Over the past two decades, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has experienced substantial growth based on its focus on economic and infrastructure development. Initially supported through its oil wealth, the UAE has grown into one of the wealthiest regions in the world and is presently redeveloping itself from an arid dessert landscape into becoming one of the most sought after tourist destinations for the rich. It should be noted though that the substantial growth of the region is not based on a substantial local worker population as seen in the case of China and the Philippines, instead, its growth was largely dependent on the large number of foreign workers that entered into the country (AlMazrouei and Pech, 2014). Ranging from construction workers to administrative staff, foreign workers have become the backbone of the UAE workforce and have ensured the continued prosperity of the country. However, given the sheer amount of foreign workers in the country as compared to local citizens (only 11% of the people in the UAE are natural born citizens), this would undoubtedly bring challenges due to the demographic imbalance. There are issues related to national security and national identity that need to be taken into consideration as well as whether the current imbalance has resulted in a positive or negative outcome for the region (Mid-East, 2003). It is with these factors in mind that this paper will delve into the impact that the current demographic imbalance has had on the region, the potential long term consequences and how it has impacted local culture. It is the opinion of this paper that the sheer amount of different cultures within the country is a good thing since it contributes towards the development of cultural understanding and the introduction of new and possible better social ideas and concepts that can be incorporated into local Emirati society.
Background of the Study
The primary concerns of this paper are the potential changes to the region that the influx of foreign workers from different countries would have on its society, internal security and culture. The reason behind this is due to the various foreign elements in the form of external culture, religion and ways of thinking that foreign workers bring into the country which may result in positive or negative repercussions within the UAE (Elanain, 2010).
From September 2001 till September 2008, the UAE has utilized its state run capitalist economic model (i.e. the Dubai Model) as a means of economic diversification towards its development as a trading and tourism hub. This has resulted in the region enjoying significant rewards in terms of increased trade, tourism and infrastructure development over the past decade (Elanain, 2010). However, this growth has largely been tied to the nearly $364 billion worth of projects that have been commissioned in the UAE, almost all of which were based on the construction industry.
It is the opinion of this paper that the sheer amount of different cultures within the country is a good thing since it contributes towards the development of cultural understanding and the introduction of new and possible better social ideas and concepts that can be incorporated into local Emirati society.
The primary assumption of this study is that the influx of foreign workers does have the effect of changing local cultures through the introduction of new ideas, customs and habits.
What is Qualitative Research?
Merriam (2009) in her book “Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation” explains that qualitative research is a type of exploratory research in that it tries to examine and explain particular aspects of a scenario through an in-depth method of examination. While it is applicable to numerous disciplines, it is normally applied to instances which attempt to explain human behavior and the varying factors that influence and govern such behaviors into forming what they are at the present. Thus, it can be stated that qualitative research focuses more on exploring various aspects of an issue, developing an understanding of phenomena within an appropriate context and answering questions inherent to the issue being examined. This makes it an ideal research method to be utilized in this study since it would enable the researcher to examine the various aspects related to the cultural and security concerns that would come up due to the current demographic imbalance within the UAE. The following are the possible qualitative research methods that will be utilized in this study:
As explained by Merriam (2009), a research study that relies almost entirely on academic literature without other methods of external data collection runs the risk of being confined primarily to the results exhibited by the research studies utilized. This can result in a study that is severely constrained in terms of the number of factors that it is capable of encompassing especially in situations where the research subject that is being examined is focused on a narrowly specific topic (Merriam 2009, pp 135-165). On the other hand, relying purely on academic literature in order to investigate a particular study does have its advantages since it reduces the amount of time need during the initial stages of preliminary research and enables the research to more effectively justify the results presented by indicating that they had already been verified by previous researchers. It is based on this that this research project will primarily focus on document based research as the method of examination for this study.
The primary limitation of this study is that it relies on document based research as the source for all the information and views that will be presented. The use of other methods of research and analysis such as a survey, narrative analysis, or other forms of research will be eschewed in favor of focusing entirely on the collected data and results of other researchers. Merriam (2009) elaborates on document based research by stating that document based methods of analysis primarily concerns itself with an examination of various academic texts in order to draw conclusions on a particular topic (Merriam 2009, pp 139-165). While each method of analysis does have its own level of strengths such as in the case of a narrative analysis that enables a researcher to utilize learning and adaptation approaches in order to examine various types of data, it should be noted that a document analysis is far easier to do and has a higher degree of academic veracity as compared to narrative based research which can often result in mistaken conclusions (Merriam 2009, pp 32-165).
