x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

'It's like the whole country is celebrating my birthday', says Alya

Dr Alya Bukhatir says she is 'really proud to be the same age as my country'.

Dr Alya Bukhatir Alshamsi of Sharjah used to play on these rocks opposite the Hyatt Regency hotel in Deira with her brothers and sisters.
Dr Alya Bukhatir Alshamsi of Sharjah used to play on these rocks opposite the Hyatt Regency hotel in Deira with her brothers and sisters.

DUBAI // "It makes me really proud to be the same age as my country," says Dr Alya Bukhatir, who was born on December 8, 1971 - just six days after the UAE was founded.

"I enjoy the fact that I was born in the same year. I've lived through all the changes we've had here in the Emirates.

"I wait for my birthday and I know the whole country is going to start celebrating a month ahead of it. So that makes me feel nice. It's like the whole country is celebrating my birthday."

Dr Bukhatir grew up in Sharjah with six brothers and five sisters, and fondly remembers family barbecues on the beach at the corniches in her home city, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

"As a child, I remember riding bicycles all the time. That's what I did every day," she says. "At weekends we used to go to Leisureland in Dubai for ice-skating, bowling and games. And at Expo we used to have the circus every year. That was only in Sharjah, it was fun."

As a schoolgirl, Dr Bukhatir witnessed a landmark in the development of the country's education system, as her year was the last to study under the old curriculum.

"The curriculum we're using now, it's produced in the UAE, but what I studied was from Kuwait, not from here," she says. "So whenever I moved up to another grade we were the last class to use the books. After us, it was all the UAE curriculum."

She went on to gain bachelor's and master's degrees at George Washington University in Washington DC before obtaining a doctorate at London's Westminster University, with a thesis on the way national culture influences that of an organisation.

Dr Bukhatir and her husband, Saif Al Suwaidi, have two daughters, Mariam, 16, and Fatima, 14.

Mariam, who was also born on December 8, is now thinking about which college she should go to next year, but education has advanced so far in the UAE she sees no need to follow her mother and study overseas.

"When I ask them, 'Do you want to go abroad to study?', they don't want to because of the schools we have here," Dr Bukhatir says. "I tell Mariam, 'You go wherever you want', but she says, 'I want to go to Zayed University'.

"Now we have everything here so why make them suffer? It's not very easy to live alone."

One major change that stands out for Dr Bukhatir is the way the workplace has opened up to women.

"In the late 1990s they introduced women working in other fields than being a teacher or working in a hospital," she says. "It was a sudden change. Everything was possible.

"I come from a very conservative family but that hasn't stopped me working.

"My father supports it, my brothers, my husband and my children support it, so I like the fact that we don't have the problems that people talk about in other countries.

"I've been working for the last 14 years and I've always had male subordinates. I've never had a problem."

Dr Bukhatir works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abu Dhabi, commuting two hours each way from the family home in Sharjah.

Her department deals with international organisations such as United Nations bodies with branches in the Emirates, although her aim is to one day represent her country abroad.

"I worked at the Dubai International Financial Centre as a project manager but after four years it was time to go to the ministry because I wanted something that was related to government," Dr Bukhatir says.

"After maybe a couple of years I can become an ambassador. I'm hoping for that."

Dr Bukhatir's father is Abdelrahman Bukhatir, the chairman of the Bukhatir Group, which developed Dubai Sports City, the Sharjah Cricket Stadium and Sharjah's Sahara Centre, and owns a large number of businesses.

"I didn't need to work but I want to work," she says.

"I just love being Emirati and I want to give back to the country."