x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The nation navigates the future with the Bedouin as a guide

Emiratis retain an abiding respect for the wisdom and customs of the Bedouin. This reverence for traditional culture is a cornerstone of the modern UAE.

Unlike many countries where customs and traditions have been devastated by the cannonballs of globalisation, the UAE has managed to move into the age of development while preserving the country's old ways. Evidence of this lies in the unconditional respect Emiratis have for the people of the desert, the Bedouin.

In many countries the people of the land are often forgotten or referred to as "simple folk", ridiculed and used as the punchline of endless jokes.

This is true in countries across the globe, including in the Arab world. The people who understand their land, and respect it enough to ensure that their homes utilise only enough of resources to provide for their humble ways of living, are often seen as obsolete backward thinkers, brought out only to show tourists how things used to be.

But the story differs in the UAE. It is not the doctorate holder or world traveller who commands the most respect from Emiratis, but the humble Bedouin who has not stepped out of his desert except for the occasional visit to the city.

After all, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who led this country to greatness, practised the ways of the Bedouin all his life. Many say it is because he never forgot his origins that he could build such a peaceful prosperous country.

Living for centuries in the world's harshest climate, the Bedouin developed a system of hospitality that allowed them to survive the treacherous deserts. The renowned Arab hospitality originates mainly from the teachings of Islam, followed by the way of the Bedouin. For example, desert travel was made possible by the understanding that every traveller was welcomed as an honoured guest for three consecutive days in any dwelling he came upon.

The Bedouin is also known for wisdom, having spent much of his life in silence and appreciation of nature's wonders and power.

Even today, tribes seek guidance from their elders, who often refer to traditions of the Bedouin. Their positive qualities are based on a natural purity of the heart.

Yet the country is moving forward and urban life is flourishing. It is true that, in time, the Bedouin will decline in numbers and a new generation will inherit the UAE.

Not all is lost, however. For the last few generations a new group of Emiratis has been trying to combine old and new ways.

In the 1970s and 1980s parents, following the example of the late Sheikh Zayed, instilled the importance of culture, custom and tradition in Emirati youth. Many ways of the Bedouin were passed on. Parents also heeded the advice of Sheikh Zayed to educate their children in the best institutions the world has to offer.

This has equipped Emirati men and women not only with university degrees but also with love and respect for the traditional ways of the Bedouin. This helps explain why so many young Emiratis have become capable leaders. Their understanding of politics, diplomacy and leadership is rooted in the wisdom of their fathers and grandfathers.

This wisdom is derived in part from Bedouin qualities including hospitality, loyalty, respect, forgiveness, fairness and appreciation for men and women regardless of race, gender or nationality.

We see these values in practice in the UAE's major cities, where people from all over the world have been welcomed with open arms, just as the Bedouin practised the unbreakable rule of hospitality.

The challenge now is to continue passing this knowledge on to the generations that follow.

Many feel that the loss of culture in the UAE is inevitable, with the global village crowding in. But the goal of preserving Emirati customs and traditions is not unreachable.

The youths of today have been brought up in the UAE's cities; some of them have never set foot in the desert. But many still comprehend, admire and practise the ways of the their elders.

Young Emirati men and women are developing their minds for the future with a firm grasp of their past. Our success as a people and a country is due to the ways of the people of the desert, ways which live on in the hearts of Emiratis.

We need only remember and follow the example of the greatest figure in UAE history, Sheikh Zayed, who founded a nation on Bedouin traditions and customs.


Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati freelance writer from Abu Dhabi who specialises in corporate communications