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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Bahrain 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Manama. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Bahrain. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s-Bahrain country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Bahrain at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manama as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The targeting of non-citizen residents of Bahrain for crime is uncommon. Harassment of women and sexual assault does occur, although not all victims report cases to the police. Other reported crimes include, but are not limited to, various types of immigration and residency fraud, ATM/credit card theft, prostitution, white collar fraud, embezzlement, possession or trafficking of illegal narcotics, and property theft. Violent crime is rare, and firearms are illegal in Bahrain. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

In 2012, the U.S. Embassy designated geographic boundaries (known as “red zones”) as restricted travel areas. In 2013, the Embassy introduced “yellow zones,” designated for daylight travel only. The Embassy is constantly assessing the nationwide security situation to reevaluate the restricted zones. Find the current restricted travel areas map online.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Although the roads are generally very good, driving can be hazardous. Aggressive driving coupled with high speeds creates a dangerous driving environment. The law requires all vehicle passengers to wear seat belts. Police (Traffic Enforcement) presence can be limited or irregular. However, police vehicles are readily identifiable on the main traffic thoroughfares. Alcohol-related traffic accidents increase over weekends (Thursday evening through Saturday).

Avoid driving in the far left lane on highways, as high-speed drivers may exhibit aggressive behavior if blocked; common behaviors include flashing headlights rapidly or tailgating. Night driving is particularly dangerous, because some drivers do not turn on their headlights. Apart from periodic sandstorms, fog, and rain, the road conditions and weather are favorable most of the year.

Police checkpoints are commonplace, and increase with little warning. Uniformed police have the authority to make traffic stops. Remain in your vehicle with the doors locked, but to lower the window and be polite when answering questions. Be prepared to present identification, as the law requires people to carry a government-issued ID. Do not attempt to evade an official police checkpoint. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Those involved in an accident should not move their vehicle, and should immediately contact the traffic police at 199 if there are no injuries, or 999 (the general emergency number) if the accident involves injuries. Drivers should wait until the police arrive or direct them to one of several traffic police stations to file an accident report. The driver should obtain a copy of the accident report. Car rental and auto repair companies require a police accident report to make repairs.

Public Transportation Conditions

The use of marked taxis or transportation companies is generally safe and reliable.

Uber is legal and operates in Bahrain. There have been incidents where Uber customers met their driver at a taxi stand and a confrontation among drivers ensued. RSO recommends that passengers choose a public location for Uber pick-ups, but avoid marked taxi stands.

A bus system exists, but ridership is limited. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manama as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Bahrain’s large expatriate community, including the large U.S. Department of Defense presence; the presence of violent opposition groups; frequent travel between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia on the King Fahad Causeway; and the country’s proximity to Iran. These factors make for a dynamic security environment. Bahrain’s police and security forces are competent and capable counterterrorism partners. During 2019, the Bahraini government made gains in detecting and containing terrorist threats from violent Bahraini Shia militants and ISIS sympathizers.

Suspected Bahraini Shia militants occasionally instigate low-level violence against security forces using real and fake improvised explosive devices (IEDs). According to the Government of Bahrain, there were attacks on police officers in 2019. A few local Sunni extremists have radicalized in the past several years and either joined local factions or left to fight with ISIS and other militant groups in Syria and Iraq.

There are limited reports of government or non-government efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate former violent extremists and returning foreign terrorist fighters. There is also no overall strategic messaging campaign to counter terrorist narratives, although government leaders often speak about tolerance and reducing sectarian rhetoric.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

The call to radicalization, whether disseminated on extremist forums or through social media, continues to be a global concern. It is difficult to determine which message will inspire a violent extremist. Anti-U.S./anti-foreigner sentiment does exist. However, terrorist incidents have not involved U.S. citizens, and foreign residents were not the primary target of extremist groups. Considering recent tension in the region, all U.S. nationals should remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manama as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Bahrain is a monarchy governed by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Prime Minister Shaikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa. The constitution, ratified in 2002, established an elected lower house of parliament, the Council of Representatives, and an appointed upper house, the Shura Council. Elections for the Council of Representatives have occurred every four years since 2006.

Beginning in 2011, the country experienced a sustained period of unrest, including mass protests calling for political reform. Some anti-government demonstrations resulted in violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces. The government has taken steps since 2011 to implement many of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which the government tasked to review widespread allegations of police brutality, torture, arrests, disappearances, and violence by both security forces and demonstrators that year. The government has attempted to dilute the influence of religious leaders in political life, and in 2016, required Sunni and Shi’a clerics alike to sign a document, originally authored in 2009, committing them to certain standards when delivering Friday sermons.

Civil Unrest 

Violent oppositionist activity increases in February and March to mark the anniversaries of 2011 events. Spontaneous demonstrations and, at times, violent anti-government activity continue to occur, particularly at night. This unrest can be in response to local developments, calls for protests, or regional events. Such actions are likely to spark forceful responses by government security forces, including crowd control measures and impromptu checkpoints in certain areas.

