In 1783 the al-Khalifa family captured Bahrain from the Persians. In order to secure these holdings it entered into a series of treaties with the UK during the 19th century that made Bahrain a British protectorate. The archipelago attained its independence in 1971. Bahrain's small size and central location among Persian Gulf countries require it to play a delicate balancing act in foreign affairs among its larger neighbors. Facing declining oil reserves Bahrain has turned to petroleum processing and refining and has transformed itself into an international banking center. King HAMAD bin Isa al-Khalifa after coming to power in 1999 pushed economic and political reforms to improve relations with the Shia community. Shia political societies participated in 2006 parliamentary and municipal elections. Al Wifaq the largest Shia political society won the largest number of seats in the elected chamber of the legislature. However Shia discontent has resurfaced in recent years with street demonstrations and occasional low-level violence.
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