Friday, November 24, 2006

Uncivil War in UAE

I've been thinking about writing this post for a while, but it took me reading a few posts on other blogs to push me into it. I'll be up all night writing this, but I feel it has to be done. So here goes.

The true value of any post on any blog is to be found in the comments for that post. It'll take you a while, but read the original posts and then read all of the comments. It won't make you feel good, but it will give you the background to what I'm going to witter on about. Here are the posts:

Local papers upset by 7Days article

How do you get UAE nationality?

Expats to blame for 90% of their problems

Reading these things, you might get the idea that there is open warfare on the streets between locals and expats. It's not actually happening yet although it might explain some of the driving on Sheikh Zayed Road.

I am probably as unhappy about the demographic imbalance in the UAE as any local. In case you don't know, the population of the UAE comprises something like 80% expat to 20% local. If I was a local here I would be seriously irritated by that. But as an expat, all I can say is 'it's not my fault, I have a perfect right to be here, as do most of the others. And I'm leaving next summer.'

If locals are feeling swamped by foreigners then I suggest they take it up with 'the concerned authorities'. But here's the thing. As far as I can make out, the plans for the future of Dubai suggest even more foreigners arriving. Anyone who wants to buy property in the UAE will be made quite welcome. Although not to the extent of having guaranteed right of residency or anything like that.

The problem lies in the fact that there are so few actual locals. The post on Balushi's blog indicates some kind of a problem. If the authorities will not give passports to huge numbers of people who clearly are entitled, then the expat:local ratio can do nothing but go down.

I worry about the quality of the gene pool. The UAE discourages marriage with foreigners, but it does not object to you marrying your cousin. Consequently there is a high risk of children being born with genetic defects such as thallasaemia.

I personally have no desire whatsoever to become a UAE national, but there are plenty of expats who do. Grown-ups and trailing spouses generally know what they are getting into, but their kids who are born here have no say in the issue. They grow up here and know no other place as 'home'. This really bugs me. I know a lot of kids in that situation, and I feel that something should be done.

The UAE has this idea that it is building a nation, and for that it needs imported labour. It also needs architects, designers, engineers, project managers etc, to design and build these projects. These senior people need housing and schooling and healthcare for themselves and their children (the labourers don't, they are here as 'bachelors'). They will do their jobs and leave. But if we ever get to a stage where there is no more building, there will still be a huge need for people to do the menial jobs - the bus and truck drivers, shopworkers, garbage collectors, street cleaners, domestic helpers etc. If an Emirati would stoop so low as to do any of those jobs then good luck to them. Otherwise you are stuck with these expat workers forever, so quit whinging about it.

Where I part ways with some locals (especially the younger ones) is when they say 'we built this country, we don't need you foreigners, kindly go away'. They did not build this country in any way, shape or form. 35 years ago, possibly more, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum realised that there was this thing called 'oilandgas' out there in the Gulf, and that it would make his emirate rich. He envisaged setting up all kinds of things that a proper town/city needs and so he brought in Seven Wise Men from the UK to help him build the required infrastructure: hospital, port, airport, water, electricity, police and army. Those guys (and I knew a few of them) were treated like princes during Rashid's lifetime, and were given houses to live in and residency until they died.

Now, I see a lot of things written by locals complaining that expats do not respect the Emirati culture. And I'm really sorry that I have to ask this, having lived here for twelve years, but what exactly is 'Emirati' culture? If you strip out anything that is part of Islam? Or common to other GCC countries (falcons, horses, henna, that thing you do when you don't want any more coffee, buying cars you can't afford on credit, crippling yourself with bank loans and credit cards, etc)?

The UAE seems to have some kind of obsession with 'racial purity'. The truth is that there is no such thing as a 'pure race', and especially not in the UAE. If there was, it would die out pretty quickly because you must have genetic diversity to keep your gene pool strong. UAE nationals can trace their roots back to Iran, Iraq, anywhere on the Arabian peninsula, India, Zanzibar, Sudan, wherever. I doubt that you could find one person who could say that they had three generations of forbears who lived in this part of the world. And even if you could, it's such a tiny group of folk that it would be most unwise to restrict your nationality based on that.

And that's nothing to be ashamed about. If you look at the history of Western countries, you will see wave after wave of invaders, intermarriage, more invaders, etc. This kind of stuff enriches civilizations, deepens the gene pool and is generally a good thing.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is 'don't blame the foreigners'. We are here for various purposes, mostly to work and try to make money. We get a fairly rotten deal these days with stagnant salaries, rampant inflation and a worsening quality of life. It is not in the nature of Westerners to sit back and accept these things without making some kind of comment. To get back to the original starting point of this post: 7Days will continue to say what it wants to say. If that upsets journos working for the more restricted Arabic-language press then don't blame 7Days, blame whoever it is that puts restrictions on what you can write about.

At the end of the day, the UAE is joining every international club going. It has to allow freedom of speech. It is inching its way towards democracy. It is the key link between the Arab world and the West.