x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The Ali Column: Why we need to embrace UAE change

Ali Al Saloom on why Emiratis need to rethink some of their reservations on the evolution of their country.

One of the favourite subjects Emiratis get heated up over is the foreign infiltration of our country and all the western influence that makes our own culture vanish.

The ongoing debate about how to make everybody understand that a bit more modesty in dress and public behaviour would be really appreciated continues to be a talking point. However, the facts remain: Emiratis make up only about 10 per cent of the UAE's population.

The people of our region never had an issue with strangers. We are folk of Bedouins, seafarers and traders. Our hardy ancestors could survive without connections and interactions. But can we? Should we?

Let's just imagine we give all our expats (ie non-Emiratis) a week off and let them enjoy some relaxing days back home. Well, the first issue would be who would fly or drive all of them abroad. But let's imagine we somehow managed this and for a week we Emiratis had our country to ourselves. Great! But what happens when we get stains on our white kanduras? Who is going to clean them? Ok, there is something called a washing machine - if only the clothes would come out dry and immaculately ironed.

We are still good traders - as long as it comes to big stuff and big money. But what about groceries? Tricky. Lucky me, I will not starve, since I know some Emiratis who run restaurants and coffee shops. Well, home delivery might get a bit tricky. Did you ever come across a delivery driver in a big SUV with tinted windows?

We complain about western influence, but our favourite snacks come from KFC, Starbucks and Tim Hortons. Without Uefa Champions League we might as well get rid of our televisions- Japanese sets, of course. If we would leave out all the so-called important news about Hollywood stars and the latest fashion trends, our glossy magazines might not sell so well. Life would become much less colourful and we would be left to frustrated discussions, but only if we were with someone - we couldn't use our Canadian BlackBerries or American iPhones on the US-founded platforms Facebook and Twitter.

The English saying "In for a penny, in for a pound" often comes to mind. It's not the West that is invading us. It is us getting lost a bit in the transition. We are searching for a national identity and form committees to find it. We struggle to ensure that our kids grow up as Arabic-speakers and don't scream if they see a fish in the sea.

But to point fingers and condemn everything that comes from abroad does not help. Finding common ground and open, respectful dialogue can be the only way to become one society and overcome the "Us and Them" syndrome.