Debate over expat citizenship provokes controversy in UAE

Published:  11 Oct at 6 PM
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Tagged: Canada, Citizenship, UAE, Euro
The recent call for expats in the UAE to be allowed to apply for citizenship has sparked a controversy amongst Emiratis over the potential effect on national identity.

Foreign residents in the United Arab Emirates outnumber the indigenous population by around five to one, and the recent moves by the group of countries to decrease the numbers of working expats seem to have been supported by the majority. As a result, Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi’s article in the local media caused a rash of concern and debate both on and offline.

The Sultan suggested that long-term expat residents responsible for major contributions to society and the economy should be given the chance to apply for citizenship, adding that he believed that Emirati society was now ready to embrace change. He said the move would attract academics, scientists and entrepreneurs who had already come to care for and support the country as their own.

The resultant negative comments would suggest that not many Emiratis agree with him. Twitter users came out in force to denounce his comments as cosying up to foreigners at the country’s expense, with many stating that their unique tribal and religious heritage, conservative culture and dynastic system, already under threat, would likely be destroyed by the impact of foreigners gaining citizenship.

A rare supporter was Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE political scientist, who agreed in principal with the Sultan’s suggestion and received an equal amount of abuse for his trouble. Objections included concerns about added expenses in the fields of healthcare, education, housing loans and other grants, and centred on the belief that non-Emiratis, naturalised or not, could never truly understand the culture or accept its political structure and conservatism.
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