Are there too many Brits in the UAE?

Ed Attwood hails Brits' contribution in the UAE despite dodgy taxi rides and the lurid headlines

Earlier this year, a Saudi friend of mine gave me a book called All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded: And the Few We Never Got Round To. It’s a light-hearted look at the 171 countries (out of the 193 that are currently UN member states) that Britain has either invaded, raided, or where it has generally abused the local populace. But it’s hard not to read the litany of Britain’s imperial escapades without feeling pretty uncomfortable, especially when it comes to this region.

From Sykes Picot to Suez, the British haven’t done themselves many favours with regard to the Middle East’s recent history. And when it comes to the UAE, I think we’d all agree that the British population isn’t necessarily the most popular of the umpteen nationalities in the country. It doesn’t help that there are more than 100,000 of us living here, by far the largest collection of Westerners.

We stick out as well. The Brits are either deathly pale or perilously sunburnt, and have a reputation for being slightly over-exuberant — especially on Friday afternoons. If you are a regular reader of the UK tabloid press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dubai is permanently awash with sozzled expats with bloodshot eyes. As a result, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told by taxi drivers, locals and even the British themselves that “there are just too many Brits in the UAE”.

Well, they may have a point. But for every ‘banged-up Brit’ beloved by the Daily Mail, there are plenty more hard-working Britons who prefer to let actions speak louder than fumbles in the back of a taxi. In this week’s edition, we have named 50 of them. Some of the entries on our list have been in the UAE since the 1960s, while the most recent arrived on our shores just last month.

In a way, they are all following in the footsteps of Edward Henderson, a diplomat who served with the Arab Legion after the Second World War, and eventually made his way to the UAE, where he became an advisor to the then governor of Buraimi — and later founding president of the UAE — Sheikh Zayed. After leaving the diplomatic service, Henderson had such a high regard for the UAE that he moved to the country and eventually retired here. Although Henderson sadly passed away in 1995, his wife, Jocelyn, still lives in Abu Dhabi.

The next generation of Britons in the UAE have included men like Sir Maurice Flanagan and Tim Clark, both of whom have played huge roles in the rapid development of Emirates. Two titans of the local banking industry — National Bank of Abu Dhabi CEO Michael Tomalin and Emirates NBD CEO Rick Pudner — are set to retire in 2013, after years of service.

Lucy Bruce has set up nurseries in the UAE and shelters for children in India. Sam Barnett has quietly helped reshape the television landscape in the  Middle East.

That the UAE has close ties with the UK is not in doubt; hardly a month seems to go by without a British minister turning up in either Dubai or Abu Dhabi to discuss what is universally referred to in state-news-agency speak as “strengthening bilateral relations”. Just last week, British foreign secretary William Hague weighed in to back Dubai’s bid for the Expo 2020 showpiece.

So despite the dodgy taxi rides and the lurid headlines, Britons are — I believe — still contributing enormously to the development of the UAE.

Long may that continue.

Ed Attwood is the Editor of Arabian Business.

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Posted by: Roger Mathew

I wish Americans were also given opportunities in UAE like the Brits. I find very few Americans working in UAE. I think the reason is Brits only hire Brits and Indians hire only Indian etc. For example, Emirates Airport is run by a Brit and everyone close to him is either Brit or Indian.

Posted by: Zain

@ Henry, enough of whining, the host country does not need you, it is your employer that needs your services and you know well enough that you can be made redundant anytime.
@ Dubai Mike, call it what you wish but you sure are a working guest in the UAE.
@ kingkaiser, in this age it is juvenile to bury one's head in the sand and think the world is perfect, the UAE's demographic imbalance is abundantly clear, the demographic figures alone are frightening and raise serious issues regarding national identity, security, language, culture & heritage, so to summarize, you sure are a burden!

Posted by: salim

The discussion's below are hilarious. If you didn't check the names you'd think this was 'indigenous' Brits complaining about the 'bloody foreigners' in the UK and how they (the Brits) have lost their British culture. Britain after the second world war was also ' built upon' by foreigners and still relies on them for lower paid manual jobs as well as well paid jobs such as doctors and research scientists. If the 'bloody foreigners' (especially Asians and Muslims) left the UK the majority of the hospitals would probably close down. As for the comments about foreign movies, satellite TVs and internet eroding UAE culture the same can be said for the erosion of British culture but hypocritically many 'indigenous' Brits will blame multiculturalism in the UK but not in nations such as UAE. For the 'indigenous' Brits, 'your country has invited us by giving us (a) visa. If anyone is to be blamed for the present situation - look in the mirror'.

Posted by: tony

@Zain: It is easy to blame the 70% expats living in the UAE for your loss of culture. But I see a lot of Emiratis eating at McDonalds or wearing a baseball hat with their Kanduras. I think more than expat population, the satellite TVs, foreign movies and the internet are to be blamed.

So along with kicking out all the expats from the UAE, maybe concerned Emiratis should sign a petition saying they want satellite TVs, foreign movies and the internet banned in the UAE as well.

I am sure it would be very good for your country and your generations to blame.

Posted by: DNS

@ Zain : Actually, your country needs employers.. and because his employer needs people - including expats - to work, therefore, your country needs expats.. Not to mention the fact that many expats have owned businesses either on their own on in conjunction with locals..

As for burden, it may be your country, Zain, but if u don't want to pick up the shovel and work hard (like the others do), the UAE will forever be known as a country built upon by Expats.. be they asians, westerners or non-GCC arabs.. In short, you are part of the burden, like it or not.

Posted by: Henry

@Zain, I never said that my employer can not make me redundant anytime? Of cause they can - as in all over the world.
I said that I am not a FINANCIAL burden to the country.
I fully agree that that UAE's demographic imbalance raises serious issues - that is for sure a challenge - but that is not equal to say that those who were invited by the UAE government is a burden.
The present "country setup" with focus on trade and tourism requires all the expats.
If you want to go back and live like 50 years ago - for me no problem. India, Pakistan and other countries will miss the money, but the countries will survive.
I and most other expats can leave with short notice and our only loss will be the job and maybe some real estate that will be worth nothing.
We expats are not threatening your culture or heritage - your country has invited us by giving us visa If anyone is to be blamed for the present situation - look in the mirror.

Posted by: Totti Rodregues

I enjoyed reading the different comments and arguments and relate it all to cultural differences. We will always be thankful to the development humanity has witnessed. In the past, people did not use to discuss points; they waged wars. We do not need to agree on every single point but we have to accept and appreciate our difference.

Posted by: James Sanderson

Very poorly written article, was it GCSE coursework? I'll give it a D-.

Posted by: Convertible Arbitrage

It's a pity that every article about the demographics leads to a keyboard war in the comments section. When all is said and done, the UAE is a safe place where you can raise your children without a sword of lack of security hanging on your head, enjoy an extravagant lifestyle (depending on your income) and to a large extent, stay in your own bubble without overbearing social/cultural obligations.
And yes, it is the government's decision not to institute naturalization and we came here knowing that well. Let's be tolerant, grateful and appreciative of everyone's services.

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