x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Celebrate present, but study the past

History and culture courses in universities will ensure that Emiratis know where they come from, and where their nation is headed.

Fused together from regional tribes, and built on lands that saw British, Ottoman and Portuguese influence, the history of the United Arab Emirates makes for some captivating reading. But it is reading that, unfortunately, too few of its citizens seem to bother with.

Awareness of Emirati history is sadly lacking in today's UAE. Surveys of citizens have consistently shown a sorry state of historical knowledge. In May, for instance, polls conducted by YouGov found that only 31 per cent of Emiratis knew what year oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi (1958) and only slightly more knew when the battle of Dibba took place (the 7th century). And despite deep affection for Sheikh Zayed, the nation's founder, barely half know when he died (November 2, 2004).

Recognising the importance of studying history, the country has launched a series of educational initiatives. As The National reported yesterday, the Cabinet has approved a new charter outlining a nationally recognised code of conduct and values for Emiratis that will be used in educational and cultural spheres. Most importantly, the Government has introduced a mandatory Emirati studies course for both public and private universities. These courses will focus on UAE history, social culture, geography, laws and regulations. And it means that, for the first time, all graduating university students will have had some classroom exposure to their country's past.

The UAE has experienced dramatic changes in the last 41 years. Before the discovery of oil and the union of the country, life in the UAE was very different. People lived in deserts, in the mountains or alongside the coast. They believed in one religion and spoke one language. And they had different values reflected on the way they lived their lives - simple and independent.

But now with the modernisation of the country, Emiratis live in cities, speak more than one language, and are surrounded by many different nationalities and faiths. With the influence of globalisation that is reflected on their lifestyles, new concepts of identity are emerging.

Sheikh Zayed once said: "He who does not know his past, cannot make the best of his present and future, for it is from the past that we learn." As the UAE prepares to celebrate its 41st birthday on Sunday, everyone - citizens and residents - would do well to ponder where it has come from.