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Speaking of national identity…
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, an Emirati media commentator, speaks to Trends magazine about the challenges facing national identity in the GCC.
May 11, 2009 2:28 by Jonathan Howell-Jones
How do you see national identity of modern Gulf citizens?
The sense of identity in the Gulf is very strong and I don’t think it was ever weak. Ever since the Gulf countries got their independence, in the case of Saudi Arabia it’s founding in 1932, Kuwait in 1961 and the other Gulf countries in the early seventies, the issue of identity has featured prominently and has been an integral part of the psyche of the citizens. It is one of the few identities in the world where the identity is worn, and spoken, and thought in all fields. The dishdash that we wear is a method for us to assert our identity, unlike some other Arab states that have done away with their national dress, we continue to wear it in the official public sphere.
Have states that abandoned national dress diminished their identity?
No, their national identity adapted. The Mediterranean Arabs, for example, wear suits more often and wear their traditional clothes less frequently. It doesn’t mean that they don’t identify with their ancestral culture. However, they may feel like there are other issues at play there. These issues include other cultures, such as Mediterranean culture, the African culture, the Levantine culture. It’s all coming into play. You see this happening more and more.
You attended the recent identity summit in the UAE. Why are we seeing so many of these summits if national identity is strong?
Last year was declared the year the year of national identity and the reason that was done by the president of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was because of the new media coming into the country and the feeling that nationals were not being properly represented in this media. The president saw that the best way to continue this dialogue is to put it out in the open and to invite nationals to address it. There was a big conference that took place in the early part of 2008 and, since then, there has been a series of conferences that have taken place across the UAE addressing this issue.
The one I took part in personally was in Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, organized by young national women. And the topic generally revolved around how we assert our identity in the face of the challenges of the twenty-first century. I told them that just being yourselves is asserting your national identity. I said that in the 1970s and 1980s, we had television shows that were produced outside the Gulf, especially outside the UAE. So you had Egyptian shows, you had Lebanese shows and you had Syrian shows.