Future Perfect / Present Tense

Migrant Workers, Expats, and Sponsors in Abu Dhabi

January 2025 9781849048224 256pp


Future Perfect/Present Tense examines the relations between migrants and the Emirati individuals and institutions that sponsor them. Divided by culture, language, and status, the two groups harbour opposing visions of a perfect future. The migrants dream of success in Abu Dhabi, of providing for their families in recompense for years of sacrifice far from home. On the contrary, the Emiratis imagine a migrant exodus, after which foreigners will no longer outnumber them.

But a migrant-free future will never come. Maintaining the scale of development already achieved will necessarily require a large foreign workforce, and very few families are willing to contemplate life without maids, cooks, and drivers. Meanwhile, both populations are trapped in a present that is often tense, amidst security concerns about particular nationalities and worries about the erosion of Emirati culture.

Jane Bristol-Rhys has produced a unique work of ’embedded ethnography.’ Future Perfect/Present Tense is the product of fifteen years of interviews and close-range observations of the continuing gulf between the UAE’s tense present and perfect future.


Jane Bristol-Rhys is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Zayed University Abu Dhabi, where she has taught since 2001. She was educated at the American University in Cairo and the University of Washington, Seattle. She is the author of Emirati Women: Generations of Change, also published by Hurst, as well as numerous articles and chapters on Emirati history and society.

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