Among the Shi’a community, perceived economic and political disenfranchisement remain the primary drivers of violent extremism and civil unrest. However, research into this topic is politically sensitive, and although anecdotal evidence exists, there is little public reporting or research on drivers of violent extremism or even concrete data on whether economic disenfranchisement has increased.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Almost all Bahraini citizens are Muslim. Though the government does not publish statistics on the population breakdown by sect, observers believe Shi’a comprise a slight majority of the population. Bahrain regularly experiences low-level violence between Shi’a youth – using Molotov cocktails and other homemade devices – and the predominantly Sunni security forces in mostly-Shi’a villages 

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Bahrain’s low desert plain and arid climate put it at risk for periodic droughts and dust storms.  Air pollution levels are higher than in the United States.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Communications (cell phones and internet) are reliable, but during the 2011 uprising, the government turned off cell service to prevent the organizing of demonstration activity. During times of heightened tensions, access to the internet decreases perceptibly.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

There is an abundance of pirated merchandise for sale, readily available from street vendors.

Personal Identity Concerns

Cultural differences exist in Bahrain. Unwitting actions may invite unwanted attention. The use of profane language and gestures in public can result in fines and arrests. Modest dress, not engaging in “small talk,” not making constant eye contact, and maintaining a low profile may deter harassment. Try to travel in pairs or in groups, especially during hours of darkness. Visitors who find themselves harassed should seek safe haven in a public area immediately, contact store management or security personnel, and not move to a secluded area or drive to their residences until the situation is resolved.

Women traveling alone should maintain vigilance. Seek legal counsel and ascertain your rights in Bahrain before visiting the country if you are a U.S. citizen divorced from/in the process of divorcing a Bahraini citizen. This is particularly important regarding child custody issues. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

While the law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity between people over 21, LGBTI+ activities are not accepted socially. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Transportation is not wheelchair-accessible, and sidewalks and crosswalks—even in Manama—are not accessible. Outside of the more expensive hotels in the capital, virtually no hotels offer accessible accommodations. There are very few accessible restaurants, shops, or historical sites. Handicap-accessible bathrooms, even in major hospitals, are generally not available. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

There is a growing illegal drug market in Bahrain. The government regularly interdicts illegal drugs entering the country, reporting there were 943 drug-related cases in 2018. The 2019 statistics have not been released.

Kidnapping Threat

There are no treaties in force between Bahrain and the United States concerning international parental child abduction and custody cases. Bahraini courts may ignore child custody decrees issued in the United States. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

It is illegal to photograph certain buildings in Bahrain. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Bahrain is 999. Bahraini police are generally professional and competent, although accusations of arbitrary arrest and police misconduct do exist. The Interior Ministry (MOI) is responsible for law enforcement and public safety. The Public Security Forces are the principal law enforcement arm of the MOI, and are responsible for maintaining order and security. The Special Security Forces of MOI are the paramilitary law enforcement arm and include the riot police, SWAT and explosive team. VIP protection is a separate unit of the MOI.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Fire accidents: 997

Casualty bureau: 990

Criminal Investigations (CID): 992

Coast Guard (CGD): 994

Traffic police: 199

Traffic Hotline: 1787-22-87/22

Violence against Women: 1787-03-02

Police Stations:

East Riffa: 1777-3158

West Riffa:  1766-4606

Exhibition Road: 1755-0629

Hawak: 1784-9009

Hidd: 1767-1212

Hoora: 1729-1555

Naim:  1725-8210

Samaheej: 1733-4401

Umm-Al Hasam:  1772-8229

Zallaq: 1763-1211

Medical Emergencies

In a medical emergency, call 999 or go to the emergency department of a nearby hospital. Basic modern medical care and medicine are available in several hospitals and clinics. Three government hospitals, a network of primary care clinics, and several private facilities offer a wide range of medical services. Cardiac care, general surgery, ENT, internal medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, orthopedics, and dentistry services are readily available, as are X-rays, CT-scans, and MRI testing. The government hospitals house both trauma and ICU units. For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Pharmacies are common throughout Bahrain, and carry a wide range of medications. Check with Customs Affairs of Bahrain to ensure your medications are legal in the country. Most narcotic painkillers, stimulants, and controlled sedatives/hypnotics are not easily available, and may be illegal. Always carry your prescription medication in original packaging along with your doctor’s prescription. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

Payment at all medical facilities is due at the time of service. Some hospitals have limited direct billing capability for certain insurance carriers. Billing and insurance practices vary among the medical facilities. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Bahrain.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Bahrain OSAC Country Council meets monthly. Contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Building No. 979, Road 3119, Block 331, Zinj District, Manama

Hours of Operation: 0800 – 1700 Sunday to Thursday

Website: https://bh.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Operator: +973 1724-2700

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

OSAC Risk Matrix

OSAC Travelers Toolkit

State Department Traveler’s Checklist

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

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