Recently an article was published (‘Give expats an opportunity to earn UAE citizenship’ by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Gulf News, September 23), which discussed the topic of how the UAE should consider granting citizenship to expatriates. It talked about the US system as well as the systematic process of applying for citizenship in our neighbouring country, Saudi Arabia.
The article had no mention of the indigenous American people, who until today face discrimination at the hands of the current administration, which descended from European settlers. The article also failed to mention Saudi Arabia’s ability to grant citizenship to expatriates based on the fact that their population isn’t a minority.
It is difficult to jump to conclusions on such ideas of citizenship to expatriates in the UAE, especially in the present state, which differs from the previous generation on a wide scale, in terms of political and social challenges that are being faced by the region as whole.
In the past, migrants — who came to this country before its formation — integrated with the majority of the population, the Emiratis. If we are to draw comparisons between the past and present, we would have to include the circumstances then and now. Emiratis weren’t demographically outnumbered and social challenges which exist today were not part of life in the past.
Given that this ‘idea’ of an American style citizenship grant, would even be initiated, who would be eligible and what exactly would happen to the current form of government we have in place?
The article mentions that intellectuals and scientists as well as successful entrepreneurs would be selected to receive citizenship. So are we assuming that these individuals would wish to continue with the current framework that is currently governing the people of the UAE? After being granted citizenship would political rights be the next step forward? Naturally, this is why someone would require such documents as soon as the social aspect is covered.
Another challenge would be the two separate social/political groups that would emerge — native and naturalised. Emirati society links itself with a strong family-oriented and tribal affiliation. What would the second group of naturalised Emiratis be classified as? How would they view the native population?
Many expatriates are of critical importance to the economy of the UAE, but they are not working as a favour to this land. Contracts were drawn and both parties benefited mutually — expatriates would be paid for their services and we would learn from them in order to enhance our country or continue to utilise their services until these positions could be nationalised. The UAE does not have a migration policy in place; expatriates come to the UAE to serve their contracts and then either renew them or leave to find better opportunities.
Already, we face challenges of bridging the cultures of the various nationalities — about 200-plus — living in the country. Regardless of the popular idea that the UAE is a melting pot of cultures, issues still exist where Emiratis are stereotyped and ridiculed behind the scenes, from the workplace to social media commentaries.
These challenges need to be addressed. It is not as if all nationalities agree with each other when it comes to cultural or social norms that relate to Emirati society.
One example I can draw from personal experience is when I was a student attending university in Dubai. The majority of the student population were expatriates drawn from many nationalities; they had little or no idea about our history and customs. From our side, as a nation, more should be done to elevate the UAE’s rich history, but how much can a small population do and is it appealing to the masses as is our economic policy?
Although my peers at university were politically non-active in the UAE, there was always some sort of opposition to what we, as Emiratis, stood for, if my colleagues were interested in politics, of course. Our values as students would clash. We tried to avoid bringing up political or social challenges in discussions when we met at university, so we could retain and enhance our friendship.
We wanted to reach our desired goal of graduating; that was our objective, not political debate, which by the way, would always include how Emiratis are lazy and spoiled and backward.
As Emiratis, we should realise that we cannot approach our social issues with remedies from the West, which are sadly riddled with unfortunate events. The UAE deserves a chance to develop its people — citizens — not dissolve them.
We have been blessed with leaders who have the vision to do this and the will, as a people, to make this happen. 2013 is ‘the year of the Emirati’ and we should prove that we can live up to this, not just this year, but in the years to come. Every year should be the one where every Emirati challenges himself or herself in all fields.
We should foster and enhance the national workforce , no matter how long it takes. Our people come first and must rise up to the challenges they face. Synthetically treating the problem will create complications. Patience is the key to fostering a healthy population. Creating unnecessary divisions within society is exactly what western style immigration law would do in the UAE.
It will always be true in my view that a successful and beautiful country must have a mix of nationalities, which I proudly advocate. The UAE has used its own formula to show the world what co-existence really means. The UAE and its people cannot dismiss challenges that society faces just to please a few individuals, who share the idea that the UAE needs to follow in the footsteps of other nations and dissolve its identity. We are a nation that is leading the way, regionally and internationally.
Jalal Bin Thaneya is a UAE writer who is interested in social affairs.