View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Global Recession Saving Emirati Culture

Michael Slackman writes in today’s (11 November 2008) New York Times that the global financial crisis is having one positive effect in the United Arab Emirates. He says:

“Emiratis have fretted for years over the loss of their culture, as social norms became more a product of the newcomers than of the nationals. Now, some are pinning their desires for a cultural salvation on the global economic downturn, which they hope will reduce the number of foreigners pouring into their country and give them a chance to reassert their customs and way of life.”

“‘This is a blessing; we needed it,’ Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a political science professor at United Arab Emirates University, said of the fiscal crisis. ‘The city needs to slow down and relax. It’s good for the identity of our country.”

“‘The city reached the summit, but we knew every time we got closer to the top, we got closer to the edge, too,’ he added. ‘That’s the feeling inside each Emirati. When we felt like we had it all, we also felt like we will lose it all.’”

Emirati Identity
Cultural identity is a much-discussed issue in the Emirates. Emiratis are torn between their enjoyment of a better standard of living, thanks to the influx of foreigners, and the social changes taking place in cultural identity and moral turbulence.

When indigenous Emiratis make up only 10% of the total population it does place many of them under a siege mentality, feeling that foreigners are intruders and raiders of their culture. The answer is not the Emirati government mantra of ‘breed, breed, breed’, (in contrast to the American Republican catch cry of ‘Drill baby, drill’. The Emirati dependence on foreigners to manage shops and clean homes has accentuated their invisibility, unlike neighboring Oman where nationals drive taxis and are employed at the checkouts.

New Citizenship Laws to Bridge Divide
The inability of foreigners to get citizenship in the UAE, even young people who were born here, creates a social divide typical of colonial landlords and foreign servants. In a similar way religious thinking often exacerbates the divide between believers and ‘infidels’.

Residents in UAE Cherish Emirati Culture
Emiratis must be reminded that most foreigners to their shores want the Emirati culture to grow and the indigenous identity to be more clearly defined and cherished. The British writer based in the UAE, Peter Hellyer, was calling this week in The National, for more to be done in encouraging the use of Arabic among all people who live in the UAE.

Emirati cultural identity will flourish not by a decline in foreigners but by widening the concept of citizenship and working at a greater engagement with all residents on the important issues of culture and language.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: "working at a greater engagement with all residents..."