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Culture & Identity of the United Arab Emirates

Introduction

Emirati Culture - Dubai Khor
Transportation on Dubai Khor

To the outsider the United Arab Emirates may seem like a country that is extraordinarily liberal on Muslim standards and it is. However, this liberal state comes more in the form of tolerance and acceptance of foreign culture than it does in local culture. The Emiratis themselves tend to be conservative in many ways, but they also understand the needs and wants of foreigners, who greatly contribute to their economy.

Historically, the Emiratis lifestyle was based on the lands as most people lived in rural settings, either along the coasts, in oasis towns, or in the desert itself. Life was simple and most people lived off the lands as religion was central to the culture and lifestyle. Today oil, free trade, and tourism have introduced technology, while expanding infrastructure, healthcare, and education. In a way the country and people balance these two extremes.

The economy in the country has led to a massive immigration of foreign workers to the country and today well over half the population is foreign. The Emiratis chose to accept their foreign differences as they allow alcohol, skimpy dress, and a great number of freedoms to cater to this foreign population. However, the people have maintained much of their traditions and their lifestyle has significantly changed, but isn't that of the foreign population.

The Emiratis, and other Gulf Coast people, are easily recognized by their dress, the first of many historic cultural elements that the people cling to. Instead of adopting the many foreign demands, the people have, in some ways, gone to the opposite extreme as they are quite proud of their history and culture. Family remains at the root of the culture and locals are essentially guaranteed jobs since the Emiratis are always looking out for the Emiratis as they remain a close knit community. Historically, the people have come from numerous clans, which were large extended families and today these ties are still the center of the culture.

While family is the center of life and religion is also extremely important to most people, today most of the population is urbanized and many have jobs in the services sector as they work regular hours. Most Emiratis have their own cars (although public transportation is also easily accessible) and work from about 8:00 am to about 5:00 pm. The Emiratis also changed their weekend so now the days off are Friday (Islam's holy day) and Saturday, primarily to share more working days with Europe and the rest of the non-Islamic world (the weekend was formerly Thursday-Friday).

Like the working environment, modern technology is readily available in the country and it's not uncommon to see an Emirati in traditional dress on a tablet or cell phone, which today is as much a part of the daily life in the U.A.E. as any other aspect of their historic culture.

The people have, and continue to balance traditional with modern changes, clinging to their historic culture, but living a lifestyle more in line with that of the technologically-driven world of today. None-the-less Islam keeps the people humble as dating is limited, few locals drink alcohol, and family remains the center of life.

Identity

The citizens of the U.A.E. primarily identify as Emirati, however some claim their ancestral tribe to be more important than this nationalistic identity. This national identity of being Emirati is first linked to their country and citizenship, which the people take great pride in. Since citizenship if difficult to obtain in the U.A.E. this term is indirectly defined by more than just citizenship; it tends to also be defined by the ethnicity, history, and culture of the people. Nearly everyone in the country also identifies on a secondary level, which for the citizens tends to be by their tribal affiliation or the Emirate they are from. Amongst themselves, this is generally the primary form of identifying one's self. On a larger level, the Emiratis, with the people of Qatar and Bahrain, often times identify as citizens of the gulf coast countries. As liberal Muslims, they view themselves as a part of Arabia and the Islamic world, but generally tend to separate themselves from this "Arab" identity due to the extreme social and political differences between themselves and their neighbor, Saudi Arabia.

The U.A.E. has more temporary immigrant workers than it does citizens. These temporary immigrants are from dozens, if not hundreds of countries and these people tend to first identify with their country or ethnicity.

This page was last updated: May, 2014