x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Forging a modern sense of identity

The outpouring of pride on National Day showed that efforts to bolster Emirati identity were bearing fruit, observers said.

Salim Al Moqbli relaxes before the  parade organised by the Emirates Heritage Club at the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.
Salim Al Moqbli relaxes before the parade organised by the Emirates Heritage Club at the Corniche in Abu Dhabi.

The outpouring of pride on National Day showed that efforts to bolster Emirati identity were bearing fruit, observers said yesterday. Celebrations in Ras al Khaimah, where Emiratis are the majority of the population, were at least twice as big as last year, onlookers said. In a bid to preserve and nurture Emirati identity amid the globalisation and immigration that are rapidly changing the country's character, the Government declared 2008 the Year of National Identity, and Emiratis responded in spectacular style. "This year's celebrations have brought back the memories of the good old days, when Emiratis made up more of the population. In recent years the National Day festivities were becoming regular and people treated them like any other holiday," said UAE-based sociologist Rima Sabban. "But this year is National Identity Year because people were feeling that the UAE was losing part of its identity with the increasing number of expats and everything was changing so fast. That really hit home to Emiratis. So this year the Government announced it would take the festivities further and Emiratis have responded to that because they want to make a public statement." In RAK, thousands of vehicles paraded the UAE national colours for nearly seven hours in a spontaneous display of national pride on Al Qawassim Corniche. While events there were not scheduled to begin until 8pm, by 5.30pm the Corniche was littered with confetti and flooded with Emirati music blasting from cars draped with the national flag or painted in the UAE colours with portraits of the rulers. Many women took part in the parade, driving alongside their brothers or cruising with their husbands, sisters and children, while RAK citizens who work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi drove across the country to celebrate with their friends and family at home. Thousands of vehicles were completely covered in the colours of the UAE flag. "This is something new. In previous years we have seen cars decorated in national colours but this year it has extended to houses, clothes, make-up and face paint. All your belongings have become a statement of identity," Ms Sabban said. "The celebration is important but what we really need to work out here is what the future of Emirati identity is. The country needs to protect the union between the emirates, which is a federal structure unique in the Arab world, as well as their Arabic culture and the individual histories of the different emirates." An expatriate who has lived in the country for 11 years said: "To many citizens the parade not only celebrates national identity, it also creates and reinforces it. These impromptu national parades are a modern UAE tradition that has become woven into the Emirati identity. They exemplify the ferocity and depth of national pride among Emiratis." In Dubai, where Emiratis make up a smaller proportion of the population than in other emirates, hundreds joined in a parade of boats on Dubai Creek on Tuesday while mixed crowds of expats and nationals watched and waved from the banks. "We just wanted to see what was going on. What I can gather is that Emiratis are very nationalistic and proud of what they have achieved in the past 37 years," said Zia Zaidi, a Briton who was watching with his wife and two daughters. However, many people avoided official events because of traffic congestion, choosing instead to take picnics in parks, spend the day on the beach or simply stay indoors. Some residents said that despite the UAE's relaxed and tolerant atmosphere towards the various cultures within its borders, they did not feel a part of the country because of practical concerns such as the rising cost of living and the rules surrounding who can live where. "Dubai isn't a melting pot of different cultures, it's more of a mosaic, where different nationalities rarely interact with each other," said Rupert Chesman, 29. "It's sad to say, but because of things like the villa share issue, the salik tolls and the various other times the authorities ignore people, there is virtually no loyalty to this country amongst the expat population." But other expatriates such as Osman Ali, 45, from Hyderabad in India who has spent his adult life in the country and now works in RAK's police station, joined the celebrations enthusiastically. "I have lived here 24 years. For National Day, I spent two hours decorating my bike for the parade to celebrate our leaders," he said. As Mr Ali rode his decorated bike along the RAK Corniche, men stood on the roofs of their cars, blasting confetti poppers and waving giant flags. Children dressed in the UAE flag perched on sunroofs, laughing and cheering. Looking on, retired traffic officer Omar Salem al Zaabi said he was most proud of the continuing union between the seven emirates. "Before the UAE was seven countries and now we are united as one. We are celebrating these achievements in our parade," he said. * The National