Bahrain has been wracked by unrest since in February 2011, when demonstrators occupied Manama's Pearl Roundabout, demanding more democracy and an end to discrimination against the majority Shia Muslim community by the Sunni royal family.
The protesters were driven out by security forces in March 2011, after King Hamad declared a state of emergency and brought in troops from neighbouring Sunni-led Gulf states to restore order and crush dissent.
The unrest left at least 30 civilians and five policemen dead. Almost 3,000 people were also arrested, and scores were handed long prison terms by military courts.
International condemnation prompted King Hamad to set up the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which issued recommendations that included the prosecution of security forces personnel responsible for the torture and deaths of detainees, the release prisoners of conscience, and the reinstatement of dismissed Shia workers.
The king accepted the recommendations and the government says they have all been implemented. However, critics have complained that not only is that not happening, but that the crackdown is continuing and abuses are on the increase.
Where are we now?
A national dialogue process has reached an impasse, with the opposition claiming the ruling Khalifa family have no intention of making good on its promises. With no breakthrough expected, angry Shia youth are increasingly turning to violence. Opposition and human rights activists say more than 45 people have been killed in ongoing clashes between security forces and protesters since the end of the March 2011 crackdown, though the government says the death toll is lower.