x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Bias against Emiratis harms entire society

A reporter's finding that those dressed in Emirati garb are sometimes over-charged in shops raises some awkward questions.

Visit any city in the world and there's a good chance that some unscrupulous shop owners will try to rip off anyone they suspect of being a tourist. Here in the UAE, we have a similar scenario, but with one major twist: it is Emirati citizens who are sometimes being ripped off.

As The National reports today, news reporter Thamer Subaihi investigated the phenomenon and found that he was charged different prices depending on whether he was wearing a kandura or western clothing. It is a practice that is widespread, according to the Emirati comedian Omar Ismail, who says shops in Abu Dhabi and Dubai regularly increase prices when the customer is Emirati.

Mr Ismail compared the rates he was asked to pay to those offered to his expatriate friends, and the results confirmed what he and many others had long suspected. "It's like the shopkeeper's eyes light up when you walk in wearing a kandura," Mr Ismail said. "They assume we're all wealthy so we're fair game."

The comedian might have chosen a light-hearted way to tackle the issue, but it does bring into focus issues for citizens who are a minority in the country. It is a fundamental challenge for national development, Emirati culture and heritage, and the country's Emiratisation drive.

A bias against Emiratis, as reflected in the two-tiered prices, harms society as a whole. The same bias is evident in the job market with many Emiratis believing, with good reason, that they are discriminated against by expatriate employers. That in turn contributes to the decision of many Emiratis to eschew the private sector for government jobs.

There will be people who are understandably outraged that they are being overcharged, but this a societal issue as well as personal. Widespread raising of prices for Emiratis raises serious questions about the vendors in particular, and retailing in general. Most outlets are blameless, with clear, non-negotiable price tags. Others, however, are less precise: for example, for some smaller vendors and shops in souqs, haggling is a common practice. Restaurants have also been known to tamper with charges hoping that customers do not notice, although such methods have affected Emiratis and expatriates alike.

Some of these are the natural growing pains of a developing economy with a significant informal sector in the marketplace. But a bias against Emiratis, perceived or otherwise, is both a personal injustice and a social imbalance that affects everyone in the country, Emirati or expatriate.