What is the UAE 2021 Vision?
The UAE 2021 vision focuses on creating a strong and resilient economy for the UAE through investments in industries, infrastructure development, education and the creation of sustainable local environment. This vision is heavily influenced by the Dubai model which can be described as an economic model that focuses on the creation of a thriving local economy from almost nothing through the use of oil revenue as the primary means of encouraging growth and development in various sectors of the region. Basically, the Dubai model operates under the premise that by creating the right conditions, the UAE can become a business hub that would attract foreign corporations and investments thus resulting in a better local economy. The supposed “end result” of such an endeavor would transform the UAE into a popular destination for tourism and business which would enable the local economy to survive after the region’s oil wealth has dried up.
It is due to this that the plan of Abu Dhabi as well as several other cities within the UAE is to develop a means of economic diversification through a long term transformation of the economy of the Emirates from one that is predominantly oil-based to one that focuses on tourism, oil independence and knowledge based industries. It should be noted though that while sustainable tourism can be implemented through the implementation of new local strategies, a sustainable culture within the context of the oil dependent city of The UAE is in an entirely different story. What you have to understand is that oil wealth is so ingrained within the current culture of The UAE that its absence would undoubtedly cause a cultural collapse. This is due to oil being the means by which local citizens experience substantial government benefits in the form of reduced prices for utilities. The continued depletion of The UAE’s oil reserves is a definite issue for the continued sustainability of the local culture and, as such, new methods of independence from oil need to be established.
In the case of the UAE 2021 vision, this is accomplished by utilizing oil revenue as a means of creating conditions such as free trade zones, no corporate taxes (since the government derives its revenue from oil resources) and the creation of numerous ports to facilitate the import and export of goods. The sustainability of this particular practice is definitely in doubt given the lack of sufficiently diversified local industries within the UAE. As noted by AlMazrouei and Pech (2014), the lack of investments into creating manufacturing industries leaves the country vulnerable to external shocks during economic downturns brought about by low levels of demand. Evidence of this was noted during the 2008 financial crisis wherein investments into real estate, trade and lack of sufficient local taxation nearly crippled the local economy within the UAE (AlMazrouei and Pech, 2014). Significant investments into state owned construction firms also facilitated the development of increasing amounts of infrastructure projects which further bolstered the local economy. The conditions created within the UAE, especially in Dubai, would result in more foreign workers and corporations looking for opportunities in the region which lead to the development of the UAE into a trading, tourism and I.T. hub for the region.
Negative Effects of the Influx of Foreign Workers
One of the primary problems with the growth model utilized by the UAE is in its reliance on foreign workers and corporations in developing its private sector. There was little in the way of significant investments into technical expertise development. While foreign companies were initially enticed by the tax free zones that were created under the auspices of the Dubai model, the fact remained that there was little to no transfer of technical skills or expertise from these companies into the local population. This is due to the fact that 85 percent of the UAE’s work force primarily consisted of foreign labor. Not only that, the Alrawi, Hamdan, Al-Taie and Ibrahim (2013) study stated that this dependence on foreign corporations to bolster the UAE’s growth is incredibly fragile given its reliance on the goodwill and confidence of foreign corporations and institutions regarding the potential the region holds for growth and development. Once such confidence disappears, there is little in the way of actual solid economic fundamentals in the form of a robust industrial, agricultural or even technical sector that would convince foreign corporations to stay (Alrawi, Hamdan, Al-Taie and Ibrahim 2013). This is one of the reasons by the UAE 2021 vision is so important for the region since one of its goals is the creation of sufficient resiliency and independence of the local economic sector on foreign corporations and businesses.
Understanding the Threat of Demographic Imbalances in the UAE
While the UAE is considered as one of the richest and most civilized regions in the world, the fact remains that its location in the Middle East along with its proximity to regions such as Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan creates the potential for foreign insurgency groups to target the UAE for terrorist attacks due to its distinctly “pro-western” orientation. With the sheer amount of foreign workers coming in and out of the country on a monthly basis, this creates a potentially volatile situation where the regional government is hard-pressed to differentiate an ordinary foreign worker from a potential terrorist. It should also be noted that the security challenges impacting the region are not limited to potential terrorist attacks; rather, they extend to the potential expansion of criminal groups in the region due to the influx of foreign workers from different regions of the world. What must be understood is that foreign workers can act as “gateways” so to speak for different foreign criminal elements to enter into the country. Some of the potentially adverse consequences come in the form of the creation of drug distribution networks, prostitution rings as well as an assortment of similar criminal activity. It is with this in mind that this section will delve into the various issues related to the security challenges that would impact the UAE as a direct result of the demographic imbalance that it is currently subject to.
