Rahma Himid Managing partner of Strawberry PR & Events
How do you celebrate National Day? Dherhar Humaid Belhoul: National Day is every day for me. It is my job to encourage nationals to be proud of their country, and to help expats learn more about local culture. We’re organising a new parade near the Burj Dubai this year so that more expats can see how excited we get about National Day.
Dr Hanan Ali Obaid: My mother and father live in Al Ain, I live in Sharjah and my brothers live in Abu Dhabi, so we tend to come together, eat traditional Emirati food and go on a trip or to the beach, then the mall. I don’t have time to decorate the car with the UAE flag, but my brothers are teens and like to have fun so they probably will. I have a clinic to manage!
Rahma Himid: Mostly our extended families meet over lunch to enjoy the holidays together, reminiscing on where it all started. It allows us to spend quality time together, which is a luxury we otherwise don’t have. What does the day mean to you? HAO: It’s important because it brings together the many different tribes of the seven emirates, and pays homage to our ancestors who laid down the foundations for our country. What can expats do to get more involved with the local culture? RH: There are a lot of great books written by both Emiratis and expats that chronicle the rich culture and history of the UAE. But we as Emiratis should continue to raise awareness and play an integral part in making this happen too.
DHB: I’d like to see expats participating with us, celebrating the nationality and carrying the UAE flag.
Mohammed Saeed Harib: ‘Wearing the pins’, as they say.
DHB: As a local, to see an expat putting the flag on his car, you think – look, he’s doing it and I’m not doing it. It’s embarrassing! But it’s good to see an expat who respects your culture and the area. You feel very proud.
Do you think all Emiratis feel this way? MSH: We have so many people who are pro-expat. I believe that we are the way we are because we rub shoulders with people from outside. But there are others who would say we are a minority in our own country, we don’t get the best chances, we don’t feel safe. You will always have optimists and pessimists. But the majority of the new generation are happy to embrace it.
DHB: The gap between us should not be blamed on expats, nor on locals, but on both.
MSH: Most of the people I speak to say they’ve been here for three or four years, but there’s this stigma about Emiratis, like we’re blocked off, and I don’t blame them. People become wary because they don’t want to upset anyone or lose their jobs. But they shouldn’t be afraid, especially in Dubai. Dubaians are very welcoming because we’ve brushed shoulders with many expats.
DHB: This is a gap we have to bridge. It’s now almost a year since I took on the heritage project. I criticise the tour operators here because many are ignorant, they say things that are absolutely wrong. The most common tourist question is: ‘Why do women wear black?’ Their answer is that it’s more comfortable – this is the most stupid answer. Physically it’s wrong. It’s warm, it’s hot, it gathers heat. Then the tourists are taking this information home and spreading it.
MSH: The belly dancer and shisha are the same. It’s nothing to do with our culture, but it’s part of the tourist picture. People think the UAE is strict because it’s sandwiched between Saudi and Iran. Then there’s the whole deportation thing, and the myth that you can’t drink [alcohol] here. But in Singapore it’s even stricter – you can’t spit or they’ll fine you. Every country has dos and don’ts. The perception from the Arabic side is that [expats] are coming here driving Ferraris, Porsches; we see the Jumeirah Janes and think: why are they getting all the good stuff? How come they’re living the high life, coming to our country? There are suffering families here. Dubai isn’t all just rich people – I know a local lady who works as a receptionist in Emirates Towers. There are all kinds of people here. Part of the problem is us: we don’t show enough. Do you think relations would improve if more Emiratis worked in the private sector? HAO: I think our participation in the private sector is growing a lot, especially during the economic crisis. I think we need to focus more on the private sector – it can withstand a lot.
RH: There are a lot of Emiratis working in the private sector, and I’m one of them. We enjoy the freedom to work wherever our qualifications are best suited.
MSH: There are two reasons why you don’t see as many Emiratis in the private sector: one is that there are more governmental jobs on offer in the public sector. The second is the language barrier. I’m privately educated so I’m more fluent in English than someone who went to high school. They find it challenging working in the private sector and in English.
DHB: There are a lot of Emiratis who work in the private sector, but the private sector has to go one step ahead to encourage them to come. That is one way expat companies can show gratitude to the UAE – by employing locals.
How have you coped with the huge influx of expats into the country? HAO: If expats can transfer their ideas here and help the development of the UAE, I think it’s great for us, even if maybe we lost some job opportunities.
DHB: In my neighbourhood, all of us used to be somehow related. If Mohammed came in, somebody would give him the look, to say ‘What is he doing here?’ in a territorial sense.
MSH: They’re very protective of the girls.
DHB: This protection, the cultural thing between us, has been lost. We’ve accepted that foreigners are among us. When the influx came in at the end of the ’80s and ’90s, you couldn’t expect locals to absorb it immediately. Time will melt the barriers between us, if both sides take the initiative to approach the other side. Somebody has to make the first move.
What kind of benefits do you get from the government as an Emirati? MSH: The government will send 100 or 200 students a year on scholarships. When you turn 18 you get land to build a house on, and if you get married they give you an incentive because we’re low on numbers – they want to encourage us to make babies, basically. Then there is a retirement plan. We get water free too, but not electricity.
What are you most proud of about Dubai and what would you like to see improve? HAO: I’m very proud of my country, especially Dubai. It’s developing so fast, especially in infrastructure and human development. But I would like to see UAE women have more involvement in the development of the country, in both the private and government sectors.
RH: I’m very proud of the staggering progression of Dubai. Our leaders have placed the UAE on the map. I would like to see more opportunity for both expats and Emiratis to fully understand the history – for example the UAE was trading pearls, among other things, with modern-day Iraq as early as 7,000 years ago. We should shout about things like that!
MSH: I am proudest of Dubai’s energy and ambition. If you live in London it’s pretty much a preset city – you struggle to shine. In Dubai you’re part of a change. What I’m hoping will happen is cultural initiatives. If I want to see a sailing dhow, or to see folk dance, I need to know where to go. We need something that people can experience so they feel they’ve seen Dubai.
DHB: For me, being an Emirati makes me proud in itself. I love the emirates so much, every day I try to educate my children about the emirates. If my child can show energy and love for the UAE, his friend will too, and then he will take it to another friend and another. Then I will have done my homework. The emirates are my life and my pride. I would fight for the emirates. I am very patriotic. Do you think there’s a huge difference between the generations among Emiratis? DHB: The gap was particularly prominent during the ’80s, when the foreigners’ way was considered right and ours was wrong. But now so many people are interested in local theatre, local Emirati TV series and so on.
MSH: When my father was young he was running on the beach, his father was a pearling captain. When I was a child the setting was very different. There’s been a constant 360° change in recent history. Now, when I have a kid we will join the global movement – the change between generations will not be so great again.
Are there any stereotypes about Emiratis that you’d like to debunk? RH: There are stereotypes about every country. Don’t we all laugh at these stereotypes as none are based on anything factual?
MSH: I have one – that Emiratis are not approachable. We want to change that.