Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/©Gulf News

On the UAE’s 40th National Day, President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan had announced a decree granting citizenship to children of Emirati mothers married to foreigners. The decree granted children of Emirati women married to non-Emiratis the opportunity to apply for citizenship when they reach the age of 18.

This year, change has come early.

Last October, Shaikh Khalifa issued a decree by Federal Law No 16 of 2017, on the amendment of some provisions of Federal Law No 17 of 1972, on Nationality and Passports. According to the decree, Citizenship may be granted to the sons and daughters of a Emirati women married to non-Emiratis after a minimum of six years from their birth date. Moreover, citizenship may also be granted to the daughters of Emirati women married to foreigners, who are also married to non-Emiratis.

Most will no doubt be jubilant over reducing the age requirement; others will take it with a pinch of salt. Part of it stems from the fear that granting citizenship to children of Emirati women married to foreigners will only encourage more Emirati women to marry non-Emiratis. This, according to the sceptics, will threaten the identity, culture and customs of UAE nationals, who are already a shrinking minority, and make the Emirati woman an easy prey for other non-nationals to marry.

Of course, I am ecstatic at this change, because to believe the sceptics is to assume we are all painted with the same brush. Every marital relationship is a different story. The right to marry whom we choose cannot be defined by our gender. Just as it is a man’s right to choose his life partner, so does a woman and we all have the same right.

Reducing the age from 18 to six is monumental. This allows families to apply sooner, and as a result achieve greater social, legal and economic stability.

The paradox in which one is born in a country to an Emirati mother, is raised in her warm embrace, ate the machboos and balaleet she made, learned how to say “Marhaba Al Sa’a” and took in all its neighbouring customs and traditions, and yet was excluded by a legal designation is more troublesome than we usually contemplate. It is impossible for a young adult not to question his identity and affiliations if he does not know for sure where he belongs. His childhood and young adult life would be riddled with questions of integration and alienation. Whilst a six-year-old would not be aware of the difference just yet, a lost adult can become the target of dangerous groups and organisations. This is why the age requirement matters.

Equally important is our understanding of identity. Our first affiliations begin with the most basic attributes — our gender, age, race and language. Not only do they affect the way others perceive us, but also affects how we perceive ourselves.

However, identity is not constant, values are not constant, they all evolve with time and experiences. According to Amin Maalouf, in his book In the Name of Identity, our identities “should accommodate for all our different allegiances and all the diverse cultural backgrounds we are connected to: Identities should be rich and colourful”. There is no threat to our culture and identities if what we aspire to is to always become the better versions of ourselves.

Eventually, our identity becomes the path we set for ourselves. It encapsulates what we do with our life, how we do it and for what reason.

The UAE is a young nation; its modern history is still reminisced by most. Thousands migrated to the UAE during the 60s and 70s and called this home. My great grandfather was amongst them. Hundreds were granted the UAE citizenship. They married from within and across the region. Today, we are a nation of proud Emiratis, whose identity is not sculpted, but moulded by all of our different histories and ideals. We are Emiratis not by our passports, but by the love and values that unite us; in our hospitality, tolerance, ambitions, humility, devotion and altruism. Let us not be bound by predetermined social constructs.

Last week alone, 309 children of Emirati women married to non-Emiratis were granted citizenship. This decree is a testament to the continuous efforts that the UAE is making to achieve gender equality between its male and female citizens, as well as address its demographic challenges.

For our next National Day celebration, let us aim to grant citizenship to Emirati women’s children at birth.

Asma I. Abdulmalik is a civil servant and a senior policy consultant, writing on gender and developmental issues.