Extent of the Security Challenge
What must be understood is that the various uprisings and terrorist groups (ex: ISIS) that are engulfing the Middle East have the potential of rapidly spiraling out of control should extremist groups suddenly insert themselves into the various populations. As seen in the case of ISIS, one of their main goals is to spread their version of Islam and one of the best means of doing so is to target irate populations that are dissatisfied with the status quo that exists (Elanain, 2010). For instance, in the case of the UAE, while the region is highly dependent on foreign labor, there have been numerous criticisms of the way in which they treat workers in the country. There have been numerous stories of human rights abuses in the form of unsanitary housing conditions, low pay and dangerous work environments. The end result is the development of considerable levels of dissatisfaction regarding their current state of affairs which various terrorist groups could potentially take advantage of in order to incite domestic terrorist activities (Elanain, 2010). Other notable issues is that due to high rate of local demand for foreign workers, the origin of employees in a variety of industries tends to become questionable. For instance, while the UAE has a well established Filipino community that has become the backbone of numerous local industries, there are cases of religious extremism in that country from the southern island of Mindanao (Keane and McGeehan, 2008). As such, gaining workers from these areas could lead to the spread of extremist ideology which could become a destabilizing factor for the local culture within the UAE. This is especially true when taking into consideration the manner in which some local workers are treated by their employers. It is not only the Philippines that should be taken into consideration; rather, there are areas in Pakistan, China, and other regions where the UAE draws its workers that also have a history of extremist tendencies (Keane and McGeehan, 2008). This creates the very real threat that a combination of local dissatisfaction and extremist ideologies could result in a considerable societal backlash which could threaten the peace of the region (Keane and McGeehan, 2008). There is also the potential that the current orientation of the UAE towards hiring foreign workers would be a method by which members of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups would insert themselves into UAE society which they could use in order to anonymously conduct bombings, killings or recruit various disgruntled employees towards joining their cause (Rahman, 2011).
Impact of the Demographic Imbalance on Cultural Traditions in the UAE
Traditional knowledge can be comparable to the inherited traditions and long standing practices inherent within a particular culture, society, or community. Another way of looking at traditional knowledge is from the concept of “adaptively acquired knowledge” wherein the various processes and techniques inherent to a particular indigenous community were developed as a response to the unique environmental and topographical situation they found themselves in. This can be seen in the different weaves and means of producing traditional clothing that is unique to particular regions such as the “sarong” in the Philippines, the Kimono of Japan and the thickset clothing developed by the indigenous people of Tibet and various traditions and practices of clothing design that were evident in the UAE prior to the influx of foreign trade, corporations and workers into the region. However, it was noted by Randeree (2009) that with the arrival of more foreign workers, the adoption of traditional garb has been dramatically decreasing with members of the younger generation often opting for the same utilitarian clothing (i.e. shirts and pants) as compared to utilizing traditional Emirati clothing such as the abaya. This change has been connected by Randeree (2009) to the influences of foreign employees wherein utilizing suits and ties for conducting business transactions is considered the norm. This change is particularly important given the current state of affairs within the UAE where there has been a noted decline in cultural participation among members of the native population in favor of the modernity seen in present day international culture espoused by foreign workers in the country (Randeree, 2009).
Changes in the Culture of Entertainment
In essence, the traditional dance, camel racing, and sailing within the UAE is basically a form of entertainment, while others make call it an art form, a way of life or even a form of expression its purpose is still first and foremost to entertain an audience. As with all manners of entertainment operations, there is a certain degree of cost associated with various productions and, as such, in order to continue operations companies within the UAE have to charge audiences a nominal fee. Taking this into consideration, it can be thus assumed that should another form of entertainment come along that is far more affordable and easily accessible as compared to the traditional dance industry then it is likely that consumers would choose that.
