King Hamad Al Khalifa
Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa is the latest head of the family that since 1783 has ruled the country of Bahrain, an archipelago of 30 islands tucked in a gulf between Saudia Arabia and Qatar. King Hamad, whose earlier posts included that of defense minister (1971-1988), became emir in 1999 upon the death of his father. His title changed to King in 2002, when Bahrain, formerly an emirate, became a constitutional monarchy. The Khalifa family is of the Sunni branch of Islam, and the fact that most Bahranis are Shiite Muslims has contributed to political tensions, including those in which government forces fired on apparently peacful protesters in February 2011. The protests were a symptom of the country's religious divide, but they were also a call for greater democracy. In that way they resembled the secular uprisings that swept Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia in early 2011, but King Hamad remained in power in the years that followed.
King Hamad has multiple wives, but the number (and their names) vary depending on the source. His official biography says he “married his cousin” on 9 October 1968; this is apparently Princess Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa. They have four children, including Hamad’s eldest, Shaikh Salman, born 21 October 1969, who became Bahrain’s crown prince. Other children include sons Abdullah (b. 1975) and Khalifa (b. 1977), and daughter Najla (b. 1981). King Hamad has other sons and daughters with at least two other wives.
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