Internal Reforms Increase Bahrain's Attractiveness as an Ally to the West
Bahrain has been an important Western ally, serving as a Western air base during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraq War in 2003. It continues to serve as the base of the United States' Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Gulf.
The emir, Sheik Isa ibn Sulman al-Khalifah, died in 1999 after four decades of rule. He was succeeded by his son, Sheik Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifah, who gave himself the title of king but also began a sweeping democratization of the country: censorship has been relaxed and draconian laws repealed, exiles have been repatriated, and the stateless Bidoons have been granted citizenship. In a Feb. 2001 referendum, which permitted women to vote for the first time, Bahrainis overwhelmingly supported the transformation of the traditional monarchy into a constitutional one. In Oct. 2002, Bahrain had its first parliamentary election since 1973. In 2006, the U.S. and Bahrain signed a free-trade agreement.