During the early to late 1700’s, the popular forms of entertainment within the UAE focused primarily on traditional dance, camel and horse racing, falconry and sailing. The appearance of black and white movies and then television sets radically changed this notion and, as a result, traditional forms of entertainment within the country lost their prominence. Today, the general public is practically drowned in a sea of possible forms of entertainment however companies that focus on traditional Emirati entertainment still do exist as a way in which that particular form of performing arts is preserved. Unfortunately, the overall impact of the traditional entertainment industry which is a niche market of the entertainment industry of the UAE only reached 9.6% of the overall gross income in 2007 while in 2008 this number went even lower to 7.6% (Epps and Demangeot, 2013). While camel/horse racing did account for 18.6% in 2007 and 23.8% in 2008, the fact remains that traditional entertainment within the region is slowly but surely losing its impact (Epps and Demangeot, 2013).
While there are several factors that could be attributed to this, one of the primary reasons as explained by Epps and Demangeot (2013) is simply due to supply and demand which causes many companies to focus on where the greatest demand is within the region.
Simply put, since a vast majority of the population within the UAE consists of foreign workers, this means that the type of entertainment that would be popular would be what appeals to them. It is due to this that traditional entertainment companies are suffering from an overall change in consumer culture where going to camel/horse races or dance shows is no longer considered a viable form of entertainment
The lack of consumer growth for the traditional entertainment industry lies with the fact that it is dealing with an aging and depleting consumer base (i.e. the older Emirati population). The more recent generations in Emirati culture have become more interested in the latest pop culture icons rather than traditional performances which is in part due to the influx of foreign workers into the region who are influencing local tastes in entertainment (Rahman, 2011). While proponents of the traditional entertainment industry may say that conditions are improving, the fact remains that for every step forward that the traditional entertainment industry improves, the pop culture industry moves 20 steps ahead. Not only that, but recent economic upheavals in the international market have made older advocates of the traditional entertainment industry more reluctant to spend their money on expensive camel/horse racing tickets just in case another economic recession may happen again (Goby and Erogul, 2011). This would explain why there is a steady depletion in the amount of people that actually go to these events each year.
An examination of the total gross revenue accumulated by the traditional entertainment industry within the UAE in a given year shows that nearly 30 to 40% of its entire revenue comes from camel/horse racing (Goby and Erogul, 2011). While traditional dance performances by companies such as Saffron Entertainment may possess 18 to 20% of the total share of revenue, the fact remains that people are apparently more interested in the pop culture as compared to the classical forms of Emirati traditional dancing (Goby and Erogul, 2011). The traditional entertainment industry in particular barely controls 7 to 8% of the revenue stream with very little gains over the past few years. As such, despite the statements by the UAE government that people have begun to embrace the classical arts, this perspective could be considered overly optimistic with cold hard data showing otherwise. This is indicative of the fact that people are embracing something other than traditional entertainment which is in part due to the influences of foreign workers over what is popular (Goby and Erogul, 2011).
What is the Emirati Identity?
The concept behind an “Emirati identity” goes beyond aspect related to horse riding, falconry, or traditional arts, instead, the Emirati identity can be connected to a combination of cultural traditions, social norms, religious identity and an understanding of the historical precedent behind the development of the Emirates as a whole. What must be understood is that merely participating in cultural activities or having the same blood run through your veins is not enough to be considered as having an Emirati identity (Randeree, 2009). It focuses on how ones though process, behaviors and manner of interacting with other people are specifically oriented towards a particular manner based on how their identity has been developed by the cultural aspects of growing up in the Emirates and being a part of the local culture (Randeree, 2009). It goes beyond cultural events, artifacts or sports; instead, it is an indelible aspect of an individual that has been developed by their family, friends and the culture that they are a part of. It is based on this perspective that despite the declining popularity of certain aspects of Emirati culture, the culture itself continues to thrive since it is fostered by the people that are a part of it (Randeree, 2009).
