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Balancing cultural and commercial interests in the UAE

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The UAE has emerged as a tolerant, multi-cultural society in the heart of the troubled Middle East, rather like Switzerland in Europe between the First and Second World Wars.

This diversity and an openness to foreign residents has helped the UAE to become far wealthier than many of its neighbors with similar natural resource endowments. It is a defining national characteristic that few in the ruling hierarchy would wish to see disturbed.

Culture clashes

Cultural clashes in a multi-cultural society are inevitable and are bound to cause friction, and if badly handled can be divisive. But it is hard to know exactly where the line should be drawn in the sands of the UAE.

What are we to make of the one-month prison sentence just handed out to an unmarried couple for kissing in a public place – a restaurant in the Jumeirah Beach Residence, a location mainly owned and inhabited by foreigners and popular with tourists?

It certainly does not make for good publicity for Dubai tourism which is now battling to win customers against formidable global competition in the face of the worst recession since the Second World War. The offense seems relatively minor for the punishment, at least in Western eyes.

But cultural clashes will happen. Expatwoman.com is full of complaints about the new mosque in the Meadows and Springs – again an area mainly owned and inhabited by foreigners – where the volume of the call to prayer is perhaps a little aggressive. There is said to be a local law on mosque volumes that might perhaps be enforced.

Multi-cultural community

No doubt good sense will prevail, otherwise house prices will be affected and national landlords will see their rental prices fall in the area. Then again you would hardly expect to live in the Middle East and not hear a mosque in the morning.

It is all a question of balancing commercial and cultural interests, or to put it more simply how much are cultural values worth in terms of lost business?

Foreign business interests in the UAE can only point this out to the authorities, who generally know exactly what is in their best interests in any case. But the reality of the multi-cultural UAE surely means that a fair balance has to be struck.

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Written by Peter Cooper

March 15, 2010 at 10:12 am

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