The Misunderstood Emirati

For a decade I have had friends from around the world who have visited Dubai and spoken to me about Emiratis – the natives of United Arab Emirates. Most of what I have heard were unpleasant and negative comments about the Emiratis. These have ranged from remarks about their hypocrisy, greed and vanity to outright accusations of racism, religious intolerance and corrupt nature.
And for a year now, I have lived in Dubai hoping to meet these Emiratis who have been inspiring such tales. And surprising, they don’t seem to exist. My fascination with the culture, tradition, language, religion and people of this region has made me observe, analyse and present these facts about the Emirati people. To me they are a nation of well meaning but heavily misunderstood people. Here is why.

They are not arrogant: Emiratis are no more arrogant than a Filipino, Indian or American in the UAE. What they are is that they are very private people. When it comes to their family and personal lives, we would rarely find an Emirati person open up for discussions. The respect for their family, culture, value system and traditions has often led people to think of them as being aloof, secluded and therefore arrogant. What may surprise you is that a warm smile, a greeting and handshake is all that it takes to start a conversation with an Emirati. Dubai today is the business hub of the world. And that would not have happened if the natives of the land were arrogant and anything but welcoming.

They are not floating in money: A popular belief is that Emiratis are very privileged and lead a lavish life without their feet touching their ground. This is one of the most common misconceptions created both by the expats who live in the UAE and those who come to tour. You may often hear unverified statements passing around about an Emirati who is so rich, does not need to work and takes his or her country’s benefits for granted. However, if you took some time to observe the Emirati people, you would find them doing everything the way anyone else does. They wait in lines at a Starbucks, board the metros and walk around with their families in the many malls and. And the privileged few of the society are not restricted to the Emirati people alone. Many of the rich people in the UAE today are the expats, some of them are Arabs from other countries.

They do focus on education: At any rate, an average Emirati seems to have more education than an average westerner. I have heard some comments on the sly that Emiratis do not learn much and rely on their connections and influence to climb the ladder. Understandably in a country where the basic rules and laws are drafted in Arabic and English – it is but natural to see the citizens of that country preferred for top ranking jobs by its Government. Any one who believes Emiratis with very less education are given preference for jobs are wrongly informed. Every high ranking Emirati official we meet would have studied in one of the top colleges in the middle east or in the world.

They do have a sense of fashion: Yes the men prefer the Kandura and the women wear the Abhaya. But no, they don’t do it because they don’t have any other clothes! Wake up expats. The Emiratis respect their traditions and culture to a great extent and believe in continuing them through the ages. It is infact a crying shame that most Asian countries have forgotten or hide their traditional costumes and opt for western attires. As for the doubts about their fashion sense that doesn’t adhere to the western tastes, do observe where the Emiratis shop for their non traditional clothes, watch a fashion show showing Emirati designers or just take a moment to notice the Emirati youth hanging out at the malls and you will never doubt again!

They do love mixing with other cultures: Although the Emiratis culture is traditionally influenced by culture of the Persian empire, the modern Emirati is a perfect mix of cultures from both the east and west. From India to America, Emiratis have taken cultural lessons and blended them into their modern lifestyles. This is apparent from many aspects of their day to day work and personal life. They wear traditional outfits, drive the most modern cars, eat Chinese food, watch an Indian film and hang out with their American friends. Now, if that is not mixing up cultures, then what is?

I believe the Emiratis are poorly understood in their own land. I have of late heard of Emiratis being discriminated in the UAE purely because of their appearance and the perceptions, prejudice and apprehensions the expats have towards them. In a land which is open to the entire world to come and profit and live peacefully, being a misunderstood native is not an easy thing. It may eerily resemble the story of the new world – the Americas, where everyone migrated to live and prosper and slowly the misunderstood native American Indian tribes faded out of existence. However, with a modernizer like Sheikh Mohammed steering this great nation that is an unlikely possibility. What could become possible one day is that the misguided ideas about the locals may end up pushing them further inward into this bubbling society, forcing them to live in its center rather than branching out everywhere. This would create newer challenges for the government and people. Will such things come to pass? Will the misconceptions never be broken? Will the day come when the local Emirati is understood and appreciated in his own country by everyone else?

Only time will tell.

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