HIS Excellency Adel Yousif Sater from the Kingdom of Bahrain may hold the record amongst the current Bangkok diplomatic corps for juggling the most ambassadorial assignments at once. Besides being his country’s top envoy to Thailand he also oversees his country’s relations with Bangladesh, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and ASEAN. During our recent interview, the dedication and passion he brings to the job was evident.
“It is hard work to look after seven countries with but a few staff consisting of Bahraini diplomats and 15 locals, but I think we manage very well,” said Mr Sater in his embassy office on the 31st floor of Sathorn Nakorn Tower on North Sathorn Road. “I have a very good team in Bangkok. I visit all countries regularly every few months and also whenever there is a high-level visit from a Bahraini government official.”
One of the charms of Bahrain is that it is a very liberal country, allowing people of different faiths to express themselves freely. The majority of the population of Bahrain speaks English, which makes it a lot easier for visitors. With a wide range of choices, Bahrain offers a multicultural mix of ethnicities and religions, with friendly people who offer warm hospitality.
Bahrain also offers plenty of luxurious retail therapy as well as entertainment complexes, all scattered around the Kingdom. The climate is moderate compared to other Gulf countries, with pleasant winters and summers. Though Bahrain has warmer weather in the summer, it offers mild temperatures that draw tourists to a long winter.
Bahrain features an abundance of natural resources, modern amenities, historical landmarks and countless amusements. The capital of Bahrain, Manama, offers plenty of interesting places to visit, such as Qal’at Al Bahrain (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Bab Al Bahrain (means ‘Gate of Bahrain’), Al Khamis Mosque (the oldest mosque in Bahrain), Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Bahrain National Museum, Bait Al Qur’an, Band ahrain Financial Harbour.
The ambassador said that Bahrain has the oldest public education system in the region, adding that the Al-Hidaya Al-Khalifia school for boys was opened at the northern tip of Muharraq in 1919 and the first public school for girls was opened in Muharraq in 1928.
His Excellency spoke at length about the place he grew up, Muharraq Island, which is connected by three causeways to Manama, the country’s capital and largest city on Bahrain Island. “My home is in Muharraq, the northernmost island in the archipelago. This is where I was born, grew up and met my wife, Layla A.aziz Mohamed Albalushi.
“We have four sons: Yusuf, Mohamed, Bader and Khalid. When I was young, my hometown was my universe, and still today I really love the rich history of the area. I have so many memories of family and friends from childhood, and the traditional Islamic houses veiled by the narrow winding lanes. The spicy smell of machboos (a spicy poultry or beef, fish, shrimp with rice dish) pervades the air, and people have time to stop, chat and savor the coffee.
“Muharraq has plenty of treasures that I am proud of. First off, it is the second largest city in the kingdom and served as the capital until 1923 when it was replaced by Manama. The town of Muharraq was first built in the 17th century and had long been the center of religion. The history of the city dates back 5,000 years. It became well-known as Tylos, and later the kingdom succumbed to the rule of the Seleucid Greeks. During this time the city was the center of a pagan faith that worshipped a huge image of a shark in the middle of the city. Later during the 5th century AD, the city became a center of Nestorian Christianity.
“There are so many activities on offer. If you love to shop for exotic handmade crafts, Muharraq has a traditional market known as the Souq where you can certainly find good buys for yourself and friends. The most famous tourist destinations in Muharraq are historical spots like the Shaikh Isa Bin Ali House, the wind towers, the house of journalist Abdullah Al Zayed, and the Arad Fort. The best time to visit is from October till May.
“Bahrain International Airport and Diyar Al Muharraq, the biggest private urban development project in the Kingdom of Bahrain, are also located on the island. Adjacent to Muharraq are the man-made Amwaj Islands, known for their large buildings, hotels and beautiful beaches.”
