ملاحق البحرين تنتخب 2014
Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri – “Reforming the glass, not breaking it!”
Bahrain This Month (magazine), Vol. 7 Issue 12, www.bahrainthismonth.com, Date: 1 December 2003, Page 70
(Personality Profile: Reforming the glass, not breaking it – After a sound grounding in engineering and design, Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri returned to Bahrain to become a noted editor-in-chief)
With sound grounding in engineering and design in England, Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri returned to Bahrain and started up Al-Wasat, dedicated to “social and political responsibility.” He puts in seven-day weeks.
Heather Anderson discovers.
After spending more than twenty years of his life in the United Kingdom, Dr. Mansoor Al-Jamri returned to Bahrain just two years ago to help set up the Al-Wasat newspaper. After two decades in the engineering field, he has now moved into journalism and the post of Editor-in-Chief of Bahrain’s newest daily newspaper. But it has not been such a drastic change of career as one might think.
Mansoor is a man with a mission. He’s serious, hardworking, usually putting in a seven day week, and although he has a doctorate mechanical engineering, two masters’ degrees and a first degree, he prefers not to use the title ‘doctor.’ He is more comfortable to be just Mansoor Al-Jamri. We met in his spacious office at the Al-Wasat premises in Budaiya and although his mobile phone rang many times, he gave his full attention to our interview.
I am sure that Mansoor had no inkling in his youth of the direction his life would take. He was born in Bani Jamra in 1961, the second of ten children. “We were seven brothers and three sisters, a typical Bahraini family,” he says smiling.
“I think that I had a fairly good childhood, apart from the travelling. I spent much of my early years with my father in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq, where my father was studying at a religious institute. We came back home to Bahrain every year and I remember the long journey, which sometimes took up to three days, with overland travel to Kuwait and then by bus through Saudi Arabia and finally by boat to Bahrain.”
Returning home at the age of 11, Mansoor remembers Bahrain as a kind of paradise after the hardships in Iraq at that time. His father, Shaik Abdul Amir Al-Jamri, who recently suffered a stroke, continues to be an inspiration to Mansoor. “He had to struggle from modest beginnings and to travel far for his studies. When he came back to Bahrain, he became an MP in 1973 and was active in many social and political movements and witnessed many key events during his life. All this has had an impact on me.”
Mansoor’s secondary and technical schooling was in Bahrain. He was an ALBA apprentice for 3 months in 1977 and after finishing high school, he worked at the Sitra power station as a mechanical technician. In 1979 he was given a scholarship to study in the UK by the Ministry of Education and spent two years studying for his diploma in engineering in Willesden, North London. From there he moved to a degree course in mechanical engineering in Paisley, Scotland.
“Scotland was a really different country. Coming from an engineering education and moving into a heavily industrialized area, where the education was linked to serving the needs of the area and very strong in engineering, really suited my needs.” After his degree, he completed a master’s in engineering design and then went on to study for his doctorate. In all, he spent about eight years in Scotland before moving back to London to work for British Oxygen as a senior engineer and then a design manager.
“I loved Britain because it gave me an opportunity to further my education and excellent work opportunities came my way whilst I was there.” From British Oxygen he moved to another company responsible for engineering inspection and certification. He was responsible for certifying the CE mark which shows that certain products conform to European Union Standards.
His work at both companies entailed a great deal of travelling around the world, from Brazil to Japan, Africa, Europe and North America. Mansoor is a Chartered Engineer, a Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Engineering Designers in the UK.
“Of course that was my professional life which I loved, but there was also my political life and my involvement in political and human rights activities. I was a writer and a contributor to various seminars and conferences on democracy, Islam, the Middle East and Bahrain.” As a result, Mansoor found that he could not return to Bahrain because of his politics and his membership at that time of the opposition “Bahrain Freedom Movement.”
However, with the political reforms which were started in 2001, there was the opportunity for him to return to Bahrain and to start what he describes as a new chapter in his life. This was with the foundation of Al-Wasat newspaper. A paper he described as, “A voice for reform, for democracy, for human rights and for a better future for everybody in Bahrain. The newspaper certainly would not have been allowed had it not been for H.M. King Hamad, supporting initiatives for opening up the political process.”
The change from engineer to journalist and editor-in-chief was a complete change of direction for Mansoor. “My previous writing experience and involvement with the British media prepared me for this role, and my second masters’ degree in management has helped a lot. I had for some time been thinking of a media project and setting up a newspaper seemed to be the obvious next step.”
Al-Wasat was set up with 39 equal shareholders from the private sector. Within six months of getting permission, the first issue of Al-Wasat was published in September 2002 and the newspaper celebrated its first anniversary on 7 September this year. “I am glad that the newspaper has changed the Arabic media style. We focus on issues concerning the people in society. We have been more daring in exploring areas previously kept behind closed doors.”
“We have a strong board from a business and a directional point of view, and there is strong consensus. Since the board was first elected, we have met on about twenty occasions in just over one year.”
Mansoor confirms that Al-Wasat has achieved many of their initial objectives. “We have broken barriers that used to stop journalists putting their views to the people and reflecting the true situation, but there are still many areas that need to be developed for Bahrain to match freer societies.” One of these areas is to see the press law changed, to become compatible with the democratic reforms that have taken place in the country.
Mansoor is quick to emphasize that, “We are not advocating freedom without responsibility. We want freedom of expression with extreme social and political responsibility. Our line of reporting has always been a balancing act. We do not want to write things that might foster any civil disorder. We want to have a conflict of views with the aim of resolving them peacefully. We also want to consolidate Bahrain’s reputation as being a friendly nation and a good place to do business.”
This has been quite a challenge, as there are people who would like Al-Wasat to say more and others who believe that they go too far, but Mansoor stresses, “We are reforming glass, not breaking it.” The Al-Wasat board is looking at the possibility of an English publication, but Mansoor says, “We need the infrastructure for another newspaper and we will take this step by step and no timetable as yet been agreed.”
Over the last fifteen months Mansoor has been extremely busy. There are no typical days, but he needs to be at the paper from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and in the evening usually from 7 p.m. to midnight. Of course there are meetings, press conferences, interviews and the daily editorial that he writes. He has been advised to work a little less and conserve his energy for future projects. Sadly he hasn’t much time for swimming and walking these days. Still he enjoys reading books on politics, management (Drucker and Handy are two of his favourites), the behavioural sciences, Islam and the Middle East, even if only a few pages at a time.
His three children by his first marriage are at school and adapting to life in Bahrain, after being born and brought up in the UK. His wife, Reem Khalifa is the Head of the Foreign Desk at Al-Wasat, so work does not keep him totally away from his family.
We finished our interview just as his phone and mobile became more active. There were further meetings and his daily editorial to write. Like his father, Mansoor Al-Jamri has travelled far, studied and worked abroad. He has seen and been a part of the recent progressive changes in Bahrain and continues to be actively involved with that movement.