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|Bahrain: The last 100 years
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It could be said that oil arrived at just the right time. It offered alternative regular employment to those who had formerly gone to sea, as well as paying a higher salary. The typical salary for a pearl diver would have been 15 rupees a month. Saleh al Tarradah went to work for Bapco in 1939 I was paid 1 rupee a day which was enough to support me and my growing family. He would camp in Barasti huts in Awali during the week and at weekends make the 21/2 hour journey back to Manama along rough track through palm groves. A journey back to Muharraq, made by many, would have been 6 hours. This is almost inconceivable now, as highway links make the journey a maximum of 30 minutes to either area.
The discovery of oil bought with it many skilled foreign workers, necessitating the construction of a whole new town to house the workers and their families. The establishment of Awali heralded another first for Bahrain; a purpose built compound, with air conditioned housing and leisure facilities plus hot and cold running water. Luxury American household items and food began to appear bringing a standard of living, hitherto, unknown to the island.
The first electric power station was opened in 1930, allowing the spread of refrigeration, air conditioning and electric light for those who had the money. Agencies for foreign goods and cars were taken by wealthy tradesmen. In being interviewed by National Geographic in 1946, Hussein Yateem (who had the agency for Carrier ice plants and air conditioning amongst others) comments In modernizing their habits, the people of Bahrain have decided preferences for specific products
many of these - refrigerators, for instance are American, and we naturally hope that nothing will hamper trade.
The opening of the oil refinery in 1937 was an important development in that more employment of local people became available. Its construction projects and local purchases increased the prosperity of the island in general. From the beginning it was realized that Bahrains oil field was small, and to diversify into refining would bring income long after their own well had been depleted.
A visit to England in 1937 increased the desire of Sheikh Hamad to improve the health of his people. With oil revenues providing the resources, plans went ahead for a government hospital alongside a major programme to eradicate malaria. Mohammed Al Orrayed remembers Malaria was a big sickness then. This initiative has continued to this day with Bahrain having one of the best health systems in the Gulf, just last October Dublins world renowned, Royal College of Surgeons opened in Manama giving added gravitas to this important sector.
Education has long been a priority for the Bahraini government. The first school was opened in Muharraq in 1919 and the number has steadily grown. The 1930s saw the opening of the first girls school, by 1956 there were 13 girls schools and now there are the same opportunities for both sexes.
As eldest son, Sulman succeeded Sheih Hamad in 1942. The impetus of change continued with the opening of the Manama-Muharraq bridge. Although rationing had occurred in Bahrain during the war, it was nowhere near as testing as war torn Europe. For the ten years of Sheikh Sulmans reign Bahrain worked through the technological change creating an integrated infrastructure and the beginnings of what was to become the banking and commercial centre of Manama. The Gregorian calendar was adopted for official accounting procedures, although of course, to this day the Hejira calendar is used for all religious purposes.
Work on both Mina Salman (the deep water port) and the airport was started at this time . The 1950s saw the growth of the development of Bahrain as an international transport hub. The Gulf aviation company was formed by Freddie Bosworth, acting as an air charter company (a story wonderfully retold by Nevil Shute in his novel Round the Bend). Gulf Air as a national airline was formed in 1950 and BOAC began to use Bahrain as a re-fuelling stop on its way to Australia. These developments further complemented Bahrains infrastructure transformation.
Nassers death in 1967 ended the period of Arab Nationalism that characterized the previous ten years and four years later Bahrain threw off the mantle of being a British protectorate August 14th 1971, followed by its joining the United Nations later that year. Only two years later it joined OPEC, and the next year formed the Bahrain Monetary Agency as the States Central Bank. This was a hugely important development as a supervisory and regulatory agency that operates a highly transparent and accountable legal framework, giving a very solid start
The extremely high oil prices of the early seventies meant hugely increased revenues to all those countries involved in production. Iyad Al-Arrayed remembers returning to Bahrain as a teenager in 1972, after a period of living in England I noticed Sieko watches, colour tv, luxury cars and designer clothes, all of which no-one could afford in the UK; there had been a definite giant leap forward in terms of wealth.
This oil wealth led to a real estate boom, as personal and corporate investment went into construction Aqeel Al Modaweb comments that in the 1970s rents stood as the same rate as they are now, 30 years later. This was due to an influx of ex-pats who had come to work in the growing banking and financial services area. Previously Beirut had been the preferred centre for Middle Eastern finance but because of difficulties during the civil war, investors began to look for a safer environment. Bahrain fitted the bill perfectly. Here was a politically stable country, with an educated population, good facilities and the legislation in place to give a secure home for investments and financial transactions. It was from this point that Bahrain gained its reputation as a safe and flexible place in which international banks could operate.
Of course, Bahrain has maintained this profile and is aiming to capitalize on this position with the building of the Financial Harbour. This is intended to be the premier financial centre in the Gulf for offshore, investment and Islamic banking as well as insurance. There has been an estimate of USD 1.3 trillion of regional private wealth. Add to this the fact that the Bahraini Dinar is a fully convertible and stable currency and the Island is perfectly situated as far as time zones go, and is perfectly placed with a winning formula.
During the eighties there was further development, sometimes from projects started in the late seventies such as Isa Town and the formation of ALBA (the aluminium smelting plant) and the opening of the University and Museum in 1985 followed swiftly in the following year (Sheikh Isas Silver Jubilee) by the completion of the 25km Bahrain Saudi Arabia causeway.
Sheikh Isa died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son Hamad. With his instigation there has been a strong movement towards democracy in Bahrain. He introduced the National Charter which allowed all citizens to vote on a number of issues, one of the categories being whether the people wanted a parliament. The result was an overwhelming 98.4 % vote in favour. Parliament was established along with the right to vote and the freedom of the press. On April 3rd 2002, the Kingdom of Bahrain was created in order to reinforce the parliamentary process.
The Kingdom of Bahrain has propelled itself fully into the modern, national arena with its successful bid to host Formula 1. At the instigation of the Crown Prince, it has been proved that this small island can build, finance and host world class events. With the first race safely and successfully tucked under its belt, Bahrain can continue to establish its place in the international spotlight.
Over one hundred years Bahrain has changed in almost every way. Of course there are regrets but Aqeel Al Modaweb is very positive and the future,
Change is inevitable, Bahrain has been positioning itself slowly but firmly on the world map. Old habits and cultures will be diluted naturally and will fade away. As long as there are good Muslims we will continue to have good family principles anyway He believes in working for his own and his childrens future Our kids will have their own world, this is why you have tomorrow.
Saleh Al Tarradah used the analogy of sailing Bahrain is like a boat, maybe it will go too deep or too shallow. It always depends on who is at the helm. As the fifth ruler of the Al Khalifa family to rule in the last 100 years, King Hamad has shown by example and carried forward the inheritance of his forefathers to show that with a good captain, the boat can surely sail into better and better waters.
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