Thursday, 10 February 2011

Fall of the Pharaoh: Walk Like An Egyptian

The Pharaoh's House is in Ruins and the political rumbling in the neighbourhood is that of the need for reform in the Arab world.

I must confess, that whilst living in the Arab world, I am not personally expert in the various political movements - the underground conversations, the enmity, the political oppression/suppression and the like that exists. That doesn't mean that I don't know it exists or that there isn't real tension in the Arab world. I have, rather narrowly I guess, come across old loyalties - loyalty to the "king" and not face-to-face with his opposition.

It is interesting to compare, however, what is happening is Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and what has raised its head in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Algeria with the UAE. This is, perhaps, not untypical. A key aspect of life in the Gulf is to not speak. I know many expat Arabs hanging on to jobs for whom lifestyle and privilege dull the sense of 'fight' and the need to speak is slowly lost. 

See here, Emiratis are well looked after by the state. The UAE is also remarkably free - not everything goes, but pretty much a lot does. The print media is relatively free in fact; there are boundaries - every society has them, but mostly they do not affect middle class personal pursuits. Abayas and Kanduras are the national dress, and there is an expectation that for official business national dress for the locals will happen, but away from officialdom, even the Abayas are a genuine haute couture fashion industry in themselves. Life in the UAE is about opportunity for the Emiratis, a short history of transformation of the old desert culture to a new modern lifestyle and hope

Hope is key - the best universities are being brought in, new malls and hotels are being built, new technologies are being trialed, all the modern utilities are available at the touch of a button, money is splashed around and consumerism is embedded in the culture - American-style fast food, shopping etc. all mixed up with the international crossroads that the UAE has become. The UAE is a paternalistic society with most Emiratis and white collar expats being looked after; western-sytle democracy is not how it has worked here since the union was established in 1971. With the opportunities and lifestyle on offer, the question is not one that is a foremost request. There are the voices of caution, yes, but right now the UAE is riding on a crest of self-confidence, freedom to live a modern lifestyle and future hope.

So what of Egypt? Right now the sands in the Arab desert landscape are shifting. The Egyptians do not live with the same prosperity as the Emiratis, and therefore politics perhaps matters even more. Here's where the paths diverge. Emiratis walk their own walk, proud of their leadership and what the Sheikhs have done for them, deeply loyal and full of hope; whilst the Tunisians, the Yemenis and the Egyptians, skeptical, outcast and disillusioned walk a very different walk. 

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