In Arabic, al-Bahrayn (البحرين) means “the two seas”, although which two seas were originally intended remains in dispute. The entire coastal strip of Eastern Arabia stretching from Basra n Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz in Oman was known as “Bahrain” for a millennium until the Middle Ages. Today, Bahrain’s “two seas” are generally taken to be the bay east and west of the island, the seas north and south of the island, or the salt and fresh water present above and below the ground. In addition to wells, there are areas of the sea north of Bahrain where fresh water bubbles up in the middle of the salt water as noted by visitors since antiquity.
The present-day Kingdom of Bahrain (Mamlakat al-Baḥrayn — مملكة البحرين), lies on a small archipelago centered on Bahrain Island, its largest land mass, situated near the western shores of the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. It is just 14 miles (23 kilometers) east of Saudi Arabia, connected to it through the King Fahd Causeway. The peninsula of Qatar is also nearby, about 31 miles (50 km) to the southeast across the Gulf of Bahrain. Iran lies 124 miles (200 km) to the north across the Persian Gulf. The capital and largest city is Manama.
Bahrain is the site of the ancient Dilmun civilisation. It has been famed since antiquity for its pearl fisheries, which were considered the best in the world into the 19th century. Bahrain was one of the earliest areas to convert to Islam in AD 628. Following a period of Arab rule, it was occupied by the Portuguese in 1521, who in turn were expelled in 1602 by Shah Abbas I of the Safavid dynasty under the Persian Empire. In 1783, the Bani Utbah clan captured Bahrain from Nasr Al-Madhkur and it has since been ruled by the Al Khalifa royal family, with Ahmed al Fateh as Bahrain’s first hakim. In the late 1800s, following successive treaties with the British, Bahrain became a protectorate of the United Kingdom.
On August 15, 1971, Bahrain declared independence and signed a new treaty of friendship with the United Kingdom. Formerly a state, Bahrain was declared a Kingdom in 2002. In 2011, the country experienced protests inspired by the regional Arab Spring. Almost daily clashes between protesters and security forces led to dozens of deaths. Protests, sometimes staged by opposition parties, are ongoing. More than 80 civilians and 13 policemen have been killed as of March 2014. The lack of coverage by Arab media in the Persian Gulf, as compared to other Arab Spring uprisings, has sparked several controversies.
Bahrain had the first post-oil economy in the Persian Gulf. Since the late 20th century, Bahrain has invested in the banking and tourism sectors. Many large financial institutions have a presence in Manama. Bahrain has a high Human Development Index and was recognized by the World Bank as a high income economy.
The first post office in Bahrain opened on August 1, 1884 in the capital Manama. This was a sub-office of the Indian Post Office at Bushire in Iran, both of which were part of the Bombay Postal Circle. This remained the only post office until the first Muharraq Post Office was opened on June 1, 1946. Ten additional post offices were opened in Bahrain between 1950 and 2002. Until 1933 stamps of British India were used in Bahrain and used examples may be identified from the cancels used which are illustrated in specialized catalogues.
British India stamps overprinted BAHRAIN were used from 1933 to 1947 depicting George V (1933) and then George VI from 1938. Non-overprinted Victory stamps of India were also on sale in Bahrain during January 1946 and a 16 anna stamp booklet was issued in 1934.
With the independence of India in 1947, postal responsibility passed to the British GPO on April 1, 1947, though the postal services remained under the control of Karachi, transferring from Indian to Pakistani administration in August 1947 until the GPO was ready to take over on April 1, 1948. For this reason the previously overprinted Indian stamps were replaced by overprinted stamps of Great Britain in 1948. From 1948 to 1960 Bahrain used the stamps of Great Britain depicting George VI then Queen Elizabeth II all overprinted BAHRAIN and the applicable value. Numerous varieties of overprints exist.
A number of local stamps were issued between 1953 and 1961 which, while intended only for domestic mail, are known used on international mail. These stamps all depicted Shaikh Sulmanbin Hamed al-Khalifa and are similar in design to the later 1960 series. The first stamps specifically designed for both domestic and international mail were a definitive set issued in 1960, which featured Shaikh Sulman bin Hamed al-Khalifa with Arabic text at the top. In 1964 a new definitive set was issued depicting Shaikh Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa. On December 31, 1965. the British postal administration was closed and control handed over to the Bahrain Post Office on January 1, 1966, when a further definitive set was issued.
Beginning during the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, Bahrain required that all letters bear evidence of the payment of a 5 fils tax that raised funds for Palestinian refugees. At first regular 5 fils stamps were added at the post office and handstamped ‘War Effort’ in Arabic. On October 21, 1973, similarly inscribed stamps, printed with light blue ink, were issued. On December 1, 1973, this first issue was replaced by one with a more stylized script, also in light blue. In 1988, this second stamp was issued with slightly larger perforations. While more appropriately known as postal tax stamps, major catalogues have classified these as war tax stamps.
Since obtaining postal independence, the Bahrain Post Office has pursued a conservative policy issuing four or five sets of stamps each year with an occasional new definitive series. The stamps have generally featured subjects of local or regional interest. A number of cinderella and bogus stamps have been issued over the years including official traffic safety labels available free from Bahraini post offices in 1981 and a bogus Bahrain Camel Post series between 1986 and 1990. The Camel Post series was based on the famous desert postman stamps of Sudan and sold in aid of a home for disabled children.
Scott #347 is the high value (200 fils) in a set of ten stamps issued on December 16, 1989. These were all lithographed by Bahrain’s Oriental Press, perforated 13½x14, and portrayed the same portrait of Sheik Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa (عيسى بن سلمان آل خليفة) with different colored frames. Born on June 3, 1933, in Jasra, Sheik Isa was the emir of Bahrain from 1961 until his death in 1999. His term saw Bahrain gain its independence from the United Kingdom in 1971.
While the government initially considered joining the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Isa had his country withdraw (along with Qatar) over his dissatisfaction with the proposed constitution. He then attempted to introduce a moderate form of parliamentary democracy, and men (though not women) were given the vote in parliamentary elections in 1973. In August 1975, however, he dissolved the parliament because it refused to pass the government-sponsored State Security Law of 1974. The parliamentary system was never restored and forced the emir to contend with occasional protests from the leftist and Islamist camps, which reached their peak in 1994.
Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa died of a heart attack on March 6, 1999, at the al Sakhir Palace in Manama shortly after his meeting with the United States defense secretary William Cohen. He was 65. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.