A Comparative Country Analysis of Bahrain & Cyprus

Get the fast facts about Bahrain and Cyprus, with analytical commentary on their similarities and differences::

This paper identifies two countries for comparative analysis that are designated within the geographic region the Middle East. The Kingdom of Bahrain, or the Kingdom of “two seas”, and the Republic of Cyprus (in addition to the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus), are the two countries presented in this paper. Similarities between the two are as revealing as their differences, each opening a window to distinct cultural spheres yet sharing overlapping historical circumstances. To critically detect correlatives within research, this paper arranges remarks on observations simultaneously, with analysis as a subsequent endeavor.

Both Bahrain and Cyprus are island nations, the former lying 15 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia and the latter 43 miles off the coast of Asia Minor. One lies in the Western Mediterranean, while the other in the Persian Gulf waters. Though Cyprus has a smaller population than Bahrain, 1,118,000 million inhabitants (Entire Island) compared to 1,325,000 million, Cyprus is nearly eleven times as big as Bahrain, having an area of 3,572 miles to Bahrain’s 292 miles. Both nations have thousands of years of successful transit and trade at their backs, which encouraged settlement, but by very different ethnic peoples. This is due primarily to their geographic positions.

Bahrain was popular with the eastern oriented people in modern-day Iraq and Iran. Its archaeological signs date back to Sumer and the Indus Valley, as early as 2400 BCE. Though Sumer is where civilization as we understand it began, Cyprus is even more ancient. It was “occupied during the Neolithic period, about 9000 BCE, it has been fought for and used as a base for over thirty-five hundred years” (textbook, pg 332). Many of the same empires stretched from their homelands to both Bahrain and Cyprus, including the Assyrians and Persians. Both are of Eastern origin, Assyria from the planes of Nineveh (modern day Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran) and Persia, in South Asia but bordering the Gulf waters and people of South West Asia. Yet the personality of Cyprus today owes more to its Ancient roots, which are Western oriented geographically. During the Bronze Age Minoans of Crete and Mycenaean’s from Greece did trade in Cyprus, bringing timber and bronze back home with them. This ancient history is a point Greek Cypriots emphasize, as it solidifies their roots with the Greek homeland. Interestingly, while Greek Cypriots emphasize their relationship with Greece, in Bahrain the relationship between the country’s native inhabitants and Persia is tempered.

Both nations had religion brought to their countries from wayward travelers of other places. Cyprus is predominately 69.2 percent Greek Orthodox, and 26.6 percent Sunni Muslim. Bahrain is majority Muslim, but its inhabitants are largely Shia Muslim, with supposedly 46 percent Shia of a total 70 percent. The government of Bahrain, as a Kingdom, is run by a monarch. That monarch is Sunni, and so Bahrain’s Persian period, Shia Islam being the majority in both Iran and Bahrain, is downplayed. There are geopolitical reasons for such a policy and social reasons for inhabitants to downplay Persian ethnic roots, to be addressed later. Suffice it for now to say we are simply addressing the characteristics of the people and their differences, as referenced through their cultural accumulation through successive historical periods.

Bahrain and Cyprus, certainly have economic contrasts, but are fortunate enough to have similar, prosperous economic indicators. The GDP of Cyprus in 2012 was 22.45 billion, with a per capita income of $26,900. Bahrain in 2011 had a GDP of 25.45 billion, only slightly larger than Cyprus and a per capita income of $27,700. Both can be considered medium income countries. Yet Bahrain is by far more the export-oriented country, and this has brought a much vaster expatriate population laboring in the country. In 2007, Bahrain exported 13.7 billion dollars, refined petroleum being nearly 80% of that. Oil and Gas are thus the major industry of Bahrain and require technical assistance from abroad and workers as well. Cyprus has energy prospects as well, only recently being tapped towards its greater potential from offshore sources. Cyprus only exports 1.72 billion dollars, refined petroleum accounting for 20 percent of that. The country imports 20 percent of the 10.85 billion dollar value, thus being a nation that imports more energy than it currently exports. Cyprus has one economic indicator of particular interest; it uses the Euro currency, as it is a member of the European Union. Bahrain has its own currency, the Dinar, which is far weaker than the Euro, but allows for a more competitive export regime. Both nations have conducted remarkable patterns of economic success, undeterred by modern histories plagued by imperial influence.

