x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

At the crossroads of culture, fostering a sense of self

Emiratis need to believe in – and help – each other if the country's potential is to be fully realised.

The United Arab Emirates is at the Middle East's crossroad of culture. Scholars, foreign and domestic, have studied the concept of "Emirati identity" amid these shifting demographics. Emiratis themselves have pondered how a sense of nationalism creates a unified vision for the future.

Fear of cultural dilution is a prominent theme in many debates and discussions by the community, but it need not be.

Rather than focus on how Emirati culture might be eroded, perhaps it would be better to focus on how it is unique and can be enriched for future generations.

Given that Emiratis are clearly a minority in terms of numbers in their own nation, it is crucial that a more unified attitude be created by means of unconditional support through all spectrums of interaction. Emiratis must reach their hands out to each other, and pull their community forward.

The Emiratisation framework in play attempts to do this, by giving Emirati individuals a leg up on entering the workforce. This is an important step forward as it solidifies Emirati talent within the emerging 2030 vision of Abu Dhabi. But there are other ways to drive the nation's national identity forward. And these are purely personal.

In addition to Emiratisation there has been a great rise in the number of Emiratis pursuing passions outside the box of what was once believed possible. Sultan Al Darmaki, now a well established shoe designer, and filmmaker Ali Mostafa, director of City of Life, are just two of the more prominent examples.

Sadly, while some Emiratis are setting themselves apart through accomplishments, others are being divided unfairly by wedges that are extremely superficial. These include factors of race, culture, social class and believe it or not, religion. These trends are easily spotted in primary and high schools, where the "snob effect" and delusions of grandeur are prominent themes that hinder innovation.

I have also noticed a trend of prejudice and a lack of belief in talents that do exist. These trends can have a serious impact on the growth and potential of the nation. For Emiratis, the UAE should be a safe haven that enhances well-being and confidence, not a place where judgements are cast and divisions are made where they need not be.

I recall a recent case involving a great Emirati musician who, like many of his compatriots, pursues music and the arts as a hobby. But when he showcased his music in a group that highlights Emirati talent, the reaction was unhelpful, even hurtful. Less than a day after posting his video online a slew of negative responses followed, some from fellow Emiratis.

This is just one small example of a larger, more troubling trend. While encouragement can foster innovation among the nation's youth, pessimism and needless criticism can stop it in its tracks. Indeed, encouragement and support from one's own people is necessary in creating an environment that nurtures innovation. And collective support is what the UAE needs to move forward together.

Our leaders have set a golden path for Emiratis to flourish and build the nation. We must rethink our attitudes towards one another and understand that this is our country; we must build it together. Peer-to-peer, or Emirati-to-Emirati, support has been proven to make a great impact in development and sustainability of initiatives and relationships.

The degree in which individuals fit in their community has a great impact on their health and psychological well being, and this in turn can increase productivity and bring about a prosperous future full of innovative opportunities for all.

Look to the Emirati near you right now and tell them how great you think they are. It is the only way to make the dreams of a nation come true.


Nora Al Suwaidi is an Emirati writer and a specialist in public health education