News / Middle East

    UAE Presses Ahead With Elections

    UAE Presses Ahead With Elections
    UAE Presses Ahead With Elections

    As calls for democracy continue to ring throughout the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has begun preparations to hold its biggest ever election, vowing it is committed to reform.  The government recently increased the number of eligible voters for the country’s legislature-the Federal National Council (FNC) to 80,000, up from under 7,000 during the last election.

    Earlier this week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Mohammed Gargash confirmed plans to allow more citizens to vote over the coming years until all Emiratis above a certain age are eventually given the right.

    "We've always said that the UAE's political program is a continuous program to modernize political participation," he said. "We have said all along that it will be in many, many incremental steps."

    Gargash suggested that while plans for reform were in the pipeline before the start of the Arab Spring, regional unrest had prompted the dramatic boost in voter numbers.

    Election process

    On September 24, the eligible voters will elect half of the 40-member FNC. The rulers of the seven emirates will chose the remaining 20 representatives.

    The UAE is the world’s third largest oil-producer and is made up of seven sheikhdoms with Abu Dhabi as its capital.

    While the nation has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, the five northern emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah have a noticeably lower standard of living than Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

    Vehicles queue for petrol at an EPPCO gas station in Dubai, UAE, June 23, 2011
    Vehicles queue for petrol at an EPPCO gas station in Dubai, UAE, June 23, 2011

    Power and gas shortages have resulted in rolling blackouts in the north, which also has a history of slow economic development and suffers from relatively high youth unemployment.  

    With the potential for unrest most likely to come from this area, the government decided in March to invest $1.6 billion in local infrastructure projects.

    Increasing the FNC’s electorate is seen as another attempt to appease northern residents.

    Critics have played down the significance of the increase, however, saying it is irrelevant unless the body is given more decision-making power. And, the revised electorate still only comprises less than a tenth of the total population.

    Significant change?

    Christopher Davidson, a Middle East analyst at Durham University, says the move is unlikely to bring about any significant change.

    "This is just the latest layer of window dressing that the regime is trying to add to give itself more accountability with its people, but perhaps more importantly, greater accountability in the international community. This is more of the liberalized autocracy model than a genuine democracy that represents the people," he said.

    The FNC does not have any real legislative power, but rather provides an advisory function, submitting recommendations that may or may not be implemented. Like all legislative bodies in the Gulf region, ultimate control rests with the ruling families.

    Earlier this year, the United States and its NATO allies praised the Emirates for its work in enforcing the U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya. But while the nation continues to play a “critical” role in helping pro-democracy rebels in the North African nation, closer to home it has been active in thwarting the democracy movement in neighboring Bahrain.

    Davidson says any future public demand for political reform within the UAE’s borders will not be tolerated.

    Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011
    Emirati blogger and human rights activist Ahmed Mansour speaks during a press conference in Dubai, UAE, January 26, 2011

    "I think that any opportunity that can be taken to clamp down on genuine presses for democracy [in the UAE] will be taken. We've already seen that with the rather extreme step of arresting a range of political prisoners including academics, bloggers and human rights activists," he said.

    While the UAE has been spared the uprisings seen in other parts of the region, 130 prominent members of society signed a petition in March calling for constitutional and parliamentary changes, free elections and a more equitable distribution of the country’s oil wealth.

    Five of the signees were later arrested and are currently on trial for posing a threat to national security.

    'More controversial' approach

    Samer Muscati, a Middle East researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, says the action comes at a time when widespread unrest in the region is making UAE authorities extra weary.

    "It's a different tone than what we've seen in the past and I think the UAE is definitely acting in a decisive and a more controversial manner than it has in the past. We hope that the UAE authorities will realize that this approach is incorrect and that they will stop this campaign," he said.

    At the first hearing of the five activists earlier this month, dozens of demonstrators gathered to show their support for the government, denouncing the accused as traitors.

    It served as a reminder of just how popular the country’s rulers are among most of the population, and how UAE authorities are likely to press on with their distinctly Emirati-style of democracy without much objection.

    Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
    and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.