Yousef E. has lived in Qatar his whole life, and so has his father. His family has been here for decades, since his grandfather moved to the country in 1953.
But he’s not a Qatari citizen.
He would like to be, but said he understands that naturalization in the Gulf, especially in countries like the UAE and Qatar, where expats vastly outnumber locals, is a sensitive subject.
In the Emirates, the citizenship debate was reignited last month after prominent Emirati columnist Sultan Al Qassemi urged the UAE to establish a process by which expats can apply to be naturalized citizens.
His piece spurred a great deal of pushback, with many Emiratis expressing concerns about the threat that naturalization could pose on their national identities, as well as the economic and political stability of the country.
In a few blog posts about the subject this week, Yousef opened up the citizenship debate here in Qatar.
The 24-year-old of Palestinian heritage, who said he wrote his posts in English to help other expats understand his perspective, acknowledged many of the concerns felt among locals, saying:
“Naturalization, whether you like it or not, is a risk to national security. It is an even bigger risk when the country’s local-to-expat gap is huge, and I believe I have read reports that highlight Qatar’s gap being the largest in the world. By giving individuals full citizenship rights, these individuals are, by law, an integral part of Qatari society.
So, what happens when down the line, these individuals (and/or their descendants) call for change based on ideas that go against Qatar’s political stability? What happens when these individuals will divide the Qatari populace by promoting sub-cultures? This has happened before in other states within region.”
But not all lifers agree that this fear should keep Qatar from establishing a wider and more transparent naturalization process.
In a comment on Yousef’s post, an expat who has lived in Qatar since she was two years old said:
“Its assumed that foreign workers would inherently want to destabalise Qatar when in fact most would want a decent job, a fair pay and live with their families in peace. If they wanted to create trouble, trust me they would have done it by now.
I realise that naturalisation for Qatar is a matter of national security, and I don’t necessarily advocate it. I for one think that even if expats were offered citizenship, they will not be able to change their identities of an Egyptian/ Indian/ Pakistani etc. However, for someone who has lived in a country for 30 odd years, they should be able to criticize everything and anything they want. Do you think all Qataris trust the Qatari leadership? No, they don’t. And even if they criticise something its because they want the best for their people.”
Meanwhile, some are saying Al Qassemi didn’t go far enough when he argued that the UAE should consider offering citizenship to the best and brightest expats – doctors, scientists, academics and others who very tangibly contribute to the country.
If a knowledge economy is the goal, and countries like Qatar and the UAE want to continue to grow, they must consider how the current system detracts from those efforts, argued MidEast Posts in a recent op-ed:
“All expatriates think about leaving, and what they will ‘take’ with them. Expatriates send money home, because that’s where they ‘build their future.’ They look for the next opportunity in the next country because they are discouraged from planting roots in the UAE.
Taking the steps to allow residents to choose the UAE as their future home will require the country to take a hard look at what it wants, where it wants to go, and how quickly.”
And while that introspection is taking place, people like Yousef will be waiting with hearts that bleed maroon and white.
Credit: Photo by Xavier Bouchevreau