Understanding the Concept of Cultural Change
What is being seen at the present in the case of the local UAE culture as a direct result of the influences of foreign workers is a distinct modernization of the culture (ex: changes in clothing preferences, food preferences, etc). These changes are actually considered “worrisome” by the current department of cultural preservation within the UAE since it implies that the original Emirati culture has declined to such an extent that it is barely a shadow of what it was in the past. However, what must be understood is that based on what was mentioned by Cooper (2008), this cultural shift is a normal part of cultural development and it should be understood as such. While it is true that certain elements of local cultures, as seen in the case of Emirates, do change when it comes to the influx of new influences, it is important to note that these are necessary when it comes to cultural evolution. Cultural evolution comes about through the absorption of new cultural facets brought about through social, technological or economic developments (Cooper, 2008). As, such, while it is true that certain aspects of a culture may digress as a result of concepts being adopted by the culture, this process actually enables cultures to survive. Cultural stagnation occurs when significant resistance to such changes occurs which causes more harm than good (Cooper, 2008). Evidence of this can be seen in instances within Africa and the Philippines wherein the preservation of cultural traditions against the influx of external ideas results in that population continuing to exist in a tribal fashion (i.e. they live in huts and continue to hunt for food) (Eberstadt, 2004). This shows that cultural evolution through the influx and adoption of new ideas is essential if a society is to survive and thrive. It is due to this that the new cultural ideas entering into the UAE through external influences should not be viewed negatively by members of the department of cultural preservation; instead, they should be viewed as the continued evolution and develop of the Emirati culture as a whole which enables it to be far better than it was in the past.
For example, when examining the present day abaya weaving techniques employed by local artisans, many of them utilize techniques that incorporate modern day tools and machinery in order to produce the designs and weaving patterns seen in many of the shops in the UAE or Dubai (Khraim, 2010). Items such as glue, dyes and wax are used in present day weaving methods as opposed to the more traditional natural colors of the fibers utilized. Despite this, the abayas created by local artisans at the present can still be considered a reflection of the Emirati culture, however, instead of being a reflection of the Emirati culture that existed hundreds of years ago it is more of a reflection of the Emirati culture as it is at the present which is an amalgam of modern and traditional aspects. This change does not detract from the culture as a whole; rather, it shows how cultures tend to reflect different aspects along distinct points in their individual life cycles. Other such examples take the form of Emirati women now being able to work in previously male dominated careers, greater levels of expression being allowed and the development of a more liberal outlook within the UAE as compared to the more conservative stance seen in Saudi Arabia. All these factors combine to create a situation which show that cultural change through the influx of new ideas can actually be considered as desirable since it enables further social development and allows new ideas to benefit the local society.
Dynamic Development of Culture
It is based on this that that this paper has developed the notion that to consider culture as a static event that is isolated to particular periods of time is actually fallacious. Rather, what is known as culture to most people is actually a dynamic process that constantly changes over the years into different iterations. To a certain extent, it can be stated that the different cultural periods throughout history are nothing more than stages in a development cycle that never truly ends. It is based on this perspective that the cultural distinctions within the UAE at the present will very likely undergo even more changes in the coming years into something completely different to our present day experience of culture yet the society of this future iteration will still define themselves as Emiratis, Americans, Italians, British, and Germans. Through such a process, cultural evolution can take place which would enable the local culture to adapt to new situations, accept different ideas and be able to better address issues that actually cause societal regression. Evidence of this can be seen in the more liberal societal stance that the UAE has taken in contrast to Saudi Arabia which continues to focus on an overly conservative societal structure (Keane and McGeehan, 2008). This development in the UAE has lead to positive changes in the local society which has enabled women to work in a variety of careers, given rise to new societal trends in art, culture and design as well as showed the rest of the world that the UAE has adopted positive mannerisms which are more in line with international standards involving social development and cultural acceptance (Keane and McGeehan, 2008).
Impact of International Culture on the UAE
In the case of international culture, what occurs is a state of cultural imposition wherein global cultural predilection, values, behaviors even methods of speaking are imposed on a local populace resulting in a deterioration of the local culture. The effects of cultural influences on local populations as a result of influences brought on not only by foreign worker influences but the manner in which local cultures change in order to be more “acceptable” in the eyes of the international community, radically changes the mannerisms that subsequent generations adopt within that society (Connell, Burgess and Hannif, 2008).
Taking this into consideration, it can be seen that the impact of international culture on the UAE can be likened to a type of cultural shift wherein through influence and subsequent assimilation, old cultural behaviors, values, and various aspects unique to the UAE’s culture are in effect repressed or removed in favor of the ideas, notions and cultural styling of the international community. Based on this, it is at times questioned whether internationalization and tourism truly benefit certain countries in that local cultures are subject to an international standard that may or may not be reflection of how their culture developed.
From a certain perspective, it can be seen that internationalization in effect helps cultures become more “in line” with the global perspective of how the world chooses to view them. Not only that, there is also the issue of advances in architecture and technology transfer that also occur as a result of culture sharing as seen in the case of architecture within the UAE which has begun to follow Western stylistic designs (Aziz, Adkins, Walker, and Wuensch, 2010). It is based on this that it can be seen that there are benefits accrued as a result of internationalization but such benefits are often clouded by the adverse cultural effects that international culture has on local areas and people.
