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Bahrain the Middle East's 'freest economy'

US think-tank finds country features many of the characteristics that mark a prosperous economy: low inflation, strong property rights, low regulation and low barriers to foreign investment.

Bahrain has been ranked the Middle East's freest economy by US think-tank, the Heritage Foundation, according to its '2005 Index of Economic Freedom' report.

The foundation said Bahrain features many of the characteristics that mark a prosperous economy: low inflation, strong property rights, low regulation and low barriers to foreign investment, among others factors.

Bahrain overall ranked 20 with Hong Kong topping the list again.

North Africa and the Middle East, the only region to experience a net decline in economic freedom, saw only four countries improve their scores in the 2005 Index; 11 are worse.

Bahrain, despite a worsening score, is still the freest country in the region.

But three countries declined enough to move from being 'mostly free' to 'mostly unfree' -- Qatar, Tunisia and Morocco.

Libya and Iran -- once two of the most advanced economies in the Middle East -- improved in the 2005 Index but remain repressed.

Published by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, the Index documents the correlation between freedom and prosperity.

The UAE was in the second place among Arab states in the region with a ranking of 48. The following is the ranking of other Arab countries: Kuwait – 54; Oman- 60; Saudi Arabia – 72; Lebanon – 76; Qatar – 81; Tunisia – 83; Morocco- 85; Egypt – 103; Algeria – 114; Yemen –132; Syria – 139; Libya – 153.

Iran ranked 148 in the listing.

Economic freedom is the measure of the roadblocks governments put in place that prevent their citizens from achieving success. Not surprisingly, countries with the greatest economic freedom enjoy strong economic growth. Unfree countries, conversely, do not, said the foundation.

The study said: "With an eye towards attracting foreign investment, Bahrain maintains a hospitable environment for foreign business and seeks to improve its regulatory procedures. To encourage private investment in the telecommunications sector, the government broke up the monopoly of the state-owned Batelco company in April 2003."

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