Dear Ali: Ever since I first visited the UAE, I was amazed at how many Emiratis can combine their religious traditions with a modern lifestyle. How do they manage that? BN, Abu Dhabi
Dear BN: Not many people are aware that we combine our traditions with a modern lifestyle. To answer your question, thank God that our late president Sheikh Zayed set such a great example by embracing both our tribal past and the modern lifestyle as part of our culture. During the time he led our country, he was aware of our abilities as a nation and the challenges we would face.
At the same time, the government continues to support our nation in a positive way by enforcing many initiatives to make sure we always keep in mind how important it is to stick to our traditions; for example, with cultural projects such as the recent Qasr Al Hosn Festival. The modern lifestyle, on the other hand, is embodied in all the skyscrapers that you see in our cities, the multiple technology devices that we use and the cars we drive. We didn't have all of these things 40 years ago. I've said this before and I enjoy saying it again: we might have left the desert but we didn't leave behind the values of the desert and the lessons we learnt from living there. We only engaged ourselves into learning things from modernisation as well.
Dear Ali: I recently had a discussion about Arab countries with one of my Arab friends, and it turns out that apparently there are many disagreements on the terminology concerning the names of the countries belonging to the Gulf region. Why can't everyone just say Middle East? TA, Dubai
Dear TA: That is a very good and important question. You are absolutely right, there are disagreements concerning the terminology. Especially, the well-known term Middle East, or MENA (Middle East - North Africa) is often used in the Western media but it is quite broad, confusing and inconsistent. Why? The reason is that the term Middle East indicates that all Arab countries are the same and homogeneous.
Instead of saying Middle East, I recommend you to say the Arab world and if you are talking about an Arab country or city, in particular, then just refer to them by their name. Another reason why it is important to pay attention to the terminology of the countries is because it can cause you many difficulties when doing business in the regions of the Arab world.
In order for you to understand this issue better, let me clarify. See, the Arab world contains 22 Arab League countries. All of these countries share the same language and most of them share the religion: Arabic and Islam. However, they are also divided into certain groups due to the differences that exist among them, such as geography, population, dialect, size and wealth.
You have the large Maghreb in the north-west part of Africa that includes the countries Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, with French as their second language through the impact of colonialism. The Levantine region (Bilad Al Shaam) refers to Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon, while the Gulf countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman and UAE and, arguably, Yemen and Iraq can be found in the Arabian Peninsula region. Turkey, Iran and Israel, on the other hand, are non-Arab countries and therefore aren't included in the list of Arab League countries. I hope this helps. Hence, when people call us Middle Eastern, I don't get it at all.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.