A profile of the “most liberal” Arab and Muslim nations puts Bahrain at the number one spot – far ahead of potential rivals like Tunisia, Lebanon, Kuwait and Jordan.
The write-up says: “Bahrain is the Arabic world’s most liberal country partly because it is the center for commerce in the Gulf. This outward-looking nature was further strengthened by education reforms started at the beginning of the 20th Century which spurred the development of the Kingdom’s middle class and thus gave the country a very different economic structure than many of its neighbors.”
The American Heritage foundation has just rated Bahrain as the 18th highest country in the world for Economic Freedom, making it the highest-scoring Arab state.
Here we look at some of the reasons why Bahrain is so far ahead of its neighbours:
Historically, Bahrain has always made its living from the sea – trade, fishing and pearling. Bahrainis instinctively look outwards and welcome all incomers. So much of Bahraini culture – food, dance, clothing, art and poetry – is a melting pot of the cultures that pass through Bahrain owing to its central location on the Arabian Gulf trade routes.
Bahrain’s 2002 Constitution enshrines the rights of all faiths and guarantees freedom of worship. With large non-Muslim populations, on a drive around Manama you can see churches, mosques and temples. Bahrain hosts around 20 churches, but the largest church in Arabia is to be built in Manama with capacity for 140,000 worshippers.
Why do so many Western expatriates choose to work in neighbouring Gulf states but base their families in Bahrain? Affordable entertainment, good schools, the tolerant society, freedoms for women and religious faiths, affordable costs of living, and great quality of life are just some of the reasons.
Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
Bahrain’s commitment to democratization means that elected representatives in Parliament are playing an increasingly central role in legislation and policy-making. However, Bahrain’s mixed system of government ensures that a single political party or power-base cannot turn the clock back on constitutionally-enshrined rights and freedoms.
Bahrain’s “Spring of Culture” is an annual series of events showcasing the best of Bahraini, local and global arts and culture. Dozens of events are held over a three month period, cumulatively attended by tens of thousands of people from Bahrain and abroad. Bahrain’s art galleries, museums, cultural centres and areas of national heritage are a source of pride.
Enlightened system of education
Bahrainis pride themselves on standards of education. Many Bahrainis have been educated in top universities round the world. Millions of dollars are currently being spent to make Bahrain a regional hub for education and ensure that its own schools and universities are world class. These high standards of education help make Bahrainis an enlightened, open-minded and cosmopolitan nation.
Most open economy
As Bahrain diversified away from oil it established itself as a centre for banking and regional commerce. Bahrain’s system of financial regulation facilitates and encourages investment and trade. Global ratings of economic performance and investment climate consequently always score Bahrain very highly. The Heritage Foundation’s “economic freedom” rating puts Bahrain as the only Arab start on its global top 20 list.
Regional and global tourists love Bahrain for its tolerant and attractive environment and its good-value hospitality sector. In a single month in November 2014 Bahrain notched up a million visitors by air and across the Saudi causeway.
Most tourists are from GCC and Arab states, appreciating the liberal and open climate that their home countries may lack.
Bahrain is a central member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, but also prides itself on excellent relations with a broad range of nations round the world. Bahrain’s core role in the Coalition against the so-called “Islamic State” illustrates both Bahrain’s capacity as a team player and Bahrain’s readiness to take on the forces of extremism, intolerance and sectarianism.
Bahrain has for centuries been home to both Sunni and Shia Muslims. Consequently both sects have had to coexist peacefully alongside each other. So many Sunnis and Shia inter-married that the Bahraini term “Sushi” was coined for these mixed families.