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Bahrain 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Near East > Bahrain; Near East > Bahrain > Manama

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

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Manama does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Please review OSAC’s Bahrain country-specific 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.

Bahrain is composed of a group of small desert islands with a total land area of 665 square kilometers and a population of approximately 1.4 million, including approximately 668,000 foreign nationals. The country is located off the east coast of Saudi Arabia; the two countries are connected by a 24-kilometer causeway.

Crime Threats

There is minimal risk from crime in Manama. The targeting of non-citizen residents of Bahrain for crime is uncommon. Harassment of women and sexual assault does occur, although not all cases are reported 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 prohibited in Bahrain.

Other Areas of Concern

In 2012, the U.S. Embassy identified geographic boundaries known as red zones. These red zones were designated as restricted travel areas. In 2013, the Embassy introduced yellow zones, designated as daylight travel areas 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

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

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. Wearing seat belts is required by law. Ministry of Interior 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).

A good general rule to follow while driving is to avoid driving in the far left lane on highways, because 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. RSO advises individuals to remain in their vehicles 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. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

If a visitor is involved in an accident, they should not move their vehicle, and should immediately contact the traffic police by calling 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. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

A bus system exists, but ridership is limited.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Manama. Bahrain’s large expatriate community, including the large U.S. Department of Defense presence, and the presence of violent opposition groups is compounded by 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 2018, 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 2018.  A small number of 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.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is serious risk from civil unrest in Manama. 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 were held in 2006, 2010, and 2014.

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 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. Opposition groups boycotted parliamentary elections held in 2014, claiming a lack of confidence that the elections would produce a parliament that they believed would address their concerns in a fully representative way. New parliamentary elections are planned for the fall of 2018. 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 take place, 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 Shia comprise a slight majority of the population. Bahrain regularly experiences low-level violence between Shia youth – using Molotov cocktails and other homemade devices – and the predominantly Sunni security forces in mostly-Shia 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 

Communications (cell phones and internet) are reliable; however, during the 2011 uprising, cell towers were shut down in an effort to prevent their use in organizing demonstration activity. During times of heightened tensions, access to the internet periodically decreases perceptibly. 

Economic Concerns

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

Personal Identity Concerns

Keep in mind the cultural differences among the many people who coexist in Bahrain, and be cognizant that 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.

Drug-related Crimes

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.

Police Response

Bahraini police are generally professional and competent, although accusations of arbitrary arrest and police misconduct do exist (2018 Human Rights Reports).

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Detained U.S. citizens should make their citizenship immediately known to the officers. The Bahraini authorities will then notify the Embassy. Embassy officers will advise detainees.

Crime Victim Assistance

Reach police, ambulance, and fire services by dialing 999.

Police/Security Agencies

The Ministry of Interior (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.

Medical Emergencies

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. In an emergency, call 999 or go to the emergency department of a nearby hospital. Pharmacies are common throughout Bahrain, and carry a wide range of medications.

If experiencing chest pain, go directly to the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital’s Chest Pain clinic located in the Emergency Department. The Chest Pain Clinic numbers are 1776 6637 or 1776 6626. If an ambulance is required, contact 999 and state it is cardiac emergency. They will contact BDF, which will send out a BDF ambulance & care team.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS (+971 4601-8777) maintains a dedicated fleet of air ambulances that provide medical evacuation (medevac) services worldwide.

Insurance Guidance

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.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Bahrain OSAC Country Council meets monthly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Middle East & North Africa Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

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

Embassy Contact Numbers

The Embassy Duty Officer handles emergency requests after business hours. In case of an emergency after hours, call the Embassy switchboard and follow the recorded instructions to speak to the U.S. Marine Security Guard on duty.

Working Hours (+973) 1724-2700

After Hours (+973) 1724-2700

Vonage Lines from U.S. (202)-536-4783; (202)-536-3053; (202)-536-2354; (202)-448-5131

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

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Bahrain should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices.

Additional Resources

Bahrain Country Information Sheet