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Monday, May 27, 2024

Chairman's Message

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Al Habtoor Group

At the recently held First Annual Scientific Conference held in Dubai, Dr. Mohammed bin Fahed, Assistant Chief of Dubai Police for Administrative Affairs, in his thesis to the delegates, drew attention to the imbalance between the local national population and that of overseas expatriates who live and work in the United Arab Emirates. He stated that should this imbalance continue, it could create economic and social pressures that could harm the security of the state. He went on to outline a number of proposals he felt would overcome this problem.

Dr. Fahed suggested that qualified expatriates should be given citizenship and plans should be drawn up to ensure that nationals made up at least fifty per cent of the population and that the size of each expatriate nationality should not exceed a sixth of the remaining fifty per cent. Another idea put forward by Dr. Fahed was to increase the national population by encouraging multiple marriages and that the Government should financially support this solution and give nationals incentives to have more children.

While these proposals are worthy of consideration, have their consequences been analysed fully? I fear not, for, if we are to increase our population through naturalisation and the granting of citizenship to expatriate Arabs with different social and societal values, we will seriously undermine our own values and social system, for it is clear that to grant citizenship to such numbers to archive a population where UAE citizens are the majority will lead to a dilution of our national identity and distinctive culture.

As for increasing the population by encouraging multiple marriages and larger families this too can be dangerous, for already the proportion of the national population that is below the age of fifteen is 40 per cent. To add more children in the way suggested by Dr. Fahed will mean that the Government will have to allocate more resources to this non-productive sector of the population for more schools, more health care and more jobs. Over 96 per cent of the work force in the private sector is expatriate and in the main unskilled or semiskilled; the government will not be able to afford or require that many public sector jobs. It will take an enormous amount of education and rethinking for our young to lower their expectations and take up lower paid work in a highly competitive job market. This will mean a lowering of current living standards for our society.

We should support Dr. Fahed's proposal on naturalisation and grant citizenship to Arabs born outside of the UAE regardless of place of birth or region, but it would be granted only to those who are willing and able to invest financially in the country and help us grow. It is the investment in infrastructure and the development of services by the government and business leaders that has made the UAE one of the leading models for development in this century, so it is fitting that anyone seeking to become a citizen of our country should play their part too, by investing in the country and its people.

Making a financial qualification the major criteria for becoming a citizen would not be the only one; applicants would have to demonstrate that they are of good character, have not engaged in criminal activity or run any business or enterprise that the government deems against its best interests. They would also have to demonstrate that they can make a contribution to our economy.

I feel that we should also undertake a review of all those that have applied for, and been granted citizenship over the years and apply the criteria outlined above to ensure an additional liability on states resources or discredit our nation by their activities. Those that do not, should have their citizenship revoked.

We are still developing as a country whose national population, owing to better health provision and prosperity, has led to a decline in the infant mortality rate and an increase in the size of the average Emirati family. This will, over the next two generations, I believe, lead to a 'baby boom' similar to the one that occurred in the West after the Second World War. This will mean that while we should still be concerned about the imbalance between locals and foreigners, it will not be the central issue for our society in the years ahead. The central issue will be how we, as a society, go about educating and training our youth so that it can readily adapt to the changing economic realities of the next two decades. We must change their attitudes on work and personal responsibility and wean them off reliance on the government and their families for income rather than employment. If we can succeed in this, we will, over time, come to rely less and less on foreigners in the national economy which will achieve our purpose of increasing the national population as a percentage of the total population.

This is how other small states such as Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco and Bermuda have maintained their high standards of living, at every level of the economy, from baker to businessman. It is local citizens that participate in maintaining their families by the work that they do rather then by seeking hand-outs from their governments.

We must be careful how we create meaningful and worthwhile jobs for our young. We cannot simply impose quotas on the present system demanding that a percentage of jobs are set aside for UAE nationals. This will damage the economy and we do not have the manpower, nor do our youth have the depth of training, to sustain either economic growth or maintain services such as health care. This does not mean it cannot be done; we should set up a committee to best study how to proceed, it should be made up of people from all sectors of society, economists, government officials, prominent local businessmen and respected members of local communities.

It should be empowered to look into all aspects of the economy and be able to make recommendations that the Government can act on. It is, I feel, the best way to find practical solutions to what is one of the major issues facing our country today. 

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