x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Ali Column: Why culture is important to our country

Why a nation's appeal is not just all about buildings.

We live in a time in which every nation faces cultural challenges. Some nations are more open to diversity, while others try to remain homogeneous.

However, the way a nation deals with other cultural elements has a major impact on a given nation's image.

The reason we invest billions of dirhams in our architecture, infrastructure and education system is because we care deeply about what the rest of the world thinks of our country.

By taking the West as an example, the UAE wants to become a more visible, international place, one that will be attractive to tourists. Buildings created by architects with international reputations and the presence of major Western companies are the evidence of this.

Additionally, cultural projects, such as The Cultural District on Saadiyat Island, are being planned with the help of international experts. The final result should make the UAE a distinctive cultural destination both locally and globally.

The Emiratisation policy is another strategy to encourage the participation of Emiratis in the job market and education sector. UAE Vision 2021 is is about maintaining the national identity with a secure economy.

However, the huge influx of foreigners who make up the human capital in our country is being strictly controlled by visa legislation to guarantee the safety of our residents and visitors.

Finding a balance between investing in national identity and embracing cultural diversity is tricky but necessary. Portraying a country as foreigner-friendly is important for maintaining a positive image but it's not always the reality because there will always be areas within a country or society where, for instance, discrimination will take place.

Whenever individuals treat each other unfairly then this shows how we are all responsible for our image, despite our nationality, religion, gender, age or social class because we live in this country. Therefore, we need to constantly work on improving ourselves as humans and as a unique nation.

On the outside, our country's image seems to be only about the size, outer appearance and positivity, while many people might still be sceptical towards our country's construction boom. It's actually more than that because all these "activities" are deeply connected with our "inner" cultural values that become visible when engaging with others.

So, let's show our best side and convince others of our cultural awareness, with our deeds of hospitality, sophistication and kindness and not only with "empty words" or by building "empty buildings". Once the world discovers how beautiful our country really is, the more others will develop a genuine interest in our culture. It will take time but it will eventually happen.