As a master’s student of the Global Studies Programme I am currently working on a research for my final thesis. I set up this page to provide information about what I am doing for those who participate or are asked to participate in my research. Please keep in mind that this page is a very partial overview of the full proposal and does for example not cover the theoretical framework nor does it contain academic references.
Most importantly: participants, thank you very much for your cooperation! My research is entirely dependent on people who are willing to sit down with me for an interview, as it is based on information only you can provide me with. The interview consist of a number of questions about your expat experience in Dubai. Our conversation as such will never be published anywhere but only be used to inform my research, and your name will never be disclosed; anonymity is guaranteed. The research is not in anyone’s interest except for my own; I receive no funding or support from third parties. Please do not hesitate to ask me for further clarifications or other questions!
Summary of the research
Immigrants in Dubai find themselves in a situation very different from other diasporic communities around the world: they make up 89% of the population, their stay is dependent on a work contract and there is no such thing as integration into local culture. Most of the attention to Dubai’s demography is addressing the widely diverging lifestyles of, on the one hand, Gulf Arabs and Western expats and, on the other hand, the working-class South Asians. Of the many immigrant communities in Dubai, the non-local Arab community has received little (academic) attention. Arabs, and in particular Egyptians, used to be the Gulf countries’ first source of labor, but they were gradually being replaced by South Asians and local Emiratis. Earlier research leads to the hypothesis that their immigrant experiences, including discrimination, are different from those of other communities, which calls for research specifically aiming to document their perceptions of life as an expat in Dubai.
Few places in the world show the consequences of globalization in more extreme ways than the Persian or Arabian Gulf. In all of the six monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the majority of the inhabitants are immigrants, up to more than 85% in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. As a crossroads between Arabia, Asia and Africa, the region has always been relatively cosmopolitan: its history has been referred to as “the world’s first globalization.” Today’s ultra-multiculturalism is mainly a consequence of the discovery of oil in the last century, which allowed for an extraordinary economic transformation of the region from the 1970s, unmatched in speed and scale. As the local populations were small and unskilled, this would not have been possible without a massive import of labor force and expertise, creating very diverse societies.
The first large groups of immigrants were Arabs, among whom many Egyptians, whose linguistic, cultural and religious proximity was convenient. The autocratic Gulf regimes however increasingly came to fear that these immigrants would too much influence local culture and language as well as internal political stability. This led to a new labor policy of hiring people from Asia. They are said to be viewed as “less politically oriented, less expensive to employ, more efficient, obedient, manageable, and more controllable.”
Today, South Asians outnumber other immigrant communities in the GCC societies. In many states, the majority of the population consists of immigrants, with the United Arab Emirates ranking highest. There has been no nationwide population census in the United Arab Emirates since 2005, but United Nations statistics of 2016 estimate the total residing population at 9,267,000. Only approximately 11% of these are citizens: a little more than a million. The rest is composed of expatriates from predominantly Asia, who live mostly concentrated in the multicultural hubs Dubai and Abu Dhabi: Indians form the majority group in the country with an estimated 38,2%, while South Asians together account for 59,4% of the population. By far the largest group of Arabs are the Egyptians, who make up some 10,2% of the population; their estimated 26% in 1975 had already decreased by half after less than two decades.
In addition to South Asians, the increasing level of education among local Emiratis leads them to replace Arab expatriates. This “nationalization” of the work force is termed “Emiratization” and is pursued by the government to become less dependent on foreign labor. Arabs are affected by this more than Asians, because many of the latter are active in low-paid jobs that Emiratis are not prepared to do. Some expect the nationals to replace expatriates in large numbers over the next ten years; others think this will take a longer time and expect that the GCC countries will remain dependent on Arab labor, mainly because of the need for Arabic language skills.
Dubai’s atypical immigrants
As Dubai’s immigrant communities are different from most diasporas, scholars have called for research that examines the wealth of experiences and insights of the members of these uncommon diasporic communities. This counts especially for middle class citizens, who are underrepresented in the media and academic literature, as both usually assign the Gulf a dichotomous demography: on the one hand it is portrayed as a place of lavish luxury for extraordinary rich Gulf Arabs and Western expats, and on the other hand stand the human rights violations of exploited South Asian labourers. But it is also a place many non-local Arabs who socially and economically find themselves in a middle position and to whom this research seeks to draw attention to.