Marriage Seen as Key to Protecting National Identity

ABU DHABI - Widad Samawi is a woman on a mission to encourage Emiratis to marry and also urge local couples to try to rescue failing marriages 
in a country where just one in seven 
is a UAE native.

By Ola Galal (AFP)

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Published: Tue 14 Jul 2009, 2:25 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 7:56 PM

This is because she also believes that getting married and staying married is a way of preserving national identity in the UAE.

Bridegrooms have dinner together - AFPMarriage in the Emirates, with its majority expatriate population and myriad cultures, is key to keeping the national identity intact, according to the Abu Dhabi Campaign for Social Cohesion, of which Samawi is a leading light.

“The United Arab Emirates is now a global country,” said Samawi, chief executive of Al-Tawasel Centre for Training and Consultancy which has organised the campaign along with several other government bodies.

“But, there is always a need for the family to safeguard the country’s fundamentals so that its culture does not melt into the cultures of others,” she said. “The marriage campaign is... to protect the identity of our society,” said Samawi, clad in a traditional black abaya and a white-beige headcover.

Emiratis represent around just 15 per cent of a population estimated to be around 6.4 million. Government officials and commentators have voiced concern about this influx of foreigners whose cultures some see as a threat to local traditions, urging a solution to the “demographic imbalance.”

“We have a mix of cultures with around 200 nationalities in the UAE, and we coexist in peace,” Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan told a conference on national identity last year. “However, this mix should not affect our national identity.” Dwindling birth rate, rising divorce rate and — until recently — growing number of expats have prompted the state to pursue an aggressive policy of promoting marriage among UAE citizens.

Encourage them to wed

However, one in four marriages resulted in divorce in the UAE last year, with 42 per cent of the cases involving couples in the 20-30 age group, according to studies cited by Tawasel.

Emirati men dance at a mass wedding ceremony in Umm Al Quwain on June 14. –AFP“The idea of the campaign was born out of the reality we saw,” Samawi said.

“We have noted an increase in the number of marriage consultations concerning couples with disagreements, especially over the past three years with the opening up of society,” she said.

“The increase in the number of expatriates and the multiplicity of cultures is a healthy matter. However, we have to take only what is appropriate for us to preserve our identity.”

During the social cohesion campaign, participants undergo training that includes lectures and workshops to help them solve marital problems, with topics ranging from treatment of spouses to raising children.

Bridegrooms celebrate the big day to the beat of drums –AFPThe centre also set up booths at public locations such as shopping malls, to offer free consultations.

“At the beginning, it was very difficult to convince Emiratis of the importance of getting advice about their marital life because... they didn’t really want to talk about their private lives,” Samawi said.

As in all Muslim societies, marriage in the UAE is considered a religious duty, and has always been promoted by the state. The government plays its role with marriage-linked aid and state-sponsored weddings.

In the northern emirate of Umm Al Quwain, 19 grooms gathered last month for a mass wedding ceremony sponsored by the government and attended by the ruler of the city-state.

A folkloric all-male band in traditional dress beat drums and sang songs to celebrate the occasion.

“The aim of the mass wedding is to help grooms bear the financial cost of marriage, a huge chunk of which goes on the celebrations, and thus encourage them to wed,” said Sultan Al Kharji, head of the organising committee.

The UAE Marriage Fund was set up in the early 1970s to help young people get married, on both financial and educational levels. Men who marry fellow Emiratis are entitled to a Dh70,000 grant.

“The aim of sponsoring the weddings is to encourage local men and women to get married to form a solid Emirati family and... to preserve national identity,” said Rashed Al Kashf, a Marriage Fund board member.

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