x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

University students learn about UAE's past

In spite of a profound love of the country's founding father, the population knows little about the UAE.

ABU DHABI // First year history students at the Paris Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi have been doing their own research into the country's awareness of its history.

Their findings echoed those of The National's survey: in spite of a profound love of the country's founding father, Sheikh Zayed, the population, expatriate and local alike, knows little about UAE history.

The students recently completed their first project, on the history of the UAE from ancient to present times, as an introduction to research principles.

A mix of nationalities from Emirati to Lebanese, they all learnt something they did not know before.

Amira Baccouche, 19, is Tunisian but has lived here for 15 years. "Sheikh Zayed's image is everywhere. He said if a country doesn't know its past, it can't know its future, which is true. I've lived here 15 years but I didn't know anything about its ancient history. I never imagined the history went back to such ancient times."

Having gone to school in the UAE, she said that after doing the research, which involved many interviews with locals and expats, she realised she was not alone, and how few people really know much about the country in which they live.

Arwa Cheikh, 22, is Lebanese. "The subject was great because we could even introduce the history of the country to Emiratis we spoke to too. Among the students we interviewed, the Emirati and non-Emiratis both didn't know much about the UAE's history."

She is new to the country and the 40th anniversary in December was her first experience of patriotism on such a scale. She was fascinated by the painted cars, the images of the flag and the number of people who came out on to the streets to celebrate.

Dr Marie Lagree, the university's head of history, culture and civilisation, said a knowledge of history was vital to connect students to their country.

For Emiratis, a minority in their own country, such knowledge allows them to maintain their national identity, she said.

Having been schooled in the UAE, Ms Baccouche said: "The UAE's history should be part of national education. Even though I'm not Emirati, it's general culture. When you live in a country, you need to know its history so history is an important subject."

Dr Lagree said consistently poor results in such research confirm the need for history to be given a higher profile.

In a study published in February in 999 Magazine in which expatriates were asked about their UAE knowledge, only 28 per cent of the respondents thought they knew a lot about UAE history, customs and culture. Sixty per cent said they knew the basics and 12 per cent hardly anything.