Our mixed up thinking over marrying foreigners


It was heartbreaking to read recently that despite the countless advances we have made as a society many Emirati children still face prejudice because one of their parents is from abroad.

I choose these words carefully – because such children are indeed Emirati. They are not “half-Emirati”, as they are often described. Such a description suggests something that is less than whole, watered down, impure. A half-measure, half-baked, half-hearted. Doing things by halves.

Such a description, I venture, is half-witted.

Take the words of Amal Al Agroobi, quoted in an article by Anna Zacharias: “I don’t think being Emirati means you have the passport. I don’t think being Emirati means I can speak Arabic in a Khaleeji accent... I think being Emirati means you would live and fight for this land, you would contribute to this society in a positive way and ultimately sacrifice your life for the land in which you inhabit.”

No half-measures here. Al Agroobi, like many others in a similar situation, is clear where her allegiances lie, so what’s the issue? Why should she be seen as any less than fully-Emirati? Why should she and others like her be bullied at school and made to feel as if they don’t belong?

Part of the reason, I suspect, is that their parents’ relationship was never accepted to begin with. Marriages of an Emirati to a non-Emirati are often referred to as “mixed”. Sound familiar? The description suggests something less than whole, watered down, impure...

Many families here are very conservative, and want to keep their traditions alive. They think that by getting their children to marry someone from within the family circle they can ensure this happens. They might also be afraid that if their child marries a foreigner their offspring may not have a sense of patriotism.

I expect the fear harks back to before the days of oil and federation when, as a community, we were relatively insulated from the rest of the world. The trouble is that now we are a multi-cultural society at the forefront of globalisation, and holding on to such fears can make us look insular and backward.

Such fears may be misplaced, but it does not mean people do not continue to harbour them.

Even in my father’s generation it was unusual, though not unheard of, for people to choose spouses from other countries. As men began to travel abroad to study in countries such as America or Egypt it became more common for them to return home with a wife from their host country.

But it wasn’t readily accepted then, and neither it appears, is it accepted now – at least, not by everyone.

Many families still prefer traditional marriages that take place within their family circle, even if their children prefer the idea of choosing their own spouse.

And there are some advantages to the traditional approach. For one, it helps ensure compatibility as the spouses come from similar traditions. Both families already know each other so there’s less likely to be friction with the in-laws.

But it doesn’t always work out, particularly in today’s modern UAE.

Recently, I’ve noticed some of my friends have a hard time accepting the proposals of men within their family or clan. Women are more educated now, and know themselves better. They know what they want in a future partner so are less likely to just accept what their parents decide.

I’ve also noticed an increase in men who choose partners from outside their social circle and even the country. They’re beginning to put more weight on their wife’s personality than her family’s traditions or nationality.

Even more encouraging is that many families are more accepting of these choices than they once were.

Traditional marriages still exist, but people’s perspectives are beginning to change and many families are more open to their children marrying foreigners.

These families just want their child to be happy, and realise that letting them choose their partner – wherever they are from – will bring them this happiness. After all, many Emiratis are happily married to foreigners, while many cousins end up divorced.

In today’s world Emiratis deal with different nationalities on a daily basis, so people are bound to meet people from other countries who strike them as marriage material.

So perhaps if we are to qualify the description of their offspring with any term it should be “modern”, rather than “half”. Such children are modern Emiratis. And that’s the full story.

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