Booming Dubai alienating natives

Amid the massive construction and development drive under way in Dubai that is bringing in each year tens of thousands of expatriates, labourers and tourists, many natives are resettling on the city's fringes to preserve cherished tribal and family values.

    A large number of Emiratis have resettled on the city's fringes

    Many of the small native population are proud of Dubai's achievements, but an increasingly vocal few speak of alienation, question the social and political cost of fast modernisation and even say they should have been consulted.

    Several kilometres past the city's airport, undergoing a $4.1 billion expansion, are the desert enclaves of Mizher 1 and Mizher 2.

    Row after row of new two-storey villas, owned by Emiratis, are fast encroaching on what's left of the desert and a distant oasis.

    There are a couple of grocery stores and almost 25 mosques in an area of about 200 square kilometres.

    On a recent afternoon, men in traditional white robes trickled out of al-Faruq mosque after prayers.


    Suhail al-Awadhi, 37, a senior municipal official, says he "was living three years ago in Hamria, but it was invaded by Indians, Pakistanis and bachelors, so I moved out".

    Al-Awadhi was referring to an area in Dubai's historic centre.

    Emiratis are socially conservative
    but not hostile to foreigners

    Like all Emiratis, those in Mizher received free plots of land from the government plus interest-free loans or grants ranging from 500,000 dirhams ($137,000) to one million dirhams to build homes, according to Awadhi.

    Dubai, the commercial centre and fastest growing member of the seven-member United Arab Emirates (UAE), has a population of 1.4 million with locals accounting for only about 10%, according to semi-official estimates.

    The entire UAE has a population of more than four million, with locals making up less than 20%, according to the last official estimate in 2004.

    Indians and Pakistanis account for nearly half of the population.

    Al-Awadhi, who is married with four children, said he felt more comfortable and secure living among Emiratis.

    "I like the fact that my children play with other Emirati  children," he said.

    Congestion, rising crime

    Both Al-Awadhi and neighbour Mohammed al-Muheiri, 23, lamented the influx of foreigners, congestion and increasing crime.

    But they said the benefits of development far outweigh the  negatives, and praised the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum, Dubai's ruler and the UAE's vice-president and prime minister.

    Sheikh Mohammed

    (L) sees
    Dubai as an East-West fusion

    They have no problem interacting with foreigners in their daily lives but would never venture to beaches and hotels frequented by Westerners on Dubai's bustling Gulf coast because it would offend their Islamic sensibilities.

    "The foreigners with their bars and nightclubs are in a different world and even if we interact with them it does not mean that we share their values and lifestyle," said al-Muheiri, a university student who lives with his parents and six siblings in a Mizher house.

    In his new book My Vision, Sheikh Mohammed explains his aim to develop Dubai as a fusion of Middle Eastern and Western values and a melting pot of creeds and nationalities, comparing the city to Cordoba, the seat of the Islamic caliphate in Spain in the 10th century.

    But areas like Mizher are proof the fusion is not there yet. Plus, some Emiratis do not share the vision.

    Not our country

    Ibtisam Suhail, a political science professor at the UAE University in Al-Ain says "many people oppose this hyper-development and wonder who are we building all these projects for". 

    "You feel this is not your country anymore. There is a great feeling of alienation among Emiratis," added Suhail, also a resident of Mizher.

    "Many people oppose this hyper-development and wonder who are we building all these projects for.

    You feel this is not your country anymore. There is a great feeling of alienation among Emiratis"

    Ibtisam Suhail, 
    political science professor,
    UAE University in Al-Ain

    Suhail, in her 40s, believes not much thought has been given to the social consequences of fast development or the fragile demographic position of Emiratis.

    In March, Dubai passed a law allowing property ownership by foreigners.

    Suhail said the government is sinking huge sums of money to provide services and infrastructure to new inhabitants, whose loyalty is going to be to their native countries.

    "Citizens have been sidelined in the decision-making process. People have not been asked whether they want this," she said.

    Except for chamber of commerce elections in the capital Abu  Dhabi last year, no elections have ever been held in the country.

    But Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the UAE president, announced plans in December to expand membership to the strictly-appointed consultative federal council to include figures chosen in caucuses at the level of each emirate.

    Aisha Sultan, 44, another Mizher resident and director of  political programmes at state-run Dubai Television, says the influx of foreigners over the past few years has been a shock for Emiratis whom she describes as very conservative socially but never hostile to outsiders.

    "I do not think any reasonable or logical person would reject development; people sometimes reject the results," she said.


    Sultan said the government should do more to push Emiratis into private sector jobs, currently more than 90% dominated by foreigners.

    Dubai is undergoing rapid 
    development and construction

    The authorities have had success with their Emiratisation drive in the public sector and in government-controlled companies such as Dubai Holding and Emaar, the powerhouses behind Dubai's building boom.

    Other ways in which the government preserves national identity include a marriage fund with an annual budget of almost $70 million that offers UAE men financial incentives to wed local women.

    And in November a government-supported initiative dubbed Watani, meaning my homeland, was launched by a group of Emirati businessmen to bolster the values of good citizenship and to promote civic responsibility among residents through town meetings as well as sporting and cultural events.

    Its logo is a fingerprint.

    Ahmed al-Mansuri, 36, the programme's co-ordinator says "we do not want to lose values like generosity, hospitality and  tolerance, the welcoming mentality".
    But he says that the rapid build-up of Dubai is needed if it is to "fulfil its vision and destiny", which he believes has always been openness to the outside from the time it was a tiny fishing and trade outpost 35 years ago.



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