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Abdulnabi Al Ekri, a former exile and current Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS) training and awareness chairman, organised a conference for civil societies and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) parallel to the official Forum for the Future, which ended on Saturday. Mr Al Ekri was also honoured at the parallel conference for more than 30 years' work in the field of human rights. You have said that countries in the region need to develop a "principle of citizenship". What is that?

In the Arab world people are like a parish, it's like the shepherd and his sheep. We are very far from being free citizens who have rights and, of course, duties. We have to struggle until we develop into free citizens with rights and duties.

Was the parallel conference successful in conveying the views of civil societies and NGOs to the Forum for the Future?

The main thing is that 250 delegates from inside and outside Bahrain presented a vision of an alternative project to officials. It does not necessarily collide with the official plan, but it is different - it emerges from the needs of ordinary people. The right of civil society to be part of the Forum was admitted and although it was not on an equal footing, it was a substantial start. A fund and plans for an institution have materialised, so it was not just promises, but something real.

What does civil society want?

The three most important things civil societies from the 30 countries (represented at the parallel conference) want are: first to be granted a space of freedom where they act independently and to be partners in decision making; second, integration into all projects like the Forum for the Future; and third, if a state can form alliances then so should a civil society. If a state can receive assistance - financial or political - then so should civil societies.

How are you "a living testimony to changes in Bahrain", which is how you have been described in the past?

I was in exile and now I am back in my country saying what I believe without hesitation. The best thing is we can organise in this space. It doesn't make me satisfied or content to say "everything is okay", but it doesn't mean I can deny the positive changes that have been made. Redress needs to be made for the past and reforms need to be made concrete.

Did you always want to return to Bahrain?

Of course, to struggle among my people is better than to struggle overseas. My motivation has never been from any outside influence and the only party I struggle for is my people.

What do you think has been your most important achievement?

The European Parliament resolution and United Nations Commission for Human Rights resolution that were passed in the same year, 1996, which called on the Bahrain government to restore parliament, release political detainees, return exiles and hold elections. It was a catalyst. I was involved, not me alone, but we worked for many years towards it.

What would you like to see next in Bahrain?

I would like to see justice and redress for those who are marginalised - poor people who have no voice. We are not a poor country. Bahrain is rich in human and material resources and I would like to see every citizen enjoy basic rights as rights, not as "gratis" (generosity).

What legacy would you like to leave behind for Bahrain?

I have one son and I would like to implement in him the spirit of dignity, for him not to be selfish and not to run after petty interests over principle. For the next generation of Bahrainis, I think we should give them a chance - opportunities to be educated and have jobs, to formulate their own thoughts. We should give them freedom and trust. As for me, I have experience and expertise. This is what I have to give.



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