Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Emiratis get tetchy with expats in the UAE

In stories like that below, the word 'expat' seems, in so many people's minds, to mean Western.  I wish these articles would begin by pointing out that  81% of the population here are from the sub-continent, the Phillipines and other Arab nations.  Western expats make up only 3% of the population.  Emiratis are at 16%.
Source: The Telegraph 29 March 2010
Photo: Iconotec Stock Photography

The United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, has undergone breakneck development in recent decades, attracting foreign money and foreign visitors - in their billions and millions respectively. But such progress also has its price.
"We have become a minority. Our traditions are threatened and Arabic is no longer a first language," says Ibtisam al-Ketbi, a sociology professor at the United Arab Emirates University.
"We are surrounded by foreigners, and live in constant fear for our children because of the spread of drugs and a rise in crime rates," she adds, echoing a sentiment felt by many "nationals," as they are commonly called.
The recent case of a British couple sentenced to a month in prison after an Emirati mother complained that they were kissing in a Dubai restaurant highlights a growing unease among a traditionally conservative local population.
The two 20-somethings were also accused of consuming alcohol, a fact they acknowledged, but said in their defence that they had only kissed on the cheek.
Now they have had their passports confiscated and have to wait as their case makes its way through the appeals procedure. They should find out in April whether their conviction has been upheld or they are free to leave.
It is understandable that many people in the UAE feel they are being swamped.
Before the 1968 oil boom, nationals made up some 62 per cent of the federation's population but now account for just 16.5 per cent of an estimated population of six million, officials say.
In Dubai, the disparities are even greater. Emiratis make up only around five per cent of the two million residents, estimates Chris Davidson, author of a book called Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success.
"Many nationals now contend that they feel unwelcome in certain parts of the city and often complain that restaurant and hotel managers discriminate against national dress," writes Davidson.
In Dubai, Emiratis entrench themselves in neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city in order not to have to mingle more than necessary with foreigners, whose customs differ widely from their own.
"We are practically living in reservations, and if this abnormal growth continues at the current rate, in 20 years' time we'll end up like the American Indians," Ketbi says.
"We were undergoing natural development until the property boom came along in the past 10 years, and in the attempt to encourage foreign investment, the city became open to everything, including alcohol and prostitution."
On radio talk shows, Emiratis often complain of seeing scantily clad foreigners in public parks and shopping malls, and express concern about how easy it is to buy alcohol.
Special permits are required for restaurants and clubs to serve alcohol, and individuals need a permit from the government. But alcohol is still available in almost all hotels and in many restaurants.
Foreigners are required to be modestly dressed, but in reality this provision is neither observed nor enforced.
Nightclubs in Dubai can compare to those in major cities around the world, alcohol flows freely at sporting events and restrictions on women's clothing are almost non-existent.
The police do sometimes intervene, however, as they did in the case of a British couple arrested in 2008 accused of having sex on a public beach - a story that made headlines across the globe.
Michelle Palmer, a British expat, and Vince Acors, a tourist, were each given a three-month suspended sentence, fined and ordered to be deported.
The Britons denied having sex in public and public indecency, but admitted to being under the influence of alcohol when they were caught on Dubai's Jumeirah public beach.
Their case drew unwanted attention to what has been a fine balancing act of preserving tradition while also allowing in outside influences that can quickly come into open conflict with an ancient and proud culture.
"Emiratis are starting to lose much of their identity, and the presence of so many expats leads to unacceptable behaviour that does not conform to our traditions," said Abdel Khalek Abdullah, an Emirati writer and academic.
"What arouses UAE concern is the massive influx of foreigners due to very rapid economic growth. If officials do not take bold steps, the social costs of this frantic economic development will be much greater than any economic benefits."
Abdullah thinks that "the government must review its development strategy and reduce the proportion of its ambitious growth," which may have slowed in Dubai today but is still rampant in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
According to Davidson, the worldwide economic crisis has caused anger over foreigners' customs and behaviour to be more widely expressed.
"The resentment nationals feel about foreigners is becoming more public," he believes. "Two or three years ago, no one really cared."

1 comment:

  1. after having been an on again off again Dubai resident since 1986 and having extensively studied Dubai as manager of the last 2 city plans for Dubai I find this article quite amusing. First, the Emirati's like to ignore the fact that the reason the expats are here to be begin with is because they choose not to work - thus the 4 maids, 3 drivers, etc. in each Emirati household. Ditto for their businesses - I once interviewed Khalid al Habtoor (1986) as a part of our city planning exercises and he when we asked him why he didn't hire locals for his buisness he said "they come in at 10, read the paper and drink tea and are gone by 12, why would I hire such people?". Then if one looks at the financial side of the equation, in order for all the Emirati's to become the wealthy people they largely are now, they required the expats - I rented a crap house in Jumeriah 3 last year for Dhs 350,000 per annum- enough to keep the Emirati landlord supplied with money for the year (and pay for his new 4x4's). So, bottom line, if they feel this way about expats then tell them all to leave (which btw was what the UN enouraged us to do in our city plan in 1986 which would have resulted in a total Dubai Emirate pop of about 600,000 in 2006 with amost 50% of those nationals- seeing the folly of such an approach the Ruler's Office opened the flood gates of immigration instead). Send all the expats out and let's see how the local Emirati's like their (nonexstent)recreated Emirati culture.