The tiny state of Brunei has one of the world’s highest standards of living thanks to its bountiful oil and gas reserves.
Its ruling royals, led by the head of state Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, possess a huge private fortune and its largely ethnic-Malay population enjoy generous state handouts and pay no taxes.
A British protectorate since 1888, Brunei was the only Malay state in 1963 which chose to remain so rather than join the federation that became Malaysia. Full independence came relatively late in 1984.
Despite a significant non-Muslim minority presence in the country and strong condemnation from international rights group, in 2014 Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt strict Islamic sharia law which allows punishment such as stoning for adultery and amputation for theft.
The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the world’s longest-reigning and few remaining absolute monarchs. He was crowned in August 1968 following the abdication of his father, Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin.
Upon Brunei’s independence in 1984, he appointed himself prime minister and in 1991, introduced an ideology called Malay Muslim Monarchy, which presented the monarch as the defender of the faith.
He is one of the world’s richest individuals and in a country where the standard of living is high, appears to enjoy genuine popularity amongst his subjects. More recently however, he has faced criticism over the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the country.
Brunei’s media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family. Media are subject to self-censorship on political and religious matters and a press law provides prison terms of up to three years for reporting “false news”. Access to the internet is said to be unrestricted.
Some key dates in Brunei’s history:
15th century – Islamic sultanate of Brunei nominally in control of Borneo, including Sabah and Sarawak state of Malaysia, and some parts of the Sulu islands in the Philippines.
1888 – Brunei becomes a British protectorate.
1963 – Brunei chooses to remain a British dependency rather than join the Federation of Malaysia.
1967 – Hassanal Bolkiah becomes sultan following the abdication of his father, Sultan Omar.
1984 – Brunei becomes independent.
2014 – Brunei becomes the first East Asian country to adopt Islamic sharia law despite widespread international condemnation.
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