Positive Impact of Foreign Workers on Tourism
It should be noted that despite all the negative ramifications that the influx of foreign workers has had on the cultural traditions of the UAE, this does not mean that have not been some significant social effects as well (Country Snapshot, 2011). One of the positive effects of having a diverse workforce is that it makes the region more acceptable in the eyes of tourists since the number of different workers from different countries would enable foreigners to speak to someone who comes from the same region as them. A greater number of tourists means higher income levels for local hotels, shops and other assorted businesses which in turn creates a considerable degree of prosperity. For example, as seen in the work of Eberstadt (2004), festivals within the Philippines which are sponsored by local councils often bring tourists as far away as the U.S., Europe and Canada which creates a subsequent influx in tourism income to the various businesses located within that area.
The reason this is being brought up is due to its potential to help the UAE rival the various tourism destinations such as Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Tunisia, Turkey, Croatia and Egypt. In fact in 2010 it was reported that the UAE rivaled the aforementioned countries in the amount of tourists that arrived within the country. On average, the UAE receives 1.2 million tourists annually from both far flung international locations as well as closer domestic regions such as the UAE and Qatar (Forstenlechner, Selim, Baruch, and Madi, 2014). However, there has been a slight shift within the international tourism market within the past few years wherein tourists have increasingly been going to locations in Asia (Emerging Markets, 2009).
Benefits of Workplace Diversity
With the current hypercompetitive international market affecting not only the U.S. economy but the UAE as well, this necessitates the need for creativity and innovation in being able to access new markets in order to sell particular products and services. Workplace diversity through foreign workers actually enables a company to utilize a pool of individuals that come from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities in order to access their unique views and skills (Emerging Markets, 2010). What must be understood is that regular marketing and sale strategies that have been implemented for the company’s original market may not be as effective when applied to new markets and as such this calls for views and opinions of people that either belong to that particular consumer segment or understand it to an extent in order to implement sufficient strategies for sales and market penetration
From the study of Golini (1998), it was noted that societies tends to change over time into something completely different than their initial incarnation. Despite this, the people, the society, and what can be defined as “cultural traditions” are still considered part of the original culture despite the drastic changes that occurred. This is true for nearly all societies, with a few notable nomadic tribes, and is a prime example of what occurs when cultures tend to adapt with changes that occur within a society. For example when looking at England at the present the society that embodies it within the current era is drastically different from what it was during 1800s, the 1400s and even far before that. The society that defined itself as “British” during the 10th to 17th century is no longer present what exists in its place is an entirely new culture, a far different society and a population that for all intents and purpose is far more diverse than it was in the past yet such a population still considers itself as “British” despite the fact that it is in no way similar to what was defined as “British” in the past. This is applicable to nearly all modern societies at the present wherein through hundreds of years of change what was used to define Germans, Americans, Italians and Japanese has gone through various iterations and changes. Who they are at the present cannot even be considered a similar facsimile of the original culture within their country. While it may be true that some vestiges of the original culture are left it can be stated that there are more differences than similarities wherein if you had brought someone from the 1600s to England, Japan, China or the U.S. they would be hard pressed to find what they could define as “familiar”. Such is the case when examining the present day UAE culture wherein many of its members no longer conform to traditional cultural activities such as hunting, the creation of handicrafts and other similar cultural traditions. It is with this in mind that the connection between foreign workers and the introduction of different ways of thinking into the country comes into consideration. Based on what has been presented so far, it has been noted that there has been a significant influx of new societal ideas, cultural exchanges and a variety of other aspects related to foreign culture that has been introduced into the UAE as a direct result of the millions of foreign workers that have helped to make the region great. However, from a cultural and societal perspective, this influx of new ideas and cultural sharing is not necessarily a bad thing. The introduction of new ways of cultural thinking and societal thought has been noted by Keane and McGeehan (2008) as creating a more “open and accepting” society when it comes to different demographics, ethnicities and religions. This in turn greatly enriches the development of ideas, societal thought and even the creation of new socio-cultural institutions that have brought revolutionary ideas into the forefront of human civilization. Karkouti (2009) points to examples such as the U.S. and the E.U. wherein the collaboration and communication from different cultural and ethnic groups has resulted in the creation of countries and organizations that have taken center stage in leading the international community. It is with this in mind that the current influx of new socio-cultural ideas from foreign workers could be considered as being a positive asset for the UAE since it enables locals to better understand the varied cultures that exist in the world and the various methods that can be utilized in order to do business and interact with them. There is also the fact that over the past 60 years locals within the UAE have been subject to an influx of foreign food that they have happily incorporated into their own diet due to the influences of foreign workers. This shows that not all aspects related to the introduction of new cultural notions into the