UAE: Peculiar Move must not Receive Acclamation

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By Logan Barclift and Ali Al Ahmed

In a peculiar political move, the United Arab Emirates has moved to allow a few thousand people to elect half of the Federal National Council (FNC). The announcement was made December 1, 2005 by the president of the country, Sheikh Khalifa binZayed al-Nahayan. No time table was given.

Under the new plan the ruler of each of the seven Emirates will select a group of people to elect members for half of that Emirates’ members to the FNC which serves as the national consultative council.  The sheikh will appoint the other half. This will be different from the current selection process where the sheikh of each Emirate is the only person to choose the members of the FNC from that Emirate.

The FNC consists of 40 members distributed among the seven emirates: eight for Abu Dhabi, eight for Dubai, six for Sharjah, six for Ras Al Khaima, four for Ajman, four for Um Al Qiwin, and four for Fujaira.

This proposal has serious problems and needs to go farther for it to be greeted in the West as anything of real consequence. This limited vote is synonymous with the partial elections conducted the last communist government in Poland, and the absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia. By allowing one person to pick the voters we can expect no real change from the status quo.

Allowing limited number of people to vote is in contradiction of international standards and an insult to the people of the UAE.  So is allowing only half of the seats for elections.

Also, how the members of the FNC are selected is meaningless as long as the FNC does not have any real authority.  They should be able to propose and approve laws as well as examine the budget, foreign policy, defense and security.  Effective oversight is the key to good governance and by strengthening the power of the FNC the government will make progress on better serving its people.

The UAE was formed in 1971 when seven Emirates united to form a state and has not ever held any elections.  The decisions of government are controlled by the leaders of the Emirates who obtain their positions through hereditary. They make appointments to the council of ministers, which make and carry out the policies of the government.  The FNC does not have any real power to influence the government, and acts in an advisory capacity.

Women
Women should be allowed to participate in this process as fully as men.  If this reform is not deepened and goes ahead as announced, then the group of selectors must include women.  Any voting where half the population is not allowed to participate is not worthy of being called an “election.” Iraq has had inclusive elections while facing a violent insurgence, so it can be expected that the UAE can have a free and fair election without major problems.

US Policy
Steps toward openness and more freedom in the Middle East should be encouraged by the United States however, this move by the UAE does not go far enough to warrant praise as a significant reform.  Everybody recognizes that full-scale democracy is not going to be achieved overnight but, we can expect some real movement to take place now.  This action by the UAE is just an empty move designed to give the appearance of reforms.  The U.S. acclimation to this move will be counterproductive and against US policy of democratization.

European Union
The EU should take the same position as the United States should and present a solid front to the UAE government.  The message should be that deeper reforms are necessary for continued cooperation on economic matters.  It is not acceptable anymore to follow the line of stability being in everybody’s best security interest because true security will not be achieved without freedom for the people. The EU should understand and make it clear to the UAE that greater freedoms for Emiratie people are in the long-run interest of the sheiks and the Western countries.

UN
This limited voting should not receive any acclamation from international bodies if does not conform to accepted norms.  These include full participation by all citizens including women and ethic and religious minorities.  A process that excludes most of the population can not be called a true election.  The United Nations should work for the rights of the people of the UAE and not rubber stamp their government’s attempt at token measures of reform.  In violation of its charter the UN provided assistant and legitimacy to the Saudi partial and discriminatory elections for excluding women. This must not occur in UAE.

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