Monday, December 1, 2008

10th Interview: a lens on Dubai’s society

1st order: My 10th interview was with an employee of a governmental organization dealing with cultural and social issues in Dubai.
Culture a project?
According to my interview partner, cultural development cannot be seen as a project, because a project is by its constituent nature restricted in time, with a clear beginning and an end. His mandate to develop culture in Dubai is a timeless effort with no final end. Culture is part of society and consequently ongoing. However developing and establishing cultural institutions, such as theatres, museums, etc. can be seen each as a project. But the operations of these institutions can again not be compared to a project, because operation is an ongoing effort.
Dubai’s society part one: old vs. young
Dubai is rooted in a Bedouin culture (see also post: understanding Arabs >>>), which still has a major influence on the older generation (40+). One should not underestimate the rapid development of Dubai. For example a greater part of Dubai has been dessert just ten years back from now. This leads to a confrontation of generations between old Bedouin culture and young generation’s high technology culture. “From Bedouin to global player” resulted in a disavowal of local traditions as well as even the language. The younger generation seem to be more used to English than to Arabic. Traditional culture as fall back and safe haven is missing, which again results in increased uncertainty and problems of identity.
Dubai’s society part two: local vs. newcomer
Additionally, another effect diminishes the local culture. Just about 10% of the people living in Dubai are Emirati (see also post: how Arabic is Dubai >>>). To put it the other way around 90 percent of the people are from different cultural backgrounds, however Dubai is still an Arabic and Islamic determined country. This means land and property ownership, as well as business licensing is a privilege just for the locals, the same accounts for decision-making in government. This has momentous consequences: Dubai is not a melting pot comparable to the US some centuries ago, but a short-term based society. People come here to work on timely restricted projects for three years or so. The city’s society is not built on the basis of a social contract, but rather on pure pragmatism. Dubai provides a market square, where people can come together to make business and ‘go home’ afterwards. Until now social bonds are solely based either on business licensing, work contracts, or leasing of property.
Why culture is needed
Two symptoms characterize this development. Firstly, the locals complain their loss of traditional culture and values, especially the generation 40+. Secondly, culture as a provider of security and stability especially in hard times, such as the financial crisis, is missing. [This can lead to a vulnerable and instable societal and political system, note by JSL]
The problem is identified by the current rulers and efforts to develop culture and keep local traditions are on the way. However how effective these efforts are will show only the future, especially as the current crisis may also have an impact on financing cultural institutions.