region is a bad thing. There is also the fact that the creation of new socio-cultural ideas within the country could possibly result in a “renaissance” of art, culture and understanding within the region which would cause more people to go into the region in order to live here due to the ideal conditions. What must be understood is that the success of the UAE as a cultural and tourist hub is largely dependent on how people view the region. Showcasing a diverse cultural backdrop combined with a more accepting and lenient local culture would cause more people to flock into the region resulting in greater long term economic gains. The opposite would be true as well though in the UAE if the region were to implement a more restrictive and highly polarized view regarding the introduction of new social and cultural ideas. People would be less likely to visit the region or invest into it if they perceived the region as being hostile to foreign cultures. Evidence of this can be seen in similarities and dissimilarities between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While both regions have similarities when it comes to the demographic orientation of their local populations and their reliance on foreign labor, the fact remains that the influx of foreign direct investments is higher in the UAE ($10,487,950,987 -2009 to 2013) as compared to Saudi Arabia ($9,297,693,333 -2009 to 2013) despite the fact that the UAE is only a fraction of its size. Not only that, it should be noted that a majority of the foreign direct investments within Saudi Arabia go directly to its oil industry while in the case of the UAE it is spread more or less evenly across multiple sectors. This is particular important when taking into consideration the connection between economic growth, SMEs and the UAE’s 2021 vision for the region. One of the funding problems experienced by entrepreneurs within Saudi Arabia is a distinct lack of foreign direct investments or even the establishment for foreign based businesses from which local entrepreneurs could derive a variety of manufacturing contracts. An examination of a recent interview featuring Dr. Fahad Al Sultan, the Secretary General of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and industry reveals that one of the current hindrances to domestic growth is a distinct lack of foreign direct investments within the country from U.S. based corporations. He mentions that out of the 95 delegates that attended an international business conference in Saudi Arabia only 1 was from the U.S. and it was not even someone from a business. Dr. Al Sultan goes on to mention that he finds it strange that corporations from the U.S. are so unwilling to invest in Saudi Arabia given the century’s old relationship that both countries have enjoyed whereas China, who is positioning itself as a possible major investor within the state, has only had a 30 year relationship with Saudi Arabia yet has sent more delegates and has invested more into the country. One of the reasons behind this has been connected to the general “restrictions” on foreign socio-cultural ideas within Saudi Arabia which has in effect created a self-imposed limitation on the country. Simply put, foreign companies are unwilling to invest in the local sector due to the general unfamiliarity and restrictiveness when it comes to foreign influence and, as such, foreign companies tend to invest primarily into familiar industries (i.e. the country’s oil industry). In comparison, the diverse cultural backdrop within the UAE combined with its more accepting stance on foreign culture has resulted in foreign direct investments being more diverse resulting in the rise of several industries within the region that are not wholly dependent on oil in order to survive.
What must be understood is that foreign direct investments as well as the establishment of foreign based businesses within a country are necessary factors towards the continued growth and stability of any globalized economy. The more international investors and foreign business contracts a country has the better its economic position especially when it comes to the creation of various business opportunities for local entrepreneurs. What must be understood is that in most market economies, small to medium scale enterprises (SMEs) make up the bulk of a country’s enterprises constituting 80 to 90 percent of local businesses. Such an orientation can also be seen in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE wherein SMEs make up 92 percent of local businesses within the country and employ up to 80 percent of the workforce. H.M. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud himself has been quoted as stating that “entrepreneurs are the backbone of the Saudi Arabian economy and are instrumental towards its continued growth and prosperity” (Khraim, 2010). However, due to cultural restrictions within the country, this has limited the capacity of female entrepreneurs to enter into new business ventures given the cultural barriers they experience by virtue of their gender. The end result is that this creates a significant gap in unaddressed opportunities that could have been properly utilized resulting in better economic conditions within the country. What this shows is that adopting a restrictive stance on accepting new socio-cultural ideas can have a negative impact on the economic development of the country (Khraim, 2010). This shows that while there are some concerns regarding the potential cultural changes that may come about within the UAE due to the influx of foreign workers, the fact remains that due to the current policies of the government which are more accepting of socio-cultural diversity within the region, this has enabled a strong influx of foreign direct investments into the UAE which is in line with the UAE 2021 vision of developing a strong and vibrant economy due to the support that local SMEs gain from the increase in foreign investments into the region. It is based on this perspective that despite the various challenges and changes that have occurred to the local culture of the UAE due to the demographic imbalance, such changes should be welcomes since they are actually connected to the success of the region. Changes in local cultures are necessary for evolution and adaptation based on new social, technological and economic developments. Cultural change is a necessity; however, how such changes are adapted determines how a culture will grow and develop. It is based on this notion that the region should embrace such changes and accept them for what they are while at the same time value the cultural heritage that has made them into what they are at the present.