Mr Sater graduated from Alexandria University in Egypt and joined the Bahraini Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1975. In 1978, he took his first overseas posting in Montreal, Canada, as the Consul and remained there until 1985. He returned to Bahrain to work at the Economic Directorate. From 1988, he filled his second overseas posting in Geneva as the Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations until 1993, where he then served as Counsellor at Bahrain’s embassy in the United Kingdom until 2000, after which he went back to Bahrain for a time to work within the cabinet of the Undersecretary at the MFA.
“My last posting before coming to Thailand was as ambassador to Germany, from 2001 to 2007. I was simultaneously non-resident ambassador to Poland, Hungary and Liechtenstein. In May 2008, I assumed my duties as ambassador to Thailand,” said Mr Sater.
“During my tenure as ambassador representing the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Kingdom of Thailand, I have remained determined to maintain and enhance the close ties which happily exist on multiple levels between our two countries. This alliance has long been strong and exemplary, and holds out promising potential, yet to be fully explored. I keep this objective at the forefront of my mind with great care and dedication.
“Over the years I have been here I have been able to build very close and enduring friendships with Thai people from different walks of life. I have good relations with Thai officials, members of the business community and civil society here as well as with the Thai community in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
“As friends we have shared moments of joy and supported each other in times of sorrow or pain. Such wonderful enduring friendships are a great experience that I wish to highlight, and there is something else in my experience here that I wish to focus on. I have always approached my role not only within the narrow definition of my position but also in the context of the broader political and diplomatic environment of the country and region.
“Therefore I have made it a priority to maintain contacts with the relevant authorities within the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) – ASEAN framework. Intensifying collaboration at national, regional and international levels is an integral part of our efforts.
“In my role as the first Bahraini ambassador to Thailand, I have tried to broaden awareness in the Thai people of the Kingdom of Bahrain, so they can better understand our country, people, culture and especially our capabilities. I promote Bahrain as a destination for Thai tourists and investments. In terms of investment, we have so much to offer, especially in the financial sector.
“I also focus on doing things that will project the kind of image we want for Bahrain in the minds of our Thai friends. All these goals have added an important dimension to my long-standing links with Thailand. I consider the proliferation of friendly relations between our two countries as a clear recognition of my modest contributions. I am confident these longstanding friendships will continue to grow and prosper after the completion of my assignment,” Mr Sater said.
Formal diplomatic ties between Thailand and Bahrain were established in 1977. These were further consolidated with the opening of the Thai embassy in Manama on February 15, 2004, and the opening of Bahrain’s embassy in Bangkok in 2007.
“Our bilateral relations have long been cordial and over time have grown from strength to strength. Our two kingdoms have been honored by the exchange of visits by our respective royal families, government leaders and ministers. Economic cooperation has greatly expanded in recent years as a result of the frequent exchange of high-level trade and investment delegations.
“Bahrain and Thailand are building toward an impeccable partnership. As we continue to work together to promote security and stability in our region, to earnestly counter the threat of terrorism around the globe and to address long-simmering international conflicts, the strategic dimensions of our bilateral relationship are more important than ever.
“Thailand is a great partner for Bahrain in advancing the policy of GCC-ASEAN cooperation. The two countries have many similarities, as both are considered globally as promising gateways for trade and investment. From Bahrain’s standpoint, our oil, gas and petrochemical products, tourism and medical products are to be emphasized in Thailand. There is also bilateral trade related to food security, such as rice and halal products, for example.
“Recently, a Bahraini-Thai Business Council was formed to explore ways of bolstering investment and partnership. The council was established during a visit to Thailand by a delegation from the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry. We believe there are many mutual opportunities for investment.
“Of course, Thailand has long been known as a premier tourist destination in Southeast Asia. It has managed to maintain its uniqueness in a globalizing world and this is responsible for its status as a tourist haven, and of course it has always been a popular destination for Bahraini tourists. The promise of a dream tropical island holiday with powdery sands, crystal blue waters, sultry sun, diverse nightlife and a lot of opportunities for fun remains the prime lure of the land. The high quality of hotels and standard of service are equally famous.
