UAE politics: Quick View - Prime minister announces Arabic language initiative

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Country Data and Maps
Economist Intelligence Unit
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Politics, News Analysis, Forecast, Political stability
Political Geography


Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, marked World Arabic Day on December 18th by announcing the "Bil Arabi" initiative.


Promotion of the Arabic language is a core element of efforts in the UAE-and other Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states-to preserve local traditions among nationals. Almost 85% of the UAE's population comprises foreigners from non-Arab countries. The Bil Arabi initiative includes special Arabic courses to be taught in public schools, with an open invitation for private-school pupils to attend. The UAE government is pushing ahead with the initiative as there has been a declining trend in the use of Arabic among locals, owing to globalisation, the spread of the internet and the preponderance of English on the web, Arabic teaching methods that are outdated and the influence of other languages, especially English.

The presence of a large number of expatriates-mainly from south Asian countries such as India and Pakistan, where English is the popular language of instruction used in schools-had popularised curriculums with English as the teaching language in the UAE as well. A large number of Emirati children, especially in Dubai, study in schools that follow the US curriculum, as many nationals wish to send their children to the US for university studies. Although Arabic is a mandatory subject across UAE schools, it is not the main language medium for education.

The promotion of national identity has been a priority for more than a decade in the UAE. Since the 1990s the government has been promoting the "Emiratisation" of the workforce, as part of its drive to increase private-sector participation by locals, albeit with only very limited success. We expect the government to sporadically introduce reforms that focus on the emphasis of national values, the preservation of the Arabic language and the Emiratisation of the work force, in order to also send a message that the government intends to protect the rights of its citizens, as distinct from the large number of foreign nationals.

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