The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a rapidly developing country. According to a common assumption in media and scholarship, however, this development has come with a price: The UAE’s expanding expatriate population has led Emiratis to become more diligent about asserting their national identity. Many suggest that, in celebrating their national culture and local heritage, Emiratis have effectively isolated themselves from expatriates—both physically and symbolically.
In what follows, this paper approaches these issues through an ethnographic lens and identifies the above understanding of Emirati national identity as a form of stereotype. It argues that the stereotype of Emiratis who culturally isolate themselves is challenged by the behavior of Emiratis in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. Observers who contend that Emiratis do not typically interact with expatriates may be, at best, basing their view on experiences rooted in emirates such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but this perspective cannot account for Emiratis as a whole. In contrast to stereotypes about Emirati identity and the social isolation that it produces, it appears possible for Emiratis in Ras Al Khaimah to maintain a sense of national identity while interacting with expatriates. The important point to grasp, from this discussion, is that Emiratis value their identity in many different and often individualized ways, making generalizations about their national identity dubious.