Though Cyprus had an existing history of cultural contact with society’s in the near abroad, none would shape its modern conflicts so much as the Ottomans. The Ottoman Empire, from its governing seat on the Anatolian peninsula with power moving into Thrace and as far as Algeria in North Africa, had moved into Cyprus by conquest in 1570. For three hundred years, Turkish settlers migrated to Cyprus, in what became the 26.1 percent Turk-Cypriot minority on the island. This would have significant repercussions after the arrival of the British in 1878. The island “with around 180,000 residents then was to be a base for protecting the new Suez Canal and the route to India” (textbook, pg 332). This intertwined the fate of Cyprus with the decline of the British Empire.

Only annexed in 1914, Cyprus sought the end of its colonial occupation after World War II. The EOKA (National Organization of Cypriot Fighters), a Greek Cypriot resistance organization operating with the aid of the Greek government for full unity of the island with the homeland. The British opposed this, and instead gathered the Greek, Turkish Cypriots, the Greek government, the Turkish government, and itself to sign an accord which resulted in independence for the Republic of Cyprus in 1960. The British had to be conceded “two strategically valuable Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) on the south coast after more than fifty years. They remain British overseas territories and constitute about 2.7 percent of the island’s area” (textbook, pg 333-34). Such bases could not prevent the collapse of the Republic, after Turkish demands for separation. Turkey invaded Cypriot in July 1974 setting up a military presence over 34% of the land for 18 percent of the population, leading to countless Greeks fleeing south. Today the island continues to be divided, with the Turkish north being recognized by no other nation but Turkey. In fact the position the Turkish took in north Cyprus prevented their ascendance into the European Union which Greece and Cyprus are part of.

Bahrain like Cyprus is a nation that has been pressured by larger nations near and abroad. In 1783 the Sheik Al Khalifa, a Sunni with tribal affiliations to the Al Sabah in Kuwait, threw off Persian control. “…the majority of the population remained adherents of the Shii sect, which had been imposed during the Iranian period” (textbook, pg 494). The people of Bahrain had added a new layer of alien control over them. The British came as a “protective umbrella”, staying for 150 years. Like Cyprus, Bahrain had to attend to the interests of the British. The Greek Cypriots saw themselves as in union with Greek. In the case of Bahrain, the people, according to the UN which published a report in 1971, wanted independence. Independence from Iran, which in 1957 passed legislation “that claimed Bahrain as a province of Iran…” (textbook, pg 494). Bahrain was not invaded as a result of this decision, so they became independent and the British left shortly before in the 1960s. No plebiscite was held however to determine the true wishes of the people, so democratic norms have not become standard in its political culture.

There has however been changes. In 2001 the Kingdom became a constitutional monarchy, and in 2002 municipal and legislative elections are approved. Over half the votes were by women, and a Shia coalition emerged as the largest bloc. However, the powers of the electoral chamber are still offset by the upper house where appointments are made by the King, who of course has veto power of much of what may occur in the country. The Arab uprisings occurring in specifically Tunisia and Egypt effected political consciousness in Bahrain. Protests began, calling for an increase in representation for the Shia people. The government reacted repressively, calling Saudi troops into the country to ensure the stability of the monarchy. Saudi Arabia has become one of the primary relationships for Bahrain, as both are in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) along with the other Gulf states. Geopolitically, the rise of a Shia republic, with close relations to Iran, would be a threat to the GCC’s Sunni representation, likely leading to Bahrain’s departure. It would give Iran a strategic foothold on the Gulf waters outside the strait of Hormuz.

Can we say that Cyprus is so geopolitically important? Cyprus is off the coast of the Levant, holds European Union membership, and has close ties to Greece. Cyprus is part of the international financial system, and an economic crisis there can affect the whole of the Union, breeding anxiety in financial markets. An armed conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots would affect the economy, making Cyprus as vital a node of stability as Bahrain. The primary comparison here is that Bahrain and Cyprus both have internal and external matters. True, Iran has no plans of annexing the country. Only domestic dissent could change its political course, but Iran is often accused by GCC nations including the Bahrain monarchy of fomenting dissent. In Cyprus, outside actors like Turkey can re-energize this conflict if they feel their interests are being put off in favor of Greece, as a historical distrust continues there. The internal matter in Cyprus is that the island continues to be divided, and though movement has been made for reform in Cyprus as it was in Bahrain, for example the reopening of the border crossings for civilian movement, the island remains on uneasy terms. Both countries will continue to have the potential to be contagion for regional change, though they are on the peripheral of the events occurring in the central triangle, from Turkey to Iran to Saudi Arabia.

Cite: Middle East Patterns, Colbert C. Held and John Thomas Cummings (6th edition).

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