Wednesday, November 12, 2008

National identity crisis: Dude, where's my culture?

The global financial crisis is seen as having benefit for Emirati culture. Seems like a stretch to me.

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 numbers 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."
In an odd case of role reversal, the minority of nationals fear they are becoming like colonial lords in their own country.

"I'm not just concerned about my future, I'm concerned about the future of my country," said Rashid Ali, 24. He and his friend Fahd Muhammad, 25, were the only two Emiratis seated in a crowded city mall last week. "I'm concerned about our national identity," Ali said.
The local population has largely been pacified by the largess of a gilded welfare state. For Ali and Muhammad, that meant free tuition and expenses for their university studies in Britain, including a monthly stipend of $1,258 while abroad.

Returning from school this year, they were given government jobs that pay $3,600 a month, which like all income here is tax free. When they plan to marry, they said, the government will give them each a free piece of land and about $200,000 to build a house, plus access to a 10- or 20-year interest-free loan.

That generosity is a problem now, as the government faces the prospect of having to control spending, raise revenue and encourage its own citizens to move into industries like finance and banking, which are now controlled by foreigners. Locals make up only 3 percent of the private work force, experts here said, with Emiratis opting for the shorter workday and higher pay of guaranteed government jobs.

The problem is that many like Ali and Muhammad say they enjoy what they get from the growth — the luxury villas and fancy cars — but not the costs in terms of social change. If the economy slows too much, however, the fear is that the costs may ultimately outweigh the benefits.

"Most people worry now, where is the welfare government?" said Salah Al Halyan, a financial consultant in Dubai, who explained the concerns of Emiratis. "Where is all the comfort? Where is my country? Who are all these people coming? The problem is the attitude of the nationals. They want to live on food stamps."

As the two men walked amid a sea of foreigners in the mall, they alternated between pride in the development and anger about what they called a loss of control of their national identity.

"We are Bedouins, developed Bedouins, but we still have our traditions," Ali said. "It's all changing and disappearing."

And then with deep sarcasm, he said, "What's up dude?" a phrase as alien to his culture as blue jeans and, now, as common in his city as blue jeans.
There's more.

Click on the "demographic imbalance" label at the end of this post for past coverage in The Emirates Economist.



Blogger rosh said...

There are times, I have a hard time buying this culture excuse. UAE is evolving. People are bringing in their lifestyles, often not to impose. However, I feel, there isn't an effort or drive to spread local culture & customs. Perhaps the question local folks should ask themselves is, how come an American phrase, "what's up dude" is spoken in the UAE - whilst many foreigners in UAE are unaware of mere formal greetings, the Emirati way. Takes TWO to tango!

7:54 AM  
Blogger rosh said...

...oh, I just want to add. Most people who've lived in the UAE 30 to 40 years, don't know much about Emirati culture. That's got to say something.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to UAE statistics, 73.3 % of the UAE population is under 30.
How can people that young have any idea what their past culture was? They have heard about it but never really lived it for themselves.

For most of them, Western television and film culture is as much a part of their experience as being a Gulf Arab.

You can't take the MTV out of the youth.

Meanwhile they go around thinking that whatever part of their own culture they choose to embrace is authentic. I highly doubt that. When I hear about them trying to represent their culture, I often wonder to what degree they know and respect their own past culture. Because their culture now is a far different thing than the desert people who worked hard to survive in the barren desert.

4:05 PM  
Blogger ReMo said...

no offence to any emirati..

but i'm just wondering why anyone would call themselves an emirati.. as in i am talkin about the word émirati'not why anyone would want to be called a national of the UAE. i know this is kind of contraversial. but i was just wondering doesnt emirate mean a province or states.. so what does emirati mean, a man of the state.. i mean like for eg.. the UK, united kingdom, but the identity of people there is very definite.. as in british, scottish.. etc.. but here in the UAE, ur called an emirati.. but u dnt ppl callin themselves abu dhabi'ite, sharj'ite, dubai'ite, fujair'ite etc.. i dont knw do they? the uk was just an example, lets say the US then.. americans..k.. europe, u've the french, the spaniards, italians..etc..India..indians, china the chinese.. ice land.. ice landers.. hmm.. any more suggestions.. does anythin come close to being referred to as a state and the people called as statemen..

1:21 PM  
Blogger rosh said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:38 PM  
Blogger rosh said...

Anon: there IS a local Emirati culture. It has its set of unique attributes - some similarities can be found with Muslim cultures in the sub-continent and GCC. Though I believe, the very heart of UAE's true culture, is that of the bedouin.

From personal experiences I believe, there are a few reasons Emirati culture hasn't evolved into or appreciated by most folks living in the UAE. Perhaps significantly given a strange stigma (shared by locals as well as most expats) - all noncitizens are short term visitors - and UAE is only a place to make monies, after which you go home! Hence no matter if one has lived cradle to the grave in the UAE, it pretty much goes unappreciated in most ways. 

Also, there is a lack of integration, mostly given the above. People from different societies do not integrate much. Locals with expats and the varied expats amongst themselves. Perhaps it's changing now - but that's just a minority I believe. Most often, the societies which make up UAE largely, are conservative. The sub-continents, various Arabs or local folks - conservatives do not assimilate cultures beyond a point, I think.

I attended a British private school - the O&As curriculum, and grew up watching a whole lot of American shows - The Simpsons, 90210, Bold & the beautiful, Starsky & Hutch, Knight Rider, LA LAW, Golden Girls - you name it. Likewise all that music on the FM92. Honestly, being part Indian, I don't know much of India's true culture (the some I am aware, I do not appreciate) - or that of the UAE, because there was such little we were exposed to growing up. Likewise most friends. Hence at this age, am not sure what exactly is my culture in it's truest sense - perhaps more of a mix of all the above? It's strange, relocating to NYC I fit right in - there was little to no culture shock!

That said, I do believe the new generation of citizens are more aware of global life and cultures. However, the outcry of culture erosion for the most part, I think is generated given some of that blatant Eastern and Western European tourist stuff, giving perhaps too much into "western values" as well as being a minority within their own home. Yes, I have seen people kissing in a movie and watched Baywatch whilst growing up in the UAE. However, seeing two people go at it at in a mall or wear next to nothing, just crosses the line. Am sure local folks feel likewise. I think people can evolve, be par with global standards and yet maintain what was their ways of life.

Remo: It's called United Arab Emirates, hence Emirati. Similar to citizens of the United States of America - Americans. A person from the town of Sharjah is a Sharjawi, similar to a New Yorker from NY. So, I don't get your confusion there or perhaps am missing something?

8:53 PM  
Blogger ReMo said...

Rosh: I perfectly understand that it is a normal thing for nationals to be called after their country, but as u right pointed out, americans are called americans because they belong to the united states of america.. but here. u've to look at 3 words here, u've united, u've states and u've america.. now.. emirate actually means province or states..
now it would've been a different thing if this country was called the united emirates of arabia.. and the national were called arabs.. it made a lot of sense then.. my argument does not have anythin to do with the culture or the identity.. it has more to do with how people linguistically refer to themselves in this country..

10:15 AM  
Anonymous muebles en castellon said...

The guy is absolutely fair, and there is no suspicion.

11:03 PM  

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