Bahrain consists of 33 islands in the Arabian Gulf located about 18 miles from the coast of Saudi Arabia. About 50 percent of the population lives on the main island, also called Bahrain, and in its capital city, Manama. More than 99 percent of the indigenous population is Muslim. Oil was first discovered in Bahrain in the 1930s and has played an important role in the economy. Bahrain is an independent Arab state with well organized national health and education programs. There has been tension between the majority Shi'a population and the governing Sunni population in the past. However, Bahrain remains one of the most open and accessible countries in the Middle East.
Oil wealth and the rapid development it brought to the Arabian Gulf region led to the importation of many thousands of foreign workers. Many of these are Christians from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Europe, Africa, and America. A third of the population in Bahrain is foreign, and 18 percent of the Omani population is foreign.