x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Ali Column: Diversity is the key to keeping us together

One of the great advantages of living in a country that contains more than 80 per cent foreigners, is that it brings cultural enrichment and makes the UAE a more welcoming and attractive place for everyone despite their national identity.

Globally not everyone knows this, but our country is one of those rare countries with the majority of the population being foreigners, while the native population is only about 20 per cent. This specific majority-minority dynamic is crucial for the way our nation manages its own diversity, because it reveals a lot about the challenges and obstacles we have to overcome together as a nation. As a cultural expert, I believe we need to pay more attention to these details that seem to be not that big a deal.

But what does diversity actually mean? Diversity means there are multiple perspectives from differing sets of cultural values and/or synergy from increased contact and collaboration between different cultural and ethnic groups. Diversity management, on the other hand, characterises the necessary strategies and concepts for dealing with diversity on both the individual and the organisational level. In reality, such heterogenity has its advantages and disadvantages.

Ethnicity plays a major role in terms of diversity. In the UAE, we have a high percentage of Asians who represent the majority of foreigners. Their status is commonly associated with that of blue-collar workers who work in the construction sector, even though this is not always the case as I know many Asians in my country working in different fields such as IT, medicine and engineering. The expats from Western countries who work and live in the UAE often have a higher standard of living because they work in fields that require education, skills and expertise. Without this mixture of races and ethnicities, our country would not have a successful infrastructure or economy and be known as a "cultural hub". This heterogeneous dimension has not always been present in the UAE.

Obviously, there is more to diversity than the ethnicity factor. Another aspect of diversity in the UAE is reflected in the different religions and religious affiliations that are present in the UAE. Our country is known for promoting interfaith tolerance by allowing other religions to practise their faith. The bottom line, though, is that the UAE will always remain a Muslim country. This constellation might seem a paradox but in reality it's not. Our Islamic religion is not restricted to the Arab ethnicity and Arab language alone. Islam is a universal religion because, as Muslims, we are required to treat our fellow humans who believe differently with dignity and respect.

One of the great advantages of living in a country that contains more than 80 per cent foreigners, is that it brings cultural enrichment and makes the UAE a more welcoming and attractive place for everyone despite their national identity.

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