Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:16 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 16:16 | SYDNEY

Strangers in their own country


Rodger Shanahan


30 April 2008 10:15

The sheer scale and speed of development that many of the Gulf Cooperation Council members are experiencing is amazing to watch. Fueled by record oil prices, states and emirates vie for primacy by building the tallest or largest buildings, creating artificial islands, hosting sporting events with the world’s biggest cash prizes or simply turning areas that were formerly desert wastelands into green residential and retail developments. With generally small native populations, these states have become magnets for expatriate workers — manual labourers from South Asia and technical experts from the West or other parts of the Arab world such as Lebanon.  

Sometimes lost in the milieu is the impact of this rapid development on the cultural identity of the host Gulf states. As this article illustrates, the economic and demographic realities of the region mean that the issue of national identity is achieving a higher profile. With small native populations (in the case of the UAE and Qatar nationals are only 15-20% of the population), the increasing universality of English, and a young population who have never experienced the harsh desert life prior to the discovery of oil, governments and families are wrestling with ways of ensuring the continuation of their own Gulf Arab culture. 

Some Gulf states are now openly debating the issues of national identity that has been a feature of Australian discourse for decades. The challenge for these states is whether they are able to utilise their own human capital, as well as their financial capital, to maintain their rate of development without losing their cultural identity and links with the past, that are traditionally important to all Arabs.