“Moreover, Thailand can boast exceptionally high standards for its private health sector. Highly skilled medical staff, state-of-the-art facilities, modern technology and extensive services with reasonable rates have attracted a growing number of Bahraini tourists into the country, mostly during the month of July.
“The Bahraini community in Thailand expands every year. On the other hand, more than 4,000 Thai people are currently living in Bahrain. Many are working in the hospitality sector, for example the spa and resorts industry, or running Thai restaurants. We have many of them that serve top quality cuisine.”
Ambassador Sater pointed out that his country is also becoming a travelers’ destination, although not on the same scale as Thailand. However, tourism numbers especially from countries within the region as well as from Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas are rising steadily, partly in view of an easy entry policy.
“Thai nationals are among the citizens of 40 countries who receive a two-week visa upon arrival in Bahrain. Other countries which enjoy this convenience are North America, all European Community countries, Japan and Singapore and others. We are also very flexible in visa extensions. Thai people are most welcome to visit Bahrain, and if they find a job while there they can apply for a working visa without leaving the country.”
“The Kingdom of Bahrain and the Kingdom of Thailand have the extraordinary similarity of both being constitutional monarchies. Both our Kings are indeed the main pillars of our peoples. We are fortunate to have His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa as our guiding light.
Likewise, the Thai people have His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej to guide the development of the Kingdom and promote progress and prosperity. Ever since I first read about His Majesty King Bhumibol, many years back, I have continued to admire him tremendously for his extraordinary developmental work which has benefited the people of this great nation and contributed enormously to Thailand’s economic and social wellbeing.”
Mr Sater said his most memorable experience in Thailand was when he was given the honor of an audience with Thailand’s King. “I was received warmly, and I was humbled by this distinction,” he said.
Happy in Thailand
“I must point out that my links with Thailand and its people pre-date my appointment as ambassador. I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful country and interacting with its wonderful people several times, both on vacations and trips related to participation in official functions or events. The visits provided me invaluable opportunities to gain knowledge of the country I would later be ambassador of and keep abreast of its developments. This has helped me immensely in the performance of my duties here.
“I can proudly say that I am very familiar with most parts of Thailand, both rural and urban, due to frequent visits during which I travelled extensively with family, friends and officials. Long ago I discovered that Thai cuisine is most delicious and I am in love with it. I am also enthralled by Thailand’s amazing natural beauty, verdant vegetation, pristine sunny beaches, its cultural inheritance, the majesty and splendour of its cultural pageants, as well as the hospitality of its people. I assure you these are not merely outworn clichés from tourist brochures but something I have personally experienced over and over again.
“I am in deep appreciation of the friendship and sincere cooperation extended to me and my family since I took up the position as ambassador to this wonderful country. My most enduring impression of Thailand is the resilience of its people, institutions and economy, even during hard times. I have always felt safe and never in any particular danger,” said Mr Sater.
Mr Sater doesn’t let his heavy workload derail his zest for life. The ambassador likened a life without hobbies to food without salt. “It is hobbies that make life interesting. My hobbies give me joy and relaxation in pursuits outside of my regular work, and this is very beneficial in restoring the balance and harmony in my life. These activities are not only for relaxation. Some have proven useful to my career, and some are just for me to enjoy. My focus rotates depending on the season and my mood at the time.
“Running in the gym is the perfect ‘alone time’ hobby for me lately. I also enjoy reading and collecting antiques and crafts. But my biggest enduring passion is traveling and exploring new places with my family. We are always ready for an adventure. We have had the opportunity to experience the cultures of many other countries besides Thailand. Whenever I have an opportunity to visit a new place, whether a village, city, mountain or seaside, I never miss it. It is so thrilling to see a new place and meet different kinds of people.
“Whenever I travel around a new place, I take my camera and shoot interesting pictures of people, buildings, monuments, bazaars and so on. This gives me immense satisfaction and pleasure.
“I have gained good experience about the world because of my extensive travels. As a foreigner, I can see things through different eyes. I am mostly liberal and accept any race, religion or creed.”