BY HAVVANUR FADILA
OCT 07, 2022 – daily sabah
Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral was a worldwide event and her death revealed that the British hegemony, which was established during the colonization of the Gulf region, is still alive
Now that everyone stopped talking about how crowded the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was or how the world leaders were transported to the royal church for the ceremony, it is time to discuss what all these signify.
Why is the British monarch’s funeral an event worldwide? This is a question, especially from those whose countries were never British colonies, nor a member of the Commonwealth. We can exclude, too, the countries in Europe which still have monarch families who are connected to the British monarch through marriages going back centuries.
From a republic, established after the British and its ally occupying forces were defeated in the War of Independence and never became a British colony in its history, Turks grew up hearing that the monarchy in the United Kingdom is nothing but symbolic. After all, Parliament abolished the Ottoman family from the rule and it was time for democratic republics or so we thought … Then, I moved to an ex-British colony in the Gulf as an expat and realized that the British hegemony, which was established during the colonization of the region, is still alive and well.
These countries are still being ruled by the families that took power through British support and diplomatic, economic and cultural ties have never been interrupted ever since. It became then normal to see on tabloids how the heads of state and their families in some of these countries spent months in their enormous estates across the U.K. and taking pictures while attending horse racing with the British royal family and Queen Elizabeth II herself.
One family stands out with its public pictures of men in black silk hats and women in fascinators just like their British counterparts. Anyone who has seen a picture or two, knows immediately that I am talking about the Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum family. Another famous ruler from the Gulf, The Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has similar pictures in a black hat at the same venue.
Do as the Romans do
The motto must be when in Rome, do as the Romans do. However, the inspiration for this column came to me after the incidents which have taken place with the queen’s passing and on the day of her funeral in this far away region and not the British fashion or protocol at horse racing. Because this time, the ordinary people living as expats from many different countries were subjected to British cultural imperialism, and it was not about the ruling royal families any longer.
Many states in the Gulf and other Arab countries announced several days of official mourning for Queen Elizabeth II. This move can be considered a diplomatic gesture, although people expressed their discontentment and even mockery toward their respective governments on social media and also in daily conversations which I was an audience, several times. There would be no column if it had stopped there.
On the day of the funeral, many British schools in Dubai flew the Emirati and British flags at half-mast, decorated the schools with Queen Elizabeth II’s pictures, prepared special presentations, observed a moment of silence and canceled their classes partially to let those who want to “watch the televised funeral” in their homes as they conveyed to the parents. Some schools streamed the funeral live on the school premises while some British class teachers took a step forward and held a commemoration in their classes, too.
Schools and teachers have done these despite their students being not necessarily all British. A non-British mother told me that her child’s class was given the assignment to watch a video of and to draw a picture of Queen Elizabeth II. She is describing these assignments in her words as “it showed us once again that the British love for imperialism is still alive” and expressed her concern that the kids were subjected to it. This disturbance was not a sole incident and many non-British parents were not happy that their children’s classes were canceled in private schools where they pay tuition but get exposed to, what I safely can call, cultural imperialism, in times like this.
However, school principals from Britain working in Dubai were inattentive to the fact that their non-British parents were not sharing the same enthusiasm since we read in newspapers statements from British principals like how “everybody feels the immense loss of Her Majesty the Queen.”
Okay, but who is this everybody?
Apart from the schools’ ceremonies, as I will quote here from a vice-principal of a famous British school in Dubai, where they “… give the students and staff the opportunity to remember the queen throughout the day” perhaps, how much the British teacher subjected their feelings that their country’s monarch should be commemorated in their private classes was proportional to how much a monarchist the teacher was.
Since the government did not mandate a commemoration to schools nor encouraged it but only allowed it. The courage to reflect British culture came from the country’s not-so-past history, that’s why now we are talking about how it didn’t please everyone apart from the Brit-centric monarchists.
Schools in the Gulf
Maybe it is necessary to open a parenthesis here to mention that the population in the Gulf mainly consists of expats, and since there are many few public schools and that they are mainly for the locals but still in not enough numbers, expats send their children to British or American curriculum schools. There are many locals sending their children to those schools as well, instead of Arabic ones, with the reasoning that their education opens more doors and is somewhat “superior.”
There are 165 schools offering the British curriculum in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the country’s population is a little over 10 million with every nine people out of 10 being an expat. The number of British expats in the UAE is reported as 120,000 in 2021 by the British Business Group in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, so we can safely say the high number of schools offering a British curriculum is not exclusive to British expats’ children.
The British cultural hegemony in schools, at work and in daily life is felt everywhere in the UAE and other parts of the Gulf since the commonly spoken language is English. A student can graduate from the university after completing elementary school and high school and still will not learn Arabic. It is interesting to see how little the wealthy Gulf countries are enthusiastic about teaching their mother tongue or their culture to the expats, while their British expats are very enthusiastic to uphold the British culture and language.
It will not be wrong even to compare and say that the queen’s death was attributed more importance among expats than UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who passed away in May this year. While Emiratis mourned their ruler’s death almost all by themselves, the British made it a public event, reaching even elementary school students in another country than their own. Queen Elizabeth II as a human could have been mourned by British expats privately but they mourned her as a monarch where it is not a colony of their Empire anymore.
There is another side to the discussions when we talk about colonization, imperialism, and hegemony, which is decolonization.
Decolonization is described as the cultural, psychological and economic freedom of indigenous people and their right and ability to practice self-determination over their land, cultures, and political and economic systems. How many of the ex-British and European colonies have achieved all that and are freed completely from colonization’s still-lasting effects? Is it even possible with the current political system and media exposure?
Decolonization discussions, which were never popular in the mainstream media, are shadowed by the last living British Empress’ death and by those who are asking us to hold our breath for the next generation of royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton’s coronation from now. But at least there are social media, and when Jordan’s Queen Rania says that Queen Elizabeth II of the U.K. was the queen of the world, people reply by saying “she was not.”
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