x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE 'needs long-term solutions to population imbalance'

With Emiratis making up fewer than one in seven of the country's population, the imbalance 'haunts' everyone, an FNC member says.

ABU DHABI // The UAE needs to find long-term solutions to the population imbalance, a Federal National Council member declared yesterday, saying it was hurting the country's culture. The nation's nearly five million residents are made up primarily of expatriates and foreign labourers, the majority from South Asia. According to estimates, Emiratis make up about 16 per cent of the population.

"It's an issue that haunts everyone, haunts us as representatives of the people," said Sultan al Suweidi, a member of the FNC from Dubai. "There should be sincere interest [in solving the problem], without ignoring the ongoing development. "We have to be cautious as a Government and as a people. We have one responsibility and that is to put forward a … number of long-term solutions." Members of the FNC have on different occasions called the population imbalance a threat to national security, a view shared by the country's leadership.

Mr al Suweidi said there were many risks related to the current population structure, including the fact that much of the workforce was not Arab. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, voiced similar concerns when he said a year ago that Emiratis had a "legitimate right" to live in a country in which they were "the mainstream, the pioneers and owners of the common language and integrating identity".

Mr al Suweidi said that the number of foreigners living in the UAE also had security implications. "The country is undergoing a major development and people are coming from everywhere. The crime rate is rising as well as drug trafficking," he said. The UAE's population growth rate is the highest in the world, standing at 3.69 per cent for 2009, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Mr al Suweidi is scheduled today to ask Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, about the initiatives of the recently established Federal Demographic Council, over which he presides.

"We want to know what the Government is doing because they're attentive to the problem since they've formed a national council, but we need to know where the Government is going to and how we can help them," said Mr al Suweidi. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, approved the creation of the council in November. mhabboush@thenational.ae