Is Bahrain Returning to Business as Usual?

Armed security forces and light tanks were visible Tuesday in Bahrain's financial harbor as the local press ran headlines heralding the resumption of "business as usual" and displaced expats began to slowly trickle back to the island kingdom.

Bahraini anti-government protesters stand close to makeshift roadblocks in Manama.
James Lawler Duggan | AFP | Getty Images
Bahraini anti-government protesters stand close to makeshift roadblocks in Manama.

"Everything looks under control," Mohammed Yasin, CIO of CAPM Investments based in Dubai, said.

"People are gradually trying to get back to normal; some of the schools are coming back at least. If that continues at the current levels without any extra troubles or turbulence, it should be good for Bahrain," Yasin added.

Rumors that major financial corporations like BNP Paribasand American Express - which have regional headquarters in Bahrain - are considering permanent relocation spurred intense speculation Tuesday as to what it will take to bring companies back to the country full-time and what needs to be done to keep them there.

The head of communications for BNP Paribas Middle East refused to comment on the rumors, while officials at American Express were not immediately available to comment.

"The short-term impact on Bahrain's economy if major corporations pull out is nothing when compared to the reputation damage long-term," a long-time Bahraini banker speaking on condition of anonymity told CNBC.

"If major companies go, you can expect to see Bahrain revert to the kind of business done here ten, twenty years ago. Wealth and power in the hands of a very few and expats largely shut off from the rest of the community," the banker added.

Risk Assessment

A government security assessment issued Monday characterized the situation in Bahrain as "stable, with life returning to normal patterns." But will that be enough to comfort investors or to tempt expats — and their employers — into returning?

Security analysts with clients in Bahrain told CNBC that they expect companies will undergo a full threat and risk assessment analysis before reaching a final decision, much like those done in the aftermath of protests in Egypt.

"Expats should, of course, continue to be mindful of their home country's travel advice, but it should be noted that a number of expatriates who briefly left Bahrain during recent events have already started returning, while a significant proportion remained in country throughout," the government said in a statement to CNBC.

The British government continues to advise against all travel to Bahrain at this time, while the U.S. government is urging Americans to defer travel to the kingdom.