I was with my sister at a department store, and I saw an Emirati man with what I assumed was his wife. He was holding her hand and she was dressed in an abaya (the black cloak that most of us Emirati women wear) and the shaylah (head scarf). In fact, she wore this traditional dress like the Emirati women. Had they not stopped close by me, I would have never known that his wife was not Emirati but Eastern European (which I detected from her accent).
As my sister spoke of what she was going to buy, my mind went into a series of questions about the implications of the growing number of Emirati men marrying foreign women.
In the case of this couple I wondered, what would the identity of their children be? As a mother plays a critical role in building a child's character, specifically their sense of religion, language, heritage and identity.
The fact is that the phenomenon of Emirati men marrying foreign women is an issue of personal freedom - a freedom which I totally respect and support. But the implications of this phenomenon are part of a bigger issue which range from the dilution of our national identity to the growing number of un-married Emirati women. The other implications are rising divorce rates due to non-compatible cultures, marriages of convenience to obtain Emirati citizenship, and lack of fairness which emerges from the UAE citizenship that is easily granted to a foreign woman who marries an Emirati man and her children, while the children of an Emirati woman married to a foreigner are not fully entitled to it.
So why are Emirati men increasingly marrying foreign women? Fundamentally, we as a people have not changed. However, the phenomenal growth of our society has changed our social landscape, which in turn has had an impact on our behaviour, and priorities. The change in the social landscape is reflected in our cosmopolitan society, high standard of living and access to material wealth and luxurious lifestyles.
This phenomenal growth has also brought with it some challenges. For example, the rapid development of our nation has attracted many people to our country, amongst them single foreign women who in many cases come from societies where dating and non-marital relations are part of the social norms. The growing number of these single women in our society does impact the behaviour of Emirati men. In the past, many Emirati men would marry early, but today we are witnessing a lot of them delaying marriage as there is an abundance of single and willing women, and a lively dating scene. Quite often, these men end up marrying the woman they date.
Our traditional values of strict segregation in terms of socialising of Emirati men and Emirati women have also limited the ability of Emirati men to respectfully meet eligible young Emirati women in public and respectable social manner. On the other hand, these same Emirati men can easily socialise with foreign women, which means that the greater interaction between foreign women and Emirati men naturally results in a higher probability of an Emirati man getting to know more foreign women and increases the chance of marrying a foreigner.
The access to luxurious lifestyles has also created an imbalance in terms of priorities, so we find many young men preferring a fast car and a girl friend to a home, wife and children. Materialism has also created a demand for higher dowries thereby deterring many Emirati men from marrying Emirati women.
Today, there is an awakening. Yes for a young nation of 37 years, we have achieved in a short time span what once people called the impossible. At the same time, we increasingly realise that if taken for granted, we can lose everything in the blink of an eye.
So we need to actively work to preserve our national identity. We need to encourage Emiratis to marry Emiratis to strengthen our value system, our heritage and our sense of civic duty. We need to get rid of anachronistic traditions that do not allow young Emiratis to socialise publicly in a respectable manner and allowing them to potentially meet their life-partner. We need to balance out our passion for material belongings and a noble sense of purpose in life.
As Emiratis we have to continue to be bold and to keep up the momentum of development, but we also need to take each step with much wisdom and thought, and not to consider our personal actions only as they pertain to us as individuals, but to also consider how our personal choices affect us collectively, as a people, and as a nation.
Najla Al Awadhi is a member of the Federal National Council, Deputy CEO Dubai Media Incor-porated and General Manager of Dubai One TV.