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Atlas Brunei

Country (long form)
Negara Brunei Darussalam
Bandar Seri Begawan
Total Area
2,227.81 sq mi
5,770.00 sq km
336,376 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
Malay (official), English, Chinese
88.2% total, 92.6% male, 83.4% female (1995 est.)
Muslim (official) 67%, Buddhist 13%, Christian 10%, indigenous beliefs and other 10%
Life Expectancy
71.23 male, 76.06 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
constitutional sultanate
1 Bruneian dollar (B$) = 100 cents
GDP (per capita)
$17,400 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
government 48%, production of oil, natural gas, services, and construction 42%, agriculture, forestry, and fishing 10% (1999 est.)
petroleum, petroleum refining, liquefied natural gas, construction
rice, cassava (tapioca), bananas; water buffalo
Arable Land
crude oil, liquefied natural gas, petroleum products
machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, chemicals
Natural Resources
petroleum, natural gas, timber
Current Environmental Issues
seasonal smoke/haze resulting from forest fires in Indonesia
Telephones (main lines in use)
68,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
57,000 (1998)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
1 (1999)

Early Bruneian history is cloaked in mystery, although it is believed trade links existed with China in the sixth century AD. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Brunei was a considerable regional power, controlling not only most of Borneo but parts of the Philippines as well, mainly due to its success as a port. Brunei's power waned following the arrival of the European powers to the region. The Spanish and the Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive, but it was the British, who arrived in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries, who began to erode Brunei's influence. Sarawak was ceded to the British in the 19th century and a series of 'treaties' were forced on the Sultan as James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, consolidated his power base. In 1888, the sultanate itself became a British protectorate. Brunei's territory was gradually whittled away piecemeal until, with one last flourish of absurdity, Limbang was ceded to Sarawak in 1890, thus dividing the country in half.

A British 'adviser' was assigned to the court in 1906, yet another compromise of the sultanate's independence. In 1929, just as Brunei was about to be swallowed up entirely, oil was discovered. British plans to make Brunei a part of the Malaysian Federation were quashed by a revolt in 1962. The Sultan suspended the constitution and opted for independence. The two countries signed a treaty in 1971 confirming that Britain would retain control of Brunei's external affairs.

The country has been under emergency laws ever since the 1962 revolt and mooted elections have never eventuated. In 1984, Brunei became completely independent, and underlined its new independence from Britain by joining ASEAN. Since then, it has moved towards Islamic fundamentalism. In 1991, the sale of alcohol was banned and stricter dress codes have been introduced. At the least sign of internal dissent, the Sultan on each occasion moved quietly but decisively to silence his critics, and thus far his power has gone more or less unchallenged.

In recent times, there have been pockets of disaffection challenging the status quo and agitating for a loosening of the rules. Arguments for change have been aided by royal scandals involving the sultan and by the profligate spending of the sultan's younger brother, Prince Jefri Bolkiah. The polo-playing playboy has been charged over misappropriation of 16000000000 of state funds and is now suffering the indignity of a royal grounding and a reduction in his pocket money. Both the sultan and the prince found themselves in legal bother when a former US model threatened court action over sex abuse allegations. A tightening of the purse strings to offset both a recent plunge in oil prices and the prince's spendthrift lifestyle seems to suggest that Brunei's wealth isn't limitless after all, although it's hoped that shrewd investment will provide for all Bruneians when the oil runs out.