The emergence of the Gulf States after their colonial experience in the 1970s and the discovery of oil have had significant effects on the culture, behavior and social expectations of the people in the Arab Gulf. The benign nature of the British government in the region has promoted the emergence of friendly attitude toward the British administration. It was also influential in the retention of certain cultural aspects and traditions and the adoption of some foreign values.
The discovery of oil has significantly transformed the economic basis of Gulf countries, whose agricultural economy had stipulated rural population, and led to the migration of most of the citizens to the urban centers. The economic boom encouraged the development of modern apartment and office buildings and the initiation of programs to support services such as education and healthcare. Oil production has increased the influx of monetary resources, which has promoted the development in the context of the preservation of the culture and identity of the Arab Gulf countries. For example, architectural growth has placed much emphasis on the restoration of the historical styles of buildings such as the inclusion of rooms that surrounded an open center or courtyard, use of a combination of colors and arches. The targeted structures have included mosques, archeological sites and government buildings. However, evidence shows that the reconstruction of the Arab Gulf institutions has been a challenging task considering most achievements in that regard are artificial because of the problems posed by the Western penetration. For example, an analysis of the pictures of most modern structures in Qatar shows that traditional buildings have undergone some form of alteration and upgrading concerning the classical structures. The buildings have an element of modern architecture; however, most of the traditional rural structures have fallen into a state of disrepair in various parts of Qatar.
The discovery of oil has also expanded the disparity between the rich and the poor and led to the domination of the middle class. The systems of governance and social stratification have a close relationship with the high class in the society that, in its turn, has greater access to opportunities compared to other social classes. The highly educated middle class has dominance in most aspects of government and business.
The concept of social class is a Western influence because the Arab tribal and theoretical structure did not constitute its formation. On the other hand, the British society attached much significance to class distinctions and promoted various rituals to preserve the class structure. The origin of the current social distinctions in the Arab Gulf has a close relation with the British rule in the region. The traditional societal expectations were that the political power should focus on serving the people rather than establishing a cultural hegemony (Agnew & Corbridge, 1995). The British government has changed the societal view regarding class structuring by establishing schools and other institutions that significantly promoted the creation and preservation of dynasties and social classes. For example, the British Council representative, on his visit to Bahrain, stated that he supported education for the sheiks’ sons and other important people because they were the ones to hold important positions irrespective of the ability to pass examinations. This utterance highlighted the intention to convey the idea of social structures, which had been a foreign concept in the Gulf countries. The perception that the notables’ sons are more important compared to other people has continued to thrive after the end of the British government and is evident in various Gulf countries where leadership is hereditary. The British authorities have established a culture of self-imposed inferiority, which has carried on flourishing and placing the lower class in a subordinate position. For example, the very educated are the ones likely to get an appointment or endorsement by the government. The promotion of social structuring has influenced the emergence of separateness between various Gulf countries. For example, approaches such as the requirement for a sheikhdom to display a flag have encouraged Gulf countries such as Dubai to view themselves as different states from Qatar or Abu Dhabi.
Ethnic groups exist within their own social stratospheres. The domination of an ethnic group in a caste system is minimal. The increase in urban population has led to decline in the number of arranged marriages. The enactment of laws that allow a state-appointed judge to revoke the father’s instructions in the case of an early marriage has considerably improved the options of choosing a spouse, especially in urban settings. However, the traditional view that marriage is a contract between two families still plays a significant role in marriage decisions even in urban environment. For example, the ethnicity of a spouse is a key consideration in any marriage arrangement.
British imperialism in the Arab Gulf has eroded the language, arts and other cultural forms. The British Empire has achieved hegemony in the region with the minimal use of brute force, which has allowed the endorsement of the British culture and the envisioning and formation of Gulf-nation states. The elements of the British cultural hegemony have had significant antithetical effects on the tribal structure of the Arabs (Rich, 2009). The nation-state way of thinking in administering the Gulf states has eroded the identity of individual ethnic groups and allowed Britain to promote the growth of institutions based on the western style and the diminishing of traditional systems and institutions. The new power centers that have emerged have minimal elements of the Muslim majority traditional view, which discourages a socialist approach in doing things.
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