With around two in 10 residents UAE citizens, Abu Dhabi is home to a wide variety of nationalities, and the authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure that this does not lead to a dilution of Emirati culture. In early 2012, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority merged with Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage to form a single entity, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. The move underscored the complementary nature of tourism and culture, bringing responsibility for both under the one organisation’s remit.
“Efforts are being undertaken to get our youth, who by virtue of the country’s demographics and cosmopolitan landscape are increasingly exposed to Western culture, to understand our rich roots and distinguishing cultural features,” said Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan. “At the same time, we also want to showcase to expatriates and visitors that we have a depth of culture they might not be aware of.” Sultan bin Zayed’s Cultural and Media Centre (CMC), which forms part of the Emirate’s Heritage Club, organises lectures and seminars to promote cultural discourse, and produces and distributes literature profiling the emirate’s artistic and religious heritage. The centre also sponsors overseas tours for local artists and theatre groups, and works with foreign embassies based in Abu Dhabi to organise cultural events relating to their home countries and host interfaith dialogue.
Another Abu Dhabi-based institution involved in preserving and disseminating the nation’s heritage is the National Centre for Documentation and Research (CDR), which archives all government and non-government documentation. “If we can better understand our past, we will be prepared for our future. Archiving history is a critical part of nation building,” Husniya Mohammed Al Ali, the head of the educational programmes section at the CDR, told OBG. In 2008 a law was issued decreeing that every government department must digitally archive their records and make them CDR property. The CDR uses these records to inform history curricula in schools, and also works with the National Media Council to review any books and research on the UAE’s history for accuracy.
Families are encouraged to share their personal documents with the centre so that they can form a part of the national archives. There is also a programme under way to archive art as a part of historical documentation, by housing physical collections – which are displayed to the public – and transcribing poems and proverbs that have been passed orally down the generations. To boost organisational capability, partnerships have been formed with international archiving bodies, such as the UK’s National Archive, for benchmarking and knowledge sharing. “We have set up a local bachelors’ degree programme to try to entice young Emiratis to consider this a viable career path,” Al Ali said.
Zayed House for Islamic Culture (ZHIC) was founded in 2005. It cooperates with other entities to draw attention to the importance of the Arabic language and arranges visits to museums, heritage-related sites and iconic locations. There are also events organised to underline adherence to local culture in the framework of heritage village activities or folkloric renditions and festivities. “The role of the Islamic culture in bringing about economic prosperity and business development is to emphasise tolerance and coexistence by accentuating cultural awareness conducive to peaceful interaction and mutual understanding,” Nedal Al Tenaiji, the director-general of ZHIC, told OBG.
Abu Dhabi attracts talent from all over the world, making it a cosmopolitan destination. The authorities take pride in this as they strive to make the city a truly global one in which foreigners feel welcome. However, they are also undertaking programmes to preserve and showcase its distinct traits and traditions. Through a range of institutions whose mandates are to uncover and retain cultural heritage, the emirate is proving that modernity and tradition are not mutually exclusive. “The government has exerted great efforts to empower local youth to understand diverse cultures while still preserving and manifesting their own,” Al Tenaiji told OBG.
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