Why 'foreign news' matters to UAE folks

Given the diverse population, there will always be crises abroad that are of relevance to people in the UAE

An Afghan cloth merchant in Dubai gets updates on the situation in Kabul, on August 18. AFP

We are often reminded that we live in an increasingly inter-connected world. Not just because of the inter-dependence of economies, but because communication and the internet have eliminated much of the affect of the distances that once divided us.

A year ago, the pictures of the Beirut port explosion shocked people across the world within moments of the blast. Similarly, over the past few days, it has been difficult to escape the immediacy of the nightmarish scenes from the Kabul airport.

In some countries though, events that occur in places geographically removed can be viewed as happening in remote areas, to people of whom we know little or nothing. In the UAE, such events are not so distant. They matter to people here, which affects the nature of our interest and response.

Here in the Emirates, 'foreign news' is 'home news' for many

Many years ago, when I edited a newspaper, I was asked by visiting foreign journalists why we devoted so much space to covering "foreign" news. My answer was that here in the Emirates, "foreign news" was, in fact, "home news" for many. Residents from the nearly 200 countries who live here have a personal interest in what is happening elsewhere. That in turn, I believe, has a major impact on Emirati attitudes to the wider world.

The UAE has long been a generous giver of humanitarian aid and a donor of development assistance. Both amongst UAE citizens and amongst other residents. And generosity is not just a matter of a government policy. This can be seen from the extraordinary goodwill shown by people of all nationalities, in their response to various charitable fund-raising programmes.

There are few other countries with such a degree of demographic diversity. Some of the residents come from countries that receive humanitarian aid from the Emirates and they recognise the value of that assistance.

It is of little surprise then that extensive news coverage of overseas events is relevant to communities within the UAE.

We have, for example, many residents from Afghanistan and from adjacent areas of Pakistan. Current events in Afghanistan, naturally, concern them and affects their lives. It is important to members of these communities who live here that developments in their home countries are properly covered and explained in the media here.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Kelly Clarke. Aid is loaded up on a plane to Lebanon at Dubai airport to support Beirut after the explosion. Wednesday, August 5th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Our large Lebanese community is worried about the descent of their country into economic and political collapse. Shortages of medicines and petrol, among other essentials are important to keep up to date with, quite apart from the unsatisfied demand for an investigation into last year’s blast. Telephone calls and text messages can provide news about their families, but for a broader understanding, communities will turn to media outlets, as they should be able to.

Given our diverse population, there will always be crises abroad that are relevant to people in the UAE. Last week, it was reported that some of the casualties in Lebanon, from the fuel tank explosions in the Akkar district, were flown here for treatment. That is relevant to the Lebanese people in the UAE, even if they don’t know those who were injured or who were killed.

Equally, the UAE’s provision of facilities for the evacuation flights from Kabul is a matter of interest. On those flights, there may be friends or family members of UAE's resident Afghan community. As our media reports on such matters, there is a local as well as an international dimension.

There is a connection, I would argue, between the diversity of the UAE’s population, the support for the country’s provision of humanitarian assistance and residents' need to know about global events.

For our friends or acquaintances in the Afghan and Lebanese communities, an interest on our parts and a bit of empathy will not go amiss. Being attentive to what is happening elsewhere, even if we don't belong to those communities, enhances our perspective and understanding of the world. It is part of what living in a diverse society means.

Published: August 26th 2021, 9:00 AM
Peter Hellyer

Peter Hellyer

Peter Hellyer is a UAE cultural historian and columnist for The National