Billion-dollar facelift as Bahrain bids to join Gulf boom

With a multi-billion dollar economic revamp in full swing, tiny Bahrain is vying to keep pace with its Gulf neighbors after more than a decade beset by political unrest.

It's a difficult path for the island nation that is a neighbor to gas-rich Qatar and connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, a key ally and the world's biggest oil exporter.

The United Arab Emirates, another regional powerhouse with well-developed trade, tourism and financial industries alongside its large oil sector, is just a short flight away.

Bahrain has witnessed turbulence since the crushing of an uprising in 2011 but has since begun a modernizing facelift, instigating economic and fiscal reforms.

Extensive land reclamations are literally changing the shape of the country, while a host of gleaming new buildings dot the skyline and cranes work above nascent housing developments.

The small, non-OPEC oil producer, is seeking to decrease its reliance on its oil sector which accounts for 80 percent of revenues, much of that from refining.

"The principles are clear: We want to grow. We want to grow faster than the world," Khalid Ibrahim Humaidan, head of the government's Economic Development Board, told reporters this month in Manama, the capital.

An unexpected boost could come from the announcement of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran, which Bahrain accused of stoking unrest during the 2011 protests.

"In an optimistic scenario, the Saudi-Iran rapprochement would gather pace and create a more conducive environment for political conciliation within Bahrain which in turn could derisk the economy," Gulf economist Justin Alexander, director of consultancy group Khalij Economics, told AFP.

Bahrain, a monarchy...

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