Not too long ago, I boarded a plane in Dubai bound for the United States. There were a number of Emirati families on board, some of whom I recognised and greeted. After a 14-hour direct flight, we descended from the plane and made our way to passport control. One Emirati family walked towards the line for US citizens and, in my naivety, I almost told them they were standing in the wrong queue. I hesitated, correctly it turned out. They were American citizens and obliged to stand in the US citizens section.
Many people who hear this story immediately assume that the mother was a foreigner. Not only is that incorrect – the mother is a true-blue Emirati – but she also works in the UAE government. In the past week, I was reminded of this by an article in The National relating to mixed parentage. The Grand Mufti of Dubai, Dr Ahmed al Haddad, made controversial comments questioning whether there should be restrictions on Emiratis marrying outside their nationality.
In truth, a substantial number of talented Emiratis have been born to mixed marriages, a point that Dr al Haddad’s comments did not seem to take into consideration. According to one person who was present at the panel discussion, Emiratis from mixed marriages may have “mixed loyalties”. So are they Emirati enough? Well, let us take a look at some of these Emiratis to find out. Ali Mostafa, the director behind City of Life, is the product of a mixed marriage. City of Life, which depicts contemporary life in Dubai in a powerful and realistic fashion, has become an international ambassador for the UAE after opening in Australia and Canada with a screening scheduled in Washington DC. Is its director Emirati enough?
Omar Saif Ghobash and Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE ambassadors to Russia and the United States respectively, both have foreign-born mothers and yet they serve the UAE with as much attention and dedication as any other Emirati ambassador. I have written before about how Mr al Otaiba has worked tirelessly on behalf of the country, in particular on the nuclear 123 agreement with the United States. Mr Ghobash speaks six languages and was heavily involved in bringing New York University to the UAE’s capital. Are they Emirati enough?
Razan al Mubarak is also a product of a mixed marriage. Her late father, like Ambassador Ghobash’s, gave his life for the country. Ms al Mubarak, in her roles as assistant secretary general of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society, is busy protecting the country’s wildlife on both land and sea. Is she Emirati enough? At Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment arm Mubadala, the chief operations officer, Waleed al Mokarrab al Muhairi, also happens to be chairman of Yahsat, Advance Technology Investment Company and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. But perhaps most importantly, he is credited with being “one of the principal architects behind the Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic vision”. And yes, Mr al Mokarrab comes from a mixed family.
Wael Al Sayegh is a writer, poet, translator and founder of the consultancy firm Al Ghaf, which delivers “inter-cultural induction programmes to multinational organisations serving the region”. Mr Al Sayegh has spoken to many multinational corporations about UAE culture and offered a Dubai perspective to foreign news outlets, including the BBC, during recent high-profile criminal cases. Is he Emirati enough?
Sarah Shaw, an Emirati whose biological father is English, currently works at the General Secretariat of the Abu Dhabi Executive Council and is a huge supporter of Emiratisation. Is she Emirati enough? Other Emiratis from mixed families who have made substantial contributions include the director general of the Dubai World Trade Centre, Helal Saeed al Marri, the film director Nawaf Janahi and the columnist Mishaal al Gergawi, among many others.
There are examples in my immediate circle of Emirati friends who genuinely care about this country, not despite one of their parents being foreign born but perhaps because of it. Should the UAE, and specifically Dubai, known for being hospitable and welcoming to people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures, make our very own citizens feel unwelcome? The truth is the UAE is a richer country because of these individuals of mixed backgrounds. What we should concentrate on is strengthening the ties that people have to this great nation. I have previously suggested military service for Emirati high school graduates, cultural immersion and social volunteering as ways to build civic participation.
Frankly, it would be insulting to question the loyalty of Emiratis who are born to a foreign parent. It is also unfair, un-Islamic and ultimately in this case un-Emirati to generalise about people of any background. The Emirates is a vibrant country of many colours – only seeing a single shade excludes too many of its strengths.