Call to naturalise some expats stirs anxiety in the UAE

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(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

A call for the UAE to consider allowing expatriates to apply for citizenship has sparked a debate about national identity in the Gulf Arab state, where foreigners outnumber the local population by more than five to one.

Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a member of one of the UAE's ruling families, is one of the federation's pre-eminent commentators and also one of the most well-known Twitter users in the Middle East, with more than 250,000 followers.

Qassemi's op-ed in a Dubai daily, suggesting that citizenship could be opened to long-time foreign residents who have contributed greatly to society, argued that Emirati society was ready for change.

"Perhaps it is time to consider a path to citizenship...that will open the door to entrepreneurs, scientists, academics and other hardworking individuals who have come to support and care for the country as though it was their own," he wrote in the Dubai daily, Gulf News, in September.

The subsequent outcry suggested that many of his compatriots feel otherwise.

A Twitter hashtag in Arabic, "this writer doesn't represent me", quickly grew to dozens of outraged tweets.

"Don't cosy up to foreigners at our country's expense," wrote one Twitter user under the name Saif Alneyadi. Many were bothered that Qassemi had written the article in English - with an eye presumably on a foreign audience - rather than to the Emirati people in Arabic.

UAE political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla was a rare voice in support of Qassemi for bringing up the subject.

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Posted by: Fares

One man's food is another man's poison, the same applies with nations, the immigration model followed by some western countries suits them well but it would be suicidal to implement it in the Arabian Gulf. So to those who speak of the 'Gene Pool' we say we do not want it to become a 'Swimming Pool'. The Arabian Gulf must preserve its identity, language, heritage and culture not further dilute what remains of its identity and culture...

Posted by: Ahmad

You know what is disgusting about this whole passport and no passport, Islam actually gave the answer to this 1400 years before. According to the hadeeth, there is no significance of a Arab over Non Arab.
Now Imagine if the prophet of Islam had said the same thing to Salman Farsi, (A persian) Bilal Habashi (from Habsha-ethiopia) about not being a Makkah native! This mentality is the reason of demise of muslim Ummah accross the world. Shame on those who think there culture is more important than anything else , 43 years before there was no UAE so what passport were you using?
Look at the US , the reason its the greatest nation in the world is because of its immigration policy! Steve Jobs, Einstein , Henry Kissinger were all immigrants! Imagine if the US government had said sorry go back after 20-30 years and funny thing is all the major companies in UAE were founded by these immigrants you dont want to become Emirati

Posted by: Lone Star

This is a sovereign issue for the UAE to consider and decide.

However, imagine a really great doctor relocates here and loves it here. Great weather, no taxes.. not interested in citizenship really but more interested in settling in an exotic and tax-free location. Should that professional do a health test and renew his residence visa every 2 years? Every time I renew the residence visa I get reminded that I am a visitor.

The "devil is in the details" of course as to who really qualifies but I believe that an appropriate mechanism with a quota is needed.

With due respect to the caller for Naturalization but it should be a NO on naturalization. There are cases of people who become more "Emirati" than the Emiratis themselves. Culture is one of the reasons for success in companies and it is the reason for the success of UAE relative to its GCC brothers. Protect your local culture but surround yourself with talented people who can be invested in your success for long term.

Posted by: Expat from Reasonland

Thanks, Lone Star. I suppose a reasonable way to reward the specific category of residents you mention would be a medium-term visa as opposed to the standard two-year one. Perhaps after you have spent five years in the UAE without incident and you belong to a certain profession that needs foreign labour, you can be granted a five (up to ten?)-year visa. That does not threaten the cultural identity and gives the expatriates more of a "stakeholder" role in society.

Posted by: Expat from Reasonland

At the end of the day, we should be grateful for the security of the UAE, the lifestyle and cosmopolitan nature of the place. This place is demographically challenged and thus the argument against naturalization is a strong one. Moreover, in my humble opinion, the dependence on hydrocarbons prevents adoption and subsequent exercise of a naturalization policy en masse. Naturalized citizens will queue up for benefits and as long as the state is dependent on oil, this is not a sustainable model. Europe is ripe with cases where people stay in places like France merely to claim unemployment benefits and regularly return to their home countries to disburse said benefits among their families. With their own cultural identity diluted, I doubt the UAE needs these additional problems.

Posted by: Lone Star

I am a long time resident here... let's be honest here: UAE gains no net competitive advantage by naturalizing en masse. Previously good people turn into anti-social arrogant types when they acquire UAE passport and they demand this and that without working for it anymore.

Instead, perhaps there could be a new category of long-time residence that recognizes the old-timers. This could bring a competitive advantage to the UAE relative to the rest of the region. Basically, professionals from anywhere who clock enough time here and add value to society should be encouraged to stay in the UAE to minimize the effects from short-term thinking by expats who say "what's the point? Let's make some quick money here and leave. What can we build here that is permanent".

The UAE should continue to invest in its local human capital but it can only gain from keeping certain professionals of a special and required talent in the region.

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