x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Diversity is the UAE's strength

'Where are you from?' used to be a question to dread, but experience has made it easier to answer.

'Where are you from?" has never been an easy question for me to answer. I found the best way to reply was to assess what information the inquirer was looking for.

If it was nationality they were after the answer was simple: Emirati. I had never been anything but and as a UAE citizen I am forbidden to hold dual citizenship. Was it my family's origin they sought, and if so how far back? I have Yemeni and Egyptian roots, with a touch of Turkish sprinkled in four generations ago. I don't doubt there are a few other mystery flavours in the mix. Perhaps they felt my place of birth best answered their question. I was born in Cairo but only enjoyed the Egyptian capital for the first few months of my life.

But if they were interested in my places of upbringing they would have to pull up a chair. The short version: the first few years in UAE, early childhood in the US, back to the UAE for a few years, off to England for the first half of my adolescence, the second half in the UAE, then back to the US for most of my 20s.

And all this fails to mention summer trips across countries, moving cities within countries, and neighbourhoods within cities. To say my family was a restless bunch is an understatement. You can also see why "Emirati" is such a tempting yet insufficient response.

During my youth in the UAE, I would fall back on my nationality as an answer, not only because it saved time and effort, but also because family and society encouraged me to keep hush about my diversity. Other Emiratis rarely spoke about their origins outside the country and would instead revert to mentioning the Emirate from which they now hailed.

Moving to the States was liberating in this respect: I was easily able to divulge my ancestry and assorted upbringing. Diversity seemed to be celebrated by most and I joined the festivities by sharing my unique experience.

When I returned to the Emirates I was initially unsure whether I would have to revert to keeping my diversity on the down-low. But what I found was not only a more open, but also a much more ethnically diverse Emirati society. There were young half-Emiratis with other Arab, European, East, Central and South Asian, and African features.

What was more striking was many of these patriotic Emiratis were speaking up about their diversity, unafraid of revealing and sharing their distinctive characters. The Government was also recognising these Emiratis as great assets to the nation, and it recently made the significant step of providing children of Emirati women married to non-Emiratis a path to citizenship.

As there is strength in unity there also exists power in diversity. Because our country is a major global crossroads, having multicultural citizens possessing different perspectives from their varied backgrounds can only be beneficial. Diversity is one Emirati celebration that should continue.