Bahrain-which name means the "two seas"- was under British tutelage from the 19th century until its independence in 1971.
The country has been headed since 1783 by the Khalifah family, members of the Bani Utbah tribe, who expelled the Persians. From 1861, when a treaty was signed with Britain, until independence in 1971, Bahrain was virtually a British protectorate.
When Britain had announced in 1968 that it would withdraw from all its bases east of Suez within three years, it caused a great panick among the small Gulf principalities.
Iran and Saudi Arabia wanted to expand their influence over their weak neighbor. Iran claimed sovereignty over Bahrain.
Iran claimed sovereignty over Bahrain, and the Shah's military occupied 3 small islands in 1971.
In a referendum conducted by the United Nations, the population of Bahrain voted for independence rather than absorption into Iran.
Bahrain is headed by a ruling family that concentrated political power in the hands of the amir and his relatives (Cleveland, 2009).
The king is the supreme authority and members of the Sunni Muslim ruling family hold the main political and military posts. There are long-running tensions between Bahrain's Sunnis and the Shi'ite Muslim majority.
Islam consists of two major branches: the Shi'te and the Sunnis who were divided regarding who should hold temporal power in the Islamic community. The Shi'tes believed that only the fourth of the caliphs was a rightful successor to the Prophet Mohamed. The Sunnis believe in the four caliphs and they do not believe that an Imam has direct contact with God.
People of Bahrain, today, are witnessing deaths and tensions. Thousands of people are marching in the streets and they are demanding the removal of the regime.
The King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa AL-KHALIFA has assured the people of Bahrain that the process of change will continue in the country. But the Shia Muslim opposition group has announced that they will not participate anymore in the parliament and they are going to resign from the council. Al-Wefaq has a strong presence inside the parliament and within the country's Shia community.
Activists are demanding reforms, better human rights and an end to discrimination.
Nabeel Rajab of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), said: "We are only asking for political reforms, right of political participation, respect for human rights, stopping of systematic discrimination against Shias."
Shias account for 70 per cent of the population.