x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Give and take: The UAE's two-way street

The third in a weekly series of four essays by students at Dubai Women's College.

The third in a weekly series of four essays by students of Dubai Women's College.
The third in a weekly series of four essays by students of Dubai Women's College.

At the beginning of the term some students mark their desks to state that the desk belongs to them, not realising that the desk is being paid for by the Government and will be used by other students. In the workforce, some delay their tasks for the next day and play on their iPads or computers and leave work at 2pm sharp. At home, some let the maid teach their children and help them with their homework while they watch TV or go shopping. In a majlis, one may hear complaints and demands for free water bills, no Salik fees, discounts for fines and so on.

Some locals behave like spoilt children who have the "I want" syndrome. Experts say that parents indulge their children and excuse them from taking responsibility, creating a sense of entitlement with no duties or contributions. For example, when a person walks in the park and sees rubbish on the ground, he just passes by. In his mind, he feels it is not his responsibility but rather the job of the Dubai Municipality cleaner.

Some actions and behaviour of locals may be interpreted as spoilt and can hinder the development of the United Arab Emirates and its human capital.

The UAE is a young society, only 39 years old. Since its establishment, it has provided citizens with rights such as equality, social justice and ensured safety and security. Citizens also have many privileges such as free access to health services; marriage fund payments for men; social security for the unemployed, widowed, divorced, disabled and elderly; and, most important, free education for all Emiratis. The UAE Constitution states in Article 17: "Education shall be a fundamental factor for the progress of society. It shall be compulsory in its primary stage and free of charge at all stages, within the Union. The law shall prescribe the necessary plans for the propagation and spread of education at various levels and for the eradication of illiteracy."

The founder of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed, focused on providing high-quality living for his people and improving living conditions. The UAE is classified as a high-income developing country.

With all the privileges that a UAE citizen has, some attitudinal acts seem ungrateful.

"Since the establishment of the UAE in 1971, it has built on several core principles, one of these being that the Government provides fundamental services of free education, healthcare and housing, and essentially employment," says Najla Al Awadhi, a former member of the Federal National Council and the CEO of Najla Al Awadhi Consulting.

"So while the provision of these services for free is a great comfort to Emiratis, this welfare state formula has also created a comfort zone for Emiratis that unfortunately has negative consequences in the shape of a sense of entitlement and complacency among Emirati nationals. I will not generalise and say with all Emiratis, but with many," she says.

Local citizen benefits include Emiratisation, a policy that aims to provide job opportunities for UAE nationals. According to Tanmia, the National Human Resource Development & Employment Authority: "UAE nationals represent less than 2 per cent of the private sector, which is considered the major employer in the country (52.1 per cent)." Furthermore, fewer than 10 per cent of Emiratis are represented in the country's total labour force.

"I see a lot of UAE nationals who don't have that expectation of themselves and a sense of duty to make the UAE a better, wealthier, more creative place," says the current affairs commentator Mishaal Al Gergawi.

A Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs law issued in 2004 sought to reinforce citizens' participation in the private sector under the title "Training and Employment of UAE Citizen in the Private Sector". The law states that all companies in the trade sector with 50 employees or more should employ nationals at a ratio of 2 per cent yearly. This, however, creates a dilemma.

"I disagree with the view the Government should provide nationals with jobs. What is missing is the clear message of what responsibility and role the recipient of these rights has to the nation," Al Gergawi says.

Are the citizens being spoon-fed by the country? Or is the UAE doing its best to provide its citizens with privileges because they represent a minority in their own country? The UAE has been in a race to build strong human capital, yet many Emiratis are not giving back to the country.

"If you ask most nationals what they believe their duty is towards their nation, they would probably say that they are willing to fight for the UAE. But citizenship shouldn't only be exercised during periods of existential threat alone," says Al Gergawi.

Nevertheless, there are many Emiratis who do give back to the country, even in the simplest ways. Marwa Al Shaibani, a student at Zayed University, is one example. She and her team came up with Young Eager Steps, an organisation that helps the needy and organises social events for the community. "Giving back to the community doesn't have limits or restrictions; you can pick whatever you love to do and do it," says Al Shaibani.

A citizen can give back in many ways, such as working hard in a job, raising good children, being a top student or donating money. Such contributions are not just our civic duty but are also a part of our religion.

"I think it starts at home and how families teach young Emiratis about their role in life, their work ethic and that nobody owes them anything," says the consultant Al Awadhi. "The world doesn't owe them anything, they have to go out and make their way in the world."

Al Awadhi believes that people can learn about civic duty at home, in school, in formal education and through media - a powerful tool especially in these momentous times.

"If there was progressive media in terms of putting information forward, that makes Emiratis feel that they need to stand up in life and be as equally strong as the Government, it would definitely affect the mindset of the Emiratis, their sense of entitlement and sense of civic duty," she says.

Oil is another factor that creates a sense of entitlement. Does the country depend on oil wealth more than human capital? According to the US Energy Information Administration, the UAE has been able to reserve oil during the last decade due to enhanced oil recovery, a term for techniques used to increase the amount of oil that can be extracted from an oilfield.

"Oil is viewed as a somewhat abundant revenue source, which doesn't require the majority of the country to be productive. Its revenues and its reinvestment allows the country to not depend on the productivity of its citizens," Al Gergawi notes.

The principle of gratitude is lacking in some Emiratis; the relationship between the citizens and the Government is a two-way street.

"You're in trouble if you think that there's an endless wealth of oil and the Government will keep on doing this when the productivity of UAE nationals is not high," says Al Awadhi.

 

Sara Al Jawi, 22, earned a bachelor's degree in applied communication at Dubai Women's College. In addition to her essay presented here, she has written another piece for Desert Dawn,The Unrevealed Trauma, on the subject of incest.