). It primarily affects children and remains one of the main causes of child mortality in the world today. A vaccine against the disease exists.

Animal rabies is present in the country. The main line of defense against rabies is to avoid contact with both domestic and wild animals (bites, scratches, licks).

NATURAL RISKS

In terms of weather-related concerns, sand and dust storms, as well as periodic drought, are not uncommon.

During the summer (April to October) temperatures can rise to 50°C with humidity.

In November 2015 the country was hit by flash floods that led to substantial material damage.

LEGAL

It is mandatory to keep your passport with you at all times.

When in Bahrain, travelers should respect local traditions and customs, especially those linked to Islam: do not eat, drink, or smoke in public during Ramadan (in 2017, it should take place between May 27 and June 25), avoid public displays of affection (particularly near religious places), etc. Entering mosques or other Muslim religious sites is generally prohibited for non-Muslims, except for sites oriented toward tourism.

Alcohol consumption is authorized, but avoid drinking in public. It is strictly prohibited to drink and drive.

Authorities may refuse the entry of videos, cassettes, and DVDs.

Drug consumption and drug trafficking is strictly forbidden and condemned by law.

Climate

Bahrain is very hot (38°C) and humid from April until October. Sandstorms can strike during the summer months. From November until the end of April, temperatures are mild (18°C in January) but nights are cool. Rain can fall between December and March, sometimes accompanied by strong winds.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +973 Police: 999 Fire Dept.: 999 Ambulance: 999

Electricity

Voltage: 230 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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