Based on what has been presented so far, this paper concludes that the sheer amount of different cultures within the country is a good thing since it contributes towards the development of cultural understanding and the introduction of new and possible better social ideas and concepts that can be incorporated into local Emirati society. One factor that the UAE government should take into consideration is adapting to changes within local environments. What must be understood is that countries do not operate within a vacuum and, as such, it becomes necessary to observe what it occurs within local environments and responds accordingly. This can come in the form of expanding during times of economic prosperity or cutting back and outsourcing specific aspects of the company’s operations during lean economic times. In the case of the influx of foreign influences, this comes in the form of accepting the positive cultural changes that come about through foreign workers while at the same time preventing the negative aspects such as the potential entry of criminal activity into the region. These aspects are particularly important to consider given the various changes that are currently occurring within the UAE.
Policy Recommendation: Strategies for Stability
Based on what has been presented so far, it is the opinion of this paper that the best way in which the UAE could rectify the various issues that have been brought up in this paper would be to become a more adaptable society not only in a cultural sense but in a societal and economic sense as well. Such changes would lead to greater levels of competitiveness which would enable the region to thrive. This can be achieved by focusing more on creating sustainable industries that are independent from oil, tourism and real estate as well as spending more money on boosting the intellectual capital of the local citizenry within the region. By investing in the future, this ensures that the region will become a success in the future.
Stability within a region often coincides with strong economic and domestic policies that create an ideal environment wherein businesses and various industries can operate without fear of sudden destabilizing economic events. As such, in order to attract foreign direct investments it would be necessary to develop a strong yet viable local workforce. The inherent problem though with this thought process is the fact that the UAE simply does not have a sufficient local population to be able to create a sufficiently capable workforce. It is based on this that one possible means of getting around the problem would be to increase the quality of the workforce within the country instead of attempting to increase the quantity. This would come in the form of sponsoring local college graduates into highly specialized technical courses. The end result would be the creation of a highly intelligent and professional workforce that would draw companies into the region due to the sheer amount of talent in the region. By doing so, this helps to set the region apart in terms of the quality instead of the quantity of the workforce that is present.
UAE 2021Strategies for Growth Potential
Before proceeding any further it must be noted that the growth potential of any country is inherently connected to the skill sets possessed by the local population. As evidenced by the case of the Philippines which is known for the quality of its local and overseas workers, having a well educated and skilled population can do wonders for any company that chooses to invest within the country. It is based on this that the development of government funded technical skill centers will be implemented so as to create a better skilled and more educated work force that would be able to address a wide variety of potential industries that may establish themselves within the country as a result of foreign direct investments. Aside from this, in order to assure investors of accurate growth projections of the country’s industrial infrastructure it will be necessary to implement not only a greater degree of transparency within the government in order to reduce instances of corruption but it would also be necessary to focus on the development of a strong utilities sector that could serve the energy needs of a developing industrial base. What must be understood is that an overly corrupt government casts a considerable degree of doubt on the country’s growth potential due to the creation of a competitive environment that focuses on who can give the bigger bribe rather than who could create the largest amount of benefit for the country. By implementing various methods of transparency in government proceedings this as a result would show investors the commitment of the local government towards improving the local business environment in such a way that their investment within the country can be considered relatively safe and would result in considerable gains over the long term. Overall, what this paper has shown is that cultural change can produce significant benefits for a society; how such changes occur though is an important topic that governments and cultural leaders should take into consideration given how some changes can be viewed as being harmful (ex: religious extremism). It is with this in mind that this study ends on the idea that cultural change can bring about immensely positive outcomes if it is done in the right way.
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