A few thoughts on citizenship – duties and rights

Weekly trips to the United Arab Emirates broadened my view on what citizenship is about.

When I talk about citizenship, I usually focus on the duties which I believe are related to being a citizen. Like involvement, being open to other views and opinions, like voting. And I still believe – more than ever – that us following up on those duties is essential to protect our democracies in the age of digitalization, filter bubbles and increasing radicalization.

I am now on a project which involves travelling to the United Arab Emirates every week. And talking to the people I meet there did not change my perspective on citizenship, but it certainly broadened it. It made me focus not only on the duties, but also on the rights we enjoy (or not enjoy) as citizens.

The population of the United Arab Emirates consists of 10% local citizens and 90% foreigners. That in itself is an amazing number. And the fact that they live peacefully together, in mutual respect for the host country’s traditions and religious roots as well as the foreigners diverse lifestyles, makes it an exciting place to visit.

In my conversations I learned that there is no way for foreigners to become a citizen of the United Arab Emirates. No matter how long you’ve lived there, no matter if it’s been home to your entire family for decades. And the rules for non-citizens are terribly strict: If you lose your job, you have 30 days to find a new one. If you fail, you’ll have to leave the country. In companies in which government agencies are shareholders – and that applies to many – employees over the age of 60 are encouraged to retire. Strongly encouraged. And the 30-day rule kicks in again, forcing them to return to their countries that probably hasn’t been their home for decades. Or, even worse, they need to return to what used to be their home country but is now destroyed by war. Citizenship is an exclusive right reserved for the few locals. And so is the right to stay in the country.

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