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Sun 19 May 2013 08:10 AM

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Are there too many Brits in the UAE?

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

Are there too many Brits in the UAE?

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.

karl hamer 6 years ago

Dear Ed
Your comments are so true, many Britons have settled very well into the Middle East and its culture, with quite a few of us calling it home and planning to stay here long past the heavy working hours we all put in.We see a responsibility to not just earn money but to make a difference in our day to day dealings. Our young country is growing by the day into one for us all to be proud of. In the words of JFK "one person can make a difference but everyone should try "we have a responsibility as guests of this lovely Country.

Billy 6 years ago

Ed I think the conclusion of your article is correct but the start is so very far off the mark. Yes there are Brits that fall into the category you have described.....a small percentage of the 100,000 of us who are the hardworking variety.....but does that condemn us all in your sweeping generalization? There are equally many other nationalities that you could be describing. Either deathly pale or badly burnt? I think that far more commonly applies to Russians, Lithuanians or indeed any other Eastern block country who somehow don't see the need for protection. Brits unpopular? I have lived here over 20 years and I have never ever felt or been told that. I think it is a shame you chose to have a sensationalist over generalization to start your article as once the reader has waded through that nonsense you actually make an interesting point.

Abdullah Said 6 years ago

There are too many Brits here and they think they own this country. They need to change their attitude, handle their alcohol better, and stop thinking they deserve to get paid more for doing less.

Hisham 6 years ago

And is it too much to ask for a little bit of integration? To learn to speak some Arabic instead of enforcing a language they perceive to be the most important (one that doesn't even get you very far nextdoor in France or Spain, let alone other huge parts of the world). Too much to learn some basic rules of respect towards others as is normal in the Arab culture. Too much not to keep stretching the "grey areas" that were introduced to their comfort? They (Europeans) seem to be very fixated on every one fitting into their "way of life" (especially Muslim immigrants who also continue to add to their societies/economies), so why shouldn't we (Arabs) demand the same of them?

ahmed 6 years ago

And I think that the UAE should implement a quota policy and start decreasing the number of subcontinent workers in the UAE who want to suck the life out the UAE instead of contributing to the society. Modern day Dubai does not need the sub-continent mindset, the world no longer runs on log books!

nimby 6 years ago

Oh dear Slow news day for Ed.
Nothing much going on in Dubai or the world for Ed to fill his week up?

abusidra 6 years ago

The reason for making UAE their second home, it is mostly tax free and lots of freedom and luxury and time, which they don't have or afford back home. However, honestly I feel frustrated for such leneiency in a Muslim country for women, wine and dine. And still mostly are forever thankless and complaint boxes and that is the main issue, being thankless and arrogant.

Billy 6 years ago

My my how naive you guys are. Take a look at Kuwait and watch what happens to that country when the expats that you so often scorn and ridicule leave. If you want that to happen here in the UAE then you had better be ready to do some work for a change. Be ready to actually turn up for meetings when you should. Be ready to do a full 8 or 10 hour day where your results will be measured not the stress free part time work you are all so frantic to have in the government sector. The thought of you guys clambering all over scaffolding to work on the glamorous buildings you seem so proud of just makes me laugh. You might ridicule the "subcontinent mindset" but without it this country would not get built, it would not function and your easy, cozy life would be very different indeed. Time for you to show respect not scorn.....but guess that will never happen.

Hisham 6 years ago

Spoken in true British arrogance. You think of yourselves as so great, yet your country has achieved absolutely nothing in the past half century. You're living in a mirage of what once was, and as any desertman will tell you, mirages are dangerous to chase after. Everything of any significance in that museum you call your country is being bought up by people from this very region, and soon by China as well. Who says you have to work 8 to 10 hours to get things done? The fact that you really think this country needs to run on outdated British forms of management or needs a next generation of people whose knowledge level is only decreasing because of 20 years of budget cuts in the educational system makes you delusional...

Salman Al 6 years ago

Yes the Brits are well settled in UAE. As long as my fellow Arabs have the great appreciation for the "white skin" and so called western life, they are safe. Only caveat is is we don't realize getting looted by the cozy smiles, gestures and flashy looks. As such Britan was a country which was built on looting various other nations in the name of colonies and still continuing to do that. There days are counted soon and have to pay back some day. I would bet my future business plans on the Asian and African workforce and executives who still are "hungry and staying foolish"