Tuesday, May 16, 2006

UAE Census

'Aqoul's Dubaiwalla reports on the census in the United Arab Emirates:
"My best guess is that expatriates make up 85 percent of the UAE's population, but the government would probably like people to believe UAE nationals make up anywhere between 20 and 30 percent of the people living in the country. In Dubai, I've heard that expats make up 92-94 percent of residents, and this would seem very much in keeping with what I have seen. However, admitting as much officially could lead to a backlash from locals; many already feel upset, believing their culture is under siege or being drowned out in their own country, a line of thought the press seems to encourage. It is perfectly acceptable for the government to say that it wants to have the city's population quadruple within a decade and a half, but not for it to point out that the obvious consequence of this would be an even greater proportion of expatriates."

The Persian Gulf states are currently undergoing a dramatic demographic and cultural shift, and if they continue on their present course, in a century they will be no more Arab than Britain is Briton. The coast does have a cosmopolitan history, as centuries ago it was part of the great Indian Ocean trading network, and Oman and presumably others still have descendants of South Asians and Africans who came then. What's happening today is different, however, both in terms of scope and the relationship of immigrants to the government and their ability to retain ties to their ancestral cultures.

The course of this cultural shift is partly up to the government's involved. Will the workers continue to be a class apart, perhaps one day evolving into a South Africa-style apartheid until the dam finally bursts? Sadly that possibility, while extreme, is more likely than the happier extreme of trying to integrate foreign workers culturally into Gulf society. For those who are from Pakistan or other Muslim areas, the means to do this is already at hand, though for members of other religions the job becomes trickier.


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