Identity as Paradox

July 28, 2010

Posted by Kanga.

Identity is a bit murky in the United States, however, it is nothing to the confusion in the U.A.E. In the U.S., just being born on the soil makes you a citizen. If you are not born there, it is possible to be naturalized by going through a detailed process or marriage to a citizen. The U.S. is a large piece of real estate, in case you haven’t noticed, so there are many identities within the overall American identity – yankee, southerner, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, African American, residents of 50 distinct states, etc. Hundreds of ways to label oneself. But, when all is said and done, you can rest in being an American. (My apologies to Canadians, Central Americans and South Americans. I admit we are rather arrogant to refer to ourselves as if we were the only Americans.)

In the U.A.E., however, it is a very different story. Citizenship was created in 1971 and was given to many residing here, although not all. Citizenship by birth is given only to those whose fathers are citizens. Very few of the children born on this soil are citizens. Citizenship cannot be attained by any form of naturalization process. Not even marriage to a citizen results in citizenship, although I did read one reference to a citizen male being able to obtain citizenship for his wife (but not vice versa). In addition to being a recipe for a dwindling citizenship, this is also the cause of identity confusion for the many of non-citizens who have lived here all their lives.

Very early on we began to meet young people who have grown up here, but have to refer to themselves as Pakistani, Indian, Canadian, or whatever nationality their parents have, even though they have only visited their “homeland.” Culturally, they are… ??? There is not a word for it, no label. Some have attempted to create a label, like Dubaian, Dubai-ite, but nothing has stuck. They must be considered expats (expatriates – legal alien residents) just like the rest of us who have only arrived a short time ago.

In the video at this link Neither Here nor There a young Sudanese woman talks about the dilemma of being an expatriate both here and in her home country.



  1. This is sad but not altogether unusual. The rule is generally the same in Hungary, although they do have a process which includes the purchase of property in order to become citizens. Being “naturalized” in many countries is more than taking a test and swearing allegiance. I’m sure that since the U.A.E. is so young, they’ll adapt eventually. What does citizenship bring in the U.A.E.? Are there elections? Do they decide on laws? Cheaper taxes? Just curious on the benefits. I fully understand the identity crisis, but I met a couple from Australia who were citizens there, but she claimed Italian and he claimed Greek in many conversations because both of their parents were from those countries. As the world gets smaller (figuratively of course) I think this will be a more common problem. I have hardly heard the term expat used except by Americans who don’t really intend to give up citizenship even though they want to live in a different country.
    On the “American” thing, I realize that the Americas have lots of people who believe they too are Americans. . .that is, until someone ask their nationality and their replies would be, “Canadian,” “Mexican,” “Argentine,” etc. I’ve had this discussion numerous times with my mother who says we’re “from the United States.” That’s not a nationality, and the testimony of all the Germans, British, Irish, French, Spanish, Japanese, Sudenese, Croatian, Somali, etc. should make that clear. You travel on an American Passport and if asked by random people on the street, they usually ask, “Are you American or Canadian?” Just a bit of language issue for me (obviously).

    • There is no citizen level voting or taxation here. The government is a little difficult to explain. It is a constitutional monarchy. Each emirate is ruled by a sheikh and has a royal family. These sheikhs form a collaborative governing body and vote for a president and vice president. Governmental activities are carried out by ministries. Laws are established by the Federal National Council.

      As for benefits of citizenship, I don’t know all the details. I do know that it includes free health care, reduced utilities bills, and free college tuition. Legally required employment benefits are different for nationals than for expats – pension, maternity leave, salary, etc.

  2. This is an interesting read. It is odd how citizenship is reacted to around the world. Like driving from the states to Alaska…you need a passport to get thru Canada. A passport that declares where you are from and if you are caught without one, Poof! You are illegal and get into trouble. Rules are made for a reason and reading your post makes me see that citizenship really IS important. If only to help identify origins. If any of your young friends leave, what do they put on a passport? Or are passports necessary in that part of the world? It is more to organise things than it is to be mean or political. Good thoughts. Might just pass this one on! (since you don’t have any odd summer toys to share!)

    • Yes, passports are very important here, far more so than in the States. Many Americans go through life without obtaining a passport. The expats born here have passports from their “home countries” and their citizenship is with that country. Then, they also need a residence visa from the UAE. Visas require a sponsor, so the head of the household is sponsored by his/her employer, then he/she sponsors the members of the family. Also, passports and visas are required for more than travel. Our first few weeks here we carried our passports with us because everyone wanted a photocopy of them – bank, car rental, phone salesman, …everyone.

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