In a Dubai daily, influential commentator Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi suggested that long-time expatriates who have made great contributions to society could be considered for citizenship in the UAE.
“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 Gulf News, in September.
As foreigners outnumber locals 5-1 in Dubai, there has understandably been an outcry. With a Twitter hashtag in Arabic, “this writer doesn’t represent me”, quickly tending. This was soon followed by outraged tweets.
Abdul-Khaleq Abdulla, a UAE political scientist was one of few in favour of Qassemi’s views.
“I like a person who doesn’t hesitate to take up the podium to speak up bravely on social and political issues, Sultan al Qassemi being a model,” he wrote on Twitter.
However, the objectors had a range of salient points regarding the proposal. Firstly, there would be huge amounts of added expense – the UAE already spends tens of billions of dollars each year on free education, health care, housing loans and grants for its estimated 1.4 million citizens – a figure that would at least double if the proposal went through.
The greatest concern, however, is the impact foreigners might have on the dynastic political system of the UAE. Although the country is only 40 years old, the culture is rooted in ancient tribal values that could be put under threat by accepting foreigners as citizens.
Although Qassemi’s suggestion has no chance of being implemented in the near future, the reactions it stirred up have revealed a deep-seated apprehension of being influenced by foreigners, despite relying on them for tourism and as workers.