Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Made in the UAE--or not

Happy National Day, world. Today is the 38th anniversary of the formation of the United Arab Emirates, and an occasion for great celebration and car-decorating.

The eyes of the sheikhs will guide the driver.

It's kind of remarkable. Consider what it would be like to take part in the Philadelphia festivities in 1816. There are plenty of people out there waving flags who lived on this island when it was just Abu Dhabi, not really a nation, not really a state, just a place with no roads and lots of oil.

The country has come a long way in a short amount of time. A lot of things have been done right--a focus on education, a liberalization of views toward women, building infrastructure, health care, social programs of all stripes. Some things have gone badly--I'm looking at you, Abu Dhabi street planners.

But one interesting facet of life here has become evident in my recent travels. Here in the UAE, we consume. People elsewhere, they manufacture. That, I suppose, is why the announcement of a massive airplane parts plant in Al Ain a few weeks ago was such a big deal.

This dichotomy has been made sharply evident lately. In Oman, there was a lot of stuff for sale that was Omani. Made in Oman. Used by Omanis. And so on. While doing some shopping for Christmas presents (have you been good this year, Friends of the Blog?) in Abu Dhabi, everything was made elsewhere. Even the shibriya, or traditional Arabic daggers, carried by the Bedouin for centuries, are made in Syria. Yes, even the antique ones.

But Damascus is good at steel, you say. OK, fair point. How does that explain all the Lebanese hookahs, then? The incense burners made in India?

So, on this Dec. 2, big ups to Sheikh Zayed for cobbling together a country from nothing. Tall glass buildings do not the soul of a nation make, however. Preserve the traditions. Sell them to tourists if you have to. But don't import Arabia when you ARE Arabia.

1 comment:

Pete said...

nice post. very thoughtful. could be said for the good ol' u.s. of a. as well.