Why the country of sand, skyscrapers and strangers is void of a strong youth voice

Aerial view of Dubai. Credit: Kevin Dupont/GYV

Aerial view of Dubai. Credit: Kevin Dupont/GYV

Sand, skyscrapers and strangers are three characteristics of the United Arab Emirates known to people worldwide. But what many don’t know is that young people are not a main component of the Emirati society.

Best known for its two major cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Gulf country attracts tourists from all over the world, making it a cultural melting pot and a home for thousands of foreigners. But this also has its inconveniences. When visiting a new country, tourists usually seek “hot spots” and “tourist traps,” but many also care to experience local culture and discover what makes their destination unique. In the UAE, achieving that is almost impossible. Upon landing in Dubai, for example, meeting and interacting with local people is quite difficult, as indigenous Emiratis make up only 10 percent of the total population.

The Emirates are also relatively new, being just 45 years old — a baby in the international arena when compared with the histories of other nations in the region and elsewhere.

Another inconvenience could be building a career in the major cities starting from zero. Working in Dubai might be glamorized but it is actually extremely difficult to find a job in the city without some form of past experience in the respective field.

With all that in mind, Emirati youth don’t seem to have their voices heard. To be clear, by no means does the UAE subjugate its youth, but there are simply not enough young Emiratis to establish one strong youthful voice.

There are three main reasons behind the absence of such a voice: an average education quality, a restrictive job market, and an increasing living cost.

Universities are ubiquitously considered to be a hub for youth and their voices. In the UAE, there are a few of course, but a vast majority of college-level students leave to study abroad, pursuing a world-class education in countries such as the U.K., Australia, Canada and the U.S.

Most Emirati university students are not enrolled within the UAE. This look to other countries often dampens the youth voice, as many aspire to leave instead of strengthening what their country already has.

Also, the job market in the UAE is restrictive. If one were to graduate and seek a job in the UAE, they would cross several difficulties along the way, as hiring can be an arduous process for any position and salaries can be low.

If one comes from a non-member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, moving to the UAE can be a major step, not only financially but also personally and professionally. The job market, particularly in Dubai, is currently at a stall, as the emirate is seeing a slower period of economic growth from which it hopes to rebound in the near future.

It is no secret that Dubai is expensive — just check out where it stands here. However, for a young person, Dubai can drain your bank account. More so than Abu Dhabi, it has something for anyone and everyone but at a cost. It is almost impossible for young people to save money for an apartment, car, trip or graduate school. In many cases, the average cost of rent (without utilities) in Dubai can be astronomical. A one-bedroom apartment in the most convenient part of the city is over $15,000 a year and that price on the rise. And while the UAE is indeed tax-free, the exemption from these taxes doesn’t necessarily mean prices are lower. Simply put, there are not as many youth in Dubai because they frankly cannot afford it.

The voice of youth in the UAE is indeed meek, if not muted, and it is difficult to see a major change happening in the near future. Can youth have a place in the UAE? Yes. Does something major need to change for this to happen? Absolutely.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV