Looking at the struggles that some half-Emiratis go through, and some of their success stories across the globe.
The UAE is a country known for its diversity and openness in welcoming people from all walks of life who have established themselves here and call this place home. As a result of this growth, UAE Nationals have become the minority, and this being a collective society, there is a strong focus on maintaining our cultural beliefs and preserving our heritage. UAE Nationals and expatriates have been able to co-exist peacefully with each group of nationality able to maintain their own identities and practices. However, one group that needs to be looked at is the half-Emiratis, many of whom feel like they do not truly belong and can be cast as misfits.
Although not much has been documented about the half-Emiratis, but in the last few years, we have been starting to hear their voices. This was also highlighted by filmmakers such as Aisha Al Hammadi and Amal Al Agroobi, who are both half-Emiratis and wanted to shed some light on how life is for them and other “halfies”. These films and various other articles reveal how there can sometimes be a stigma attached to being half-Emirati and how they struggle to fit in among those with full Emirati heritage.
While marriages to foreigners may have been rare in the past, the changing times reveal that this is now a lot more common. There is also the issue of whether the non-Emirati spouse is an Arab or not, as that can also influence the acceptance level of the immediate families and society as a whole. It may be easier to fit in if the other half is an Arab who follows similar traditions and uses the same language, as opposed to a different race where looks alone could make you stand out.
Regardless of the origins of the foreign spouse, mixed marriages are, unfortunately, still seen as an “issue” that needs to be dealt with when discussed in public forums, when in fact, this is a personal decision, with the individual having that right to choose. Those choosing to marry non-nationals should not be penalized or made to feel like an outcast.
Instead of discouraging mixed marriages, it should be lauded for the potential positivity that it can cultivate. Being in a mixed marriage or being a product of one can only mean that you have been exposed to other cultures. It can allow you to see the world through a different set of eyes, and be tolerant of others in this diverse world. This is becoming increasingly apparent as we find UAE Nationals blossoming in areas that were traditionally dominated by expatriates.
A look through the local newspapers report on Emirati ballerinas, rugby players, filmmakers, and opera singers, and when you look further, you see that many of them, if not all, are half Emiratis, and it is very likely that they are in these fields as a result of their mixed upbringing. The half-Emiratis may be bolder when venturing into new or unconventional roles because of the different views that their parents of a mixed culture would bring. They may also have less fear of judgment since they are already seen as different and have the experience of not being fully accepted in the Emirati circle.
While I do believe it is important to maintain our Emirati roots and pass these on to our children, this does not mean that a mixed marriage would come in the way of that. If anything, it can help impart some of our beliefs onto other cultures, and help us bridge the gaps between us. Some notable examples are Omar Saif Ghobash and Yousef Al Otaiba, both products of mixed marriages and UAE ambassadors to Russia and the United States, respectively. They are able to serve the UAE and also act as representatives of the Emirati culture and beliefs in their roles abroad.
Why is it that people generally look for differences between one another when there are so many similarities amongst us? We live in a tumultuous world, where people fight over race and religion, and we are blessed to be living in a country where we have peace, so why not continue to shine as a beacon of hope and tolerance in these dark times?
References / Reading Material:
- Sultan Al Qassemi (August 29, 2010). “Mixed marriages bring strength upon strength to the UAE”. http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/mixed-marriages-bring-strength-upon-strength-to-the-uae
- Anna Zacharias (April 6, 2013). “A new generation of Emiratis speak out about mixed parentage”. The National. http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/a-new-generation-of-emiratis-speak-out-about-mixed-parentage
- Sara Sabri (September 13, 2013). “Mixed marriages under the spotlight in UAE”. Gulf News. http://gulfnews.com/leisure/relationships/mixed-marriages-under-the-spotlight-in-uae-1.1230602
- Video (April 6, 2013). “Tackling the taboo of being half Emirati”. The National. http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/video-tackling-the-taboo-of-being-half-emirati
- The New Arab (April 21, 2016). “UAE parliament takes aim at mixed marriages”. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/society/2016/4/21/uae-parliament-takes-aim-at-mixed-marriages
Bahar is a recruiter by profession, an aspiring writer by night, and a mom of toddler twins. She has an unending thirst for learning, as she completed her BComm in Canada, an MA in Dubai, and continues to develop herself with reading and research.
With her column, she shares her journey as she grows and learns more about this crazy beautiful world we live in.