The United Arab Emirates is growing at an incredible pace. This tiny country spans just 83,600 square kilometers (an area slightly smaller than the state of Maine), but holds 5.6 million people - 85% of whom are expatriates. With the country's rapid industrial and economic development, as well as an influx of foreigners from all across the world, there is a fear that local UAE culture is becoming diluted and in danger of dying out.
Making up just 15% of the country's population, UAE nationals are trying to fight back against the erosion of their traditional culture. One way they're trying to salvage an Emirati identity is through Watani, a social development program aiming to engage Emirati youth in the preservation of local culture.
The program has done some interesting things in the three years since its inception. Among other things, it has hosted Ramadan iftars, set up summer camps promoting UAE culture among Emirati kids, launched a comic book series centering on an Emirati superhero, and created an Emirati version of YouTube to spread Emirati culture.
As the world moves towards becoming a global village, the question of identity is on many people's minds. Although any given culture is always changing, the speed at which that is happening today is causing alarm around the world. Usually it took generations for major changes in culture to become evident, so people within that culture did not feel that they were loosing a major part of themselves during their lifetime. This is no longer the case.
Experiments like Watani are interesting examples of where we will draw the line between keeping some semblance of our local identity and merging with the international community.