In 1783, the Sunni Al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings, it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. Facing declining oil reserves, Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center. Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. In addition, the Sunni-led government has struggled to manage relations with its approximately 70% Shia-majority population. During the mid-to-late 1990s Shia activists mounted a low-intensity uprising to demand that the Sunni-led government stop systemic economic, social, and political discrimination against Shia Bahrainis. King HAMAD bin Isa Al-Khalifa, after succeeding his late father in 1999, pushed economic and political reforms in part to improve relations with the Shia community. After boycotting the country's first round of democratic elections under the newly-promulgated constitution in 2002, Shia political societies participated in 2006 and 2010 in legislative and municipal elections and Wafiq, the largest Shia political society, won the largest bloc of seats in the elected lower-house of the legislature both times. Nevertheless, Shia discontent has persisted, often manifesting itself in street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence.

Bahraini 62.4%, non-Bahraini 37.6% (2001 census)
Muslim (Shia and Sunni) 81.2%, Christian 9%, other 9.8% (2001 census)

Country information from the CIA World Factbook.