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Difference Between Libya and Bahrain

Libya vs Bahrain

Bahrain National Museum

Both Libya and Bahrain are Arab speaking, oil-rich, Islamic countries that faced large popular uproar during the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. However, besides few commonalities, Libya and Bahrain have different economies, different governments and very different relations with the United States.

In fact, the world was shocked when, during 2011, the U.S.-led coalition conducted airstrikes against the government of Colonel Gaddafi but decided to turn a blind eye to the situation in Bahrain, where the government was forcibly suppressing popular dissent.

Bahrain 1

  • Area: 717 square meters

  • Population: 1.4 million

  • Official language: Arabic

  • Religion: Islam

  • Capital: Manama

  • Type of government: Monarchy – Kingdom of Bahrain

  • Currency: Bahraini dinar

History 2

After years of colonial rule, Bahrain officially gained independence from Britain in 1971. After a rocky start and the dissolution of the National Assembly, in 1981 Bahrain joined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which also includes Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As a part of this Council, the country participated in the notorious “Operation Desert Storm” against Iraq during the Gulf War.

After signing defense agreements with the United States and controlling internal tensions between Sunni and Shia, in 2002 Bahrain became a constitutional monarchy and allowed women to stand for a seat in the government and, in 2004, Ms. Nada Haffadh was made health minister.

Despite the changes and the slow progress towards a more liberal society, internal protests continued to increase. Security forces were accused of torturing detainees and of targeting the Shia minority, and the government continued to forcibly repress all forms of opposition. In fact, in September 2010, 20 Shia opposition leaders were arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government by promoting dissent and violent protests.

The internal wave of dissent grew inspired by the popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. In 2011, hundreds of protestors gathered in Manama – the capital – demanding democratic rule, but the security crackdown resulted in several deaths. After declaring martial law and seeking the assistance of Saudi troops to control the protests, the government dissolved the two main opposition parties – which represented the Shia majority.

Despite attempts of reconciliation between the Sunni government and the Shia opposition, to date, Shias continue to be discriminated in law and practice, including in the education and work environment. In August 2016, United Nations expert expressed deep concern for “the systematic harassment of the Shia population by the authorities in Bahrain, including stripping many of them of citizenship.” 3

Civil rights and collective freedoms

While the human rights situation in the country has gradually improved during the years, Bahraini still face problems linked to:

  • Freedom of religion;

  • Freedom of expression;

  • Freedom of the media – Freedom House reported that “”surveillance of online activity and phone calls is widely practiced, and officers at security checkpoints actively search mobile phones for suspicious content”;

  • Gender equality;

  • Women’s rights;

  • Education;

  • Torture and excessive use of force in detention facilities;

  • Freedom of movement; and

  • Arbitrary deprivation of nationality.

Despite the slow progress, Shia continue to be targeted and discriminated, and the human rights record of the country remains concerning.


  • King: Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah

King Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah has ruled the country since 1999 and the Khalifa family has been in power since 1783 and now controls the majority of governmental seats.

When the country became a kingdom in 2002, Sheikh Hamad transitioned from emir to king. Thanks to the support of the Saudi troops, he resisted the insurgence of 2011 and, under his control the Sunni minority continues to exercise a tight control over the Shia majority.


Being an oil-rich country, Bahrain’s economy is largely based on petroleum production and processing and on exports. The country has been indicated as one of the fastest growing economies in the Arab world, and the rate of unemployment is among the lowest in the region. Yet, the depletion of oil and underground resources as well as the growing rate of youth unemployment remain long-term economic concerns.

Thanks to its historical and cultural heritage, as well as to its modern landscapes, huge shopping malls and beautiful sea locations, Bahrain attracts millions of tourists every year.



