Sunday, 28 March 2010


On some days more than others we are subjected to incidents, reactions or even words that rub us the wrong way. The reasons are many but the ultimate feeling is one. A feeling of shock and utter disturbance that tends to whack you upside the head and knock you off balance. No matter who you are I am sure that you have been whacked once or twice in your lifetime. People reacting to you differently, hesitantly, judgmentally. Reacting because you are on foreign turf, because you are a minority, because you do not belong to the familiar.

The United Arab Emirates is a country that is proud of its multicultural residents, and UAE nationals are known for their ever-welcoming and embracing attitude towards this continuous stream of newcomers. Ironically, the same cannot be said about the attitudes of some of the UAE expatriates.
As a UAE national I speak from personal experience when I say that I have been subjected to endless stares and been the topic of many hushed conversations after stepping into a number of different outlets in the country. And while in other parts of the world expatriates go to great lengths to fit in among the locals, it works quite the other way round in the Emirates. Granted, we Emiratis are a minority in our own land, for numbers rarely tell a lie, but that is by no means a reason for us to be treated as such.

This outnumbering has left many areas and outlets untrodden by the native Emirati and to many of their dwellers such a sighting is a rarity, hence the rubbernecking. When this native discovers a shiny new place and curiously wonders in he is treated as a rare species, at times an unwelcomed one. Once he is noticed, the patrons will size him up and immediately feel restless, his national dress offending them and disturbing their peace. The native immediately feels the prying eyes follow him and senses the gapers’ shoulders tense up in defence. Once he is settled and it becomes obvious that his presence is not the end of their world as they know it, things start to go back to normal, the incident is over, or is it?

For the Emirati it doesn’t quite die out. The agitation lingers through the day. It raises a barrage of questions and brings about an onslaught of reasoning in an effort to make sense of this meaningless subjugation.

Unfortunately, this issue is not constrained to looks and whispers, it has reached as far as affecting establishment rules. Some restaurants in certain Emirates can actually ban Emiratis, wearing their national dress, from entering the vicinity. Now allow me to say that such a matter is just unspeakable. Can you imagine if in Scotland a Scottish man is not allowed into a place for wearing a kilt, a Japanese woman sent packing for wearing a kimono in Japan, or Indians not allowed entrance into a restaurant in India proudly wearing their saris or kurtas? It is just unthinkable, not to mention humiliating.

Laws must be issued prohibiting establishments from enforcing rules like these on the grounds that they are purely discriminatory to both the nationals and the country’s rich tradition. For how can you fight for your rights not to be discriminated against in other parts of the world when you allow for it at home?

Nobody wants to feel like a stranger in his own home, an alien in his world. Shamefully, it is an ever-increasing phenomenon in the UAE experienced by many nationals in every aspect of their lives, be it the workplace, a random eatery or even public parks.

It is truly a sad feeling that I’m left with whenever I am faced with these head-turning, neck-breaking incidents. Once the anger of being discriminated against has subsided it is sadness that I feel. Sadness because we welcome and embrace, we speak in every mother tongue except ours and make every dweller feel at home, yet with every piercing look the price becomes painfully obvious. 
We the natives are the aliens dressed in black and white. 

This article was published in The Gulf Today on 28 March, 2010


  1. Thank you for sharing this very personal account...I am stunned by what I read and am disappointed that you experience these negative feelings in your own country...I would have thought expatriats are more curious rather than agitated...perhaps I too need to listen...what do you believe is the solution to help you feel more at home...

  2. Nice article. But I think Emiratis also alienate themselves in a way because when living here, expats are strongly reminded that they will not and can not (in normal cases) become citizens or experience the privileges that only Emiratis can. When you set up separate conditions for any peoples, they automatically refer to and see those with the separate conditions as an “other” .
    Clothes also play a huge role. Traditional Arab thobes these days are strongly linked by those under mass CNN psychosis to barbaric Islamic extremists with a fetish for blowing shit up and caging up their women. I’m not saying that that is what people think when they see Emiratis, it’s actually the opposite. They (referring to tourists and short term expats) don’t see the stereotypes and its like a mental short circuit because of what they r conditioned to believe is actually not reality. Pretty nuts!

  3. Thank you Aysha for expressing what many of us feel as nationals.. there really should be rules set to protect us or else we really would end up like the native americans!! it should always be reminded that all that is built and served is prioritized to nationals and then shared with expats not the other way around... its our country however it feels more to be theirs... if we dont embrace our culture it will diminish, all countries have you speak their language when you visit and abide by their culture and rules, except us we adapt to the visitors preference and forget our roots... it really has to have a limit before we loose our identity, our home...

  4. Thank you Aysha for sharing your thoughts with us. I'm sure many of us locals have stories to say in this regard. I have noticed that this discrimination even happens with supermarket employees where they would serve an expat before they do a local. A recent (frustrating) situation happened between me and a British woman in the nearby petrol station here in Jumeirah. One of the so called "Jumeirah Janes" had just finished jogging around the park and went to the petrol station to get her a bite to eat. When I was done ordering my meal I went off to my car to find virtually no space for me to access it since this woman parked extremely close. I was thinking to myself (why on earth would someone park so close to me when the whole parking lot is empty?) I had no choice but to wait. I was waiting for approximately 5 minutes to find this woman walking slowly to her car. She hopped in her car and saw me waiting. Normally any human being in this scenario would automatically move their car, but not this woman. She gave me a horrible (you deserve it) look and started playing with her phone. I was staring at her in dismay, shocked that a woman of her age would lamely do such a thing. She continued to play with her phone for another 5 minutes (texting and then looking back up at me). I though maybe she doesn't know that I cant get to my car , so I stood right in front of her bumper, apparently she didn't like that so she just stayed starring at me. She then slowly backs up while I slowly move forward to my car and suddenly she halts, her bumper slightly hits my hips. At this point I felt that I was too patient and wanted to call the police and have her. I wanted to give her a taste of her own medicine so badly. But one should always rise above this lameness and that's what I did. I have faced many sick expats who would go out of their way to get on my nerve..

