By HASSAN M. FATTAH, New York Times
Columnist says most Emiratis fear losing their identity forever
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — South Asians call it "the best-run Indian city." Arabs celebrate it as a model of Arab accomplishment. Westerners have embraced it for endless sunshine and luxury lifestyle.
With more than 150 nationalities and almost as many expressions of culture, Dubai is one of the most diverse cities in the Middle East.
But after decades of selling dreams to foreigners, this Persian Gulf emirate has begun debating the limits of multiculturalism.
Tensions burst into the open in early October when an English-language newspaper published an article protesting the growing disrespect for Muslim customs here during Ramadan.
"Too much flesh on show is wrong in a Muslim country at any time — but offense is being felt especially during Ramadan," said the front-page editorial in 7Days, a daily tabloid.
The article appeared with photographs of women in sleeveless tops and short skirts at a shopping mall under the headline, "Show Some Respect."
Ramadan, a month when Muslims fast during daylight as part of what is supposed to be an intense focus on spirituality, ends today.
7Days, which is run and edited largely by Westerners, advised its readers to "please remember that this is a Muslim country and many of us are guests here."
Within hours, the newspaper was flooded with e-mail messages and phone calls, many praising the paper for acknowledging the sensitivities of Muslims but others lambasting it for seeming to toe an official line.
Soon the entire emirate was talking.
"We fear that the expatriate is going to impose his culture on us," said Maya Rashid Ghadeer, a columnist with the daily Al Bayan in Dubai, who writes about the local community. "Most locals are afraid that they are losing their basic identity forever."
For decades the emirate, part of the federation of seven principalities that make up the United Arab Emirates, has sought to broaden its economy by welcoming foreigners and their investment dollars, turning itself into a shipping hub, a regional business hub and more recently a tourist hub with luxury hotels and resorts.
But that has taken a toll on local culture as many young Emiratis have begun looking abroad, abandoning many traditions, and even marrying foreigners.
With only about 250,000 citizens, out of a total 1.2 million residents, the demographics are daunting, said Abdulkhaliq Abdallah, a political science professor at United Arab Emirates University.
"Usually minorities assimilate into the majority," Abdallah said. "But we don't want to assimilate into the majority. We want to preserve the localness, the Emiratiness of this city."