Bahrain goes to the polls

BAHRAIN, which is now the clear favorite to host a Grand Prix in the Middle East in 2004, this week marked a new breakthrough in its democratization program with the first elections to be held for 27 years.

The country has been ruled by the al-Khalifa family since 1783 but in 1975 Emir Sheikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa dissolved the parliament and until his death in early 1999 the country was ruled by him. His successor Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa - who recently named himself King Hamad - has been working hard to bring the country into the modern world in recent years, freeing political prisoners, abolishing emergency powers and moving towards a full democracy. As part of this program the King hopes to boost the economy aiming for Bahrain the become the financial capital of the Middle East and a major tourist center. His desire to host a Grand Prix comes from this policy as it will build a completely new image of Bahrain around the world.

Unlike many of its neighbors Bahrain cannot rely on oil revenues and so has been diversifying and since the opening of a causeway between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, new hotels have been built making Bahrain a regional tourism

center, where other Arabs take advantage of its relaxed social environment.

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