  5. I have to say I see where you may be coming from and as a feloow Arab I sympathize to a certain degree. However, you may need to consider whether the historic reason for this is that the real foundations of many a gulf state and for that matter my own country Jordan where not present when the "Emperial" powers divided their "prize" after the 1st and 2nd world wars. They divided an Arab nation that should have been a single unit or at most 2 or 3 huge powerful Arab countries into divided cantons and non-self sustaining entities in terms of demographics and even in Jordan's case natural resources! I think the solution lies in not priding yourself as just a "local" but to pride yourself as an Arab and work towards a unified Arab identity free from internal sub-national political bickering and certainly free of extreme religious identity as Arabs can be Muslim, Christian, atheist or whatever in order not to re-enforce any paranoid psychosis mentioned in one of the comments above. The traditional Arab dress in its different forms is not and should not be linked to any political or religious bigotry

  6. ما أقول غير..الله يرحمك يا أبونا زايد

  7. Well written! Amazing!! Thank you for this fantastic article! I salute you.

  8. Indeed a well written article :)

    It is unfortunate such incidents happen and continue to do so...partialy I'm with what you have to say yet somewhat not...would like to someday discuss the other side of the story if we chance upon each other :))

    much regards

  9. I would like to share a very strange, yet painful story that I went through while being with our students with special needs on a trip to a shopping mall in Dubai. As we all know students on wheelchairs must use the elevators in order to move from a floor to another. As we were in the elevator waiting for it to bring us to ground level, it opened on the 2nd floor and we were welcomed by 3 expats who opened their eyes with anger since there was no space for them to enter. I apologized to them out of respect since they were accompanied by an old lady on a wheelchair, and as the door closed, one of the ladies looked at us and made a "i want to strangle you" sign using her hands. Ofcourse I could never ever ignore that, not only on a personal level, but for the rights of my students whom cannot speak for themselves. We went back up and she asked us to leave the elevator by rudely pointing with her fingers. She told the security that we've been playing by going up and down. He came and told us "that is no good, they have a lady on a wheelchair"...and im like excuse me? we have children with severe physical disabilities who barely fight for their lives every single day..can't you see them? or maybe he was just protecting himself by taking the stronger side and making himself safe. That incident hit me like never before, and it literally made me feel like a local expat.

  10. We've all had our incidents, i could start and end in 50 pages. Its really bigger than those individual incidents, we are being concurred in our own country… you never see nationals around anymore that is because we are a minority in population and for that reason more should be done to maintain our identity and culture. There should be limits to what expats can do or have here, it is becoming endless that it doesn’t feel like an Arab home much. Most services are catered for the expats, and we are visitors and use it with them. Even in cases if they disrespect you the police dont do much about it, they write your side of the story and his/hers then file it and keep it forever thats if any action wil be taken after that. look at Italy, France, Germany.. they all have their culture restored no matter how globalized they became.. an expat goes there learns their language and abides by their rules and liking.. and most of all respects every one of them and actually acts like a guest not a permanent resident.

  11. An interesting discussion but a myopic one. Emiratis seem to forget that they control ALL levers of power in their country and we foreigners are only guests and can never be citizens. That is a big difference compared to Europe where workers can, after a short time, become citizens and fully integrate into the country. Emiratis purposely set themselves apart from expats so what do they expect? Expats have no rights under UAE law so why would you expect them to become vested in the local culture and language when they could be kicked out tomorrow with no legal recourse? You can't have your cake and eat it too. And this thing that Emiratis get worse service than expats at establishments is utter bullocks. It's the other way around with service staff fawning over Emiratis while everyone else has to wait. And the world does not arrive around you that everyone is talking about and staring at you at the mall. Believe me, they're not.

    Emiratis need to buck up and get some self-confidence, and stop wallowing in self-pity and insecurity. It's your country and no one is trying to take it away from you. We expats will all leave some day (we have no choice unlike Emirati immigrants to the US or Europe) so relax and stop whining. The "we are victims in our own country" act is getting really old and annoying.

  12. To be honest with u Aysha he/she is right...i agree speaking as an arabic person & i've no idea abt nonarabic ppl if they r realy acting in a way that let u locals 2 feel so.

  13. allow me a few minutes of your time to share a thought or two with respect to the comments posted on april 28th (i believe at 6:25am).
    aysha is expressing an experience she lived and/or continues to live in her own country; in other words, she is not fabricating thoughts that lead her to believe that she is the focus of under the table comments or whispers because of her accoutrement. her experience is real and as such does not constitute 'insecurity' or a lack of 'self-confidence'. your comments reflect a sense of spite. there is one concluding thought i want to leave you with: you state towards the end of your comments that 'we (as foreigners here in this country) have no choice unlike emirati immigrants to the US or europe)'. i hate to tell u this but u do have a choice: if you don't like the way the rules are set up in this beautiful country, please leave. no one's forcing u to stay.


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