In 2016 Britain and Bahrain are celebrating 200 years of bilateral relations between the two Kingdoms. Below we look at a number of reasons why these relations matter today:
Shared values and vision
As a constitutional monarchy committed to reform, arguably Bahrain is Britain’s partner of choice in the region. Bahrain’s progressive 2001 constitution enshrines the freedoms and rights of all faiths and ethnicities, while also being the state in the region which has done the most to empower women and facilitate foreign investment.
With Bahrain’s commitment to combatting terrorism, extremism and intolerance in the region, the two nations see eye-to-eye on a broad range of issues.
Close friends and partners
Mutual support and defence
The establishment of the new £16 million permanent UK naval base in Bahrain signals Britain’s long-term commitment to investing in Bahrain and is a sign of Britain’s confidence in the Kingdom’s stability and durability as a close ally.
The project has been described as “the UK’s biggest operational theatre outside of the UK” and the base with a 30-year lifespan represents a considerable investment. This is just one example of a broad range of military cooperation between Bahrain and the UK.
Support for reforms
Britain arguably has been the most consistent state in supporting Bahrain’s reform process. Britain has also demonstrated itself to be a constructive partner in Bahrain’s efforts to improve its human rights record.
According to the British Foreign Office: “The UK’s package of technical assistance to support reform in Bahrain began in 2012. Much of it has focused on building effective and accountable institutions, strengthening the rule of law and police and justice reform, in line with the recommendations in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and UN Universal Periodic Review. This cooperation will continue in 2016… Beneficiaries of the UK’s support include independent human rights and oversight institutions such as the National Institution of Human Rights, Ministry of Interior Ombudsman, Prisoners’ and Detainees’ Rights Commission and Special Investigations Unit, who provide independent oversight of police behaviour and detention standards, and were established as a result of BICI recommendations.”
Bahrain’s pro-business regulatory environment and initiatives for facilitating inward investment and foreign businesses have encouraged numerous major UK firms to set themselves up in the Kingdom.
According to Britain’s former Ambassador Iain Lindsay: “There are 90 branches of British companies in Bahrain, over 500 active UK commercial agencies in Bahrain and in addition there are over 350 Bahraini companies who have UK partners… British companies use Bahrain as a platform to enter the region as the kingdom is strategically located, provides trained Bahraini workforce and still has a good reputation as the best regulated and open market in the Gulf.”
Treaty relations between the two states go back to 1816, when the British Political Resident William Bruce signed a treaty guaranteeing British neutrality in ongoing conflict between Bahrain and Oman. Although this treaty didn’t get formal recognition from the British Government, relations were consolidated through the 1820 General Maritime Treaty which recognized the Al Khalifa dynasty as the legitimate rulers of Bahrain.
Relations went a stage further with the 1861 “Perpetual Truce of Peace and Friendship”, which guaranteed that Bahrain’s leaders remained fully independent while pledging British maritime protection.
After the British Government persuaded the Shah of Iran to drop all baseless claims over Bahrain, following a 1970 referendum in which the overwhelming majority of Bahrainis chose full independence, Bahrain was internationally recognized as a fully sovereign state in 1971.