DUBAI // More than 250 Emiratis gained British citizenship between 1990 and 2012, figures from the UK government show.
According to the country’s home office, 252 UAE nationals took British citizenship during the 22-year period. Between 2005 and 2007, 66 people swapped nationality, averaging about 20 a year, compared with about five a year during the 1990s.
The reason for people wanting to take a new nationality were not clear in the information provided but it is not possible to hold dual Emirati citizenship with any other country.
Academics in the Emirates were surprised at the numbers, particularly as such a move would be frowned upon by Emirati society.
Dr Khalid Al Khaja, an Emirati and dean of humanities and social science at Ajman University of Science and Technology, was struck by the number of UAE nationals seeking citizenship in the country, of which the UAE is a former protectorate.
“I’ve never heard of anyone who has applied for nationality of other nations,” he said. “Everyone is happy here with a UAE passport. If they gave that up it would really disappoint their families and have a bad effect on the families of these people.”
He said reasons for taking the British passport could be if an Emirati, likely to be male, had married a British citizen, “otherwise there’s no reason to go there”.
Dr Al Khaja said reaction from the Emirati community would usually be enough to deter people from making such a decision.
“The community would see it as strange for a UAE national to apply for that. Their view towards that family would be negative with our culture of being together. This is surprising news. I don’t think it would be a case of not being happy with their country.”
In 1999, 13 Emiratis were given citizenship, increasing to 19 in 2000 and reaching a peak of 24 in 2007. Since then numbers have reduced, with latest figures for 2012 showing just seven people sought UK citizenship.
Across the Arabian Gulf, Qatar had the lowest number of nationals seeking UK citizenship between 1990 and 2012, at 68, followed by Oman with 116. After that there is a large jump to Saudi Arabia, which had 941 during the same time and Kuwait with 1,347.
However, the numbers for Gulf states are small when compared with other nations in the Middle East. Jordan, for example, had 5,289 citizens switching passports, while the politically turbulent Lebanon had 12,169.
Dr Mouawiya Alawad, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, said he had heard of Emiratis switching only to an American passport.
“I know a few cases of my friends who have taken an American passport, but this number of British means they have to give up the UAE nationality,” Dr Alawad said.
“Their kids were born in the US so that’s why they made the decision. Even though it’s a small number of people, for the Emirati population it’s not a small number.”
Whatever a person’s reasons for seeking foreign citizenship, it does not necessarily mean they are leaving their home country and family behind, Dr Alawad said.
“Getting British citizenship doesn’t mean disconnecting completely from UAE society or culture. We need to know why these people decided to be British citizens. Being British or American doesn’t mean you are disconnecting from your family, friends or values.”
However, he added it was important not to overplay the statistics. “The number is not so significant,” he said.
Dr Mohamed Albaili, an Emirati and provost at UAE University, said the issue requires a lot of attention. “It’s sensitive and culturally and politically bound.”