Dubai, Feb 2: Bahrain's Labour Minister Majeed Al Alawi, who was criticised by human rights groups for allegedly making racist remarks, rejected the charge saying his call was only meant to protect the Gulf's identity and culture.
''People at times tend to confuse between preserving cultural identity and racism. Bahrain does not mind multiple and varied cultures, but they must not affect its identity in a negative way,'' Majeed Al Alawi said. ''We all learn from others, but we want to co-exist with them while we keep our distinct identity,'' he said.
''There is a tense competition between urban development and the increase in the number of expatriates needed for projects on the one side, and preserving national identities on the other,'' the Minister said in a statement, adding that some Gulf countries have been impacted by the culture of the expatriate communities, and this should not happen in Bahrain.
Human rights activist Nabeel Rajab condemned Al Alawi's comments as ''racist and ungrateful attitude'' when he cautioned the lazy national Arabs against the ''tsunami from expatriate workers''.
Al Alawi last Sunday warned that the high number of expatriates, mainly Asians, in the Gulf following the boom in the construction sector was a bigger threat to the region than the fallout of an atomic bomb or an attack by Israel.
His warning prompted the government to ask for an official report from the Labour and Interior Ministries on a vision to preserve Bahrain's national identity and culture in the face of the alleged threats.
But for the Minister, an opposition figure who joined the government in 2002, the prime concern is preserving the character of Bahraini culture and society.
''We cannot eliminate any outside influence particularly in the presence of a high number of foreigners here. But we can limit it so that our national identity is not lost,''Al Alawi said.
Bahrain, the smallest of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, has a population of one million people, almost half of whom are foreigners.