  • Area: 1.77 million square meters

  • Population: 6.4 million

  • Official language: Arabic

  • Religion: Islam

  • Capital: Tripoli

  • Type of government: Provisional government

  • Currency: Libyan dinar

History 4

Following a military coup, Colonel Gaddafi took power in 1969 and initiated to pursue his Pan-Arab agenda, which aimed at unifying several Arab countries. Gaddafi introduced state socialism and nationalized the majority of economic activities; furthermore, he initiated the so-called “cultural revolution” and the “people’s revolution”, changing the country’s official name from the Libyan Arab Republic to the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah.

The socialist style of Gaddafi inevitably led to a clash with the United States, and the tensions between the two countries escalated in 1986, when the United States bombed several Libyan military facilities as well as residential areas of Tripoli and Benghazi – killing over 100 persons. According to U.S. official, the raids were carried out after Libyan forces resulted involved in the bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by U.S. military.

The relations between the two countries seemed to improve in 2002, but full diplomatic ties were reinstated only in 2006 and, in 2008, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice officially visited Libya, declaring that the relations between the two countries had entered a “new phase”

In 2011, following the protests initiated in other Arab countries, civilians and anti-Gaddafi rebels began to violently protests against the government. Despite the no-fly zone authorized by the United Nations Security Council over Libya, the clashes between rebels and security forces intensified, and scores of civilians were killed or severely blessed. Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed in October 2011, but his death did not end the protests. In 2012, the transitional government that had been put in place after the death of Gaddafi handed power to the General National Congress.

In 2014, tensions re-escalated when the General National Congress refused to give up power despite the end of the mandate, and ISIS seized control over certain areas of the country. With Libya descending into civil war, the United Nations brokered an agreement to create a new “unity” government – the so-called Presidency Council headed by Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj. Despite initial disagreements, in March 2016, the “unity” government was officially installed in naval base in Tripoli.

Civil rights and collective freedoms 5

After years of dictatorship and civil wars, Libya is gradually improving its human rights record. However, the backlashes of the past decade coupled with the advance of ISIS and growing number of migrants that cross Libya to reach the European shores continue to pose challenges to the human rights situation. As such, today Libyan face problems linked to:

  • Freedom of the media;
  • Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly;
  • Transitional justice;
  • Political and economic instability;
  • Gaps between rich and poor;
  • Cases of torture and ill-treatment in detention centers;
  • Threats posed by terrorist groups; and
  • Gender-based discrimination.


Despite the political instability of the country, Libya continues to have one of the highest GDP in the continent. The country’s economy is mainly based on the oil sector, and processing and export of petroleum are the main activities and sources of revenue.

Yet, as oil exports account for over 95% of the Libyan economy, diversification remains an issue. In fact, Libya imports almost all basic goods, including food, as the harsh economic conditions and the desert soil severely limit all agricultural projects.


Libya and Bahrain have few common features:

  • Both are Arab speaking countries
  • Both are Islamic countries;
  • Both faced periods of political and social instability;
  • They were both part of the Arab Spring in 2011;
  • Their economies are mainly based on oil-exports;
  • Both have poor human rights records; and
  • Both exercise strict control over all media outlets.

However, the two countries also differ in several aspects:

  • In Bahrain, the Shia majority continues to face discrimination and abuses, whereas in Libya the Sunni-Shia distinction is not as sharp;
  • Bahrain is a small country with a small population while Libya is a large country with a relatively small population;
  • During the Arab Spring, the United States intervened in Libya against the government of Colonel Gaddafi, whereas Bahrain sought the involvement of the Saudi Arabian army; and
  • In Bahrain, the ruling family detains the power since 1783 and Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah remained in power even after the violent protests in 2011, whereas Colonel Gaddafi was killed during the Arab Spring insurgencies and the Libya is currently headed by provisional government appointed by the United Nations.

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References :

[0]1 Bahrain country profile , BBC, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14540571

[1]1 Bahrain country profile , BBC, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14540571

[2]2 Bahrain profile – timeline , BBC, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14541322

[3]3 UN rights experts urge Bahrain to end the persecution of Shias , OHCHR, available at http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20375

[4]4 Libya profile – Timeline , BBC, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13755445

[5]5 Libya country profile , BBC, available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13754897

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